Biography of Nicolás Guillén Batista (1902-1989)

Cuban poet, born in Camagüey on July 10, 1902 and died in Havana in 1989. Considered by many critics and readers as the greatest all-time Cuban poet, developed throughout its long existence an extensive and fertile lyrical production that, within its rich variety of thematic and stylistic, progressed above all along the paths of black poetry, social poetry and neopopularista root folk poetry (open, the latter(, to any racial diversity). His radical rebellion against every manifestation of injustice, reflected always in their concern for the problems of disadvantaged social groups, knew how to express themselves through a rotunda, personal, courageous and revolutionary voice, endowed with a extraordinary capacity for playing traditional musical rhythms and popular orality, reached also a full mastery of Strophic forms more complex of Hispanic cultured lyric. In short, Nicolás Guillén, from the condition of Antillean mestizo, embodied with his work and his own life the best representation of syncretism and mutual assimilation of black and Spanish cultures, and left a dazzling poetic legacy, through a long process of purification to transform the word lyric into a universal messageit becomes its author one of the most bright and fruitful Latin American letters of the 20th century.

Her early inclination towards the cultivation of poetic creation threw his first printed stock in 1920, when the young poet of Camagüey just had eighteen years of age. Previously, Nicolás Guillén had traversed by a uneven process of academic training in which he learned to combine yields of official teaching with the enormous advantage that drew enthusiastic learning and self-learning. Thus, after having studied in high school in his hometown, the young Nicolás decided to learn the ofico of typographer in the workshops where printed newspaper run by his father, and, after his death - arising in the course of the civil war of 1917-, could be used as a typographer in a printing press of work. These first contacts with the world of newspaper publishers would open him some professional paths during the Decade of the 1920s.

While it was dedicated to work of typographer, Nicolás Guillén began to deploy an initial poetic journey that led him to publish his aforementioned first compositions in 1920, between the pages of the magazine Camagüey graphic. In those years, his intellectual curiosity awakens had led you also to the classrooms of the University of Havana, where he started at superior studies of law that would abandon in 1922, to devote himself now exclusively to creating literary and journalistic.

So, in 1923 rushed excited Foundation of the Lis magazine, in which, despite its fleeting existence, left printed several relevant articles that enabled him to work also as an editor in different local media. Already at that time enjoyed a certain literary prestige among young artists of his native island, as demonstrated was in the inclusion of some of his poems in the anthological exhibition entitled young Cuban poets (Barcelona: Maucci, 1923). This early recognition encouraged to pick up their first compositions in brain and heart, book that, ultimately, the author preferred to stay unpublished, as it was easy to appreciate among its pages an excessive influence of the modernist trail left by the work of own Rubén Darío and, of course, by his copious legion of imitators and followers. True it was, in fact, that brain and heart offered an interesting sample of the deep domain versificador that the young Guillén had prematurely purchased, captured in dazzling metaphoric resources, and how, in a delicious musicality that heralded already one of the main hallmarks of his personal poetic voice; but it was not less that this work also betrayed what the own Guillén and other generation was considered as the main defect of contemporary Cuban poetry: its apparent delay in the assimilation and adaptation of the new aesthetic trends from the European avant-garde.

Always aware the trails where it transited among most advanced creation and thought, Nicolás Guillén rejected, therefore, give to the printer this aborted debut to focus squarely on the study and practice of the innovations proposed by the vanguard. Moved by this laudable desire of aggiornamento, towards the end of 1926 Camagüey poet left his hometown to settle in Havana, in whose artistic and intellectual forums had a better welcome contributions of new aesthetics from Europe. There, surviving thanks to the work that Mr. sad office of public administration, Guillén rushed a fruitful process of creative transition that left him obsolete models of brain and heart to take you to a calm and moderate, characterized by formal neglect avant-garde, the contempt of the metric tradition, the abandonment of rhyme and, especiallythe persecution of the idea objective prejudice of the metaphorical image, within a poetic tone which, as you can infer from all these traits, much approached practice that pure poetry that triumphed in Europe at the time. Poems which Nicolás Guillén was writing during this stage of transition to the vanguard found an excellent framework of broadcasting in the Sunday supplement of the prestigious Rotary Havana Diario de la Marina, in whose "Ideal of a race" section, aimed at the defence and assertion of intellectual values and the civil rights of Cuban black, took place from 1928 the weekly contributions of young mulatto writer (and son of mulattoes).

