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6— The Frenzy of Modernismo: Herrera Y Reissig
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The Frenzy of Modernismo:
Herrera Y Reissig

Lugones' preoccupation with the meaning and mechanics of style is a constant among other modernistas. Julio Herrera y Reissig, in "El círculo de la muerte," discusses the concept of beauty and asks for a fitting of form and concept that pleases the reader "sin violencia" ("without violence") yet which moves with the glistening duplicity of a mirror's reflection:

Es una duplicidad armónica y semejante; trátase de que la idea tome inmediatamente la forma del vocablo, como un perisprit la forma del cuerpo donde mora, confundida con él y fraternizando hasta parecer tangible; y a su vez de que la palabra se imprima en el pensamiento y entre en é1, de un modo ágil, ni más ni menos que como en un molde preciso y pulcro la cera caliente. El gran estilo es el que brilla y corre como un agua primaveril, espejo movierite de sombras movientes y vivas que erran pot la página y se hunden en ella, cual pececillos traslúcidos, color del cristal . . . [ 1]

(It is a harmonic and similar duplicity. It is a question of the idea immediately taking the form of a word, in the same way that a spirit takes the form of the body that it inhabits, blending and fraternizing with it until it seems tangible; and it is, in turn, a question of the word impressing itself upon the mind and entering it, nimbly, exactly as hot wax enters a clean, precise mold. A great style is one which shines and leaps, like spring water, a moving mirror of lively, mobile shadows that wander along the page and are submerged in it, like little translucent fish, the color of crystal . . .

The later productions of Herrera y Reissig, Lugones, and other modernists less seemingly stylized, illustrate the "minus devices" or "simplicity" of which Yuri Lotman in Analysis of the Poetic Text speaks:


The concept of simplicity as an aesthetic value comes with the following stage and is invariably connected with the rejection of ornamentality. Perception of artistic simplicity is possible only against a background of "ornamental" art whose memory is present in the consciousness of the viewer-listener. . . . Consequently, simplicity is structurally a much more complex phenomenon than ornamentality.[2]

An analysis of aspects of the work of Julio Herrera y Reissig can illustrate the force of the subversive movement in modernista poetry. As a late modernista, Herrera y Reissig exemplifies many of the contradictions of this period that would serve as inspiration for other poets of the twentieth century.

On presenting Pablo Neruda at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras in Madrid in 1935, Federico García Lorca singled out three Spanish American poets who represent "el tono descarado del gran idioma español de los americanos" ("the brazen tone of the great Spanish American language"). Along with the voices of Rubén Darío and the Uruguayan-born Lautréamont, he named another, "la extravagante, adorable, arrebatadoramente cursi y fosforescente voz de Herrera y Reissig"[3] ("the extravagant, adorable, wrenchingly vulgar and phosphorescent voice of Herrera y Reissig"). In one of the early studies of modernismo, Arturo Torres Rioeco distinguishes Herrera y Reissig from authors notable for their obvious American heritage, calling him "absolutamente desprendido del ambiente"[4] ("absolutely detached from his surroundings"). Torres Rioseco uses the same type of adjectives as Lorca in differentiating Herrera y Reissig from hismodernista contemporaries and from other models: "La figura grandiosa de Julio Herrera y Reissig—más loco que Verlaine, menos que William Blake—nos afirma que debemos confiar en nuestra fuerza cerebral"[5] ("The grandiose figure of Julio Herrera y Reissig—more insane than Verlaine, less so than William Blake—affirms for us that we should trust in the strength of our brain").

Julio Herrera y Reissig filled his short life of only thirty-five years with a dazzling output of verse and prose which startled its early readers and continues to evoke astonishment even among contemporaries. Exceptionally able in his mastery of


verse forms, Herrera y Reissig's command of his lyrical instrument is overshadowed by his daring lexicon and the abrupt juxtapositions of decadent and classical formulas. The modern world of science and technology, especially its darker undertones, invades a pastoral world of nymphs, shepherdesses, and goddesses. Herrera y Reissig's novelties of language, however, and the inheritance of exotic aspects of decadent literature, left some critics and admirers with a more ambivalent opinion. Rubén Daréo, praising Herrera y Reissig's poetic mastery, is reluctant to give total approbation:

En Herrera y Reissig lo artificial, el virtualismo, se penetra de su vibración si queréis enfermiza de la verdad de su tensión cordial, de su verídico sufrimiento íntimo.[6]

(In Herrera y Reissig artificiality, virtuosity, is penetrated by its sickly vibration, if you will, of the truth of his heart-felt tension, of his very real inner suffering.)

Yet Darío points to Los éxtasis de la montaña, a series of sonnets published in 1904, as products of a masterful visual and auditive inspiration, "con el giro innovadoer, el verbo inusitado y el adjetivo sorprendente"[7] ("with innovative turns, unusual verbs, and surprising adjectives"). He calls "La muerte del Pastor: 'Balada Eglogica,'" " . . . de lo más suavemente encantador, de lo más musicalmente sentimental, y de lo más simplemente fino que se haya escrito en nuestra lengua"[8] ("The Shepherd's Death: 'An Eclogic Ballad,'" " . . . the most smoothly enchanting, the most musically sentimental, the most simply fine ballad of its kind that has ever been written in our language").

Contemporary readers have found appeal in the fantastic and allegorical treatments of death and eroticism in Herrera y Reissig's poetry. His syntactical compression, his neologisms, and the startling combinations of classical and scientific terminology went farther than those of Lugones' Lunario sentimental . Although it may have been difficult for his contemporaries to separate the decadent iconograp from the innovative treatment of language (as well as his flamboyant personal proclamations and polemics), Herrera y Reissig's example affected several major writers of the twentieth century (notably César


Vallejo) with his foreshortened focus and syntactical experiments. Combining the prosaic rural village with its Greek or Roman evocation in eclogues, Herrera y Reissig drops the framing fiction that makes the transition between the two codified worlds. The resulting jolt or ambiguity and the unsettling intrusion of subversive notes give access to twentieth-century experiments in poetic diction. Federico de Onís singles out the influence of Góngora on Herrera y Reissig in the creation of difficult and elusive metaphors, and affirms Herrera y Reissig's novelty: "aprendió mucho de Góngora y se adelantó a sus más recientes intérpretes, siendo la suya una de las influencias capitales que llevaron el modernismo hacia el ultraísmo"[9] ("he learned much from Góngora, and he surpassed that poet's most recent interpreters, his being one of the principal influences that carried modernismo toward ultraísmo "). Some of the adjectives most often used to describe Herrera y Reissig's poetry are "surprising," "jolting," or even "vulgar." Even amidst discussion of the derivative nature of his poetry—specifically, the influences of Samain and Lugones—the outstanding features of his poetry are judged as its surprise elements and its not always pleasant energy. Herrera y Reissig's poetry resists easy classification. His startling metaphors, noisy alliteration, and surprising rhymes struck his contemporaries as disruptive. From a later point of view, however, the same experiments often sound trite, or "cursi," as both his admirers and detractors have stated.[10] The following discussion will attempt to give a more specific definition of the nature of this "energy" so often attributed to Herrera y Reissig, and will place him within the context of his epoch.

As late modernista poets, both Lugones and Herrera y Reissig obviously borrow from certain traditions, and the overlapping of their works derives from a sharing of many of the same models of traditions. Although the similarities are immediately obvious (especially their borrowings from Samain), down to the development of images similar even in minute details, the articulation of these elements is often strikingly different. In the modernista spirit, accumulation from the outside was seen as an enrichment to the general wealth. The ideal of the writer as a solitary genius, although expressed in their works, was obviously not a motivating force in their respective productions. On


the contrary, both writers accentuate the presence of prestigious "foreign" elements.

