Modernist poet whose work presents romantic lyrical elements. José P. H Herndez wrote about themes of love, nature and death. Archaic terms, neologisms, hyperbole and nine-syllable meter were commonly used in his poetry.
José Polonio Hernández Hernández was born in Hatillo on May 22, 1892. He completed his elementary school studies and part of his high school studies in Hatillo. He also studied music there with Manuel A. Lacomba and Tomás Millán. He played the flute and euphonium. As a performer, he moved to San Juan in 1907 with a musical band.
In San Juan, he completed high school and took lessons in French, English, Latin and Greek. He wrote his first verses in that era; most were dedicated to the woman who would later become his wife, Carmen Sánchez. He attended literary readings by other poets such as Evaristo Rivera Chevremont and Luis Llorens Torres, who were interested in modernist poetry in the style of Ruben Dario.
He earned the title of medical assistant as his interest in studying medicine was cut short for lack of economic resources. In 1912, he graduated as a pharmacist and in 1913 he moved to Corozal. He later settled in his home town of Hatillo, where he worked as a pharmacist and a medical assistant at the Hernández Pharmacy. He also directed a musical band in Hatillo. In 1914, he married Carmen Sánchez and, several years later, moved to Río Grande where their three children were born. After the death of José Polonio, one of his sons, in 1919, he incorporated the topic of death into his work.
His poetry tended toward symbolism and was dominated by an inward view to the heart of a poet and escapism to exotic sites. His work also led the new trends of the 1920s by displaying the search for new forms of expression, such as the incorporation of acoustic interpretations based on onomatopoeia that would be used by the diepalismo movement, the Puerto Rican avant-garde movement begun in 1921.
More than fifty of his poems appeared in various magazines and newspapers. He also published two books: Coplas de la vereda (1919), his first book of poetry, in which he reveals a poetic simplicity and a fine melancholy that permeated all of his work, and El último combate (1921), with a prologue by Juan Vicente Rafael – Padre Rivera – in which he projects a more intense and intimate tone of anguish. A third book of poetry, El páramo de los petreles, was lost while in the hands of Spanish poet Francisco Villaespesa, who was going to write a prologue for it and publish it in Spain.
Published posthumously was Cantos de la Sierra (1925), a book that collected the author’s best poems, among which was his best known poem, “A unos ojos astrales,” with a distinctly modernist meter and rhythm. In 1936, the magazine Alma Latina collected his poems and published them in an issue dedicated to the poet.
The poetry of José P.H. Hernández covered the themes of pain, death, beauty and nature. As an intimist, his work lacked precise geographic elements. In other words, his descriptions did not allude to a place, but to a state of fantasy, futile hope and sad melancholy. In his poems, he displayed a strong command of the language, the techniques of symbolism and perfect meter that allowed his poems to be read with rhythmic fluidity.
After suffering from tuberculosis for three years, he died in Río Grande on April 2, 1922.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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