Aleixandre Merlot, Vicente

Aleixandre Merlot, Vicente
b. 1898, Seville; d. 1984, Madrid
   One of the most accomplished avant-garde poets of the pre-war period, Vicente Aleixandre served as a mentor to younger poets of successive generations, writing socially engaged verse in the 1950s and evolving in a more philosophical direction during the final decades of his life. The Nobel Prize awarded to Aleixandre in 1977 constituted a significant recognition of his individual achievement as well as of his crucial role in keeping literary culture alive during the Franco regime.
   Aleixandre formed part of a brilliant group of poets, known collectively as the "Generation of 1927", who came of age in the 1920s. Working alongside such notable writers as Federico García Lorca and Luis Cernuda, he originally gained recognition for the difficult surrealist-influenced poetry of books like Espadas como labios (Swords Like Lips) and La destruction o el amor (Destruction or Love). Even in the 1930s, however, he sought to mitigate the hermeticism of his work in order to make his poetry more accessible to his readers. The results of this stylistic clarification can be seen in the books he wrote after the Civil War. In Sombra del paraíso (Shadow of Paradise) (1944) he evokes visionary images of his idyllic childhood in Málaga that contrast, implicitly, with the devastation wrought by the war. This book is widely considered one of the most important collections of poetry published in the 1940s, a relatively barren period for Spanish poetry. Aleixandre's desire for clarity eventually led him to experiment with a self-consciously "prosaic" style, seen in book such as Historia, del corazón (History/ Story of the Heart) (1954) and En un vasto dominio (In a Vast Dominion) (1962). While Aleixandre's earlier work dealt largely with the relation between the individual subject and the cosmos, his poetry of the 1950s takes as its central theme the idea of social solidarity. As one of the few important Spanish poets of the pre-war generations to remain in the country after the end of the Civil War, Aleixandre enjoyed an unparalleled prestige among younger poets from the 1940s to the 1970s. Some others who stayed did so because of their sympathy with the Franco regime. Aleixandre, however, was forced to remain because of his chronic ill health, and maintained his staunch opposition to the rightwing politics of the Nationalists. Aleixandre's motto "Poetry is communication" made him an important model for the social poets of the 1950s, including Blas de Otero. It also inspired the influential theories of Carlos Bousoño, an important poet and literary theorist who wrote the first full-length study of Aleixandre's poetry. Aleixandre's close relationship with younger poets continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s. His style often seemed to be evolving sympathetically in response to the shifting concerns of successive generations of poets. Thus the books written in the 1950s reflect the prevalence of social themes in the immediate postwar period. In the 1960s, likewise, Aleixandre's style became more complex and introspective, echoing the increasing interest among younger poets in a poetics of "knowledge" or "discovery". His close friendship with poets such as Carlos Bousoño, Claudio Rodríguez, Guillermo Carnero and Antonio Colinas thus served two important functions: Aleixandre was an invaluable source of solidarity and encouragement for these writers, who in turn stimulated him in his continual artistic renovation.
   The crowning achievement of Aleixandre's career is the poetry of his two final books. Poemas de la consumación (Poems of Consummation) (1968) contains brief reflections on the themes of old age and impending death. Diálogos del conocimiento (Dialogues of Knowledge) (1974), written in the same difficult style, consists of more extensive poems in dialogue form, in which the interplay of conflicting voices expresses a dialectical approach to reality. Aleixandre's unique style, defined by its short hermetic sentences and its unusual combina-tions of verb tenses, serves to explore the paradoxical vitality of the liminal stage between life and death. Another major concern in these works is the nature of knowledge itself: Aleixandre's complex word play leads to an epistemological investigation of the limits of human knowing in the face of the unknown.
   In some respects, the final stage of Aleixandre's poetic career represents a return to the avant-garde aesthetics of his earlier works. While all of Aleixandre's poetry is significant in its historical context, the more prosaic style of books like En un vasto dominio suffers somewhat in comparison with the poetic intensity of Aleixandre's very best work: the surrealist poetry of the 1930s and the metaphysical reflections of these final works.
   The Nobel Prize for literature, awarded to Aleixandre in 1977, recognized him not only for his poetic achievement, but also for his broader role within Spanish literary culture. As the first Nobel Prize awarded to a Spanish writer after the death of Franco in 1975, it had special significance for the emerging culture of democratic Spain.
   Further reading
   - Daydí-Tolson, S. (ed.) (1981) Vicente Aleixandre: A Critical Appraisal, Ypsilanti, MI: Bilingual Press.
   - Hyde, L. (ed.) (1981) A Longing For the Light, New York: Harper & Row.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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