mardi 18 décembre 2012

Nicolas Guillen. Biography and I Have

The Cuban author Nicolás Guillén (1902-1989) was one of the most famous writers in 
Latin America. His poetry showed that he was one of the greatest innovators in Latin 
American verse. Guillén introduced the Hispanic world to Afro-Cuban folk and 
musical forms.
Nicolás Guillén was born on July 10, 1902, in Camagüey, Cuba. He was one of six 
children of mulatto parents. Guillén received his early education in his native 
Camagüey. His father, who was involved in provincial politics, was murdered when 
Nicolás was 17. After his father’s death he helped support his family by working as 
a typesetter. He completed his secondary schooling in just two years and began 
publishing poetry which reflected the prevailing influence of Modernism in the 
journal Camagüey Gráfico.
In 1920 Guillén went to Havana to study law but was forced by economic restraints 
to return home. In 1921 he returned to Havana and managed to complete one year 
of formal study at law school. During this period he became actively interested in 
writing through his association with the literary circles of the capital. He returned 
to Camagüey in 1922 where, with the help of his brother, he founded the literary 
journal Lis and worked as the editor of a local newspaper from 1922 to 1926.
Early Work
In 1926 Guillén again returned to Havana, where he worked as a typist. 
In the late 1920s he began writing for a special Sunday newspaper section 
– “Ideales de una Raza” – of the Diario de la Marina devoted to aspects of Black 
life. It was in this Sunday supplement that he launched his literary career with 
the publication on April 20, 1930, of Son Motifs. Guillén’s slim collection of eight 
poems describing the lives of Blacks in Cuba’s urban slums had an electrifying 
effect on both whites and Blacks who saw in it the genesis of an authentic Cuban 
art form. The poems were based on the son, an Afro-Cuban dance which was 
popular at the time and symbolized the dual ethnic/ racial makeup of the island. 
Although these poems explored a variety of urban situations among poor Blacks 
– the search for money, tension between Blacks and mulattoes, “passing” – they 
presented these themes from a festive, musical perspective. The poems in Son 
Motifs were soon set to music by composers such as Eliseo Grenet and Silestre 
Guillén’s next book, Sóngoro Cosongo (1931), was longer (it contained 15 poems) 
and represented a step toward artistic maturity. Although he continued to develop 
the themes and styles of his first book, the folkloric and picturesque elements 
were subordinated to capture more authentically the violence and cynicism of 
ghetto life. In many ways this book is reminiscent of the themes introduced by 
Langston Hughes in the United States with his Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927). 
In this second book Guillén focused slightly more attention on problems of 
general national concern. This was noted in the subtitle “Mulatto poems, ” which 
clearly indicated Guillén’s concern with what was properly the national essence.
Change in Style
The collection of poems West Indies Ltd (1934) marked a turning point both in 
Guillén’s poetic techniques and in his political ideology. Here Guillén universalized 
his concern for the common man by expanding his vision to include all the 
marginated peoples of the Caribbean. For example, the poem, which gives title 
to the collection enumerates a long list of evils which plague the Caribbean, 
many of which are attributed to U.S. economic imperialism.
During the 1930s Guillén worked as a journalist for the liberal newspaper Meiodía 
and became increasingly involved in politics. He joined the Communist Party in 
1937, the same year he made his first trip out of Cuba to attend a congress of 
writers and artists in Mexico. In 1937 he also traveled to Spain to attend the 
Second International Writers Congress for the Defense of Culture, where he 
met writers such as Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, and Ernest 
Hemingway, among others. In 1937 he published two books: Songs for Soldiers 
and Songs for Tourists and Spain:Poem in Four Anguishes and One Hope. In these 
collections, Guillén increasingly turned to more universal themes and motifs and 
abandoned temporarily his exploration of Afro-Cuban life. Thus in Spain he 
decried the evils of fascism and poetically called upon the soldiers of Cortés 
and Pizarro to return and fight the evils of the modern era. Similarly Song for 
Soldiersis a moving indictment of militarism.
In 1947 Guillén published The Entire Son, a book which marked the integration 
of his earlier stages into a universalist apprehension of man’s social dilemma. 
This was followed by The Dove of Popular Flight – Elegies (1958), a collection of 
poems written in exile from Cuba which focuses directly on social issues of the 
1950s. Here Guillén treated contemporary political material in an explicit and 
forceful way. Typical of his political bent are poems such as “Elegy for 
Emmett Till” and “Little Rock” (both U.S. racial confrontations), whereas 
“My Last Name” is a mythological search for his African heritage. Published 
in 1964, I Have represented the culmination for the poet of the revolutionary 
process and evinced a sense of satisfaction. Later collections such as The Big 
Zoo (1967), The Serrated Wheel (1972), and particularly The Daily Diary (1972) 
show that Guillén continued to mature and was capable of producing verse which
 is ironic, humorous, and yet ever faithful to his artistic vision which embraced 
the condition of the common man.
Apart from the poetry already mentioned, Guillén wrote hundreds of essays 
for newspapers, many of which dealt with racial problems in Cuba. An anthology 
of these articles was published in 1975 under the title Hurried Prose. In 1953 he 
was awarded the Stalin Prize in Moscow. After the Cuban revolution in 1959, he 
served in a variety of diplomatic and cultural missions. In 1961 he was named 
National Poet of Cuba and became president of the Union of Cuban Writers 
and Artists.
Robert Marquez and David McMurray edited Man-making Words:Selected 
Poems of Nicolas Guillén’s in 1972. Man-making Words was a collection of 
the Afro-Cuban poet’s works ranging from his early experimental political 
poetry to his mature descriptions of the socio-historical and everyday life 
of his beloved Cuba. Broadening the significance of Guillén’s poetry, Ian 
Isidore Smart wrote Nicolás Guillén, Popular Poet of the Caribbean (1990), 
protraying the breath and richness of the artistic ability of the poet.

