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Unamuno, Miguel de / Tragic Sense Of Life
Produced by David Starner, Martin Pettit and the PG Online Distributed
Proofreading Team



translator, J.E. CRAWFORD FLITCH


New York

This Dover edition, first published in 1954, is an unabridged and
unaltered republication of the English translation originally published
by Macmillan and Company, Ltd., in 1921. This edition is published by
special arrangement with Macmillan and Company, Ltd.

The publisher is grateful to the Library of the University of
Pennsylvania for supplying a copy of this work for the purpose of

_Standard Book Number: 486-20257-7 Library of Congress Catalog Card
Number: 54-4730_

Manufactured in the United States of America
Dover Publications, Inc.
180 Varick Street
New York, N.Y. 10014



AUTHOR'S PREFACE xxxiii-xxxv



Philosophy and the concrete man--The man Kant, the man Butler, and
the man Spinoza--Unity and continuity of the person--Man an end not
a means--Intellectual necessities and necessities of the heart and
the will--Tragic sense of life in men and in peoples 1-18



Tragedy of Paradise--Disease an element of progress--Necessity of
knowing in order to live--Instinct of preservation and instinct of
perpetuation--The sensible world and the ideal world--Practical
starting-point of all philosophy--Knowledge an end in itself?--The
man Descartes--The longing not to die 19-37



Thirst of being--Cult of immortality--Plato's "glorious
risk"--Materialism--Paul's discourse to the Athenians--Intolerance
of the intellectuals--Craving for fame--Struggle for survival 38-57



Immortality and resurrection--Development of idea of immortality in
Judaic and Hellenic religions--Paul and the dogma of the
resurrection--Athanasius--Sacrament of the
Eucharist--Lutheranism--Modernism--The Catholic
ethic--Scholasticism--The Catholic solution 58-78



Materialism--Concept of substance--Substantiality of the
soul--Berkeley--Myers--Spencer--Combat of life with
reason--Theological advocacy--_Odium anti-theologicum_--The
rationalist attitude--Spinoza--Nietzsche--Truth and consolation



Passionate doubt and Cartesian doubt--Irrationality of the problem
of immortality--Will and intelligence--Vitalism and
rationalism--Uncertainty as basis of faith--The ethic of
despair--Pragmatical justification of despair--Summary of preceding
criticism 106-131



Sexual love--Spiritual love--Tragic love--Love and
pity--Personalizing faculty of love--God the Personalization of the
All--Anthropomorphic tendency--Consciousness of the Universe--What
is Truth?--Finality of the Universe 132-155



Concept and feeling of Divinity--Pantheism--Monotheism--The
rational God--Proofs of God's existence--Law of necessity--Argument
from _Consensus gentium_--The living God--Individuality and
personality--God a multiplicity--The God of Reason--The God of
Love--Existence of God 156-185



Personal element in faith--Creative power of faith--Wishing that
God may exist--Hope the form of faith--Love and suffering--The
suffering God--Consciousness revealed through
suffering--Spiritualization of matter 186-215



What is religion?--The longing for immortality--Concrete
representation of a future life--Beatific vision--St.
Teresa--Delight requisite for happiness--Degradation of
energy--Apocatastasis--Climax of the tragedy--Mystery of the Beyond



Conflict as basis of conduct--Injustice of annihilation--Making
ourselves irreplaceable--Religious value of the civil
occupation--Business of religion and religion of business--Ethic of
domination--Ethic of the cloister--Passion and culture--The Spanish
soul 260-296



Culture--Faust--The modern Inquisition--Spain and the scientific
spirit--Cultural achievement of Spain--Thought and language--Don
Quixote the hero of Spanish thought--Religion a transcendental
economy--Tragic ridicule--Quixotesque philosophy--Mission of Don
Quixote to-day 297-330