The poetry of Lugones and Herrera y Reissig belongs to a stage of late modernismo marked by the stillness and heavy ornamentation of its rites. Severo Sarduy's description of the work of Giancarlo Marmori, written in roughly the same period, could apply as well to the final stages of modernismo:

La retórica de lo accesorio convirtiéndose en esencial, la multiplicación de lo adjetival sustantivado, el ornamento desmedido, la contorsión, lo vegetal estilizado, las estatuas y cisnes, y lo cosmético como instrumento de sadismo mediatizado.[11]

(The rhetoric of what is really secondary becomes essential, the proliferation of adjectives used as nouns, excessive ornamentation, contortion, stylized plant forms, statues and swans, and cosmetic elements used as instruments of a mediatized sadism.)

The rites of ornamentation and of breaking the silence are very different in Lugones and Herrera y Reissig. Both poets carry modernismo 's landscapes and stylized language to extremes and then dismantle their productions in a single stroke.

In Lugones' Los crepúsculos del jardín and Herrera y Reissig's Los parques abandonados, their two most similar works (with the direct stamp of Samain's influence introduced to Herrera y Reissig by Lugones' poems),[12] even the books' titles suggest the exhaustion of modernismo 's ritual ornamentation. They twist their models to the breaking point, with their heraldry, sunsets, and deserted gardens where cruel and perverse lovers enact their studied rites. By syntactical compression and metonymical interchange, both Lugones' and Herrera y Reissig's sonnets prefigure later artistic techniques, for example Herrera y Reissig's introductory quartet from "La última carta" reduces a personified landscape in one single, frightening knife stroke. Like the opening shot of Buñuel's Le Chien andalou, the sonnet begins:

Con la quietud de un síncope furtivo,
desangróse la tarde en la vertiente,
cual si la hiriera repentinamente un aneurisma determinativo . . . [13]


(With the stillness of a stealthy syncope,
the afternoon bled into the spring,
as if suddenly wounded
by a determinative aneurism . . .)

We have an idea of Lugones as poet—the monster of style, the voracious assimilator whose own style, when not consciously parodic, unconsciously generates its own parody through excess. As trickster of rhyme and master of successive literary identities, we see Lugones first and foremost as stylist. In contrast, the body of criticism concerning Herrera y Reissig's work usually attributes an intimate personal quality to his production of shocking metaphor and wordplay. Where is the difference in gesture? Why does one seem to pound and the other to whisper, even while reworking many of the same materials?

It is the nature of this movement of departure which differentiates much of the poetry of Lugones and Herrera y Reissig. Although they do not overtly destroy the patterns they establish, the seeds of destruction are planted within the very framework of the poetry itself by its subversive movement. Following Roland Barthes' definition, subtle subversion does not concern itself with overt denials or oppositions. It is "not directly concerned with destruction, evades the paradigm and seeks some other term: a third term, which is not, however, a synthesizing term but an eccentric, extraordinary term."[14] The critical task, then, concerns the identification of this subject in the works of Lugones and Herrera y Reissig during the late stages of modernismo. In other words, who speaks? Where is the gesture that directs the poetic process? Considering the body of their works as elements of what Barthes has called the "circular memory of literature" or its "intertext," I would like to focus their works within the movement of modernismo, to view this time of production as a fixed scene, a static space frozen in time. The topos of the fixed scene was a Parnassian ideal very clear to the modernistas themselves, with their preference for the enclosed space or interior garden, the play of light on statues, and the play of sounds on words now frozen in their iconic significance.

The poetic works of both Lugones and Herrera y Reissig share many traits, and instances of poems metaphorizing their


own destructive and subversive movements stand as indicators of their modernista works as a whole. Lugones highlights poetic fragmentation, and the masked poetic yo stands back and directs our gaze. In contrast, Herrera y Reissig introduces a third element apart from the two opposing traditions. This is the movement of shifting perspectives, the unidentifiable movement that creates the sense of loss, the knowledge that our hierarchies are being threatened by invisible forces.

Herrera y Reissig preserves the metaphor even while the movement of operation is similar to that of Lugones. Rather than being destructive, his movement of disclosure is subversive. Subversion does not create the confrontation of polar opposites which invites domination and destruction. With its subtle slant, subversion instead introduces a third element that throws the other two off balance, causing them to collapse. Piling the structure high, layer by layer, the sheer weight of exaggeration and accumulation in Herrera y Reissig's poetry threatens to drag it down, to let it fall. Just at this point, when the bases of credibility are stretched to the limit, we are moved to another plane, quietly and without looking back to the turbulent place we were so involved with. The rapidity of the movement, the total change of scenic space, does not cancel out the other gesture. We are left in suspension, and the space of noncomprehension is the moment of silence, the drop and the fall. When this movement is avoided, however, when the gaze is not removed from the spot, the process of accumulation proceeds to decomposition, the edifice falls down or destroys itself from within like the "gangrena" or putrefaction often present in the sensual imagery of Herrera y Reissig.

Herrera Y Reissig's Literary Heritage

Herrera y Reissig, like Lugones, saw his age as a crepuscular moment, as a transition period full of confusing signs, extravagant artifice, and distortion. His writings on fin de siglo literature, although ostensibly directed at its limitations, give us many insights into his own poetry. His comparisons of the modern decadent style with the culteranismo of an earlier epoch, whose excesses had led to satiric reactions and a more sober


style, are very revealing. Anticipating the rediscovery of Góngora by the Generation of 1927 in Spain, Herrera y Reissig calls him "este cometa decadentista" ("this decadentist comet") and describes the obscurity of his style as "el marco ebenuz que hizo resaltar la tela chillona de su imaginación, en la que una orgía de colores, sin gradación y sin efecto armónico, causa no sé qué extraño vértigo, y produce la rara embriaguez de una visión que cambia de forma a cada momento, como una serpentina en media de la sombra"[15] ("the ebony frame which emphasized the shrieking fabric of his imagination, in which an orgy of colors, without gradation and without harmonic effect, causes some peculiar vertigo, and produces the strange intoxication of a vision that changes form at each moment, like a serpentine in the midst of shadow"). In characterizing Góngora's difficult and mysterious poetry, Herrera y Reissig uses the same kind of exuberant and textured wording that other critics have seen as marks of his own poetic style:

Modalidades aderezadas con efectismos, promiscuidad de vocablos de rimbombancia churrigueresca, que saltan a la mente como muñecos elásticos, fraseología fatua, que como un aerostato, más se hincha cuanto más sube de tono; hipérboles gigantes que pasan volando, . . . epítetos que parecen remilgos, frases que son gestos de hipocondríaco.[16]

(Forms embellished with flashy effects, a promiscuity of words full of Churrigueresque ostentation that leap in the mind like marionettes; a fatuous literary style, that, like a balloon, swells larger and larger as its tone becomes more pompous; giant hyperboles that fly about, . . . epithets that sound affected, phrases that are hypochondriac gestures.)

In the same way that Lugones names Quevedo as his master of an incisive and sparse style, so Herrera y Reissig points to Góngora as his "literary father" in unexpected and densely textured metaphors. Although Herrera y Reissig can hardly be compared to Góngora as a poet of major influence, he can be compared to him in the sense that he exaggerated the literary currents of his day and transformed them. By the excess of his exaggerations he made it impossible for others to continue in the same vein without falling into overt parody or hackneyed repetition.


