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October 11, 2002

Honoring Luis Cernuda

Photo: Courtesy of MHC Archives

Luis Cernuda with student Bernice Matlowsky Randall '47 at MHC, November 1947

by Sandra Barriales, visiting instructor in Spanish

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of poet Luis Cernuda's birth, and MHC is joining the international community in celebrating the milestone. Not only is Cernuda (1902–1963) one of Spain's most distinguished poets and one of the most prominent of the many writers who went into exile after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, he also was a presence on the Mount Holyoke campus, having taught at the College between 1947 and 1952.

In honor of Cernuda, the Spanish departments at Amherst, Smith, and Mount Holyoke Colleges, in conjunction with the Spanish and Portuguese and Judaic and Near Eastern Studies departments at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, will host an international colloquium on Spanish exile October 18–19. Two sessions, conducted in Spanish, of the colloquium will be held at MHC on October 18 in Pratt Hall's Warbeke Room from 2 to 6 pm. At 6:30 pm that evening (same location), Salvador Jimenez-Fajardo, who has written extensively about Cernuda, will speak. This event is in English. In addition, students will read some of Cernuda's poems, and a photograph of Cernuda (reproduced here) from the MHC archives will be on view. The image will soon be on permanent display at a campus location to be announced.

About Luis Cernuda

A leftist and homosexual like his friend Federico Garca Lorca, Cernuda also belonged to what is known in Spain as the Generation of '27. His first surrealistic books of poems benefited from the freedom Spanish society enjoyed under the Second Republic (1931–1936). Tragically, this freedom would disappear under Franco's dictatorship (1939–1975). In 1938, during the Spanish civil war (1936–1939), Cernuda, like thousands of other Republican Spaniards, felt forced into exile.

Unconventional and committed only to his poetry and to finding his own truth, exile was for Cernuda not a tragedy but rather his real destiny. He had always felt alienated from society even during his youth in Seville. Cernuda never wanted to come back to Spain nor did he ever settle down in any one country. He spent his first nine years of exile in Great Britain, lecturing at Cambridge University and at the University of Glasgow, but when he was offered the position at MHC he gladly accepted. In History of a Book, which he wrote in 1958, he noted that upon his arrival at MHC in 1947, he felt very comfortable and optimistic about his new life in America. But after two years, he began to feel isolated and depressed by New England's long and extreme winters. He took to spending his summers in Mexico, where he had fallen in love, and in 1952 he decided to move there.

During his years at MHC, despite his feelings of isolation, his creativity flourished. He produced remarkable books of poems (Living without Being Alive, With Time Running Out, and Variations on a Mexican Theme), which received favorable critical attention.

Last spring, I was one of three graduate students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst working with Professor Raquel Medina on organizing what evolved into the international colloquium on Spanish exile. As I am also a visiting lecturer in the Spanish and Italian department at MHC, it occurred to me that we could use the occasion to pay tribute to Cernuda and to draw attention to the time he spent at MHC.

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