Julián del Casal
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He took his influence from the French poetic styles of the day and, later, Rubén Darío and Modernismo. Like Manuel González Prada and José Martí, Casal was an important forebearer of modernistic expression in Latin America. Casal seemed almost obsessed with comparing natural vs. "man-made" perspectives.
Casal published only two poetry collections during his lifetime, Hojas al viento and Nieve. His last collection, Bustos y rimas, appeared in 1893 shortly after his death and was completed with the help of Casal's friend, Hernández Miyares. It differs from his earlier works because it contains both prose and poetry. Hojas includes forty-nine poems and is considered an example of Casal's early writing style. The poems in this collection are topical in nature and often refer to contemporary events. A few of them were even characterized as "imitations" and show the influence of other writers. The work was well received by his contemporaries as an early offering by a poet with much promise. Casal continued to publish poems in various Cuban periodicals and, in 1892, he collected many of these pieces in his second collection, Nieve. Divided into five sections, the poems in this collection are categorized according to theme. The first section, "Bocetos antiguos", includes poems inspired by pagan and Judeo-Christian thought; the second section, "Mi museo ideal," is famous because the poems contained in it were inspired by the art of Gustave Moreau, with whom Casal had an ongoing correspondence. The third section, "Cromos españoles," is a collection of well-known Spanish word pictures. The fourth, "Marfiles viejos," contains sixteen sonnets, all reflecting his fears and concerns about life in general. The fifth and final section titled, "La gruta del ensueño," completes the collection with seventeen miscellaneous poems. Nieve met with some critical success, although most contemporaries in Cuba felt that Casal's themes were too dark and pessimistic.
Amo el bronce, el cristal, las porcelanas,
las vidrieras de múltiples colores,
los tapices pintados de oro y flores
y las brillantes lunas venecianas.
Amo también las bellas castellanas,
la canción de los viejos trovadores,
los árabes corceles voladores,
las flébiles baladas alemanas,
el rico piano de marfil sonoro,
el sonido del cuerno en la espesura,
del pebetero la fragante esencia,
y el lecho de marfil, sándalo y oro,
en que deja la virgen hermosura
la ensangrentada flor de su inocencia.
Cuando la vida, como fardo inmenso,
pesa sobre el espíritu cansado
y ante el último Dios flota quemado
el postrer grano de fragante incienso;
cuando probamos, con afán intenso,
de todo amargo fruto envenenado
y el hastío, con rostro enmascarado,
nos sale al paso en el camino extenso;
el alma grande, solitaria y pura
que la mezquina realidad desdeña,
halla en el Arte dichas ignoradas,
como el alción, en fría noche oscura,
asilo busca en la musgosa peña
que inunda el mar azul de olas plateadas.
- – from Hojas al Viento, Havana, 1890.