During the 20th century, Spain underwent a period of intense political turmoil, marked by a military dictatorship in the 1920s, civil war (1936-9), and a fascist dictatorship under Francisco Franco which lasted until 1975. Despite this, the period is recognised as a golden age of Spanish poetic production- many works from the time have been translated into English and met with extensive critical appraisal.
Luis Cernuda was among the Spanish poets writing during the early to mid-20th century. He belongs to the celebrated group of Spanish poets known today as the Generation of 1927. Like many in this group, he was forced into exile following the events of the Spanish Civil War (1936-9). Cernuda’s art was born from his physical exile from his home nation, as well as his own sense of exile from Spain due to his sexuality and introverted personality.
Born in 1902 in Seville, Cernuda’s earliest surviving poems date from when he was studying law at Seville University (1919-25). When Civil War broke out in 1936, Cernuda supported the Republican side. In February 1938, he went to England to give a lecture tour on behalf of the Republic yet was unable to return home as Franco’s army continued to gain power. He lived in exile from Spain for the rest of his life, living in multiple countries including England, New York and Mexico
Cernuda’s poetry is collected in one volume titled La Realidad y el Deseo. First published in 1936, it was reissued with additional poems throughout his life. The volume is described today as a form of spiritual autobiography. Collections within it such as Las Nubes (1937-40) discuss Cernuda’s experiences of the Civil War and early exile.
Cernuda’s work has also been celebrated among the gay community. In Los placers prohibidos (1931) he explicitly uses male pronouns when describing his own sexual experiences. Such an open admission of homosexuality was rare during this period, particularly among Spanish writers. In 2005 he was awarded the Lambda Literary award for Gay Men’s poetry.
Cassia is a second year English Language and Literature student at Oxford University. She researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.