Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born in Orihuela, Spain, in 1910. His parents were poor, and his father kept him out of school and physically abused him for reading and writing instead of tending the family’s goats and sheep. But Hernández was set on becoming a poet, and he published his first volume of poetry, Perito en lunas (Lunar Expert), at age 23. With the help of others—notably the Catholic writer Ramón Sijé, who became his mentor—Hernández would master his craft and emerge as one of Spain’s greatest and best-loved poets.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Hernández, a member of Spain’s Communist Party, joined the Fifth Regiment, part of the Republican forces fighting Generalissimo Francisco Franco and the Nationalists. He served in the 11th Division during the Battle of Teruel, one of the bloodiest of the war, and also campaigned for the Republicans by organizing cultural events, writing poetry, and addressing soldiers deployed to the front.
In 1939, after the Republicans surrendered, Franco’s regime arrested, tried, and convicted Hernández for writing poems critical of the Francoist cause. He was to be executed, but the death sentence was commuted to a prison term of 30 years thanks to the intervention of poet Pablo Neruda, who was the Chilean consul in Madrid at the time. Hernández was later transferred to a prison in Alicante. Subjected to extraordinarily harsh conditions, he came down with pneumonia and in 1942 died of typhus and tuberculosis. Just before his death, Hernández scrawled his last verse on the wall of the hospital prison: “Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends: let me take my leave of the sun and the fields.”
The following poem is from The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández: A Bilingual Edition by Miguel Hernández (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and appears here with the permission of the editor, Ted Genoways, who also translated the poem.
To the International Soldier Fallen in Spain
If there are men who contain a soul without frontiers,
a brow scattered with universal hair,
covered with horizons, ships, and mountain chains,
with sand and with snow, then you are one of those.
Fatherlands called to you with all their banners,
so that your breath filled with beautiful movements.
You wanted to quench the thirst of panthers
and fluttered full against their abuses.
With a taste of all suns and seas,
Spain beckons you because in her you realize
your majesty like a tree that embraces a continent.
Around your bones, the olive groves will grow,
unfolding their iron roots in the ground,
embracing men universally, faithfully.
This article appears in the Summer 2021 issue (Vol. 33, No. 4) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Poetry | Ode to a Patriot
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