War Poets

Henry Kamen’s pompous The Disinherited: The Exiles Who Created Spanish Culture, which I criticised here in part for its failure to fulfil some of the promise of its subtitle, has a different subtitle in Spanish. Instead, it is ‘España y la huella del exilio’, that is, ‘Spain and the mark of exile’. Whether this would have affected my reading of the book I am not too sure, but I am beginning to think that the book is even worse than I considered when I first put it down.

By contrast, I read Ian Gibson’s superb Cuatro poetas en guerra (Four poets in war) during the holidays. It’s an account of the activities and fate of four of Spain’s most prominent poets- Antonio Machado, Federico García Lorca, Juan Ramón Jiménez and Miguel Hernández- in the Spanish Civil War. All supported the Republic against the fascist uprising led by Franco, and paid the price as a result.

Machado died in exile just across the border in France, having written tirelessly in support of the Republic from Madrid, Valencia and then Barcelona, his movements the result of evacuations. Lorca was assassinated in his native Granada on the orders of fascist terrorist Queipo de Llano. Juan Ramón Jiménez -who fled to the US- made brave but futile attempts to influence the Roosevelt government in its policy towards the Republic, and learned of how his hastily abandoned house in Madrid -containing all his papers- had been ransacked by victorious literary falangists.

Perhaps most remarkably of all, Miguel Hernández had a leading role writing incessantly in support of the Republic whilst simultaneously fighting in the trenches. He was spared Lorca’s fate of execution -and that, post-war, of at least 50,000 others who had fought on the side of the Republic- due, it would seem, to Franco not wanting to see ‘another García Lorca’, but he still died of tuberculosis in vile prison conditions.

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July 2007
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