I sat, several years ago, at the Welsh National Eisteddfod, under the
vast tent in which the Bard of Wales was being crowned. After the small
golden crown had been placed in unsteady equilibrium on the head of a
clever-looking pressman, several Welsh bards came on the platform and
recited little epigrams. A Welsh bard is, if young, a pressman, and if
of maturer years, a divine. In this case, as England was at war, they
were all of the maturer kind, and, while I listened to the music of
their ditties--the sense thereof being, alas! beyond my reach--I was
struck by the fact that all of them, though different, closely resembled
Don Miguel de Unamuno. It is not my purpose to enter into the wasp-nest
of racial disquisitions. If there is a race in the world over which more
sense and more nonsense can be freely said for lack of definite
information than the Welsh, it is surely this ancient Basque people,
whose greatest contemporary figure is perhaps Don Miguel de Unamuno. I
am merely setting down that intuitional fact for what it may be worth,
though I do not hide my opinion that such promptings of the inner,
untutored man are worth more than cavefuls of bones and tombfuls of
undecipherable papers.

This reminiscence, moreover, which springs up into the light of my
memory every time I think of Don Miguel de Unamuno, has to my mind a
further value in that in it the image of Don Miguel does not appear as
evoked by one man, but by many, though many of one species, many who in
depth are but one man, one type, the Welsh divine. Now, this unity
underlying a multiplicity, these many faces, moods, and movements,
traceable to one only type, I find deeply connected in my mind with
Unamuno's person and with what he signifies in Spanish life and letters.
And when I further delve into my impression, I first realize an
undoubtedly physical relation between the many-one Welsh divines and the
many-one Unamuno. A tall, broad-shouldered, bony man, with high cheeks,
a beak-like nose, pointed grey beard, and a complexion the colour of the
red hematites on which Bilbao, his native town, is built, and which
Bilbao ruthlessly plucks from its very body to exchange for gold in the
markets of England--and in the deep sockets under the high aggressive
forehead prolonged by short iron-grey hair, two eyes like gimlets
eagerly watching the world through spectacles which seem to be purposely
pointed at the object like microscopes; a fighting expression, but of
noble fighting, above the prizes of the passing world, the contempt for
which is shown in a peculiar attire whose blackness invades even that
little triangle of white which worldly men leave on their breast for the
necktie of frivolity and the decorations of vanity, and, blinding it,
leaves but the thinnest rim of white collar to emphasize, rather than
relieve, the priestly effect of the whole. Such is Don Miguel de

Such is, rather, his photograph. For Unamuno himself is ever changing. A
talker, as all good Spaniards are nowadays, but a talker in earnest and
with his heart in it, he is varied, like the subjects of his
conversation, and, still more, like the passions which they awake in
him. And here I find an unsought reason in intellectual support of that
intuitional observation which I noted down in starting--that Unamuno
resembles the Welsh in that he is not ashamed of showing his
passions--a thing which he has often to do, for he is very much alive
and feels therefore plenty of them. But a word of caution may here be
necessary, since that term, "passion," having been diminished--that is,
made meaner--by the world, an erroneous impression might be conveyed by
what precedes, of the life and ways of Unamuno. So that it may not be
superfluous to say that Don Miguel de Unamuno is a Professor of Greek in
the University of Salamanca, an ex-Rector of it who left behind the
reputation of being a strong ruler; a father of a numerous family, and a
man who has sung the quiet and deep joys of married life with a
restraint, a vigour, and a nobility which it would be difficult to match
in any literature. _Yet_ a passionate man--or, as he would perhaps
prefer to say, _therefore_ a passionate man. But in a major, not in a
minor key; of strong, not of weak passions.

