This book resulted from a love affair that ended badly. When the collection was first published, by the Signo publishing house, nobody noticed the significance of a large "S" in the form of a snake on the inside back cover. Derek Harris identified the other man as Serafín Fernández Ferro a young man from a poor family in La Coruña who led a picaresque life and insinuated himself into the artistic circles of Madrid in early 1931, aged 16. Biographical data for him is scanty, fragmented and often confusing. In 1945, he appeared in Malraux's film Espoir: Sierra de Teruel and then emigrated to Mexico, where he died in 1954. Cernuda probably met him in April 1931 and fell head over heels in love. This led to the flood of creativity that resulted in Los placeres prohibidos, the majority of which was written between April 13 and 30. The relationship quickly soured. Serafín was both promiscuous and bisexual, which led to jealousy on the part of Cernuda, he used to ask his lover for money and was generally manipulative. There were occasional violent rows between them. Some of the atmosphere of their relationship is described in "Aprendiendo olvido", one of the prose poems included in Ocnos. By June 1932, their relationship was finished.
The first poem alludes obliquely to Serafín, the archangel who is named explicitly in a later poem "Mi arcángel". The leit-motiv of the angel recurs in "II" and in "XII", among others. In "III", the theme is the emptiness left by the passing of love - just as in "Telarañas cuelgan de la razón" from Los placeres prohibidos - but rendered in a much simpler, more lyrical fashion. "IV" shows how the dreams and aspirations of youth are destroyed when they soar too high - probably a reference to the myth of Icarus. "VII" returns to the enclosed world of the early poems, suggesting that despite all his experiences the poet is still an unfulfilled dreamer. "XII" suggests that love alone makes life real. It persists as a universal force even though it might have died in a particular individual. The ideas behind surrealism are still present, although the presentation of them is markedly different.
While he was halfway through writing the poems of Invocaciones, he began to read Hölderlin, which he describes as one of his greatest experiences in poetry. He had grown tired of the very restricted range of literature championed by the French surrealists and was starting to interest himself in English and German poetry. In order to read them, he began to learn these languages. He was enthralled by the depth and poetic beauty that he discovered in Hölderlin and discovered not just a new vision of the world but also a new means of poetic expression. In a note that he wrote to accompany some translations of Hölderlin, Cernuda describes him as imbued with the force of pagan myths, "a living echo of pagan forces now buried". He thinks that Hölderlin's metaphysical lyricism is closer to Keats rather than Blake "although at times, in his fragments which have such dark transcendence, he is not so far from the prophetic songs of the latter." There is a strong sense of Cernuda identifying himself with Hölderlin as he describes his alienation from the world he lived in. For him, "the secret forces of earth are the only realities, far from the conventions that govern society." He also notes an occasion in which the poet was discovered one day in rapture at the feet of some Classical statues in a Paris park. In Invocaciones there are two poems that explicitly invoke ancient Greek gods and they seem to link closely to this reference. In "Himno a la tristeza", sadness is seen as something gifted by the gods to mankind, as in Hölderlin's "Die Heimat" and, more directly, in "A las estatuas de los dioses", Cernuda portrays how "although forgotten and humiliated in an alien, degraded world, the gods still represent an age of joy, innocence, and harmony, when love was still possible." For Cernuda, Hölderlin is as much a kindred spirit as an influence: they share a pantheistic vision of Nature, a sense of tragic destiny (the poder daimónico described by Cernuda in many poems and essays), the same conviction that society was hostile to the Poet, the same nostalgia for a lost Golden Age of harmony. Before he even read Hölderlin, these themes emerge in the "Egloga", the "Oda", and "De qué país" from Los placeres prohibidos.