Further Reading
Dennis Sardinha’s The Poetry of Nicolás Guillén (1976) offers a good general 
introduction to his work and contains considerable information about his life; 
Frederick Stimson’s The New Schools of Spanish American Poetry (1970) has 
a full chapter dedicated to Guillén in addition to a good bibliography; The 
introduction to Robert Márquez and David Arthur McMurray’s Man Making 
Words (1972) also offers a good biographic overview of his life and works with 
a good discussion of his poetry of social protest; An excellent study of Guillén in 
relation to the poets of Negritude is found in Martha Cobb’s Harlem, Haiti, and 
Havana:A Comparative Critical Study of Langston Hughes, Jacques Roumain 
and Nicolás Guillén (1979; Wilfred Cartey’s Black Images (1970) has a chapter 
related to the poetry of Guillén which deals with the Black experience; Lorna V. 
William’s Self and Society in the Poetry of Nicolás Guillén (1982) defines Guillén’s 
racial identity and evaluates his sociopolitical views as they are expressed in his 
poetry; Keith Ellis’ Cuba’s Nicolás Guillén:Poetry and Ideology (1983) is the most 
comprehensive literary study of the totality of the poet’s work to date. It 
contains an extensive bibliography. Also see Twentieth-century Latin American 
poetry:a bilingual anthology, edited by Stephen Tapscott (Univ of Texas Press, 

Neruda and Guillen


I Have*
By Nicolás Guillén

When I see and touch myself,
I, Juan with Nothing only yesterday,
and Juan with Everything today,
and today with everything,
I turn my eyes and look,
I see and touch myself,
and ask myself, how this could have been.
I have, let’s see,
I have the pleasure of going about my country,
owner of all there is in it,
looking closely at what
I did not or could not have before.
I can say cane,
I can say mountain,
I can say city,
say army,
now forever mine and yours, ours,
and the vast splendor of
the sunbeam, star, flower.
I have, let’s see,
I have the pleasure of going,
me, a farmer, a worker, a simple man,
I have the pleasure of going
(just an example)
to a bank and speak to the manager,
not in English,
not in “Sir,”but in compañero as we say in Spanish.
I have, let’s see,
that being Black
no one can stop meat the door of a dance hall or bar.
Or even on the rug of a hotel
scream at me that there are no rooms,
a small room and not a colossal one,
a tiny room where I can rest.
I have, let’s see,
that there are no rural police
to seize me and lock me in a precinct jail,
or tear me from my land and cast me
in the middle of the highway.
I have that having the land I have the sea,
no country clubs,
no high life,
no tennis and no yachts,
but, from beach to beach and wave on wave,
gigantic blue open democratic:
in short, the sea.
I have, let’s see,
that I have learned to read,
to count,
I have that I have learned to write,
and to think,
and to laugh.
I have… that now I have
a place to work
and earn
what I have to eat.
I have, let’s see,
I have what I had to have.
* Tengo in Spanish.

Aucun commentaire:

Enregistrer un commentaire