The difference between the two lies perhaps in that the man with strong
passions lives them, while the man with weak passions is lived by them,
so that while weak passions paralyze the will, strong passions urge man
to action. It is such an urge towards life, such a vitality ever awake,
which inspires Unamuno's multifarious activities in the realm of the
mind. The duties of his chair of Greek are the first claim upon his
time. But then, his reading is prodigious, as any reader of this book
will realize for himself. Not only is he familiar with the
stock-in-trade of every intellectual worker--the Biblical, Greek, Roman,
and Italian cultures--but there is hardly anything worth reading in
Europe and America which he has not read, and, but for the Slav
languages, in the original. Though never out of Spain, and seldom out of
Salamanca, he has succeeded in establishing direct connections with most
of the intellectual leaders of the world, and in gathering an
astonishingly accurate knowledge of the spirit and literature of foreign
peoples. It was in his library at Salamanca that he once explained to
an Englishman the meaning of a particular Scotticism in Robert Burns;
and it was there that he congratulated another Englishman on his having
read _Rural Rides_, "the hall-mark," he said, "of the man of letters who
is no mere man of letters, but also a man." From that corner of Castile,
he has poured out his spirit in essays, poetry, criticism, novels,
philosophy, lectures, and public meetings, and that daily toil of press
article writing which is the duty rather than the privilege of most
present-day writers in Spain. Such are the many faces, moods, and
movements in which Unamuno appears before Spain and the world. And yet,
despite this multiplicity and this dispersion, the dominant impression
which his personality leaves behind is that of a vigorous unity, an
unswerving concentration both of mind and purpose. Bagaria, the national
caricaturist, a genius of rhythm and character which the war revealed,
but who was too good not to be overshadowed by the facile art of
Raemaekers (imagine Goya overshadowed by Reynolds!), once represented
Unamuno as an owl. A marvellous thrust at the heart of Unamuno's
character. For all this vitality and ever-moving activity of mind is
shot through by the absolute immobility of two owlish eyes piercing the
darkness of spiritual night. And this intense gaze into the mystery is
the steel axis round which his spirit revolves and revolves in
desperation; the unity under his multiplicity; the one fire under his
passions and the inspiration of his whole work and life.

* * * * *

It was Unamuno himself who once said that the Basque is the alkaloid of
the Spaniard. The saying is true, so far as it goes. But it would be
more accurate to say "one of the two alkaloids." It is probable that if
the Spanish character were analyzed--always provided that the
Mediterranean aspect of it be left aside as a thing apart--two main
principles would be recognized in it--_i.e._, the Basque, richer in
concentration, substance, strength; and the Andalusian, more given to
observation, grace, form. The two types are to this day socially
opposed. The Andalusian is a people which has lived down many
civilizations, and in which even illiterate peasants possess a kind of
innate education. The Basques are a primitive people of mountaineers and
fishermen, in which even scholars have a peasant-like roughness not
unlike the roughness of Scotch tweeds--or character. It is the even
balancing of these two elements--the force of the Northerner with the
grace of the Southerner--which gives the Castilian his admirable poise
and explains the graceful virility of men such as Fray Luis de León and
the feminine strength of women such as Queen Isabel and Santa Teresa. We
are therefore led to expect in so forcible a representative of the
Basque race as Unamuno the more substantial and earnest features of the
Spanish spirit.

Our expectation is not disappointed. And to begin with it appears in
that very concentration of his mind and soul on the mystery of man's
destiny on earth. Unamuno is in earnest, in dead earnest, as to this
matter. This earnestness is a distinct Spanish, nay, Basque feature in
him. There is something of the stern attitude of Loyola about his
"tragic sense of life," and on this subject--under one form or another,
his only subject--he admits no joke, no flippancy, no subterfuge. A true
heir of those great Spanish saints and mystics whose lifework was
devoted to the exploration of the kingdoms of faith, he is more human
than they in that he has lost hold of the firm ground where they had
stuck their anchor. Yet, though loose in the modern world, he refuses to
be drawn away from the main business of the Christian, the saving of his
soul, which, in his interpretation, means the conquest of his
immortality, his own immortality.

An individualist. Certainly. And he proudly claims the title. Nothing
more refreshing in these days of hoggish communistic cant than this
great voice asserting the divine, the eternal rights of the individual.
But it is not with political rights that he is concerned. Political
individualism, when not a mere blind for the unlimited freedom of civil
privateering, is but the outcome of that abstract idea of man which he
so energetically condemns as pedantic--that is, inhuman. His opposition
of the individual to society is not that of a puerile anarchist to a no
less puerile socialist. There is nothing childish about Unamuno. His
assertion that society is for the individual, not the individual for
society, is made on a transcendental plane. It is not the argument of
liberty against authority--which can be easily answered on the
rationalistic plane by showing that authority is in its turn the liberty
of the social or collective being, a higher, more complex, and
longer-living "individual" than the individual pure and simple. It is
rather the unanswerable argument of eternity against duration. Now that
argument must rest on a religious basis. And it is on a religious basis
that Unamuno founds his individualism. Hence the true Spanish flavour of
his social theory, which will not allow itself to be set down and
analyzed into principles of ethics and politics, with their inevitable
tendency to degenerate into mere economics, but remains free and fluid
and absolute, like the spirit.