In the same early essay of 1899, "Conceptos de Crítica," Herrera y Reissig outlines the task of literary criticism. In his reflections on the proper role of the critic, he mediates on his literary heritage. Not surprisingly, many of his judgments of literature echo those of his modernista contemporaries. Herrera y Reissig uses a specific organic metaphor, the family analogy, to place the modernista writer within a literary heritage, while affirming that his century "es el siglo de las grandes revoluciones artísticas"[17] ("is the century of great artistic revolutions"). Calling eclecticism "esta maternidad sublime" ("this sublime maternity") that has endowed his generation with multiple possibilities of selection, Herrera y Reissig repeats the modernista insistence on accumulation and richness in its artistic choices. While condemning "las extravagancias y el esoterismo de los raros" ("the extravagance and esoterism of the strange ones"), he does not refuse the enchantments of the exotic nor the appeal of fashion: "Ser ecléctico es poseer ese refinamiento sibarítico, esa quintaesencia del gusto que constituye la naturaleza intelectual del siglo; es estar a la última moda; ¡es habitar un palacio lujoso del saber!"[18] ("To be eclectic is to possess that sybaritic refinement, that quintessence of taste that constitutes the intellectual nature of the century; it is to be in the latest style; it is to dwell in a luxurious palace of knowledge!"). Herrera y Reissig's choice of images in this critical piece demonstrates the effect of new artistic technologies on the mind of the poet. Looking at the history of literature from the Bible to the present, he describes this procession from the modern technical eye of the camera: "Todos pasan como visiones, en este cinematógrafo lúgubre del tiempo muerto; y los genios se petrifican en mármoles, como las ideas se transforman en religiones"[19] ("They all pass like visions, in this dismal cinematographer of dead time; and geniuses are petrified in marble, just as ideas are transformed into religions"). Herrera's vocabulary from cinematography suggests a more rapid flux of artistic tendencies, a shifting and selection process not given to his realist predecessors, whose craft he describes as static observation—"serio, reflexivo, observador, llevando . . . todos sus instrumentos de anatomía, sus máiquinas fotográficas, sus libretas de apuntes, sus útiles de medición, sus bloques y sus pinceles"[20] ("serious, reflective, observant, carry-


ing . . . all his anatomy instruments, his photographic machines, his notebooks, his measuring tools, his blocks and brushes"). Herrera y Reissig reserves his most florid prose for the symbolists, noting here symbolism's exclusivity: "Lo abstruso, lo raro, lo original, . . . que sólo es del gusto de los privilegiados"[21] ("The abstruse, the strange, the original, . . . for which only the privileged have a taste"). Like Lugones and other dissonant modernistas, Herrera y Reissig seizes on the contradictory elements of symbolism and considers Baudelaire to be the founder of this movement, as well as the first exemplar of symbolism's many contradictions: "es una flor que se ofrece entre espinas" ("it is a flower offered amid thorns"). What follows in Herrera y Reissig's essay may be taken as a descriptive image for Herrera y Reissig's own thorny poetry:

Y, en medio de todo esto, une un templo de un lupanar y se acuesta sobre el lodo para mostrarnos sus vicios. Ríe, y se ríe de sus dolores. Sus lágrimas no se ven; se adivinan.[22]

(And, in the midst of all this, he unites a temple to a brothel and lies down in the mud to show us his vices. He laughs, and he laughs at his pain. His tears cannot be seen; they are sensed.)

Herrera y Reissig's generation in Uruguay, the "Generación del '900" (Generation of 1900), was a brilliant grouping of writers and thinkers that included, among others, Javier de Viana, Carlos Reyles, José Enrique Rodó, Carlos Vaz Ferreira, María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira, Florencio Sánchez, Horacio Quiroga, and Delmira Agustini.[23] According to Emir Rodríguez Monegal, the fundamental shared experience of this group was the impact of modernismo, and he cites from Rodó's El que vendrá (1896) as evidence of the belief in the expansion of rational consciousness and cultural boundaries: "la imagen ideal del pensamiento no está en la raíz que se soterra sino en la copa desplegada a los aires, y de que las fronteras del mapa son las de la geografía del espíritu, y de que la patria intelectual no es el terruño"[24] ("the ideal image of thought is not in the root which is buried, but in the treetop, unfurled to the breeze, and from which the borders of the map are those of the geography of the spirit, and from which the intellectual homeland is not the land


of one's birth"). In his "Conceptos de Crítica," Herrera y Reissig concurs with Rodó in declaring null and void the previous aesthetic theories he finds limiting, such as those that glorify nationalism. He describes the "new" currents as expansive and indefinable: "¿Cuál será el fin de su evolución tan llena de complejidades, de esa verdadera metempsicosis que escapa a la luz de todo análisis y que burla las predicciones de todas las épocas?"[25] ("What will be the end of its evolution, so full of complexities, of that true metempsychosis that escapes the light of all analysis and which deceives the predictions of every epoch?" Like Rodó he uses the organic images of movement and renewal to describe the appearance of the new spirit: "Los siglos le han visto morir para luego renacer glorioso bajo distintas formas; es como un gusano sublime que se enferma mientras le brotan las alas" ("The centuries have seen it die only later to be reborn, glorious, under different forms; it is like a sublime worm that sickens while it sprouts wings"). Rodríguez Monegal attributes to both Rodó and Herrera y Reissig the imposition of their individual wills to create "una jefatura intelectual o poética sobre sus contemporáneos"[26] ("an intellectual or poetic leadership over his contemporaries"). He also points out the curious nature of Herrera y Reissig's fusion of local circumstance with cosmopolitan artistic currents. In a funeral eulogy to Alcides de María, gauchesque poet, Herrera y Reissig gives a portait of himself in the same religious terminology of other modernista poets:

Yo tambén,—sacerdote del Templo imperecedero de la humanidad que sueña, del más espiritual y gallardo de los templos, del único, incommovible y augusto, de las Cien Torres en éxtasis y de las mil ventanas en expectativa,—cuyo reloj marca la hora azul de la immortalidad y cuyas campanas trascendentales repercuten hasta las estrellas . . . [27]

(I also,—high priest of the indestructible Temple of dreaming humanity, of the most spiritual and elegant of temples, of the only, inexorable and majestic, with its Hundred Towers in ecstasy and its thousand windows in expectation—whose clock strikes the blue hour of immortality and whose transcendental bells reverberate to the stars.)


Beginning in 1899 Herra y Reissig proclaimed,—from "La Torre de los Panoramas" ("The Tower of Panoramas"), a small third-floor apartment in downtown Montevideo with a view of the port and of the cemetery—his artistic pronouncements to a group of young Uruguayan writers, calling himself the "Imperator." The tower image recalls a favored setting of the romantic gothic novel, which was fitting for Herrera y Reissig's vision of himself as a poète maudit . His elevated placement has its parallels in what Angel Rama has called his "fatal desdoblamiento de la personalidad" ("the fatal doubling of his personality"), in which the world of artistic absolutes concedes nothing to mundane humanity.[28] Rama attributes part of Herrera y Reissig's aesthetic stance to the world view he and his contemporaries inherited from positivism. Faced with a desacralization of his society's previously held ethical values, such as the union of good and beauty:

el poeta descrubre la realidad como un vasto escenario fenoménico donde juegan libremente los sucesos, surgen y se desvanecen, se encadenan mediante leyes físicas o químicas más soñadas que sabidas, eludiendo siempre toda hilación que atraviese un orden moral predeterminado. Es un universo de objetos aislados, y de sensaciones puras y libres, . . . como un laboratorio que se ha liberado definitivamente del bien y del real y sólo atiende con curiosidad a los efectos.[29]

(the poet discovers reality as a vast, phenomenal stage where events play freely, appear and disappear, linked through the laws of physics or chemistry, more dreamed of than learned, always eluding any connective process that crosses a predetermined moral order. It is a universe of isolated objects, and of pure and free sensation . . . like a laboratory that has decisively freed itself of the notion of good and evil and only pays attention, with curiosity, to the effects.)

