Luis Cernuda

by Brit Es Magazine

Luis Cernuda runs away from Spain during the war and arrives in England from France. It will be a stay of nine years in the country (1938-1947). Time during which Cernuda reach his final adult voice. Physical space (we could differentiate between the geographical and mythical) and the feeling of a loss bound will be consolidated in his poetry.

Luis Cernuda runs away from Spain during the war and arrives in England through France. It will be a stay of nine years in the country (1938-1947). This is the time during which Cernuda reaches his final adult voice. Physical space (we could differentiate between the geographical and mythical) and a sense of loss will be consolidated in his poetry. 

His first stop is in North Stoneham near Winchester, as a monitor for a group of Basque refugee children hosted on the land of Lord Faringdon, a job that he finds with the help of Stanley Richardson who later, in 1941, will perish in the London blitz and who had inspired Cernuda’s poem ‘Por unos tulipanes amarillos’ included in the book Invocaciones (1935). This unpleasant experience (as well as the death of adolescent José Sobrino, inspiration for the poem ‘Elegía a un niño vasco muerto en Inglaterra’) leads him to accept without hesitation a position at the University of Glasgow as a reader in Spanish.

Cernuda will stay in this city from the beginning of 1939 until the summer of 1943, when he gets a call from Cambridge University for a similar position that he holds until the summer of 1945. He visits London regularly because he has friends and acquaintances in the city, including Salvador de Madariaga, the painter Gregorio Prieto and the Panero family.

In January 1945 he settles permanently in London to start to working at the newly created (January 20, 1944) Spanish Republican Institute.

He is housed in a meager room at Gregorio Prieto’s house in Hyde Park Gate. The last two years of his stay in England are especially difficult for him and he leaves the country in September 1947, bound for North America.

The poem discussed here relies on one of the methods Cernuda uses to present (to contrast) a story. A game of mirrors that face and oppose one another, creating a diptych. This is at once a direct allusion to his work ‘Díptico español’, from the book ‘Desolación de la Quimera’ (1956-1962).

It is my hope that Cernuda himself can tell us about his experience in Britain, and from this the idea of doing an interview, which is of course impossible now. Instead, below is a complete poem that has been divided into two, which can also be seen as individual poems in their own right. The first poem works as an invocation to the author, like a Ouija board, lending him a voice in the second piece. It is in the second part where the invoked discusses his British experience: the loss of geographical references and an encounter with a mythical space, a sense of belonging to a voice (language) independent of his body and his location.

Bibliography: La realidad y el deseo, Editorial Siruela, 1994; Antología, Editorial Cátedra by José María Capote, 1992; Espejo de sombras, Felicidad Blanc, Editorial Argos, 1977; Nostalgia de una patria imposible by Juan Matas Caballero, Ediciones Akal ,2005; Luis Cernuda by Jordi Amat, Espasa Biografías ,2002; Luis Cernuda en su sombra, by Armando López Castro, Verbum Editorial ,2003; Luis Cernuda Antología personal (CD), Editorial Visor, 1996.

Luis Cernuda, from Mexico, recalls his stay in England. (I). Diptych (II)

[col type=’one_half’] [fancy_box]                                             I

The distant voice
that today comes to you (III)
hard, compressed,
it results not to agree
to your reading and your forecasts.
The encounter dreamed of so many times
becomes then unexpected.
Your amazement before him
it-s not just the unusual pitch
or different pace,
but the vague oblivion
faced with such absence.
And think how strange it is
to retrieve a day in the life
to someone distant,
frozen with his leaves,
furniture, traffic and cat.
There you have finally the room and
the possible gesture, dense atmosphere
sleeping up to you.
And before thee this only truth:
Time and desire retrieved:
The presence, shape.
But where am I?
And where are you?

[/fancy_box][/col] [col type=’one_half’ order=’last’][fancy_box]                                             II

Quit without a voice your soul.
This oneness lost into
maturity in this divided
Hyde Park Gate.(IV)
Turned your gaze
into the clouds (V), 1938,
in this island of oblivion
you mourned for some shirts
and now you walk without a corpse!
From your poet chores:
Lessons and evenings.
Dreamed of an eternal winter
and the body not always rest
wherever we want.
If only the exile were
an oversight (VI)…
Never since yours and mine alone
fate would remain,
and bare, the word
stands against the other an abyss:
The boredom of the wandering poet:
Between what the crowd say,
and what the crowd feel.
Then the language makes
emotional filigree
to the daily solitude:
Everything is landscape.
Except desire, unavoidable,
always a kiss away.
into solitude, the soul howls
as if birds sang
in the night (VII)..[/su_note]


(I) An allusion to the title of the poem ‘Luis de Baviera escucha Lohengrin’, from the book ‘Desolación de la Quimera’, 1962.
(II) Reference to the poem ‘Díptico español’, from the book ‘Desolación de la Quimera’, 1962. In this poem Cernuda speaks of exile, language and the division that is caused by feeling connected to a voice, to a language from a nation that he repudiates, that no longer feels like his nation. The book as a whole offers a summary of his life: love, exile and being a poet.
(III) Antología personal. Editorial Visor, 1996 Poetry reading by the author.
(IV) 59 Hyde Park Gate: address of the residence of the painter Gregorio Prieto in London where Cernuda took a room during his residence in London.
(V)’Las Nubes’ Cernuda’s first book written in English soil (1940-1943) and opens his mature period.
(VI) An allusion to the poem and book of the same title ‘Donde habite el olvido’.
(VII)  (1) Birds in the night: poem from the book ‘Desolación de la Quimera’, 1962. In this poem Cernuda relates an episode in the life of the poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, who fled to London due to the scandal caused by their relationship. This motif allows Cernuda to review and reckon with his past, and this is the meaning of this diptych.

         (2) Birds in the night: Luis Cernuda’s allusion to Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same title.


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