Miguel Hernández Gilabert (1910 – 1942) was born in the town of Orihuela, near Murcia, in south-eastern Spain. His father, who he worked alongside from a very young age, was a herdsman and dealer in sheep and goats. This early relationship with soil and husbandry can be found in many of his works, including the poem reproduced below.
I suspect many come to Miguel Hernández through his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. This is, in a roundabout way, how I was introduced to his poetry by Alex Pademelon Johnson and Martin Hodgson – thank you very much both’ly. The following is the loveliest of his poems I’ve read thus far:
My name is earth, though I’m named Miguel
My name is earth, though I’m named Miguel.
Earth is my craft and my destiny
and stains what it licks with its tongue.
I’m a sad component of pathways.
I’m a sweetly infamous tongue,
worshipping feet that I love.
Like a nocturnal ox of floods and fallows
that yearns to be a creature worshipped,
I fawn on your shoes, and all around them,
and, made for covering, and made for kisses,
I kiss your heel that wounds me, strew it with flowers.
I set a remembrance of my being
on your biting heel, under your tread,
and at your step I advance
lest your indifferent foot despise
all the love I’ve raised towards it.
Moister than my face with its tears,
when the glass bleats frozen wool,
when winter closes your window
I fall at your feet, the tip of a wing,
a soiled wing, and heart of earth.
I fall at your feet a molten branch
of lowly honey, trampled, alone,
a heart despised and a heart fallen,
formed like seaweed, ocean’s aspect.
Earth, in vain, I’m clothed with poppies,
earth, in vain, emptied I see my arms,
earth, in vain I bite at your heels,
dealing maleficent wing-blows
foul words like convulsed hearts.
You hurt me in treading, printing
the track of your going upon me,
it tears, it ruptures the armour,
of honeyed duality circling my mouth
in the pure and living flesh,
ever begging to be crushed to pieces
by your free and madcap hare’s foot.
Its taciturn cream curdles,
a sobbing shakes its tree
of cerebral wool at your tread.
And you pass, and it remains
burning its winter wax before the sunset,
martyr, jewel and grass to the wheel.
Weary of yielding to the whirling
daggers of wagons and hooves,
fear, from the earth, a spawn of creatures
with corrosive skin and vengeful claws.
Fear the earth reborn in an instant,
fear lest it rise and grow and cover,
tenderly and jealously
your reed-like ankle, my torment,
fear lest it drowns the nard of your legs
and rising ascends to your brow.
Fear lest it raises a hurricane
from the bland territory of winter
and bursts in thunder and falls in rain
into your blood harsh and tender.
Fear an assault of offended foam
and fear an amorous cataclysm.
Before the drought consumes it
earth must turn to earth again.
– Miguel Hernández, from Further Selected Poems, translated by A. S. Kline.