Herrera Y Reissig and the Disorganization of the Canon

Yuri Lotman, in The Structure of the Artistic Text, devotes a chapter to what he calls the "energy of verse."[30] He likens this con-


cept to what Tynjanov calls the "function" of the text. Lotman defines this energy as the

constant tendency toward collision and conflict, a struggle between different constructive principles. Each principle has an organizing principle within the system it creates, and it functions as a disorganizer outside of that system. Thus word boundaries interfere with the rhythmic ordering of verse; syntactic intonations conflict with rhythmic intonations, and so on. When opposing tendencies coincide, we are not dealing with an absence of conflict but with a particular instance of conflict; the zero expressson of structural tension.[31]

Lotman explains the changing perceptions in different epochs of this textual "energy." He describes a perception of a text's diminished energy as the triumph of a system:

[T]he same system (in an isolated synchronic description) which for a given period of time sounded new and original is now perceived as imitative (mostly imitative in relation to itself). What is the point? The system has triumphed . What seemed extraordinary has become the ordinary; the anti-system has ceased to offer resistance.[32]

For Lotman, therefore, the synchronic description of a text's structure is insufficient, for the reader must include in his analysis both internal and external structures "struggling against the system, and must see the text's function in relation to a given system of prohibitions which precede it and lie outside it."[33] Lotman outlines how obligatory restrictions (which can function as content-forming boundaries) can change to optional limitations. In Herrera y Reissig's work we see the "hierarchy of prohibitions" being shaken, leading the way for more radical syntactic and semantic breaks, as in the poetry of Vallejo. Since a great deal of the criticism of Herrera y Reissig's work during his lifetime (for example, criticism by Juan Mas y Pí, Darío, et al.) centered on his eccentricity, on his seeming unconcern for traditional national themes in literature, we may assume that his attraction to the exotic as well as to provocative sound-play was directly perceived as resistant or subversive to the cultural boundaries of his particular time and place.


Dematerialization and the Fixed Scene

The compressed energy and metaphoric fury of Herrera y Reissig's poetry make it one of later modernismo 's most striking productions. Allen Phillips notes the suppression of the rules of logic in Herrera y Reissig's surprising metaphors,[34] as in the poem "Alba triste" (PC, 317): "Un estremecimiento de Sibilas/ epilepsiaba a ratos la ventana" ("A shuddering of Sibyls epilepsed the window at intervals"). At the same time that Phillips observes the almost constant procedure of personification in Herrera y Reissig's poetry, he stresses that the suppression of logic dematerializes the natural world: "En esta desrealización quita materialidad alas cosas; . . . Herrera y Reissig nos invita a contemplar una realidad a veces en el proceso de transformarse, que se esfuma líricamente"[35] ("In this disrealization, he robs things of their material nature; . . . Herrera y Reissig invites us to contemplate a reality, sometimes in the process of being transformed, which fades away lyrically"). In Herrera y Reissig's verse, inert or static, fixed scenes serve as backdrop while the theater occurs on the level of language. As light is reflected and refracted in the visual images, so the linguistic elements reflect back upon themselves, as in "La torre de las Esfinges":

  Las cosas se hacen facsímiles
de mis alucinaciones
y son como asociaciones
simbólicas de facsímiles . . .
               (PC,  137)

(Things become facsimiles
of my hallucinations
and they are like symbolic
associations of facsimiles . . .)

Gustave Moreau, the favored painter of the decadents and of Spanish American modernistas (especially Julián del Casal), is, according to Mario Praz, the painter of inertia's beauty. In contrast to romanticism's furious mixture of voluptousness, blood, action, and eroticism, Moreau paints the same scenes from a different stance.[36] On adopting the iconography favored by


Moreau and other fin de siglo painters, many modernistas add disquieting or disrupting movements to these stilled, fixed scenes, which turn cultural stereotypes around. The figural use of conventionalized scenes, such as the ornately decorated interior space, reorients the reader to new paths of perception. The femmes fatales so often centered in these scenes (Eve, Salomé, Helen of Troy) laugh back at the viewer. A seemingly arbitrary rearrangement of these clichés questions their stability and thus subverts the allegorical meaning of these scenes. Julián del Casal's Mi museo ideal, eleven poems based on a series of paintings by Moreau, offers a classic example of the stilled space filled up with luxury goods. Here Casal invites the reader—spectator to become a conspirator in the game of looking. In his ideal museum, the excess of cultural bric-a-brac and stereotypical images is striking. Casal introduces conspiratorial notes in these poems that draw into question their "ideal" aspects. His repainting of the scenes, whose content is drawn from legend and mythology, offers an element unavailable to the viewer of the Moreau canvases. In eight of the poem/paintings, Casal catches the eye of the paintings' subjects in the last tercet, and three are sealed off with an upraised hand, extending the viewer's gaze in an outward swing, flinging out the victory. This swing is an indifferent one, however, and leads the eye outside the painting to another vantage point, perhaps a distanced critical stance. Just as in Casal's "Neurosis," where the "billetes en el cofre" ("bills in the coffer") break the spell of the white enclosure and remind us of the marketplace, so here we find Casal's poetic eye straying away from Moreau's fixed scenes. Though Casal can hardly be called a rebel in his treatment of modernismo 's fixed scenes (and certainly not to the same extent as Lugones and Herrera y Reissig), his emphasis on the literal aspects of his models' features questions their validity as representations of idealized values.

Herrera y Reissig practices the same type of dislocation. Although he does not overtly point out the deviations from his models as does Lugones, one can see a heightening of the same tactics that Casal so deftly employed. A reading of two poems by Herrera y Reissig can illustrate the subtle complexity of his methods.


The fourth poem of "Tertulia lunática" metaphorizes a type of subtle displacement in Herrera y Reissig's work. With an unexpected change of perspective, moving from the grandeur of infinite space, our gaze is inverted and suddenly reduced to a view through a spider's web:

El Infinito derrumba
su interrogación huraña,
y se suicida, en la extraña vía láctea, el meteoro,
como un carbunclo de oro
en una tela de araña.
                    (PC, 141–142)

(The Infinite demolishes
its shy interrogation,
and the meteor commits suicide,
 in the bizarre Milky Way
 like a golden carbuncle
 in a spider's web.)

The poems of this collection reveal, perhaps more effectively than any other group, the rapid and dizzying movement of sound play that subverts the iconic significance not only of words but of accustomed poetic language as well, for example, as in the collection's fifth poem:

  ¡Oh musical y suicida
tarántula abracadabra
 de mi fanfarria macabra
 y de mi parche suicida!  . .  
               (PC,  142)

(Oh musical and suicidal
abracadabra tarantula
 of my macabre fanfare
and of my suicidal patch! . . .

Words lose their accustomed role of designation. When the limits of the fixed scene are dissolved, its individual elements begin their own journey into a nonaligned pattern, dispersing in their wake the vestiges of a unified addresser or speaking subject.[37]


In Herrera y Reissig's sonnet "Fiat Lux" (Los parques abandonados, 1906), similar in many ways to Lugones' "La alcoba solitaria" of Los crepúsculos del jardín, the metonymical dispersion and unusual pairings of terms do not produce the same displacement effects as do the "corsé" ("corset") and the disconcerting rhyme scheme in Lugones' similar poem. The reader's gaze is directed outward, threatens to become lost in the "curva abstracta" ("abstract curve") and the "suntuosa línea" ("sumptuous line") of the poem's design. The widening gaze, which extends to the "noche estupefacta" ("stupefied night") and the coming dawn with its odd "nimbos grosellas" ("red-currant halos"), returns gently to the erotic scene of the "Venus curvilínea" ("curvilinear Venus"): "Y como un huevo, entre el plumón de armiño / que un cisne fecundara, tu desnudo / seno brotó del virginal corpiño  . . . (PC, 414) ("And like an egg, amid the ermine plumage / that a swan might fecundate, your naked / breast welled from the virginal bodice . . ."). Rapid, quiet movement relocates the focus, although the air still resonates with the possibility of further wanderings. By not shattering the fixed scene, multiple associations are still possible.

