The turbulent times of the Spanish Civil War produced many great works, including the poems of Miguel Hernández.
Miguel Hernández is possibly one of Spain’s best known poets of modern times, especially due to his activities and tragic death during the Spanish Civil War. He came from the city of Orihuela, in the province of Alicante, an old and beautiful city. However, his family was poor and he had little education until the priest of his local church took him under his wing and taught him to read and enjoy both the classic Spanish authors such as Miguel Cervantes, who wrote the most iconic Spanish novel of all time Don Quixote, and the more modern writers working in Spain at that time.
He wanted to establish a literary career so at the tender age of 21 headed for the capital Madrid to seek his fortune. Sadly, his money ran out quickly and he was forced to return home but he was not discouraged and tried several times over the next two years to get himself and his work noticed in Madrid. He was jubilant when his first book was published when he was 23 and his first play came out the next year.
Miguel Hernández and Friends
In 1934, during already turbulent times, he returned to Madrid and became friendly with now famous writers such as Pablo Neruda, Garcia Lorca and Luis Cernuda. Miguel Hernández helped Neruda in the publishing of a journal called Caballo Verde de Poesia (Poetry’s Green Knight) which became a popular and influential source for writers and readers. Around 1936, he became more interested in the Republican cause, no doubt due to the influence of his writer friends at that time, publishing El Rayo Que No Cesa (Unceasing Lightning). He had been in love with Josefina Manresa since they were children and they decided to get married in 1937. Sadly, the son they had, Manuel Román died just a year after his birth, an event that had a deep and lasting impact on Hernández and his work.
Spanish Civil War
By now, the Spanish Civil War, which started in 1936, was reaching its worst moments and Miguel Hernández joined the Republican army, those who were fighting against the forces of General Franco. The poetry that he wrote around this time focuses on the horror of war, with poems such as “Viento del Pueblo” (1937) and “El Hombre Acecha” (1938) being particular examples.
In 1939, the Republican resistance began to collapse and Hernández tried to escape to Portugal. However, he was captured by the Guardia Civil, an elite Para-military police force, and taken to Madrid where he was thrown into prison. Being imprisoned did not stop him from writing, though. He still had friends in high places and was thus able to return briefly to his home town of Orihuela before being arrested again. Tragically, the conditions in the prisons led to him contracting the lung disease tuberculosis and being moved from prison to prison over the next three years only made his health worse.
However, it was during this time of great hardship that he produced what poetry experts consider to be his best work such as “Todo Era Azul” (Everything is Blue) and “Eterna Sombra” (Eternal Shadow) from which comes this poignant verse:
Soy una abierta ventana que escucha,
por donde ver tenebrosa la vida.
Pero hay un rayo de sol en la lucha
que siempre deja la sombra vencida.
(I am an open window that listens
From where life can be seen as frightening
But there is a ray of sunlight in the battle
That always defeats the shadow)
Death of Miguel Hernández
He was still in prison, away from his family and friends, when he died on March 28, 1942 at just 31 years of age. Just before his death, he was able to write one more short poem, said to be written on the wall beside his bed in prison, “Farewell, brothers, comrades, friends: Give my goodbyes to the sun and the wheat fields.”
The Miguel Hernández website is dedicated to the poet, and his old home in Orihuela has been transformed into a museum where items he used can be seen and the small garden he sat in can also be visited.