Academic journal article Romance Notes

Between Modernismo and Vanguardismo: Tradition and Innovation in Pablo Neruda's Crepusculario

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Between Modernismo and Vanguardismo: Tradition and Innovation in Pablo Neruda's Crepusculario

Article excerpt

CHILEAN poet Pablo Neruda published his first collection of poetry, Crepusculario (1923), during the transition from Modernismo to Vanguardismo. Acknowledging the book's dissonant nature, the poet himself portrayed it as an encounter between his own expression of personal experience ("mi voz") and "voces ajenas" (Crepusculario, 11, 107). (1) Like other contemporary poets, Neruda was challenged to shape his own poetic voice in the face of strong precursory Modernista conventions and fresh avant-garde developments. In the two poems that frame the collection--"Inicial" and "Final"--Neruda establishes a conscious, though implicit, dialogue between Modernismo and Vanguardismo and between his own creative identity and the external literary pressures surrounding him. Consequently, Kristine Ibsen has misjudged Crepusculario as "poesia de soliloquio," though she rightly views it as "una muestra importante de la tentativa de un poeta en busca de una voz autentica" (257, 266). A careful interpretation of these two key poems within the context of the collection reveals thematic and stylistic counterpoints that parallel the dispute between tradition and innovation and the poet's struggle to give utterance to his own poetic voice. (2)

Despite its distinction as the first published collection by Spanish America's leading twentieth-century poet, Crepusculario has generated scant critical attention. It is generally given brief mention in major studies on Neruda and has been the exclusive subject of a limited number of critical essays (Concha, "Borges, Neruda"; Concha, "Proyeccion"; Cortinez; Escoto; Lago; Loveluck; Loyola, "Crepusculario"; Montes, "Importancia"; Montes, "El primer libro"; Prado; Rocha Gutierrez; VillegasMorales). Indeed, later literary critics and Neruda himself have tended to diminish its significance, dismissing Crepusculario as a mere product of past literary tradition or a derivative assimilation of Modernismo (Agosin, Alazraki, Costa, Duran [and Safir], Lozada, Rocha Gutierrez, Rodriguez Monegal and Silva Castro). (3) At the same time, others view the book as a foreshadowing of Neruda's later work (Agosin, Edwards, Ibsen, Loveluck, Montes). Even more curiously, in spite of the prominent and symmetrical placement of "Inicial" and "Final" within the structure of Neruda's earliest poetry collection, critics have overlooked these two poems. (4) As his first major poetic experiment, Crepusculario, from first to last or from "Inicial" to "Final," is a necessary stepping-stone in Neruda's creative evolution and its alternately orthodox and heterodox nature lays the groundwork for his challenging avant-garde period, commencing with Tentativa del hombre infinito (1926).

Emerging during a period of flux in Spanish American, and specifically Chilean, literature, Neruda, not surprisingly, was pulled in several creative directions at once. During the mid-1910s to 1920s, his former teacher Gabriela Mistral had achieved both national and international recognition and published her first poetry collection Desolacion (1922). At about the same time Vicente Huidobro formulated his "Arte poetica" (1916), the aesthetic credo of Creacionismo, and followed it up with eight books in the following seven years, including such works as Ecuatorial (1918), Saisons choisies (1921), and Finis Britanniae (1923). Other promising Spanish American poets, namely Jorge Luis Borges and Cesar Vallejo, were, like Neruda, just embarking on their literary careers. (5) Accordingly, Neruda's first verse collection displays the disparate literary forces, both backward-looking and forward-looking, affecting him.

This discord is conveyed in the collection's title and dedication. The title Crepusculario calls to mind both the Symbolists' preferred hour of the day as well as an earlier volume by Argentine poet Leopoldo Lugones, Los crepusculos del jardin (1905), generally regarded as his most typically Modernista work. Neruda considered and rejected several possible titles before settling on the neologistic Crepusculario, meaning a "coleccion de crepusculos," with all its "resonancias modernistas" (Loveluck 168). …

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