GUSTAVO ADOLFO BÉCQUER

Gustavo Adolfo BécquerIntroduction

Few of the poets featured here led comfortable lives, and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1836-70) was no exception. He was one of eight children born in Seville to the genre painter José Domínguez Bécquer, but lost his parents at ages 5 and 11, being then brought up by his uncle, Joaquín Domínguez Bécquer, another painter. Becquer wrote his first poem in 1848 and was having work published in local newspapers by 1853. A year later Bécquer left for Madrid, there supporting himself by writing for the theatre and light opera.

In 1859 appeared the first of what would become Rima XIII, and in 1860 Rima XV in the Album of fashionable young ladies and couriers. Later in the same year he wrote Rimas LXI, XXIII and LXII, and married Casta Esteban from Soria, whom he met during his travels around Spain. Theirs was a turbulent affair: several children resulted but Casta left him for good in 1868 and Bécquer's health deteriorated. Bécquer continued to write his Rimas and considerable prose. The minister González Bravo offered to finance the publication of the Rimas, but the manuscript was lost when his house was ransacked in the 1868 Revolution. Bécquer partially recovered the text from memory, the poems appearing as the Book of the Sparrows, but the manuscript itself was then all but lost in the National Library in Madrid from its acquisition in 1896 until 1914. In September 1870, his equally impoverished and much loved brother Valeriano died, and Bécquer stopped caring. His wife returned for a brief reconciliation, but Bécquer died on 22nd December in Madrid of pneumonia and hepatitis.

Only Rima IV was formally published in Bécquer's lifetime. In 1871, to help the surviving family, Bécquer's writings were collected into two volumes, where the Rimas made a small showing. Three other Rimas appeared in the Book of the Sparrows, which was seen through the press by his friend Ramón Rodríguez Correa.

But whatever his personal misfortunes, and the uncertain history of the manuscripts, Bécquer's poems were recited from memory by his contemporaries, and greatly influenced the generations thereafter. Hauntingly brief, rigorously modelled in strict stanza forms, deeply musical, with ethereal images and ineffable longings, often plangently erotic, Bécquer's 98 Rimas amount only to a few thousand lines, but became the foundation of modern Spanish poetry. Darío was the great invigorator, but his gifts were all his own. Bécquer taught poets two things: to look deeply into their own inchoate feelings, and to realise that popular folksongs expressed something universal in human existence.

Reputations shift as poets find new things to dislike or appreciate in their predecessors. Bécquer appeals today because his troubled inwardness foreshadows Modernism in a way that Darío's exuberant Parnassian preciosity does not. Almost as well known, and admired for similar reasons are Rosalía de Castro (1837-85, writing in Galician) and Jacinto Verdaguer (1845-1902, writing in Catalan).

Bécquer's simple compositions are popular with adolescents, but they also revived the expression of feeling without sentimentality. Their saving grace was a German influence, a mournful introspection learnt from Heine, whose work Bécquer knew very well. As a result, the '98 generation and the poets that followed — Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958), Frederico Lorca (1899-1936), Antonio Machado (1875-1939), Jorge Guillén, Pedro Salinas, etc. — were better equipped to take up the varied elements of Spanish culture and to give them an individual colouring.

Outside Modernism, the nineteenth century Spanish poets who were once popular include Francisco Casas y Amigó, Joan Maragall (1860-1912), Rubió y Ors (1818-99), M. Costa y Llobera (1854-1922) and Núñez de Arce (1834-1903). Academic importance and individual taste are different matters, and readers will make their own choices.

Translations in book form include Young Alison's The infinite passion, being the celebrated Rimas and the Letters to an unknown woman of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1924), Rupert Croft-Cooke's Twenty Poems from the Spanish of Bécquer, With an Introductory Note on his Life and Work (1927), Arthur Wallace Woolsey's The witch of Trazmoz & other stories and poems, Translated from the Spanish of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1965), David and Joan Altabé's Symphony of love: las Rimas; a translation. (1974), Susanne Dubroff's Flower on a Volcano (1980), Bruce Phenix's The Rimas of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1985) and Henry W. Sullivan's The Poems of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer: A Metrical Linear Translation (2002).