In those years of avant-garde furor and socio-political concerns, other publications of Havana (like Social and Revista de Avance) spread social and aesthetic ideas similar to the defended by Guillén in the section "The ideals of a breed", some of them endorsed by the poet himself in Camaguey; but it was on the hebdomadaria page of the Diario de la Marina where took place the true birth of a literary event which radically renewed Cuban poetry that was being done up to then, to offer, at once, a bright irruption of the culture of blacks in Latin American letters. The great poetic find - and, of course, political and social - Nicolás Guillén was the discovery of the son - a popular musical genre that was then in vogue among the Cuban population of color - as a perfect vehicle for a new poetry which, for the first time in the history of the West Indian literature served to embody the specificity of the Cuban national identity. The amazement that produced this finding among critics and readers is not circumscribed to the colors of the formal aspects, marked by the unique rhythm of the sound and its ancestral symbiosis of the Spanish and African elements that were part of the folklore of Caribbean blacks; Apart from this explosion of pace, spark and drama, poetic adaptation of the are tested by Nicolás Guillén introduced a series of thematic and linguistic aspects which, also for the first time in Latin American letters, became the centerpiece of a literary movement as far away from the hometown self-contemplation as close to the universal vocation of any avant-garde movement to Cuban black (with their problems and concerns, habits and customs, its lexicon and its idioms).

Opened, as well, which was then called "negrista stage" the poetry of Guillén, inaugurated with the publication of a founder of all a poetic genre poetry book: reasons for the son (Havana: Rambla Bouza, 1930). In one of his surprising compositions (baptized by Guillén as "grounds"), repeated the refrain "songoro cosongo", that within a year served title to the poetic second installment of the writer of Camagüey: Songoro cosongo (Havana: Úcar, García, 1931). Under the subtitle of "Mulattos poems", this new volume of negrista poetry came not only to consolidate powerful effectively a new stream of literary creation, but also to launch, from your same prologue, a so-called controversy of attention to real Cuban cultural identity: "so soon - argued there Guillén-, the spirit of Cuba is mixed. And the spirit to the skin come the final color. Someday it will be 'Cuban color'. These poems want to get ahead of that day." The way to get ahead was expressed in beautiful verses like these: "bring the morning smoke / and fire over the night, / and the knife, like a hard piece of moon, / suitable for barbarian skins;" "/ we bring alligators in the mud, / and the bow that fires our longings, / and the tropical belt, / and clean spirit" (from "arrival").

The emergence of Songoro cosongo, with his successful clearance of first rhythms are present in the earlier poems of Guillén, gave birth to the consecration of a great poet that had not only been able to create this rich negrista poetry afroespanola current, but also to integrate it with just two titles on the shelves of bookstores, some of the most stunning achievements of the avant-garde, in a process of synthesis between the cult and the popular notably approaching the work done by their "brothers" from the other side of the Atlantic, the Spanish poets of the generation of 27 (with one of them, Rafael Alberti, maintained excellent relations of friendship Nicolás Guillén throughout his life). Thus, final modulation of the rhythmic core of the sound, the mestizo poet added in this collection of poems some features as setters of the Spanish avant-garde practice as the taste for bold metaphor, the renewal of the traditional metric forms, the introduction of free verse, certain linguistic turns of the conversational level and, of course, the permanent search for the musicality in each verse. (There is no doubt, of course, about some of these features were also from that primordial modernist learning the own Guillén wanted to remove his work, well clear, moreover, in the legacy received by almost all of the Spanish avant-garde.)