Eroticism and the Dissolution of Boundaries

Most readers, even those accustomed to fin de siglo decadent tastes, find the frenzied movement and often macabre eroticism to be the most startling aspects of Herrera y Reissig's verse. The sonnets of "Las Clepsidras" (1909) exhibit an eroticism that goes further than Herrera y Reissig's own models, the poetry of Samain, or that of Lugones' "Los doce gozos" (from Los crepúsculos del jardín ). The physicality of erotic union is embodied in the poetic language itself, where alliteration, rhyme, and jolting images remind the reader of language's densely textured physical nature, as in "Oblación abracadabra":

  Lóbrega rosa que tu almizcle efluvias,
y pitonisa de epilepsias libias,
ofrendaste a Gonk-Gonk vísceras tibias
y corazones de panteras nubias.
                              (PC,  480)


(Lugubrious rose, which discharges your musk in effluvium,
and siren of Lybian epilepsies,
you made an offering to Gonk-Gonk of tepid
viscera and Nubian panther hearts.)

Like Lugones, Herrera y Reissig combines classical, biblical, and liturgical elements in his erotic rites, and he invites a questioning of these fixed scenes by placing disruptive images or discordant sounds in his poetry, such as "Gonk-Gonk," or the "miserere de los cocodrilos" ("litany of the crocodiles") which closes the sonnet "Oblación abracadabra."

The tension between the closure of the sonnet and the wayward energy tightly contained within it explodes in poems such as "Tertulia lunática" (1909), in which excess is heaped on excess:

  ¡Oh negra flor de Idealismo!
¡Oh hiena de diplomacia,
con bilis de aristocracia
y lepra azul de idealismo! . . .
Es un cáncer tu erotismo
de absurdidad taciturna,
y florece en mi saturna
fiebre de virus madrastros,
como un cultivo de astros
en la gangrena nocturna.
               (PC,  142)

  (Oh black flower of Idealism!
Oh hyena of diplomacy,
with bile of aristocracy
and blue leprosy of idealism! . . .
Your eroticism is a cancer
of taciturn absurdity,
and it flourishes in my saturn
fever of destructive virus,
like a culture of stars
in the nocturnal gangrene.)

Herrera dissolves constraints of space and time as well as the borders of intelligible language in his most experimental po-


ems.[38] Dissolution, or the unraveling of the chains of signification, follows the vertigo of Herrera y Reissig's language itself. Its combination of eroticism and linguistic play, although unconventional, is not unexpected given the usual dislocations eroticism creates. According to Georges Bataille, eroticism's movement is always a dissolving and dislocating force, resulting in discontinuous movement or speech:

Le passage de l'état normal á celui de désir érotique suppose en nous la dissolution relative de l'être constitué dans l'ordre discontinu. Ce terme de dissolution répond á l'expression familière de vie dissolue, liée á l'activité érotique.[39]

(The passage from a normal state to that of erotic desire supposes in us the relative dissolution of the being constituted by discontinued order. This term of dissolution responds to the familiar expression of dissolute life, linked to erotic activity.)

The play of eroticism involves a dissolving of established forms and a fundamental fascination with death.[40] The mixture of death, eroticism, and an emphasis on the physical form in its separate parts, suggested in the work of Herrera y Reissig, is made explicit in later surrealist writers and artists.[41] Max Ernst's skeletal, mechanized female forms show the ultimate fetishization process implicit in the erociticm of the modernista stilled scenes. Ernst quite literally shows the dismemberment of the female image, with body parts isolated from their context, along with a growing dissolution of formal restraints. Herrera y Reissig's work forecasts this tendency that will be more obvious in vanguardista poetry.

Surrealism's fragmentation is not based on the previous establishment of a complete image, for it is an association reconstruction based on contiguity, not continuity. The dissonant voices of modernismo, especially Lugones and Herrera y Reissig, proceed along different lines. Offering us first the entire corporal image (or at least an iconic representation of the physical unity), they atomize everything received: body, idea, concept, referent, in a type of metonymy that cancels the initial referent. While union, harmony, and death itself are to be resolved within the scheme of Eros, even Rubén Darío reveals the dangerous physicality of


eroticism, as in his portrait of Salomé in "Poema XXIII" of Cantos de vida y esperanza:

Y la cabeza de Juan el Bautista
ante quien tiemblan los leones,
cae al hachazo. Sangre llueve.
Pues la rosa sexual
al entreabrirse
conmueve todo lo que existe,
Con su efluvio carnal
Y con su enigma espiritual.[42]

(And the head of John the Baptist
In whose presence lions tremble,
falls with the axe blow. It rains blood.
For the sexual rose
as it slowly opens
moves everything that exists,
With its carnal outpouring
And with its spiritual enigma.)

In his essay "El caracol y la sirena," Octavio Paz stresses the harmonic balance Darío strikes between the poles of death and eroticism.[43] Yet in retrospect, the more explicit work of Herrera y Reissig—the surrealist works that came later—and the overt threatening quality of eroticism in César Vallejo's poetry make us question and reinterpret the erotic nature in modernismo' s fixed scenes.

In much modernista erotic poetry a scarcely contained violence accompanies scenes of possession. Here the ideas of dissolution and (re)possession are essential. Visual seizing or possession is possible only if the object to be possessed is expelled from oneself. As Gilles Deleuze describes the expulsion/dissolution process: "One does not truly possess that which is expropriated, placed outside of oneself, doubled, reflected under the gaze, multiplied by possessive spirits."[44]

Raúl Blengio Brito, in his extensive study of Herrera y Reissig's work, finds that Herrera y Reissig does anticipate many of surrealism's reversals, especially in the description of "Desolación absurda" and of "Tertulia lunática." He finds many of these instances to be merely coincidental, however: "Las coin-


cidencias, sin embargo, terminan ahí: en la incorporación de los aportes del subconsciente, en las imágenes que de ella resultan"[45] ("The coincidences, however, end there: in the incorporation of the constributions of the subconscious, in the images that result from it"). He finds that Herrera y Reissig's work is not marked by the disintegration of language, "ni hay huella siquiera de asintaxismo alguna"[46] ("nor is there the slightest trace of any distortion of syntax"). Although Blengio Brito illustrates thoroughly his claims, it is undeniable that Herrera y Reissig's work does indeed anticipate surrealism's reversals in a powerful way. The disintegration, or dissolution, of accustomed stock scenes and mellifluous language are clear indicators of a rupture in poetic language.