Suggestion: Ten Centuries of Spanish Poetry Eleanor L. Turnbull. Johns Hopkins University Press. 2002. $25.00

A fat paperback of 468 pages entitled: Ten Centuries of Spanish Poetry: An Anthology in English Verse with Original Texts, From the Eleventh Century to the Generation of 1898. The poems were chosen by Pedro Salinas, and Eleanor Turnbull has found the best English translation, or prepared one herself. A very thorough selection of Spain's poetic riches.

Learning Spanish

Spanish can be learnt from books, tapes, courses and CDs, available at multilingual, worldlanguage, arthur lynn, rosetta stone, language quest, accelerated learning, spanish uno and unforgettable languages.

Free lessons and material are at learnspanishtoday, studyspanish, spanishromance, word2word, spanish unlimited and search language.

Other works, dictionaries, etc. can be ordered through grant and cutler, bestbookbuys, abebooks and alibris.

Spanish-English-Spanish online dictionaries are at multilingual books, word2word, dictionary.com, prompt online, and lexilogos.

Machine translation can be helpful, though you will need some grammar to correct the rendering: omnilang, free translation, google, babelfish, worldlingo, prompt, reverso and bubbles.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Spanish Poetry

Good sites for Spanish literature generally are Spanish arts, and los poetas.

Lope de Vega

Information on Lope de Vega can be found at moonstruck, poesia infantil and books and writers.

Good bibliographies for Lope de Vega are found at books and writers, and in the Spanish Poetry section of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993). These may be particularly useful: E. Pierce's The Heroic Poem of the Spanish Golden Age (1947), P.D. Tettenborn's Spanish Lyrics of the Golden Age (1952), Rennert and Castro's Vida de Lope de Vega (1919), F. Rico's Historia y Critica de la Literatura Española (1980) and F.J. Oinas's Heroic Epic and Saga (1978).

Bécquer

Information on Bécquer can be found at hispanic literature, Spanish literary masters, marieb, ligloss, moonbeam, amediavo, s .

Poets of Bécquer's period and following: Rosalía de Castro, Jacinto Verdaguer, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Frederico Lorca, Antonio Jorge Guillén, Francisco Casas y Amigó, Joan Rubió y Ors, M. Costa y Llobera and de Arce.

Translations in book form include Young Alison's The infinite passion, being the celebrated Rimas and the Letters to an unknown woman of Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1924) écquer, With an Introductory Note on his Life and Work (1927), Arthur Wallace Woolsey's The witch of Trazmoz & other stories and poems. Translated from the Spanish of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1965), David and Joan Altabé's Symphony of love: las Rimas; a translation. (1974), Susanne Dubroff's Flower on a Volcano (1980), Bruce Phenix's The Rimas of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (1985) and Henry W. Sullivan's The Poems of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer: A Metrical Linear Translation (2002).

Darío

Information on Dario is listed on thinkquest, dariana, modern languages, 00author, amazon, costarica, amorpostales, analytica, Los poetas, beauty and ruin and biblioteca modernista.

A good introduction is provided by the Spanish American Poetry section of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), and these take matters further: K. Ellis's Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío (1974). and I. Gibson's Yo, Rubén Darío: Memorias Postumas de un Rey de la Poesía (2002) The bibliography of Rubén Darío is vast, much of it in Spanish and/or Latin American journals, but a start is provided by H. Woodbridge's Rubén Darío: a Selective and Annotated Bibliography (1975).

Modernismo poets: José Martí, Olegario Andrade, Rafael Obligado, Leopold Lugones, Luis Urbina, Rufino Blanco Fombona, Ricardo Jaimes Freyre, Guillermo Valencia, José Santos Chacano, José María Eguren, Manuel Magallanes Moure, and Enrique González Martínez.

 

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.