The difficulty of overcoming lyric height dimensions achieved in Songoro cosongo was no obstacle for Camagüey poet gave to the printing press, in the mid-1930s, a new book of poems, which returned to cause an unusual admiration among the critics and readers of all the Hispanic literary field. It is West Indies Ltd. (La Habana: Úcar, García, 1934), another beautiful volume of verses that the step that consolidated - in a merely formal plane - the mastery of Guillén in the cultivation of their beloved rhythms of son, opened a new channel of expression for their constant worries of social criticism - in the contingent to its thematic ambition —. And it is, from now on, the political and social concerns of the mestizo poet would not be limited to the racial spectrum of Afro-Cuban blacks that would broaden their sights to focus, in general, in all the social conflicts of the Antillean Island, with special attention to the lack of independence and underdevelopment lived all his compatriots because of the ominous American interference.

There remains, however, in this third collection of poems of Guillén the preoccupation with the racial problem, says, in general, in almost all compositions of the first part of the book, and very notably at emotional poem entitled "Ballad of two grandparents", where racial integration postulated by Guillén proposal goes back to the peaks of high poetic intensity: "shadows that I only see, / I escort my two grandparents. Bone-tipped spear / drum leather and wood: / my black grandfather. / Ruff in wide-necked, / grey Warrior Armor: / my white grandfather. [...] / / What boat, what boat! / What's black, what black! / What a long glare of reeds! / What scourge of the slave trader! [...] / / Shadows that I only see, / I escort my two grandparents. Don Federico I shout, / and Taita Facundo calla; / dream of the two on the night, / and they walk, they walk. / Me the together. -Federico! / Facundo! The two embrace. / Both sigh. The two / strong heads rise; / the two full-size, / under the high stars; / the two full-size / craving black and white anxiety; / the two full-size / scream, dream, they cry, they sing. They dream, they cry sing. They cry, they cry, they sing. They cry, they sing. / Sing! "."

But in the second part of this book of poems where, in the wake of the poem "West Indies Ltd." (that gives title to the whole book), comes the breath of revolutionary poetry of Nicolás Guillén, originated in the frustration of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who, after the failure of the revolution of 30, looked at how the United States became more present than ever in the political landscape of his people, to perpetuate this dictatorship of the general Machado that the revolution had intended to abolish. New broadmindedness governing thinking of Guillen prevented that his poetic voice was anchored in the mere exposure of a local, since conflict that, from the bitter irony of the title of this work (with a "West Indies" that anglicaniza - as a victim of the American imperialist influence - all the geo-political area of the Caribbean, together with the abbreviation "Ltd.")(, which denounces the commercial exploitation of that environment by the American neocolonial voracity), the poet of Camagüey was able to extend the scope of his complaint to the Antillean archipelago, subjected to constant interference by foreign powers. The rhythmic sounds of "the charanga of Juan the Barber", that interrupt the long runs of free verses that make up the bulk of the poem, introduced in the middle of this generalized complaint specificity combative of the Cuban people, at the time that retrieve the ancient "are reasons", always present in the poems of Guillén.

Identical interest in the Cuban political and social situation projected towards wide Hispanic presides over the poetic fourth installment of Nicolás Guillén, published three years after the onset of West Indies Ltd. under the significant title of songs for soldiers and sones for tourists (Mexico: Ed. masses, 1937). Again the son was present in a volume of lyrical Guillén from the privileged frontispiece of its heading, increasingly more gifted a pronounced revolutionary load which, at the time putting into question the dictatorship military in the island and its pathetic efforts of propaganda to attract foreign tourists, leaving step to the metric and Strophic (ballads Spanish classical tradition of wealth(, sonnets, redondillas) and certainly to the metaphorical pyrotechnics learned of the avant-garde.

