Poetry as a combat weapon: a tribute to Miguel Hernández
Love, life and death. These are the greatest concerns of humankind and the pivotal themes of Miguel Hernández’s poetry. He belonged to the Spanish Generation of ‘27 and Generation of ’36. Miguel Hernández was called el poeta del pueblo (‘the poet of the people’) because he spoke to them heart to heart, soul to soul: the shepherd who turned into a poet; the poet who disguised as a shepherd.
Hernández was born in Orihuela, a small village in Alicante, Spain, and raised to be a shepherd. He soon realised, however, that he had been born a poet. He moved to Madrid, where he met other writers such as Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda and Rafael Alberti. As a result, his early poetry –largely influenced by the metrical purity of Juan Ramón Jiménez– gradually shifted into a more politically implicated writing, especially when the Spanish Civil War broke out in the late 1930s. He perceived poetry as a combat weapon and believed that it was the poet’s duty to raise, inspire, and hearten the people, because “el poeta conmociona como nadie y revoluciona como nadie”. (‘The poet moves like nobody else and revolutionizes like nobody else.’).
Later in his life, Hernández was imprisoned for his anti-fascist ideals, where he wrote a great amount of poetry and died in prison. Despite this, he fought for what he believed in: against repression, indifference and passivity. He asked –not, he implored– for the people to rise and fight against the oppressor. He was inspiring in all that he sang, and every word that he brought to this miserable, decaying and agonizing world, was a breath of life. He lent his voice to the cause and his heart to the dying until he was only that –a moribund clinging to the world and to everything it had to offer. The only difference was that he never was one of the many, for his soul never perished and his heart never left the cause. Even in his Heaven, he still watched for his aceituneros de Jaén, his esposo soldado, his fuerzas del Manzanares. Even when he had lost hope and wrote Hoy el amor es muerte, y el hombre acecha al hombre. (‘These days, love is death, and man lies in ambush for man.’) he refused to be a vencido (defeated).
Miguel Hernández was the living proof of the power contained in a poem. He embodied the devastating yet reviving energy of poetry. When people ask me why Miguel Hernández is my favourite poet, I always think, I will not do him justice if I try to explain. So, I tell them to read him; only then, you will feel every. single. inch. of that glorious, aching and dazzling pain and ecstasy of all the love contained in his verses and all the passion freed in his sonnets.
Although he died young, Miguel Hernández left a legacy where poetry is conceived as a weapon for progress and social justice. He proved that words are powerful when they are wielded high, tightly, and proudly. He knew that his cause would never be buried with his body and his soul would never die as long as people stayed true to their poet.
Header by Ksenia Makagonova @dearseymour