Many people may be familiar with the poems of José de Espronceda, in which the poet likes to use stylistic devices such as contrasts, lively descriptions and an abundance of adjectives. His poetry was inspired by historical characters and fantastic stories.
The poet was a rebellious and desperate romantic who also took part in the political events of his time. Espronceda used many different genres to let his creativity run free. For example, he wrote a novel, as well as plays and various newspaper articles. But he is best known for his poetry.
In this article we want to introduce you to José de Espronceda’s life and work. Unfortunately, very few of the Spanish poet’s works have been translated into German to date. Espronceda’s work is interesting because his poems often have outsiders as protagonists. Such is one of his most famous poems about a pirate. Now we can ask ourselves, why is the poem’s protagonist a pirate? And can a pirate be a romantic hero?
José de Espronceda’s life
José de Espronceda was born in Almendralejo, Extremadura, Spain in 1808. Politics and literature shaped his life. In his youth, the poet tried to avenge the death of Rafael del Riego, a Spanish revolutionary. He also founded a secret revolutionary association that led him to join a monastery. At this time he began composing “Pelayo”, an epic poem about the Muslim conquest in Spain.
Because of his revolutionary beliefs, Espronceda went into exile. First the poet moved to Gibraltar, then to Lisbon and finally to London. He was arrested many times for his radical ideas. After visiting Paris, he returned to Spain.
José de Espronceda was primarily influenced by Lord Byron’s work. Both poets cited Plato and Horace as sources of inspiration for their poems and were also inspired by Aristotle.
As we have already heard, José de Espronceda was also heavily involved in politics. That is why he became a member of a political party in the last months of his life. Espronceda died young, at the age of 34, of complications from diphtheria. At the time of his death he was enjoying great literary success and had established himself as an important poet in the literary world. Because of his popularity, many people said goodbye to the poet during his funeral.
Espronceda’s poems can be divided into three categories depending on the subject matter:
- Political, patriotic and libertarian poems: in these poems the poet writes on political issues. For example, he criticized the Spanish ruler of the time as a despot.
- Poems that criticize society and focus on the pursuit of absolute freedom: This category includes poems that are often written from the perspective of outsiders, such as a pirate, an executioner or a beggar.
- Philosophical Poems: These poems deal with different subjects and offer a philosophical perspective on their subject.
There are also poems that were clearly inspired by Espronceda’s literary models. These mark a transition in the poet’s work.
The songs of José de Espronceda
Apart from Der Weltteufel , The Songs are the poet’s most original works. This cycle of poems consists of a total of six individual songs. Each of these six songs is about a social outsider. The first song in this cycle is part of José de Espronceda’s novel. Although not particularly innovative from a craft point of view, it deals with issues such as rebellion and submission.
The Pirate’s Song is arguably the best known of the songs. In it, the pirate is transfigured into a romantic hero. In this poem the aim of the protagonist is to live in freedom without submitting to anyone. Dissatisfied with the state of the world, the protagonist throws himself into the sea and finds absolute freedom in his suicide.
For this reason, many literary scholars see this poem as the prelude to the Spanish romantic era. To convey its values, Espronceda uses its pirate as a projection surface. Because like the pirate, the lyric poet loves justice and freedom. In The Executioner , the poet denounces injustice and excessively severe punishments in the judicial system. Espronceda advocated punishments commensurate with the crime.
The heroes of this song cycle represent Espronceda’s own values. Because for the poet the protagonists are a symbol of an individual rebellion against a wealthy bourgeoisie, which lacks sensitivity. That is why the poet chooses outcasts like the beggar or the pirate.
The heroes of these songs condemn things they dislike about the world they live in. Espronceda sided with those who were socially ostracized, but precisely because of that had a certain degree of freedom.
The student from Salamanca
The Student of Salamanca (1840) is a narrative poem that addresses the obsession of its protagonist, Don Felix. Don Felix tries to woo women in every situation. The poem consists of four parts: introduction of the hero, portrait of the victim, Mrs. Elvira, revenge and death of the avenger and finally a night tour of the city of Salamanca.
In this poem the reader will find many elements that are typical of the literary period of Romanticism. For example, the poem deals with the exaltation of the self, the love of contrasts, absolute freedom, etc.
In the poem, Don Felix, a womanizer, falls in love with Doña Elvira. But the very next day he forgot Elvira and left her injured. In fact, the pain of rejection is so great that it leads to Elivra’s death. Don Diego, Elvira’s brother, tries to avenge his sister’s death. From this point on, the poet uses magical elements. Supernatural events now determine the plot of the poem, which is pervaded by mysteries.
The devil of the world
The Devil of the World is an epic that José de Espronceda began to write in 1839. However, he did not manage to finish the poem before his death. This poem is one of his most interesting and ambitious projects. It shows how pessimistic the poet was at the end of his life.
In this poem, the poet condemns conservatives and deals with issues such as freedom and the existence of God. For Espronceda, evil is everywhere in the world, it even infiltrates people’s hearts. Hypocrisy and ignorance about the pain of others have corrupted society. Nobody can be free in this world. That is why there is no place for innocence in society.
For this reason, Der Weltteufel is a poem that calls for rebellion against the established order. It criticizes the laws that rule the world. In one of his most famous works, Espronceda expressed a strong desire for individual freedom.