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H.R. Hays

Jorge Carrera Andrade:
Magician of Metaphors

H.R. Hays, from Books Abroad, XVII, No. 2, 1943, P. 101-105.

(Editor’s note: Books Abroad is now the distinguished international journal World Literature Today, published at the University of Oklahoma. It should also be noted that several mistakes appear in this essay: Jorge Carrera Anrade’s birthday, widely reported everywhere as 1903, is 1902; Secret Country was first published in Tokyo.)

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H. R. Hays (1904-1980) began his career with the publication of four novels between 1943 and 1955. He also published critical studies, including From Ape To Angel: A History of Anthropology (Knopf, 1958) and In The Beginnings (Putnam, 1963), a study of ancient and primitive religions. He established his career in translation by publishing several highly regarded books: 12 Spanish American Poets (Yale University Press, 1943), The Selected Poems of Bertoldt Brecht (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947), The Stone Knife (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947), a novel, and The Selected Writings of Juan Ramon Jimenez (Farrar Strauss, 1957). He is generally regarded as the initiator of Jorge Carrera Andrade, Casear Vallejo and Pablo Neruda, introducing their poetry from the south to the north. Generations of other translators have followed his lead in translating from the abundant garden of Latin American poets.

Jorge Carrera Andrade is the leading contemporary poet of Ecuador and belongs in the front rank of Latin-American literature. A native of Quito, he was born in 1903 and at fifteen years of age was already editing a literary review. By the time he was twenty-three he had published his first books of poems, La guirnalda del silencio and Estanque inefable (Quito, 1926). In the years that followed he travelled extensively in Europe, studying in France, Germany and Spain, and published his third book, Boletines de mar y tierra, in 1930 in Barcelona. Although he returned to Ecuador in 1933 to become secretary of the National Congress and professor of literature in the Mejia Institute, by 1934 he was already in the consular service and once more took up a wandering existence, visiting Europe, Japan and China. In 1940 he was appointed consul general for Ecuador in San Francisco, a position he now holds.

During the last ten years he has published Latitudes (Quito, 1935), a book of essays and travel sketches, Tiempo manual (Madrid, 1935), Biograpfia para uso de los parjaros (Paris, 1937) and Pais secreto (Peking, 1940), all books of poetry and, finally, an anthology of his best poetry entitled Registro del mundo (Quito, 1941).

So much travel and study abroad and friendship with many foreign artists had had its effect on Carrera’s work. A cosmopolitan elegance characterizes all his writing and many of his poems constitute a notebook of geographical impressions. Through all this expatriation, however, he retains the impress of his native land; his particular kind of sensitivity, his exquisite sensuality, is truly Latin American.

He began to write when the poetry of South America had already undergone a rebellion against the decorative parnasso-symbolism of Ruben Dario which had created the "modernist" style. Part of this rebellion consisted in an emphasis on a specifically Latin-American subject matter. In search of a more realistic tradition, Carrera Andrade became interested in the poetry of Francis Jammes. He was attracted by the simplicity of the French poet, his love for genre subjects, his gentleness of spirit. Consequently, in the Ecuadorian’s early work, elements of local color are present; he began by discovering his own environment. But even in the youthful verses there is a technical fluency and a consistency of tone which is to be a permanent characteristic of all his work. One feels that poetry is Carrera Andrade’s native tongue.

A most important element of this poet’s style, extensively discussed by the Spanish poet, Pedro Salinas, which appears even in the earliest poems, is the metaphor. The metaphor develops into his basic structural unit: it is the means by which the poet’s personal vision unifies and takes possession of the objects of his environment. Carrera Andrade’s metaphors are never strained or obscure, they unroll in luxurious profusion: they are a series of surprises, of aesthetic shocks which leave the mind tingling with pleasure.

The rose is a cup full of humble fragrance
Touching the air with subtle fingers
. . . . . . . .   . . .   .
Book: swallow that announces
My springtime among the houses!
. . . . . . . .   . . .   .
Chimneys with winged hats on,
Twisted chimneys, parenthesis of the meadow.

The metaphor is Carrera Andrade’s poetic signature, stamping the material of sensation with his particular kind of perception.

It should be noted here that the ultraist movement, initiated in Madrid in 1918 by Guillermo de Torre and Cansinos Assens, stressed the importance of new and unusual metaphors - the typical ultraist poem consisted of nothing else. Carrera Andrade is in no sense an ultraist, his work has a totally different tone; he has never felt the need for a violent break with the past, for the complete reorganization of reality which was characteristic of that movement, but it is true that by 1926 ultraist theory had been absorbed into the current of Spanish writing and on the technical side he has doubtless profited from the innovations of this experimental school.

