Luis Hernández Aquino was an outstanding poet, literary critic, linguist, anthologist, narrator and academic. He was part of the 1930s Generation. Poetry was his favored literary genre. His literary work consists of seven published and two unpublished books and more than 70 other poems. Among his publications are Niebla lírica (avant-garde poems) (1931); Agua de remanso (1939); Poemas de la vida breve (1940); Isla para la angustia (1943); Memoria de Castilla (1956); Del tiempo cotidiano (1961); Entre la elegía y el réquiem (1968); Voz en el tiempo (anthology 1925-1952) (1952); and Antología Poética de Luis Hernández Aquino (1974). The unpublished works are titled Las blancas veredas (1925) and Tiempo y soledad (1944-1951). In an interview with Carmelo Rodríguez Hernández, Aquino also spoke of two books he was in the process of writing: Memoria de la sangre and Días del éxtasis.
Luis Hernández Aquino’s poetry is intimate in nature, but it also delves into social issues. Its motifs are varied and it addresses the poetic trends in each of the literary and cultural moments in which the poetry was written. It is also related to the poet’s life and the important circumstances in his country and his era. One of the noteworthy elements of his poetry is its human element, along with attention to form and the desire to communicate. María Teresa Babín (1958) has called it poetry that is simple and deep, wrought with seriousness and love, free of superfluous appendices, centered upon a clear understanding of what true poetry should be.
Through poetry, novels, essays and journalism, as well as his accomplishments, Hernández Aquino has shown us his convictions. About the qualities an author should have, he said:
The writer must live intensely and extensively. He must know people of all social and moral strata. He should live a life full of emotion, going through a series of dramatic, or tragic, circumstances. Otherwise, he would be silenced. He would be a common man with trivial concerns.
He began to write and publish at 18 years of age, inspired by the landscape of his homeland and an intimate, nostalgic and elegiac sentiment. From the time his first work was published in newspapers and magazines, we are impressed by how cultured he was – he was self-taught – and by his poetic awareness. He soon became part of the most important avant-garde movement in Puerto Rican poetry, Atalaya de los Dioses. In Alma Latina, he published his poems in the Poemas nuevos and Antología nudista de vanguardia sections. He became known in those pages as a prose writer, penning brief and lyrical articles, particularly on a page called Poemas vanguardistas en prosa, in which his intimate tone is accompanied by metaphors.
Niebla lírica, his first book, established him as a different kind of poet who brilliantly and deftly managed the poetic language. When it appeared in 1931, his fellow Atalayistas considered the book to be representative of their movement, along with Responso a mis poemas náufragos, by Graciany Miranda, and Grito, by Fernando González Alberty.
Seen in its entirety, Hernández Aquino’s poetry constitutes a poet’s response to the world. That response, in order of his feelings, is directed toward the land, his fellow countrymen, and the daily happenings and humble things. He learns and looks with interest on all that is human. Putting the common or incidental into poetry seems to be a result of his observant and meticulous spirit. He believed that there were no high or low topics in literature and art. He writes both epic poems, such as “Oda al General don Manuel Rojas” – hero of the Grito de Lares – and “Poemas de la vida breve,” about the morning song of a mockingbird or an elegy to the trees.
An evolution can be seen in his poetry, however. In his first three books, there is a greater weight of “literature,” in the good sense of the word, because of the greater importance of the images, the precision of expression and the stylization of the topics. Critics at the time categorized his poetry as “so subjective, so intimate, so distant that it almost takes on not the exterior world as much as the words themselves.” (Luis Villaronga). By comparison, in the 1960s, he turned to the idea of focusing on the immediate, that which “remains and lasts,” according to the verse by Quevedo that Hernández Aquino used as an epigraph in the book Del tiempo cotidiano.
In truth, he had already changed the focus of his poetry with Isla para la angustia, in 1943, in which he became the spokesman for a new movement of literary thought and style called Integralismo. It was a time to integrate oneself with the land, with history, with life. Both in his poems and in his magazine editorials, he called on the poets of the country to “create a Puerto Rican poetry that is telluric,” urging them to “feel the blood of our land in your veins; to be excited by its physical and spiritual content; to seek and capture the daily rhythm of our nature; not to doze in a picturesque regionalism of limitations, but to universalize our lives.”
The integralista movement, in the view of Ernesto Alvarez, had a high and profound meaning, as it “affirmed the Puerto Rican spirit” and also “linked the totality of the culture with its native manifestations.” He explained that “the ethnographic, geographic and telluric realities are emphasized in a way that creates its own reality. The interests of the integralistas are the same as those of Hispanicity. It rejects any form of colonization of art, spirit or intellect.”
The poet’s identification with his land and his fellow men of his time intensified as the crisis of national values increased. With the publication of Isla para la angustia, integralismo was born. It is the movement’s most representative work, a coherent book that represents the moment in which it appeared, but goes beyond the times and radically beyond its circumstances. In it, a sense of history and daily reason (in terms of the integralismo agenda) come together in an important vision that Ernesto Alvarez points to as “an affirmation about the land […] [and] the history [that] is a starting point for becoming aware of carving out a future; [..] it is the vital energy of the past that […] affirms a national identity and a awareness on par with the universal […]”.
Among the motifs developed are the remembrance of ancestors; a return to childhood, an evocation of Lares, his hometown, with its landscape, people and history, the search for and encounter with national identity (in prehistory, language, culture and ecology), the states of individual or collective moods that come to the surface in transitory or permanent circumstances, and motifs of sadness, anguish, affirmation or disenchantment.
Time, the key element, takes on various dimensions, apart from history. The most universal is a cosmic view, with time of perennial light or absolute darkness, from which springs the mystery or which expresses the union and dependence of the universe or the desire for fullness of life. And also, that vision of the earth that constitutes in itself a theory of its origin and organization: cosmogonic time. These motifs permeate the poetic piece “La tierra triste” in Isla para la angustia.
Facing the time for remembering is the other, that of imprecise measure because it is unfathomable: that of forgetting, which emerges in Antología Poética. To all of that we must add subjective time, measured in feelings of slipping away, of inertia; like an immutable, equalizing law; like destructive, daily silence. These concepts of time place him within the philosophy of Hispanic poetry, with its mixture of complaint and stoic resignation, with a final balance of serenity and consolation.
Viewed in its totality, the poetry of Hernández Aquino combines elegy and requiem, emotional memory and angry gesture, delicacy and strength.
De la Puebla, M. Luis Hernández Aquino: “la creación permanente”. Mairena: Veinte poetas puertorriqueños del siglo XX, p 102-110, Año XX No. 45-46, 1998. San Juan.
Author: Mario A. Rodríguez León O. P
Published: September 15, 2014.
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