Such an individualism has therefore none of the features of that
childish half-thinking which inspires most anarchists. It is, on the
contrary, based on high thinking, the highest of all, that which refuses
to dwell on anything less than man's origin and destination. We are here
confronted with that humanistic tendency of the Spanish mind which can
be observed as the dominant feature of her arts and literature. All
races are of course predominantly concerned with man. But they all
manifest their concern with a difference. Man is in Spain a concrete
being, the man of flesh and bones, and the whole man. He is neither
subtilized into an idea by pure thinking nor civilized into a gentleman
by social laws and prejudices. Spanish art and letters deal with
concrete, tangible persons. Now, there is no more concrete, no more
tangible person for every one of us than ourself. Unamuno is therefore
right in the line of Spanish tradition in dealing predominantly--one
might almost say always--with his own person. The feeling of the
awareness of one's own personality has seldom been more forcibly
expressed than by Unamuno. This is primarily due to the fact that he is
himself obsessed by it. But in his expression of it Unamuno derives also
some strength from his own sense of matter and the material--again a
typically Spanish element of his character. Thus his human beings are as
much body as soul, or rather body and soul all in one, a union which he
admirably renders by bold mixtures of physical and spiritual metaphors,
as in _gozarse uno la carne del alma_ (to enjoy the flesh of one's own

In fact, Unamuno, as a true Spaniard which he is, refuses to surrender
life to ideas, and that is why he runs shy of abstractions, in which he
sees but shrouds wherewith we cover dead thoughts. He is solely
concerned with his own life, nothing but his life, and the whole of his
life. An egotistical position? Perhaps. Unamuno, however, can and does
answer the charge. We can only know and feel humanity in the one human
being which we have at hand. It is by penetrating deep into ourselves
that we find our brothers in us--branches of the same trunk which can
only touch each other by seeking their common origin. This searching
within, Unamuno has undertaken with a sincerity, a fearlessness which
cannot be excelled. Nowhere will the reader find the inner
contradictions of a modern human being, who is at the same time healthy
and capable of thought set down with a greater respect for truth. Here
the uncompromising tendency of the Spanish race, whose eyes never turn
away from nature, however unwelcome the sight, is strengthened by that
passion for life which burns in Unamuno. The suppression of the
slightest thought or feeling for the sake of intellectual order would
appear to him as a despicable worldly trick. Thus it is precisely
because he does sincerely feel a passionate love of his own life that he
thinks out with such scrupulous accuracy every argument which he finds
in his mind--his own mind, a part of his life--against the possibility
of life after death; but it is also because he feels that, despite such
conclusive arguments, his will to live perseveres, that he refuses to
his intellect the power to kill his faith. A knight-errant of the
spirit, as he himself calls the Spanish mystics, he starts for his
adventures after having, like Hernán Cortés, burnt his ships. But, is it
necessary to enhance his figure by literary comparison? He is what he
wants to be, a man--in the striking expression which he chose as a title
for one of his short stories, _nothing less than a whole man_. Not a
mere thinking machine, set to prove a theory, nor an actor on the world
stage, singing a well-built poem, well built at the price of many a
compromise; but a whole man, with all his affirmations and all his
negations, all the pitiless thoughts of a penetrating mind that denies,
and all the desperate self-assertions of a soul that yearns for eternal

