Leading exponent of the second era of romanticism in Puerto Rico. His poetry, influenced mainly by the Spanish poet Bécquer, is characterized by the subtlety of emotion in addressing themes of love, country and death. As a journalist, his writing was influenced by his liberal reformist ideals.
José Gautier Benítez was born in Caguas on November 12, 1851, the son of Rodulfo Gautier y de Castro and Alejandrina Benítez y de Arce. He inherited his love for poetry from his mother’s side. His mother was a poet, as was an aunt, María Bibiana Benítez, who was considered the first woman poet on the island. After the death of his father in 1856, his aunt took him and his mother and sisters into her home in Old San Juan, where he was exposed to literary and political discussions. His first effort at poetry came as a child, with verses titled A la llegada de las Hermanas de la Caridad, in honor of the arrival of the nuns.
Gautier Benítez decided to pursue a military career to be able to support his mother and sisters. In 1865, he enrolled as a cadet in the military school in the capital. He graduated in 1868, the same year he was part of the garrison sent to control the insurrection at Lares. He transferred to Madrid in 1870 to complete his military studies and he graduated with the rank of second lieutenant in the infantry.
Upon his return to Puerto Rico, Gautier Benítez obtained a job as a clerk for the Provincial Council and began contributing to the newspaper El Progreso, which was the publication of the Liberal Reformist Party, whose ideas he supported. In that newspaper he published Regreso (A la vista de Puerto Rico), an ode to the island that he wrote when he saw the island from the ship that brought him from Madrid.
Under the pseudonym of Gustavo, he also published, also in El Progreso, Cuadros sociales– written mainly in verse. In these pieces, he exposed the ills of colonial Puerto Rican society. He also published some translations of foreign poets such as Sandor Petoefi (Hungarian) and Adam Mickiewicz (Polish).
Gautier Benítez settled again in Caguas to run the family farm and, in 1874, married his cousin, Cecilia Benítez Negrón Longpré, with whom he returned to San Juan. In 1876, the passage of Hurricane San Felipe Neri destroyed the family farm, leaving the Benítez family’s economic situation in doubt. The same year, he published several of his poems in La Crónica de Ponce, a publication edited by Luis Marín, and founded, along with Manuel de Elzaburu – one of the founders of the Puerto Rican Athenaeum – the Revista Puertorriqueña, a monthly literary publication, for which he also wrote under the pseudonym Estenio Colina.
In 1879, then suffering from tuberculosis, he won one of the first literary awards granted by the Athenaeum for his poem “A Puerto Rico”. In that era, he expressed his thoughts about death in Insomnio, Apariencias y Renacimiento, poems with pre-modernist characteristics.
Gautier Benítez’s poetry is representative of late romanticism, which valued subjectivity, individuality and passionate love for a woman and country. It reflects influences of the romantic Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, as well as José Zorrilla and José de Espronceda. His journalistic work generally consisted of satirical verses in which he criticized the political and social problems of Puerto Rico.
Among his poems are “A C.B.” and “A Cecilia”, dedicated to his wife, “La barca”, “La niñez en la mujer”, “Ausencia”, “Una pregunta” and “Un encargo a mis amigos”, among others.
He died on January 24, 1880. After his death, his friend, Manuel de Elzaburu, published Poesías, a selection of his poems.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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