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From Juan Arolas to Jose Espronceda, the Spanish literary canon is littered with romantic genius to rival even that of the prolific and widespread Romantic Movement in the United Kingdom with John Keats, William Wordsworth and William Blake. Although the lifespan of the Spanish romantic period was perhaps shorter than elsewhere, it was arguably more intense. The Movement, which took place at the beginning of the 19th Century, was characterized by a focus on emotion, yet the romantic poets also celebrated the beauty and divinity of the natural universe, the vastness of the imagination, and the liberation of the individual. Art itself became freer, with symbols and myths often used, and value was placed on the marginalized within society. Poetry often dealt with the notion of ‘passionate love’, with its extremes of emotion, introspectiveness and the search for the ‘self’.
The focus on the self is best encapsulated by Jose de Espronceda. In 1839, Espronceda published El Estudiante de Salamanca, a collection comprising of two thousand verses, which narrates the story of the characters of Elvira and don Felix de Montemar. In 1840, Poesías was published, a collection of poems bringing together his most intense romantic pieces, with the neoclassic poems he penned during his youth. Notable poems in this collection include El Verdugo (The Executioner), Canto Del Cosaco (Song of the Cossack) and Cancion Del Pirata (Song of the Pirate). His well known Canto a Teresa was supposedly inspired by an affair, and formed part of his collection El Diablo Mundo, made up of extensive lyric poems which have become emblematic of the Romantic Movement in Spain. Another poet of mention is Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, a Cuban poet who produced a variety of poetry in the Spanish language during the 1830s; she wrote her famous love sonnet ‘Al partir’ on leaving Cuba for Spain, and the poem encapsulates the strength of her love for her country, a diversion from the subject matter typical of most sonnets.
Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, although writing while the concept of realism took hold in Spain, directly after the romantic period, produced some more commonly known Spanish ‘love’ poetry. Amor Eterno for example deals with the tumultuous literary relationship between love and death, and expresses that even death could not apagarse la llama (extinguish the flame) of the narrator’s love. Bécquer’s Rimas, written from 1859 onwards, were structured in short stanza forms, and were both erotic and musical; they totaled several thousand lines in length and are generally considered to have formed the foundation of contemporary Spanish poetry, expressing internal conflict relating to hopelessness in love, disillusion and solitude. A recurring motif in Bécquer’s collection is that of birds, with las oscuras golandrinas, or the dark swallows, signifying the end of an intense romantic relationship in Rhyme 53. Rhyme 21 is widely considered one of the most famous Spanish language poems, and contains the quotation ‘Poesía... eres tú’, which is perhaps an allusion to the value of art inspired by romance.
Though brief, the romantic period in Spain had a marked influence on the evolution of literature both within Spain itself and across the globe, and while it did not always directly deal with the concept of romance, writers were infatuated by the natural universe, and the beauty in freedom. Their legacy and influence is certainly noticeable, with contemporary Hispanic writers from Lorca to Neruda echoing their focus.