This strife between enemy truths, the truth thought and the truth felt,
or, as he himself puts it, between veracity and sincerity, is Unamuno's
_raison d'être_. And it is because the "_Tragic Sense of Life_" is the
most direct expression of it that this book is his masterpiece. The
conflict is here seen as reflected in the person of the author. The book
opens by a definition of the Spanish man, the "man of flesh and bones,"
illustrated by the consideration of the real living men who stood behind
the bookish figures of great philosophers and consciously or
unconsciously shaped and misshaped their doctrines in order to satisfy
their own vital yearnings. This is followed by the statement of the will
to live or hunger for immortality, in the course of which the usual
subterfuges with which this all-important issue is evaded in philosophy,
theology, or mystic literature, are exposed and the real, concrete,
"flesh and bones" character of the immortality which men desire is
reaffirmed. The Catholic position is then explained as the _vital_
attitude in the matter, summed up in Tertullian's _Credo quia absurdum_,
and this is opposed to the critical attitude which denies the
possibility of individual survival in the sense previously defined. Thus
Unamuno leads us to his inner deadlock: his reason can rise no higher
than scepticism, and, unable to become vital, dies sterile; his faith,
exacting anti-rational affirmations and unable therefore to be
apprehended by the logical mind, remains incommunicable. From the bottom
of this abyss Unamuno builds up his theory of life. But is it a theory?
Unamuno does not claim for it such an intellectual dignity. He knows too
well that in the constructive part of his book his vital self takes the
leading part and repeatedly warns his reader of the fact, lest critical
objections might be raised against this or that assumption or
self-contradiction. It is on the survival of his will to live, after all
the onslaughts of his critical intellect, that he finds the basis for
his belief--or rather for his effort to believe. Self-compassion leads
to self-love, and this self-love, founded as it is on a universal
conflict, widens into love of all that lives and therefore wants to
survive. So, by an act of love, springing from our own hunger for
immortality, we are led to give a conscience to the Universe--that is,
to create God.

Such is the process by which Unamuno, from the transcendental pessimism
of his inner contradiction, extracts an everyday optimism founded on
love. His symbol of this attitude is the figure of Don Quixote, of whom
he truly says that his creed "can hardly be called idealism, since he
did not fight for ideas: it was spiritualism, for he fought for the
spirit." Thus he opposes a synthetical to an analytical attitude; a
religious to an ethico-scientific ideal; Spain, his Spain--_i.e._, the
spiritual manifestation of the Spanish race--to Europe, his
Europe--_i.e._, the intellectual manifestation of the white race, which
he sees in Franco-Germany; and heroic love, even when comically
unpractical, to culture, which, in this book, written in 1912, is
already prophetically spelt Kultura.

This courageous work is written in a style which is the man--for
Buffon's saying, seldom true, applies here to the letter. It is written
as Carlyle wrote, not merely with the brain, but with the whole soul and
the whole body of the man, and in such a vivid manner that one can
without much effort imagine the eager gesticulation which now and then
underlines, interprets, despises, argues, denies, and above all asserts.
In his absolute subservience to the matter in hand this manner of
writing has its great precedent in Santa Teresa. The differences, and
they are considerable, are not of art, absent in either case, but of
nature. They are such deep and obvious differences as obtain between the
devout, ignorant, graceful nun of sixteenth-century Avila and the
free-thinking, learned, wilful professor of twentieth-century Salamanca.
In the one case, as in the other, the language is the most direct and
simple required. It is also the least literary and the most popular.
Unamuno, who lives in close touch with the people, has enriched the
Spanish literary language by returning to it many a popular term. His
vocabulary abounds in racy words of the soil, and his writings gain from
them an almost peasant-like pith and directness which suits his own
Basque primitive nature. His expression occurs simultaneously with the
thoughts and feelings to be expressed, the flow of which, but loosely
controlled by the critical mind, often breaks through the meshes of
established diction and gives birth to new forms created under the
pressure of the moment. This feature Unamuno has also in common with
Santa Teresa, but what in the Saint was a self-ignorant charm becomes in
Unamuno a deliberate manner inspired, partly by an acute sense of the
symbolical and psychological value of word-connections, partly by that
genuine need for expansion of the language which all true original
thinkers or "feelers" must experience, but partly also by an acquired
habit of juggling with words which is but natural in a philologist
endowed with a vigorous imagination. Unamuno revels in words. He
positively enjoys stretching them beyond their usual meaning, twisting
them, composing, opposing, and transposing them in all sorts of possible
ways. This game--not wholly unrewarded now and then by striking
intellectual finds--seems to be the only relaxation which he allows his
usually austere mind. It certainly is the only light feature of a style
the merit of which lies in its being the close-fitting expression of a
great mind earnestly concentrated on a great idea.

