The Spanish Civil War in Literature

By Janet Pérez; Wendell Aycock | Go to book overview

Icons of War in Alberti:
“Madrid-Otoño”

Salvador J. Fajardo

The battle for Madrid, which began in November 1936, came to a standstill in March 1937. Subsequently, upon the Nationalist conquest of much of Northern Spain, in April through October 1937, the balance of power was definitely tilted in favor of the Franco forces. With the Nationalist conquest of Catalonia, December 1938 through February 1939, the fate of the Republic was effectively sealed. Throughout the war, however, the resistance of the capital had stood as a symbol of hope for the Republicans, and one should read Rafael Alberti's “Capital de la gloria” with this notion in mind.1

In her fine book Rafael Alberti's Poetry of the Thirties Judith Nantell describes “Capital de la gloria” as “Alberti's intimate diary of the Spanish Civil War” (92). Although only a few poems in the collection deal specifically with Madrid, it is significant that Alberti's title sets forth the importance of the capital as background to his war poetry. The first, and probably the most powerful, piece in the “poemario,” “Madrid-Otoño,” deals precisely with the besieged city. A mimetic reading of “Madrid-Otoño” clearly features the notion of rebirth as its central theme (Nantell, 92–98). This idea has the added appeal of informing many of Alberti's poems in “Capital de la gloria.” But if we read the poem at another level, rhetorically as well as mimetically, we realize that the opposition death-birth generates an intrinsic contention at the very source of the poet's voice.

My interest in reading “Madrid-Otoño” lies at the intersection of rhetoric and semiotics. I am looking for the origins of Alberti's voice of battle, when he becomes the spokesman for the combatants and, considering the devastation of the Civil War, he ponders his instrument, his poet's words, as an inadequate, yet necessary substitute for bullets.

-121-

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