But, through those hard times, the formal moulds of the Spanish classical poetry were not the only aspect of the Hispanic reality that was interested in a committed and courageous poet as Nicolás Guillén. Installed for some time in Mexico (in where, invited to participate in the Congress of the League of revolutionary artists and writers had given to press his earlier poems), published there a brief plaquette, under the title of Spain: poem four fears and hope (Mexico: New Mexico Ed., 1937), transferred all the combative effort of the Cuban people to the Iberian Peninsula, in support of the defenders of the Republic seriously threatened. A few months later, in the middle of Guerra Civil Española, Nicolás Guillén moved to the new continent to take part, in Valencia (where had the opportunity to re-edit your Mexican plaquette: Valencia: Ediciones Spanish [new collection hero], 1937), at the International Congress of antifascist writers in defense of culture, which also was attended by other so precipuas figures of the Latin American letters as Chilean Pablo Nerudaand Vicente Huidobrothe Peruvian César Vallejo, Mexico's Octavio Paz and the Cuban Alejo Carpentier. The testimonies of the fratricidal strife that could collect Nicolás Guillén, on-site, as well as experiences who lived shortly afterwards in Paris, could read in Cuba between the pages of the magazine noon, at that time directed by the own Bard of Camagüey.

On his return to Cuba in 1938, already established as one of the most important figures of the public life of the country, Nicolás Guillén, active member of the National Committee of the Socialist Popular Party, intervened decisively in numerous political and cultural events of the agitated his people present, ora dictating conferences, ora reciting poems, ora throwing revolutionary rhetoric, and always expressing their ideas through frequent journalistic contributions published in Rotary today. At the same time, continued immersed in an intense creative process that, after the recast corrected and augmented his second book of poems, printed - released, under the title of Songoro cosongo and other poems, in two consecutive editions: Havana: Veronica La Imprenta, 1942; and Havana: Ed. pages, 1943-, gave as a result a new collection of poems entitled the whole sound (Buenos Aires: Ed. Pleamar, 1947), which contain all the poetic production published by Guillén from motives of the are to date, came from the Buenos Aires press with the subtitle of "Poetic sum (1929-1946)". At the time of the appearance of the whole are, the Cuban poet took more than two years enrolled in a productive tour through various countries in South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina), which would not end until the following year (1948), after also visiting Uruguay and Brazil. At the end of this fruitful journey, Guillén had been already consecrated as one of the most representative of all the Latin American countries poetic voices; It was, par excellence, the singer of the cultural identity of Latin America, and, above all, the revolutionary intellectual defender of the respective independence of each territory with respect to the expansionist desires of the powerful neighbor to the North.

Back in Cuba, during the decade between 1949 and 1958 the poet of Camagüey extended its influence in Latin America almost all the peoples of the planet. The universal recognition that surrendered to his work led him to travel - on many occasions, Member of the Board world peace – through various countries in Asia, America and Europe, where had the opportunity to verify the interest that woke up his poetry, which in those years could already read in translation English, French, German, Russian, Hungarian, Polish, CzechBulgarian, Swedish, and even Chinese. His poems were published and republished in numerous collections of pocket, read in schools and universities, analyzed and commented on in academic seminars, and reproduced in magazines and newspapers around the world. Without a doubt, had reached the international dedication as a writer, although, paradoxically, were the authorities of your country which keep less respect him.

Indeed, in 1953, after the return to power of dictator Fulgencio Batista, Nicolás Guillén was forced to embark on the path of exile. He settled, first, in Paris, where alternated his residence until 1958 with constant visits to different Eastern countries of Europe; during one of these trips, the Soviet Government awarded him, at the end of 1954, the Lenin Prize for international peace. Subsequently settled in the capital of Argentina, where he printed another outstanding book of poems, entitled popular flying pigeon (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1958). In this work, Guillen collected some of the most beautiful Elegies which had already published, in the form of plaquettes, during his last stay in Cuba (chose Jacques Roumain in the sky of Haiti [Havana: Ed. Ayon, 1948]; and chose to Jesús Menéndez [Havana: Ed. pages, 1951]), as well as other similar compositions that had not even been printed ("family Elegy""Camaguey Elegy", "Cuban Elegy" and "Elegy to Emmet Till"); In addition, popular flying pigeon was switched on between its wings/pages some new poems written by Nicolás Guillén during its long and random years in exile, many of them called to become global emblems of the poetry without borders and international peace ("to make this wall / bring all hands: / Blacks black hands, / white white hands.") / Ay, / a wall that goes / from the beach up to the mountain, / from the mountain to the beach, well, / beyond over the horizon. [...] / / The heart of the friend, / open the wall; / the poison and the dagger / closes the wall; / the Myrtle and the Mint / open the wall; / the tooth of the serpent, / closes the wall; ("/ the Nightingale in the flower / opens the wall...").