* * * * *

The earnestness, the intensity, and the oneness of his predominant
passion are the main cause of the strength of Unamuno's philosophic
work. They remain his main asset, yet become also the principal cause of
his weakness, as a creative artist. Great art can only flourish in the
temperate zone of the passions, on the return journey from the torrid.
Unamuno, as a creator, has none of the failings of those artists who
have never felt deeply. But he does show the limitations of those
artists who cannot cool down. And the most striking of them is that at
bottom he is seldom able to put himself in a purely esthetical mood. In
this, as in many other features, Unamuno curiously resembles
Wordsworth--whom, by the way, he is one of the few Spaniards to read
and appreciate.[1] Like him, Unamuno is an essentially purposeful and
utilitarian mind. Of the two qualities which the work of art requires
for its inception--earnestness and detachment--both Unamuno and
Wordsworth possess the first; both are deficient in the second. Their
interest in their respective leading thought--survival in the first,
virtue in the second--is too direct, too pressing, to allow them the
"distance" necessary for artistic work. Both are urged to work by a
lofty utilitarianism--the search for God through the individual soul in
Unamuno, the search for God through the social soul in Wordsworth--so
that their thoughts and sensations are polarized and their spirit loses
that impartial transparence for nature's lights without which no great
art is possible. Once suggested, this parallel is too rich in sidelights
to be lightly dropped. This single-mindedness which distinguishes them
explains that both should have consciously or unconsciously chosen a
life of semi-seclusion, for Unamuno lives in Salamanca very much as
Wordsworth lived in the Lake District--

in a still retreat
Sheltered, but not to social duties lost,

hence in both a certain proclivity towards ploughing a solitary furrow
and becoming self-centred. There are no doubt important differences. The
Englishman's sense of nature is both keener and more concrete; while the
Spaniard's knowledge of human nature is not barred by the subtle
inhibitions and innate limitations which tend to blind its more
unpleasant aspects to the eye of the Englishman. There is more courage
and passion in the Spaniard; more harmony and goodwill in the
Englishman; the one is more like fire, the other like light. For
Wordsworth, a poem is above all an essay, a means for conveying a lesson
in forcible and easily remembered terms to those who are in need of
improvement. For Unamuno, a poem or a novel (and he holds that a novel
is but a poem) is the outpouring of a man's passion, the overflow of the
heart which cannot help itself and lets go. And it may be that the
essential difference between the two is to be found in this difference
between their respective purposes: Unamuno's purpose is more intimately
personal and individual; Wordsworth's is more social and objective. Thus
both miss the temperate zone, where emotion takes shape into the moulds
of art; but while Wordsworth is driven by his ideal of social service
this side of it, into the cold light of both moral and intellectual
self-control, Unamuno remains beyond, where the molten metal is too near
the fire of passion, and cannot cool down into shape.

Unamuno is therefore not unlike Wordsworth in the insufficiency of his
sense of form. We have just seen the essential cause of this
insufficiency to lie in the nonesthetical attitude of his mind, and we
have tried to show one of the roots of such an attitude in the very
loftiness and earnestness of his purpose. Yet, there are others, for
living nature is many-rooted as it is many-branched. It cannot be
doubted that a certain refractoriness to form is a typical feature of
the Basque character. The sense of form is closely in sympathy with the
feminine element in human nature, and the Basque race is strongly
masculine. The predominance of the masculine element--strength without
grace--is as typical of Unamuno as it is of Wordsworth. The literary
gifts which might for the sake of synthesis be symbolized in a smile are
absent in both. There is as little humour in the one as in the other.
Humour, however, sometimes occurs in Unamuno, but only in his
ill-humoured moments, and then with a curious bite of its own which adds
an unconscious element to its comic effect. Grace only visits them in
moments of inspiration, and then it is of a noble character, enhanced as
it is by the ever-present gift of strength. And as for the sense for
rhythm and music, both Unamuno and Wordsworth seem to be limited to the
most vigorous and masculine gaits. This feature is particularly
pronounced in Unamuno, for while Wordsworth is painstaking,
all-observant, and too good a "teacher" to underestimate the importance
of pleasure in man's progress, Unamuno knows no compromise. His aim is
not to please but to strike, and he deliberately seeks the naked, the
forceful, even the brutal word for truth. There is in him, however, a
cause of formlessness from which Wordsworth is free--namely, an
eagerness for sincerity and veracity which brushes aside all
preparation, ordering or planning of ideas as suspect of "dishing up,"
intellectual trickery, and juggling with spontaneous truths.