Traits of Herrera Y Reissig's Work

Associated with Herrera y Reissig's fame as a poet are notions of delirium, automatic writing, and autobiographical outpourings, due in part to the intensely personal and anguished tone of much of his production.[47] However, the fact that Herrera y Reissig, like Lugones, was a master stylist in control of a wide array of poetic forms, belies the notions of automatism. In addition recent studies of his revision process, along with existing variants of his poems, confirm the meticulousness of his constructions. Two brief studies by Idea Vilariño, Uruguayan poet and critic, synthesize some of the dominant thematic characteristics of Herrera y Reissig's poetry and briefly categorize his favored techniques.[48] Vilariño notes the poet's spiritual parentage to Baudelaire, his use of "el horror como elemento estético" ("horror as an aesthetic element"), as well as the thematic and stylistic parallels between Herrera y Reissig's Los parques abandonados and Paul Valéry's Le Jeune parc. Despite Herrera y Reissig's obvious derivations from other writers, Vilariño stresses his variations of received models and notes one of his most important traits, his brevity in adaptation and his inclination toward the theatrical. Strange epithets, pervasive obscurity, ambiguity, the inversion of traditional masculine and feminine roles, a striking use of "prohibited" words, and a "preocupación


fonética" ("phonetic preocupation") are other marks of Herrera y Reissig's poetry. Such a list of characteristics points to the works of later poets who will make ambiguity, condensation, and unexpected insertion of the "prohibited" into hallmarks of twentieth-century poetry.

Most critics have noted two divisions in Herrera y Reissig's verse. The first is a tendency toward the hermetic, culteranista poetry of decadent themes, including Los parques abandonados, Los maitines de la noche, and Sonetos de Asia, among others. The second tendency favors the pastoral theme and impressionistic style, as is found in the alexandrine sonnets of Los éxtasis de la montaña and in the endecasyllables of Los parques abandonados .[49] As will be seen in the following study of selected poems, however, the innovative techniques of Herrera y Reissig are as much present in the more traditional pastoral poetry as in the experimental poems. An important tendency of this second category is an almost photographic realism that disturbs the traditional contours of impressionistic poetry. In this regard, Clara Silva, a Uruguayan poet and critic, has stressed the exotic motivation of much of Herrera y Reissig's production, while noting at the same time the unsettling "exactitud de sus elementos descriptivos del ambiente y su carácter" ("exactitude of his elements describing ambience and its character") in Los éxtasis de la montaña.[50]

Individual Poems as Resistance and Transgression

In two poems by Herrera y Reissig, "Numen" ("Tertulia lunática") and "Génesis" (Las clepsidras: Cromos exóticos ), an insistence on formalism coexists with the aggressive intrusion of words from other registers. Many of these poems appear to be abbreviated versions of a more extensive modernista staging. In "Numen," the verse "¡Nunca! ¡Jamás! ¡Siempre! ¡Y Antes!" ("Never!" "Ever!" "Always!" "And Before!") could be easily mistaken for a passage from Vallejo's work. Words themselves, here time expressions destined for eternity, take on a sensory nature, like boulders to stumble on, as in Vallejo's work where


physicality and metaphysics take on each others' shapes. In Herrera y Reissig's "Numen," abstract words not only acquire a physical nature, but physical signs themselves are overloaded, and the grotesque or monstrous, an element too often overlooked in modernista verse, comes to the forefront:

Carie sórdida y uremia
felina de blando arrimo,
intoxícame en tu mimo
entre dulzuras de uremia . . .
               (PC,  145)

(Sordid cavity and feline
uremia of feeble support,
intoxicate me in your pampering
amid the sweetness of uremia.)

The selection is not only unpleasant but, given its context, grotesque. Not even "mimo" ("pampering") is fitting with "dulzuras" ("sweetness"). If the focus is on the body, once the site of invitation and pleasure, then the selection process has gone wild. With contexts rearranged, thematic elements have been jolted out of their accustomed boundaries. The introduction of the jargon of modemity, "tu electrosis de té / en la luna de Astarte" ("your electrolysis of tea / on the moon of Astarte"), and its ludicrous, off-key rhyme, even to the repetition of uremia, show the working, rhyming band. These elements upset any flow and cause us to notice the blocking of a more conventionally "poetic" hand, while drawing us into the working process of the poem. With no pretense of subtlety, this part of the poem fits into the larger picture. While in general it is a mocking, driving, parodic presentation, its secrets are released at the moments when it drives itself so far away from its paradigms that its own verbal energy and destructive force become the focus.

In the poetry of Lugones and Herrera y Reissig, the destructive and dislocating energies often move toward the feminine image. The relation of this prized image to a series of cultural values can be extended to language in general and to a received poetic idiom, whose misogyny is not always apparent. Roland Barthes reminds us of the transformation process in the representation of the body:


Being analytical, language can come to grips with the body only if it cuts it up; the total body is outside language, only pieces of the body succeed to writing. In order to make a body seen, it must either be displaced, refracted through the metonymy of clothing or reduced to one of its parts; now the description becomes visionary, the felicity of the utterance is re-established (perhaps because there exists a fetish vocation of language). . . . Finally, it is this abstract body's theatricality (perfect body, ravishing body, fit for a painting, etc. ), as though the description of the body had been exhausted by its (implicit) staging: perhaps it is the function of this touch of hysteria which underlies all theater (all lighting) to combat this touch of fetishism contained in the very "cutting" of the written sentence.[51]

Barthes' remarks, with their emphasis on fabrication, cutting up, theatricality, and exhaustion, are suggestive of Herrera y Reissig. It is the gesture in Herrera y Reissig which interests, whether it be a slight, almost unnoticed hand movement or the theatrical and absurd spinning which catches our attention. Movement is always involved with a transgression or a dislodging of the fixed staging, whether it be of the body or of the landscape. It is this movement, not by the speaker but by the one who watches the speaker, that makes us question our footing.

Herrera y Reissig's "Génesis" from Sonetos de Asia is like a condensation of Samain-influenced sonnet. The tone is a bit abrupt and almost too quiet—"Proserpina arroja / su sangre al mar. Las horas son eternas" (PC, 385) ("Persephone throws / her blood to the sea. The hours are eternal"). In the last tercet, "Brama el Helesponto . . . / Surge un lampo de leche. Yen el cielo / la Vía Láctea escintiló de pronto" (PC 386) ("The Hellespont bellows . .  / A flash of milk bursts forth. And the sky / the Milky Way suddenly sparkled"). It could be a list of elements for another kind of more extensive poem, for the "mejillas tiernas" ("tender cheeks") of the stars and "un lúbrico rapto de serpiente" ("the lubricious rape of a serpent") invite more elaborate treatment than they receive here. The rapid change of scenery—"Y en el cielo / la Vía Láctea escintiló de pronto" ("And in the sky / the Milky Way suddenly sparkled")—turns us away, diverts our gaze, even as we are still remembering that "leche" ("milk") is too literal next to "Láctea," and suddenly we are too wise and complicit as readers.


In "Ciles alucinada" of 1902, Herrera y Reissig uses a narrative thread, a pastoral tale, to tie together his modernista landscapes. Moving from wider scene to the individual person and back to scenic description, the speaking voice suddenly backs away:

Un espejo la objetiva. Todo lo que ella ha sentido
lo contempla en el paisaje, transmigrado y confundido.

  Su atención se ratifica de horizonte en horizonte,
y estrin llenos de su alma nubes, prados, valle y monte.
                              (PC  348)

(A mirror objectifies her. All she has felt
She sees reflected in the landscape, transmigrated and con-

Her attention is ratified from horizon to horizon,
and clouds, meadows, valley and hill are filled with her soul.)