Hopes for a better future for their homeland, hosted by Nicolás Guillén in some compositions of this last book of poems, were made reality for Camagüey writer the first day of January, 1959, with the resounding triumph of the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro. He returned to join us, then, in a frantic process of creative activity that, in defense of these great revolutionary transformations that had been invoked in his verses for almost thirty years, led him to assume much of the ideological propaganda of the new regime, always from a deep intellectual position (manifest in the newspaper articles that, at the time, published almost every day) and from a no less deep poetic feeling (embodied in the accentuation of the belligerent tone that dominated the) verses he composed during the early years of the Revolution). In addition, it regained its former pre-eminent position in the Cuban public life, now held from his post as President of the Union of writers and artists of Cuba (UNEAC). Appeared, then, on the shelves of Cuban libraries poems I have (La Habana: Ed. of the National Council of universities, Universidad Central de Las Villas, 1964), work which, in the middle of a lush richness of theme ingredients and formal moulds, compiled the latest compositions of Nicolás Guillén, almost all marked by exultant tone who celebrated the true triumph of the people and the real conquest of national independence.

Three years later, when the consolidation of Castro's Revolutionary Government seemed to have exhausted the reasons so Nicolás Guillén continue clamoring for equality and justice in Cuba, the lyric writer of Camagüey estrus returned to pleasantly surprise to her legion of readers with the publication of the great Zoo (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1967), a dazzling poetic imagination exercise in which the old master had to demonstrate that the poetic Word is never private reasons for the song. In an unexpected change of thematic, formal records, and even expressive (such as those affecting the new language used by Guillén, much more sober, direct and refined than the displayed in his previous works; or the celebrated rhythm of his poems, now more alive and youthful than ever before), the great Cuban poet Zoo displayed a glittering collection of lyrical finds thatreferred to things, animals, people, events and natural phenomena, were peculiar and very personal "bestiary" or "Zoo" poetry of Nicolás Guillén. One of the main attributes of the artistic work of the poet in Camaguey, the sense of humor, showed in this work that the sweet irony and wit of the author, already almost septuagenario, freshness continued as fine as they had shown in his already extensive literary career early.

And even more humorous effect, if possible, could taste its readers in 1972, when Nicolás Guillén, to celebrate the full creative preserved at its seventy years of life, gave the press not one, but two new volumes of verses. In the first, entitled the sprocket (Havana: Editions Union, 1972), could read numerous exercises censorship ironic and playful intellectual self-confidence as bright as that below is copied: "Monsieur Dupont calls you uneducated, / because you ignore what was the grandson / preferred Víctor Hugo." Herr Müller has been screaming, / because you know not the day / (exact) that Bismarck died. Your friend Mr. Smith, / English or Yankee, I do not know, / are rising up when you write shell. / (Seems that you save an ele, / and that in addition to utter chel). Well, and what? / When you touch you, / send them say cacarajicara, / and where is the Aconcagua, / and to Sucre, who was / and where on this planet / Martí died. "A favor: / that you always speak in Spanish" ("problems of underdevelopment"). Moreover, this sprocket that serves as title to the collection of poems is presented through his verses, as the universal symbol of the work: the force driving that, liberated by the revolution, it encourages the development of socialism.

The second collection of poems Nicolás Guillén gave to the hollanders at seventy years of age, entitled with the fragmentary humorous phrase to newspaper daily (Havana: Editions Union, 1972), showed well clear a new exercise of irony in the poetic journey of the Cuban, but now focused on the effort of telling Bard (from the more serious aspects that can be inferred from the humor) the long historical process that his people had experienced from the moment of the independence to those years of fullness of the Cuban revolution. When it seemed that this splendid collection of poems (whose impeccable Bill scratched at the level of the best titles of Guillén) was called to become the grand finale of your print production, the inexhaustible lyrical venero of Camagüey poet wanted to celebrate his three quarters of a century with the publication of by the sea of the Antilles anda a paper (Havana boat(: Ediciones Union, 1977), a new collection of compositions which, adorned by a touch of grace and simplicity that nothing desdecía the sustained quality of his poetic voice, were advertised from its subtitle as "poems for children of full age".