* * * * *

Such qualities--both the positive and the negative--are apparent in his
poetry. In it, the appeal of force and sincerity is usually stronger
than that of art. This is particularly the case in his first volume
(_Poesías_, 1907), in which a lofty inspiration, a noble attitude of
mind, a rich and racy vocabulary, a keen insight into the spirit of
places, and above all the overflowing vitality of a strong man in the
force of ripeness, contend against the still awkward gait of the Basque
and a certain rebelliousness of rhyme. The dough of the poetic language
is here seen heavily pounded by a powerful hand, bent on reducing its
angularities and on improving its plasticity. Nor do we need to wait for
further works in order to enjoy the reward of such efforts, for it is
attained in this very volume more than once, as for instance in _Muere
en el mar el ave que voló del nido_, a beautiful poem in which emotion
and thought are happily blended into exquisite form.

In his last poem, _El Cristo de Velázquez_ (1920), Unamuno undertakes
the task of giving a poetical rendering of his tragic sense of life, in
the form of a meditation on the Christ of Velázquez, the beautiful and
pathetic picture in the Prado. Why Velázquez's and not Christ himself?
The fact is that, though in his references to actual forms, Unamuno
closely follows Velázquez's picture, the spiritual interpretation of it
which he develops as the poem unfolds itself is wholly personal. It
would be difficult to find two great Spaniards wider apart than Unamuno
and Velázquez, for if Unamuno is the very incarnation of the masculine
spirit of the North--all strength and substance--Velázquez is the image
of the feminine spirit of the South--all grace and form. Velázquez is a
limpid mirror, with a human depth, yet a mirror. That Unamuno has
departed from the image of Christ which the great Sevillian reflected on
his immortal canvas was therefore to be expected. But then Unamuno has,
while speaking of Don Quixote, whom he has also freely and personally
interpreted,[2] taken great care to point out that a work of art is, for
each of us, all that we see in it. And, moreover, Unamuno has not so
much departed from Velázquez's image of Christ as delved into its
depths, expanded, enlarged it, or, if you prefer, seen in its limpid
surface the immense figure of his own inner Christ. However free and
unorthodox in its wide scope of images and ideas, the poem is in its
form a regular meditation in the manner approved by the Catholic Church,
and it is therefore meet that it should rise from a concrete, tangible
object as it is recommended to the faithful. To this concrete character
of its origin, the poem owes much of its suggestiveness, as witness the
following passage quoted here, with a translation sadly unworthy of the
original, as being the clearest link between the poetical meditation
and the main thought that underlies all the work and the life of


O es que una nube negra de los cielos
ese negror le dió a tu cabellera
de nazareno, cual de mustio sauce
de una noche sin luna sobre el río?
¿Es la sombra del ala sin perfiles
del ángel de la nada negadora,
de Luzbel, que en su caída inacabable
--fondo no puede dar--su eterna cuita
clava en tu frente, en tu razón? ¿Se vela,
el claro Verbo en Ti con esa nube,
negra cual de Luzbel las negras alas,
mientras brilla el Amor, todo desnudo,
con tu desnudo pecho por cendal?


Or was it then that a black cloud from heaven
Such blackness gave to your Nazarene's hair,
As of a languid willow o'er the river
Brooding in moonless night? Is it the shadow
Of the profileless wing of Luzbel, the Angel
Of denying nothingness, endlessly falling--
Bottom he ne'er can touch--whose grief eternal
He nails on to Thy forehead, to Thy reason?
Is the clear Word in Thee with that cloud veiled
--A cloud as black as the black wings of Luzbel--
While Love shines naked within Thy naked breast?