In "Le muerte del pastor" from Las companas solariegas (1907), the lament for the lost Armando is interrupted by speculations that are too abrupt, or insufficiently expert, as for example, "su corazón va llorando / como un cordero inexperto . . . " (PC, 163) ("his heart goes crying / like an inexperienced lamb . . . "). These interruptions take the form of exclamations or questions—"¿Murió su pastor? ¿Es cierto?" (PC, 164) "Did his shepherd die?" "Is it true?") or "¿Murió el pastor? ¿Quién lo duda?" ("Did the shepherd die? Without a doubt") and "¿por qué llora? ¿Desde cuándo?" (Why does he cry? How long?"). The presence of diminutives, the repetition of "El perejil y el hinojo, / el romero y el tomillo . . . " (PC, 168) ("Parsley and fennel, / rosemary and thyme . . . "), and sprightly rhymes undercut the lament that spreads out "Por el camino violeta" ("along the violet road"). Even the list of questions breaks down with the addition of the lame dog:

  ¿Adónde fue el pastorcillo?
¿Adónde irá la pastora?
¿Qué será del perro cojo?
               (PC,  169)

(Where has the little shepherd gone?


Where will the shepherdess go?
What will become of the lame dog?)

One of Herrera y Reissig's earliest poems, "Los ojos negros" ("Dark Eyes"), begins with an inviting, traditional memory: "De par en par muy abiertos / cual las puertas del amor, / he visto en sueños dos ojos / que me causaron pavor . . . " (PC, 265) ("Wide open / like the doors of love, / in dreams I have seen two eyes / that frightened me . . . "). With the stated presence of a first person addresser and the octosyllable form, one is reminded of popular ballads or the poetry of José Martí. Yet Herrera y Reissig includes a range of images—decadent ones—which are largely absent or abbreviated in Martí's verse. Bouncing along on the octosyllable, he dances through all the stock in trade of the night side of exoticism. Delighting in exotic foreign place names, mythological and historical figures (as Lugones does in Las montañas del oro ), it is hard to feel oneself at the edge of the abyss, drawn to seething forms of darkness and evil, although all of the elements are provided:

¡Cuando los estoy mirando
siento un placer que me duele,
siento un dolor que me gusta
y una atracción que me impele! . . .
                    (PC,  273)

(When I am looking at them
I feel a pleasure that hurts me,
I feel a pain that pleases me
and an attraction that incites me! . . . )

The setting is too crowded to feel lost; an entire population of interesting and evil people and places is surging around. One can hardly resist the excitement of recognizing all these figures, their literary and artistic heritage, and submit oneself only to the "dark eyes" where something floats that "es amor y es odio eterno" ("is love and is eternal hate") nor even think much of the "viaje de muerte" (the "voyage of death"). For exactly what happens is that "en su fondo desolado / guiñan noches de Caín" ("in their desolate depths / wink nights of Cain"), and qennui and


fear are pushed to the sidelines. Sometimes the journey is even light-hearted:

  ¡Ojos que hubiera soñado
el travieso Rabelais,
que dicen en epigrama
como bailan un minué  . . . 
Que en el registro del alma
tocan, provocando bis,
un allegro  de Rossini
y una sonata de Liszt!
                    (PC,  274)

  (Eyes that the mischievous Rabelais
would have dreamed of,
that speak an epigram
like they dance a minuet  . . . 
That play in the register of the soul,
inciting an encore,
an allegro  by Rossini
and a sonata by Liszt.)

The overloaded signals of danger are played to a lighter tune, and child's play enters into the dens of iniquity. Even in this early poem one can see Herrera y Reissig's ostentatious display of symbols from modernismo' s treasures, as well as his playful mocking. When he returns exclusively to the theme of inviting eyes in El collar de Salambó (1906), a series of five poems, he quiets the earlier frenzy and reduces the extension of elaborate machinery almost to a type of poetic shorthand; for example, in "Ojos de oro" he reduces panoramic perspectives to brief lists—"India: elefantes, leopardos . . . / Judá: incensarios y cirios  . . . " (PC, 465) ("India: elephants, leopards . . . / Judah: censers and candles  . . . "); or in "Ojos negros"—"hay en su noche enervante: Vacío, Caos e Invierno  . . . " (PC, 465) ("there is in their enervating night: Emptiness, Chaos and Winter  . . . ").

Herrera y Reissig usually inverts the framed, stylized, rural landscape. Although his innovations do not approach the urban scenes of the Lunario sentimental nor his own pyrotechnics in "La torre de las esfinges," he does de-allegorize the pastoral romantic landscape. The humdrum nature of the scenes fragments


their possibility as allegorical representation. In "Disfraz sentimental" (Los parques abandonados ) the prosaic intrudes into a romantic starscape. The azure canopy is "an azul severo de pizarras" ("a severe chalkboard blue"), and night shelters the scene "como una tienda" ("like a tent"). Even the floating music, "con líricas bizarras" ("with bizarre lyrics"), of Chopin is like a howling torture, and the scene of love is a false one—"Yo te mentía de un amor ligero" ("I lied to you of a superficial love")—while his lover's response is given "con unción fingida" (PC, 403) ("with reigned unction"). In Los parques abandonados there is an interpenetration of sounds, both human and animal, despite the static nature of the scenes. At times this mixture is almost shocking within the context of such quietness, as in "La sombra dolorosa," where "El tren lejano" ("the faraway train") tears the atmosphere with its sounds, "aullando de dolor hacia la ausencia" (PC, 150) ("howling with pain toward absence"). Los parques abandonados does indeed resemble very closely Lugones' "Los doce gozos" in which eroticism, as well as the settings themselves, draws the attention.

Los Éxtasis De La Montaña:
The "Prosaic" Setting

Just as Ramón López Velarde would later exalt the beauty of the everyday rhythms of provincial life, in the sonnets of Herrera y Reissig's Los éxtasis de la montaña, the sounds, sights, and movements of an idealized setting come forth in all their luminosity. Here the pastoral mode takes another turn, not the route of the lost Amrando nor of the bewitched shepherdess Ciles. Some of the scenes are like still-life paintings in their recreation of the simple beauty of common objects and settings, as in "La velada"—"La cena ha terminado: legumbres, pan moreno / y uvas aún lujosas de virginal rocío . . . / Rezaron ya . . ." ("The dinner has ended: vegetables, dark bread / and grapes still luxurious with virginal dew .  . . / They have already said their prayers .  . . "). Yet unlike a static painting, Herrera y Reissig adds household movements as well "Lux canta, Lidé corre, Palemón anda en zancos. / Todos ríen. . . . La abuela demándales sosiego. / Anfión, el perro, inclina, junto al anciano


ciego, . . . " (PC, 110–111) ("Lux sings, Lidé runs, Palemón walks on stilts. / They all laugh. . . . The grandmother demands that they be quiet. / Anfión, the dog, lies, next to the old blind man, . . . ").

In Los éxtasis de la montaña (presumably influenced by a trip Herrera y Reissig made to Minas), Herrera y Reissig gives classical names to his human subjects and saturates the sonnets' initial quartets with an overlay of densely textured images and sounds. The crowning synthesis of the sonnets, the tercets, nevertheless, generally take as their material the most mundane events and characters from rural life. Though often compared to Lugones and Samain's work with which they share many characteristics, Herrera y Reissig's are so different in tone that they decidedly transform their models. With their settings of quietness, domestic routine, the small surprises of the day's slow cycle, and the beatific solemnity imposed by a rural religiosity, these poems often contrast sharply with Los parques abandonados. "La granja" well exemplifies the lighter tone of the volume's eroticism, where the image of the seducer Don Juan is usurped by the rooster—"Can pulida elegancia de Tenorio en desplante, / un Aramís erótico, fanfarrón galante, / el gallo erige. . . . ¡Oh huerto de la dicha sin fiebre!" (PC, 128) ("With the polished elagance of Tenorio in an impudent remark, / an erotic Aramis, a braggart and galant, / the rooster crows. . . . Oh garden of delight without fever!"). These "Eglogánimas" (or "Églogas de ánima" ["Eclogues of the spirit"]) also contrast with the early Los peregrinos de piedra by their obvious attention to the more intricately elaborated nature of their settings. Rather than rhapsodize to his poetic masters, as he does in the final verses of "El laurel rosa" ("¡A Sully Prudhomme!, / y Homero y Hugo y Verlaine . . . "[PC, 107] ["To Sully Prudhomme!, / and Homer and Hugo and Verlaine . . . "]), here Herrera y Reissig declares his artistic independence by establishing the immediate locality and circumstances as a fitting scene for polished sonnets in the manner of Góngora, as filtered through a late nineteenthcentury poetic eye via Samain, Lugones, and Laforgue. Mythical figures are transposed onto domesticated animals, yet the scene is no less splendid, for the quartets of the poems prepare for their entrance with ornately wrought settings and richly


textured metaphors. The entrance of the mundane is rarely used for shock effect, as is evident in the harmonies of "La misa cándida":