To achieve the status of an octogenarian, Nicolás Guillén - which was subject of a resounding tribute by the Union of writers and artists of Cuba, which stressed the "vigorous artistic genius, the sensitivity [and] character" with that knew how to reflect "the historical process and the fighting spirit of a people, a geographical area and a time" - saw how came out of the printing press the most significant memories of his life, under the title of page turns. Memories (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1982). And the following year appeared the last poetic title of original production, entitled Sunday Sun (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1983), where he met some of his most famous compositions with other unpublished, of recent creation.

In the mid-1970s, compiled by Ángel Augier, had seen the light some of its most representative texts in prose (essays, lectures, chronicles and news articles), published in three volumes under the title of prose in a hurry (Havana: Ed. art and literature; t. I [1929-1949], 1975; t. 2 [1949-1961], 1975; t. 3 [1962-1972], 1976). Previously, the own anthologist had made a splendid selection, commented and annotated, of the poetry of Nicolás Guillén: poetry (La Habana: Instituto Cubano book; I [1920-1958] t., 1972; t. 2 [1959-1972], 1973). Among numerous anthological shows samples of the work of the poet's published Camaguey before his disappearance, should also remember the following titles: more Anthology (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1964); Poetic summa [Luis Íñigo Madrigal ed.] (Madrid: Ed. Cátedra, 1976); and the large Elegies and other poems [SEL., prol. y Ángel Augier notes] (Caracas: BA, 1984).

Nicolás Guillén, "La Muralla" (the popular flying pigeon. Elegies).


AGUIRRE, Mirta. A poet and a continent (Havana: Ed. letters Cuban, 1982).

AUGIER, Ángel. Nicolás Guillén. Biografico-critico study (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1984).

CARTEY, Wilfred George. Nicolás Guillén: His Themes in Antillan Poetry (New York: Columbia University, 1955-1956).

ELLIS, Keith. Cuba's Nicolás Guillén. Poetry and Ideology (Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 1983).

Fernandez RETAMAR, Roberto. The son of popular flight (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1971).

GASTANI, Francis Marion. Nicolás Guillén: A Study on the Fonology and Metrics in his Poetry (New York: Columbia University, 1940).

MANSOUR, Monica. Textual and intertextual analysis of the "Elegy to Jesus Menendez" (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, 1980).

MARTÍNEZ ESTRADA, Ezequiel. The Afro-Cuban poetry of Nicolás Guillén (Montevideo: Ark, 1966).

MELON, Alfred. Reality, poetry and ideology (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1977).

MOREJÓN, Nancy (ed.). Collection of texts about Nicolás Guillén (La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1974).

-----------------. Nation and miscegenation in Nicolás Guillén (La Habana: Ediciones Union, 1982).

RUFFINELLI, Jorge. Poetry and decolonization. Journey through the poetry of Nicolás Guillén (Mexico: Ed. Oasis, 1985).

RUSCADELLA BARCEDONIZ, Jorge María. Four basic elements in the poetry of Nicolás Guillén (Río Piedras [Puerto Rico]: University, 1972).

SARDINHA, Dennis. The Poetry of Nicolás Guillén. An Introduction (London: New Beacon Books, 1978).

WILLIAMS, Lorna V. Self and Society in the Poetry of Nicolás Guillén (Baltimore & London: John Hopkins University, 1982).

VV AA. "Proceedings of the International Symposium on the work of Nicolás Guillén" [Bordeaux (France), September 1987. [Institut d' études Ibériques et Ibero-Américaines, Université de Bordeaux III, with the collaboration of the Union of writers and artists of Cuba (UNEAC)], in Journal of literature Cubana (Havana), VI, 11 (1988).