In the books published during the thirties the visual aspect of his art becomes more pronounced and also the concreteness and clarity with which he records sensation. It is this determination to record sight, sound and taste which is so similar to the credo of the North American imagists. For instance —

   Song Of The Apple

Miniature evening sky:
Yellow, green, flesh color
With stars of sugar
Cloudlets of satin.

Apple with the hard breast
Gradual snow to the touch,
Sweet rivers to the taste,
Clear sky to the nose.

Emblem of knowledge.
Bearer of the supreme message:
Law of gravitation
Or that of sexual love.

In our hands the apple
Is a memory of paradise.,
A tiny heaven: an angel of fragrance
Flies in its orbit.

The first two stanzas of the above are very close to imagism. Compare William Carlos Williams —

The alphabet
Of the trees
Is fading in the
Song of the leaves

or Marianne Moore —

The firs stand in a procession, each with an emerald turkey foot at the top...

In all these cases the poetical intention is to render the world of sensation more accurately and intensely by means of figures which are both descriptive and evocative.

Antonio de Undurraga, in discussing Carrera Andrade’s work, makes a distinction between European poetry and that of Latin-America. The poet of the old world, he says, tends to work from within, his intensity is subjective. The American, he maintains, is overwhelmed by his world and automatically tends to record impressions, to become a poet of sensation. There are, of course, a multitude of exceptions to this generalization but perhaps there is enough truth in it to suggest that the poets of both North and South America have been subject to a similar colonial situation. The immensity and novelty of the new world has sometimes been a stronger force than cultural or philosophic tradition. In the north the dynamism of rapid economic development has also tended to overwhelm the artist. The poets of the western world are still struggling with the task of spiritually conquering their environment, of mastering it and shaping it into cultural forms.

The North American imagists, although stimulated by French symbolism, tended to use the metaphor sparingly and relied on a poetry of understatement. In contrast, Carrera Andrade , who also stems from French symbolism, is in closer contact with it. Pedro Salinas has already noted that the theme of the window, which constantly appears, is the concentrated symbol for Carrera Andrade’s poetry. It is the practical earthly outlook upon the landscape and at the same time it stands for the inner vision, the ability to see colors beyond the spectrum and the shape of the spirit with which the true poet is always concerned.

Coincidentally with his travels, Carrera Andrade’s poetic canvas broadened to include sketches of foreign cities and also poems dealing with the labor movement and the social problems which agitated the thirties. While in France, Carrera Andrade was in contact with the progressive movement of this period. There is a contradiction, however, between his art and purely social material. His poetry is born of a sensitive individualism and he is an aesthetic aristocrat. The delicate and decorative character of his poetry does not lend itself to direct and brutal statement. This awareness of social problems does, however, represent another phase of maturity and, when it is blended with Indian material, it is characteristic of a school of writing which has been called "indigenism." These poems were published in Boletines de mar y tierra in 1930, antedating most of the nationalist theory which has, in recent times, stressed the cultures and economic problems of the Indians. In the last few years Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador have produced many novels dealing with the native population and in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia there is now a definite school of indigenist poetry. Carrera Andrade must therefore be credited with being a precursor of one of the most widespread trends in contemporary Latin American literature.

On the formal side, there is such feeling of ease and naturalness that slight changes in Carrera Andrade’s poetical method are hardly noticeable. His earlier work tends to be written in traditional rhymed quatrains but, as he matured, he dropped the rhymes and worked in a freer but still basically alexandrine movement. He says himself —

"From my point of view, the poetic evolution of the world has undergone three stages: the musical stage (up to romanticism). The sculptural or formal stage (Parnassian) and the visual stage (initiated by symbolism and continued up to the present). My poetry belongs to this last stage."

And thus Carrera Andrade is typically the poet of tropical luxuriance, the poet of birds and insects and plowed fields and moist abundant vegetation, the poet of the simple things of daily life. He has seen and recorded much and the fruit of it all is a more intensive subjectivity. As he grows older he becomes more aware of his own solitude.

Without memory of compass or earthly idiom,
Spurred on by sky,
Wading through solitudes like rivers,
I cross the planet’s mute geography.

Along with the deepening nostalgia, his imagery tends to grow more compact, more subtly associative.

subtly Islands where silence
Is the highest gift
In the night of leather and pupil
And coffin and seaweed.

Jorge Carrera Andrade, the world traveler, has preserved a delectable array of souvenirs for his readers; his three-dimensional banquet is full of vivid colors and pungent flavors. He disarms and entices: he speaks with ease and intimacy. In the show windows of his verse he has imprisoned air, music and sunlight. He has traveled farther than terrestrial maps and brought back photographs of the essence of things.

"Jorge Carrera Andrade, Magician of Metaphors" first appeared in Books Abroad (now World Literature Today). Copyright 1943 by the University of Oklahoma Press. Reprinted with permission of the editors and the University of Oklahoma Press.

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