Evaristo Ribera Chevremont’s attitude of respect, love and devotion toward poetry was established in the introduction to his first book – Desfile romántico – published in 1914. In the introduction, “Palabras iniciáticas,” he outlines his ideology of poetry, of an artist in the consecrated calling of poetry, like a holy and mysterious cult. Like Juan Ramón Jiménez and Francisco Matos Paoli, among others, his enthusiasm encouraged a kind of poetic mysticism in which poetry is the measure of all human conditions, with the essence of eternity.
For him, poetry is supported by sincerity and truth; in the search for, and revelation of, beauty. For him, the poet’s mission is to create beautiful objects and regenerate ideas, while penetrating the secret heart of things. The constant search for an elusive thing and the easy discovery of an object close by. The sea, trees, stars, all are sources of inspiration. He discovered them in himself in a particular way, as he confessed so many times. It is an overflowing river: “a river without banks that is in me; river that returns to the sea and sea that returns to the river.” Poetry as fulfillment: a state of grace.
It is impossible to imagine the poet outside of an atmosphere of purity. Personally, he liked solitude, meditative and motivating walks, open to nature; talking with the light and the colors, an encounter with him. It was not, however, a escape from reality. He perfectly understood the social role that was his: the poet involves all of those values that form humanity’s code, that move him to do his work and his life, and are, for people and races, the expression of his soul and his thought. Many of the poems in El hondero lanzó la piedra and Barro testify to the human and collective nature of his message. They are accompanied by a moral intent. Poetry is, at the bottom line, “regardless of your point of view, implies an exaltation of human values”.
With his extensive work, written both in prose and verse, Ribera Chevremont (1890-1976) was a part of cultural life in Puerto Rico for more than five decades. He was, above all, a poet, with twenty-eight books published, plus five anthologies and two volumes of Obra poética (a collection of 21 books). He was also known for his journalism and criticism published in various newspapers and magazines.
His poetry was not static. It evolved over time. It was versatile, adapted to various styles, was expressed in various forms, and adjusted, as well, to his inner growth. In his first two books (which he did not include in Obra poética), there are signs of a romantic spirit, such as his impetuousness, his lack of restraint in tone and language; idealization of personalities and the consequent sublimation of the poet – hero and visionary. Almost equally, an aesthetic attitude that was characteristic of modernism barges in, an interest in visual elements, a preference for precious objects and certain examples of novel versification. Some of the essential notes of modernism that are present in his work are the assessment of the words and the attention given to style, along with a desire to give expression to a pure art; the will to be a universal artist, the preference for beautiful motifs, his conviction of playing the role of poet, apart, consecrated in his art. The general sense of El templo de los alabastros is the presentation of a world of beauty.
Not long thereafter in another stage, he showed great enthusiasm for the avant-garde, agreeing with the spirit that agitated and transformed literature, art and thought in the first decades of the century. He investigated and experimented; disseminated new ideas and produced, at the same time, a work of renovation. He became, as Carmen Irene Marxuach affirmed, the most insistent inaugurator of the poetic revolution in Puerto Rican letters, and he opened new aesthetic perspectives appropriate to the changes of his era.
From this stage emerged El hondero lanzó la piedra, the essential book of his poetry, the very imageof the true poetic revolution of the 1920s, yet unpublished until 1975. It is novel for its themes, tone and language, because “the vision of a new spirit in a new world was within me” and because he wanted to penetrate the heart of it:
The thing is not to say something, but to point out something. To take poetry to the most real or ideal state it is possible to reach. To throw stones beyond yourself; beyond, not to dent the surface of things, but to try to penetrate the inaccessible world and grab hold of the secret inside each thing, that which cannot be bequeathed; the secret that exists in all that has not been revealed. (El hondero…p. XIV).
Strong and firm was his desire to broaden the horizons of poetry: “Why must I constrain my song, when my heart wants a vast range for flight without setting limits?” (p. 86) He supported the efforts of intellectual youths in all countries to achieve a new beauty, to discover new aspects of things; to break from the preceding norms and orientations, regular versification, descriptive poetry, exotic themes, certain ornamental or conventional additions and the imitation of the great models:
“We are witnessing a poetic revolution that will destroy all that has been done so far… we will kill the troubadours of the lute… those who continue to suckle at Rubén Darío… We will deliteraturize ourselves to return to nature. We kill the swan and the mockingbird…” (Puerto Rico Ilustrado, 2 de agosto de 1924).
He unleashed his call for a break with the past and an opening to the future, as shown in “A Call” to the “students of Puerto Rico.” He proposed “a new poetry drawn from strange profiles of strange psyches” and called on them to search “in the new human soul for the deep and magical key to the new art that is moving the world.” He expressed himself with firmness. He was aware of his role in Puerto Rican letters as a guide and a tie to the avant-garde movements of Europe. He was a strict and independent man, enemy of all stridency, and he did not identify himself with any of the groups.
His book Color (1938) foreshadowed a new literary stage in his work, though still with roots in the previous work, now more interested in nature. Not looking to nature for the picturesque, but rather “the commitment to an art of consistency.” He explained:
“The nature of my country propelled me with a vigor I had not expected… aware that beauty resided in both the things and in man, and that the objective and subjective are mixed together in any work of beauty… I wrote” (Color, p. 27)
In this book, according to José Emilio González, he definitively brings together his poetry, establishing a culminating point. He had reached maturity, confirmed by Tonos y formas, a book from the same year, praised by Concha Meléndez for its perfection of form. She points to the book’s themes of love and nature, its aesthetics, the moral countenance of the voice, its yearning and the language in which it is all communicated: self-controlled, crystal clear, as if carved from rock crystals.
The book Barro (1945) belongs to a different moment, a book the author considered a high point, but better represents a return to social reality, to certain elements of human sadness addressed twenty years earlier in El hondero lanzó la piedra. Mud is his image: “Mud, hunger and man,” the poet said, “clump in the roads”.
With the book Verbo (1947), he returned to the path toward essential poetry begun in Tonos y formas and continued in La hora del Orífice, focusing on inner life, in search of the light and the infinitude of beauty. He returned to the direction he would firmly – though not uniformly — stick with until the end. Its most outstanding references are: Punto final, El semblante and Río volcado.
De la Puebla, M. Evaristo Ribera Chevremont: “la poesía es mi vida”. Mairena: Veinte poetas puertorriqueños del siglo XX, p 23-33, Año XX No. 45-46, 1998. San Juan.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
This post is also available in: Español