¡Jardín de rosa angélico, la tierra guipuzcoana!
Edén que un Fra Doménico soñara en acuarelas . . .
Los hombres tienen rostros vírgenes de manzana,
y son las frescas mozas óleos de antiguas telas.
                              (PC,  124)

(Angelic garden of the rose, land of Guizpuzcoan!
Eden that a Fra Doménico might dream in watercolors . . .
The men have virgin, apple faces,
and the fresh young maidens are like paintings from old

"La misa cándida" (1907) shows Herrera y Reissig's delight in sound and color, the complex interplay of sounds, colors, and memories painting an unexpected landscape. With no pretense at naturalness, the "Edén" presented is one that Fra Doménico might have painted. The Baudelairian "bosque de sonidos," "forest of sounds," is here a veritable explosion of sounds:

Y estimula el buen ocio un trin-trin de campana,
un pum-pum de timbales y un fron-fron de vihuelas

 ¡Oh campo siempre nioñ! ¡Oh patria de alma proba!
Como una vírgen mística de tramonto, se arroba . . .
Aves, mar, bosques: todo ruge, solloza y trina
                              (PC,  124)

(And the good idleness stimulates a ding-ding of the bell,
a pum-pum of the kettledrum and throm-throm of vihuelas.

 Oh ever-youthful field! Oh homeland of tested soul!
Like a mystical virgin of the north wind, it is enraptured . . .
Birds, sea, forests: everything roars, sobs and trills)

In Los éxtasis de la montaña animals are rarely used for comic effect. In "La siesta" their movement merely completes the scene beneath "Un cielo sin rigores" ("a sky without severity"): "Y el asno vagabundo que ha entrado en la vereda / huye, soltando coces, de los perros vecinos" (PC, 110) ("And the vaga-


bond ass that has entered the lane / flees, bucking, from the nearby dogs"). In this series of alexandrine sonnets the most dominant force is silence, but not the spectral quiet of Los parques abandonados nor the foreboding of suspense. Here life moves beneath the stillness of decades of custom amidst the always towering presence of rural religiosity, where routine noises echo like thunder, as in the following selections:

Cae un silencio austero . . . Del charco que se nimba
estalla una gangosa balada de marimba.
Los lagos se amortiguan con espectrales lampos,
                    "La vuelta de los campos"(PC,  112)

(An austere silence falls . . . From the haloed pond
erupts a twanging marimba ballad.
The lakes are softened with ghostly flashes of light,)

Oscurece. Una mística Majestad unge el dedo
pensative en los labios de la noche sin miedo . . .
No llega un solo eco, de lo que al mundo asombra,
                         "La huerta" (PC,  113)

(It grows dark, A mystical Majesty anoints
its pensive finger on the lips of the fearless night . . .
Not a single echo can be heard, of what astonishes the world.)

Acá y allá maniobra después con un plumero,
mientras, por una puerta que da a la sacristía,
irrumpe la gloriosa turba del gallinero.
                         "La iglesia" (PC, 114)

(Here and there she maneuvers later with a feather duster,
while, through the door which leads to the sacristy,
the glorious mob of the henhouse erupts.)

Herrera y Reissig establishes silence's reign in the quartets to make even more vivid the occasional burst of movement and sound in the tercets where "irrumpe la gloriosa turba del gallinero," in the midst of the "beato silencio" ("blessed silence") of the stately church, with its "decoro / de terciopelo lívido y de esmalte incoloro" ("decorum / of livid velvet and of colorless enamel") ("La iglesia," PC, 113–114). Such silences prepare for


the sounds of the opening grain, as if it were flesh—"Salpica, se abre, humea, como la carne herida, / bajo el fecundo tajo, la palpitante gleba  . . . " ("El Angelus," PC, 116) ("Spatters, opens, smolders like wounded flesh, / beneath the fecund cut, the palpitating clod  . . . "). In the midst of this silence, "en medio de una dulce paz embelesadora" ("amid a sweet, enchanting peace"), one can hear background noises more clearly, like the swish of the barber's razor interspersed with his chatter, the "folletín de la aldea" ("La dicha," PC, 121) (the "village newspaper serial").

"Dominus vobiscum" is as far from Parnassian sunsets as is Vallejo's work. The placid, indeed boring, Sunday scene opens with a yawn: "Bosteza el buen domingo  . . . " (PC, 450) ("the good Sunday yawns  . . . "). The chattering of the toads next to the fountain in the hub of an unremarkable village is the scene where the slight action occurs. On this scene, on which "el cielo inclina un gesto de bendición cristiana" ("the sky bends in a gesture of Christ-like benediction"), intrude two tourists, "muñecos rubios" ("blond dolls"), in "un fogoso automóvil" ("a spirited automobile"). Technology—the car, "su lente" ("its lens"), "el zootécnico" ("the zoo technician")—moves in like an affront. Herrera y Reissig ends the sonnet with a gesture named in the poem itself, "en un gesto salvaje" ("in a savage gesture"), and we, voyeuristic and embarrassed readers, are caught looking at two boys with their fingers in their noses. Tourists mark the difference; their foreignness and their barbarity contrast with the overly placid town fountain. This is surely not the reverence for the foreign by which modernismo is so often characterized. There is no clear duality here. The town is hardly picturesque, although it is placid. The ragpicker, the toads, the shadows of the gloomy seminary hardly present a picture of provincial felicity. Yet the gesture from the outside is indeed intrusive. The equipment, the ugly physical gesture, and the triviality of tourists and classification experts—"el zootécnico, profesor de lombrices" ("the zoo technician, professor of earthworms")—are not in praise of the coming modern world.

With the juxtaposition of Symbolist ornamentation and the simple, rustic setting, Herrera y Reissig prepares for the entry of a different poetry, a current that will mark much of the poetry written after modernismo . Like Lugones' "Emoción alde-


ana" these poems show the way to include the rhythms and colors of everyday circumstance usually without overt caricature or the explicit nationalism of the gauchesque poets. One has only to look at Vallejo's Los heraldos negros, the poetry of the Mexican Ramón López Velarde, the poems of Gabriela Mistral, Banchs, or even many elements of Borges' first poems of the wonders of the suburbs of Buenos Aires to understand the rich inheritance poets such as Herrera y Reissig bequeathed to succeeding poets. One can see clearly here a type of exaltation of the local setting which would find its maximum expression in the poetry of Ramón López Velarde, whose "La suave patria" from his El son del corazón is a national anthem to be sung sotto voce, a poem that changed the notion of a national epic as a grandiloquent march: "Diré con una épica sordina: / la patria es impecable y diamantina"[52] ("I will say with a muted epic: / the homeland is impeccable and glittering"). López Velarde was to include in his epic not only the heroic voices but the "risas y gritos de muchachas / y pájaros de oficio carpintero"[53] ("laughter and shouts of girls and woodpeckers").


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