The poem, despite its length, easily maintains this lofty level
throughout, and if he had written nothing else Unamuno would still
remain as having given to Spanish letters the noblest and most sustained
lyrical flight in the language. It abounds in passages of ample beauty
and often strikes a note of primitive strength in the true Old Testament
style. It is most distinctively a poem in a major key, in a group with
_Paradise Lost_ and _The Excursion_, but in a tone halfway between the
two; and, as coming from the most Northern-minded and substantial poet
that Spain ever had, wholly free from that tendency towards
grandiloquence and Ciceronian drapery which blighted previous similar
efforts in Spain. Its weakness lies in a certain monotony due to the
interplay of Unamuno's two main limitations as an artist: the absolute
surrender to one dominant thought and a certain deficiency of form
bordering here on contempt. The plan is but a loose sequence of
meditations on successive aspects of Christ as suggested by images or
advocations of His divine person, or even of parts of His human body:
Lion, Bull, Lily, Sword, Crown, Head, Knees. Each meditation is treated
in a period of blank verse, usually of a beautiful texture, the
splendour of which is due less to actual images than to the inner vigour
of ideas and the eagerness with which even the simplest facts are
interpreted into significant symbols. Yet, sometimes, this blank verse
becomes hard and stony under the stubborn hammering of a too insistent
mind, and the device of ending each meditation with a line accented on
its last syllable tends but to increase the monotony of the whole.

Blank verse is never the best medium for poets of a strong masculine
inspiration, for it does not sufficiently correct their usual deficiency
in form. Such poets are usually at their best when they bind themselves
to the discipline of existing forms and particularly when they limit the
movements of their muse to the "sonnet's scanty plot of ground."
Unamuno's best poetry, as Wordsworth's, is in his sonnets. His _Rosario
de Sonetos Líricos_, published in 1911, contains some of the finest
sonnets in the Spanish language. There is variety in this volume--more
at least than is usual in Unamuno: from comments on events of local
politics (sonnet lii.) which savour of the more prosaic side of
Wordsworth, to meditations on space and time such as that sonnet
xxxvii., so reminiscent of Shelley's _Ozymandias of Egypt_; from a
suggestive homily to a "Don Juan of Ideas" whose thirst for knowledge is
"not love of truth, but intellectual lust," and whose "thought is
therefore sterile" (sonnet cvii.), to an exquisitely rendered moonlight
love scene (sonnet civ.). The author's main theme itself, which of
course occupies a prominent part in the series, appears treated under
many different lights and in genuinely poetical moods which truly do
justice to the inherent wealth of poetical inspiration which it
contains. Many a sonnet might be quoted here, and in particular that
sombre and fateful poem _Nihil Novum sub Sole_ (cxxiii.), which defeats
its own theme by the striking originality of its inspiration.

So active, so positive is the inspiration of this poetry that the
question of outside influences does not even arise. Unamuno is probably
the Spanish contemporary poet whose manner owes least, if anything at
all, to modern developments of poetry such as those which take their
source in Baudelaire and Verlaine. These over-sensitive and over-refined
artists have no doubt enriched the sensuous, the formal, the
sentimental, even the intellectual aspects of verse with an admirable
variety of exquisite shades, lacking which most poetry seems
old-fashioned to the fastidious palate of modern men. Unamuno is too
genuine a representative of the spiritual and masculine variety of
Spanish genius, ever impervious to French, and generally, to
intellectual, influences, to be affected by the esthetic excellence of
this art. Yet, for all his disregard of the modern resources which it
adds to the poetic craft, Unamuno loses none of his modernity. He is
indeed more than modern. When, as he often does, he strikes the true
poetic note, he is outside time. His appeal is not in complexity but in
strength. He is not refined: he is final.

* * * * *

In the Preface to his _Tres Novelas Ejemplares y un Prólogo_ (1921)
Unamuno says: " ... novelist--that is, poet ... a novel--that is, a
poem." Thus, with characteristic decision, he sides with the lyrical
conception of the novel. There is of course an infinite variety of
types of novels. But they can probably all be reduced to two
classes--_i.e._, the dramatic or objective, and the lyrical or
subjective, according to the mood or inspiration which predominates in
them. The present trend of the world points towards the dramatic or
objective type. This type is more in tune with the detached and
scientific character of the age. The novel is often nowadays considered
as a document, a "slice of life," a piece of information, a literary
photograph representing places and people which purse or time prevents
us from seeing with our own eyes.

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