The first group of poems overlapped with the writing of Como quien espera el alba and this was obviously one of those periods of inspired creativity, such as when he was writing "Un río, un amor" and Los placeres prohibidos. Exploration of his formative years was becoming a major preoccupation and there are overlaps between his poems and prose poems. The clearest example is "Jardín antiguo", which is both the title of a poem in Las nubes and a prose poem in Ocnos. Both are inspired by the gardens of the Alcázar of Seville. In the poem, an ageing man dreams of returning to the walled garden, with its fountain, lemon trees, magnolias and birdsong. He dreams of the return of youth with its pangs of desire, knowing full well that they will not come back. In Ocnos we get a more expansive description of the garden and at the same time a deeper reflection on his connection to that place, the sense of rapture that he felt as a boy there. It concludes with a statement of the gap between reality and desire:
Poesía y literatura, I y II (Barcelona 1960, 1964) These collections gathered together his most important essays or articles on literary themes. They display the extraordinary range of his reading, covering authors as diverse as Galdós, Goethe, Hölderlin, Cervantes, Marvell, Browning, Yeats, Gide, Rilke, Ronald Firbank, Nerval, Dashiell Hammett, Reverdy, Valle-Inclán as well as figures more often found in his writings such as Eliot and Juan Ramón Jiménez. The dates of composition of the essays range from 1935 to 1963, so they cover the full range of his critical career. For students of Cernuda, the main interest lies in the first volume. Not only does it contain his heartfelt 1946 tribute to Andrė Gide but also "Palabras antes de una Lectura" and "Historial de un Libro", two of the most revealing accounts of his poetics and starting-points for all Cernuda criticism. "Palabras" was the text of a lecture delivered at the Lyceum Club in Madrid in 1935 and edited for publication in 1941. He begins by discussing the purpose of poetry, which for him is a question of conveying his personal experience of the world. It is in this lecture that he reveals his primary theme: reality versus desire. His aim is to find "a transcendental plane of existence where the division between the objective and the subjective dimensions of the world is eliminated" and cosmic harmony can be attained. He makes a clear distinction between the world's deceptive appearance and the hidden "imagen completa del mundo", which is the true reality. He also develops the idea of a "daimonic power" that pervades the universe and is able to achieve this synthesis of the invisible underlying reality and its deceiving appearance. But a force powerful enough to do this is also capable of destroying the poet, as in the case of Hölderlin. The "Historial" was first published in instalments in México en la Cultura in 1958. It is a detailed account of Cernuda's intellectual development and gives great insight into the process of how he became a poet and how his poetry evolved over time. In a review in the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, Arthur Terry described it as "the most remarkable piece of self-analysis by any Spanish poet, living or dead". It is, however, very reticent about his emotional development. For example, he only alludes very obliquely to the love affairs that inspired Los placeres prohibidos, Donde habite el olvido and "Poemas para un cuerpo".
His sexual awakening seems to have coincided with the birth of his desire to write poetry, around the age of 14, but it was many years later before he really came to terms with this side of himself. A very important influence on his emotional development were the writings of André Gide. In Historial de un libro, Cernuda wrote that his introduction to the works of Gide was when Pedro Salinas gave him either Prétextes or Nouveaux Prétextes to read, followed by Morceaux Choisis, which is a selection by Gide himself of passages from his works. These books opened the way for him to resolve or at least reconcile himself with "a vital, decisive problem within me". These works deal openly with the topic of homosexuality amongst many other things. For example, Gide included in the Morceaux Choisis the section of Les Caves du Vatican where Lafcadio Wluiki pushes Amédée Fleurissoire out of a moving train just from curiosity as to whether he can actually bring himself to do it - the original acte gratuit. Cernuda comments,"I fell in love with his youth, his grace, his freedom, his audacity." This is redolent of the homoeroticism of a poem such as "Los marineros son las alas del amor" in Los placeres prohibidos. He went so far as to write a fan letter, perhaps even a love letter, to Lafcadio, which was printed in El Heraldo de Madrid in 1931. It includes these words: "the only real thing in the end is the free man, who does not feel part of anything, but lives wholly perfect and unique in the midst of nature, free from imposed and polluting customs." This is reiterated in his essay of 1946, where he writes: "the transcendent figure for Gide is not that of a man who by means of abstention and denial searches for the divine, but that of a man who seeks out the fullness of humanity by means of effort and individual exaltation." In other words, he was affected by the idea of total hedonism without any sense of guilt. 2b1af7f3a8