LITERATURE: THE POETRY OF THE SPANISH AMERICAN COUNTRIES: A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

In this brief survey of the rich and varied poetry of the Spanish American countries, not every worthwhile aspect bas been covered. This has been an endeavour to present the main historical outline. The origins of the poetry of the Spanish American countries have been shown to be indigenous. Colonial poetry, although burdened with imitated artifice, attained distinction in the work of Sor Juana.

Indigenous themes returned in the early nineteenth century as America became the main subject of the poetry written in these countries. This emphasis on America brought universal greatness to several American poets of this time, especially to Jose Maria Heredia. Modernism with its central figure, Ruben Dario, widened the scope and heightened the art of New World poetry.

The poets in the contemporary period have been classified in terms of their use of language and their approach to problems of reality, metaphysical or socio-political, Tension between schools of committed and uncommitted poetry has caused renunciations and rifts. Poets who represent one or another style tend to group themselves around journals which publish their kind of poetry.

From the time of Jose Enrique Rodo (Uruguay: 1871-1917) influential Spanish American criticism has often attacked poetry that does not deal with American problems; and later writers have shown a nostalgia for the America that once planned and controlled its own society. The recent presence of Cesar Vallejo and the current production of such a figure as Neruda and of younger poets like Carlos Castro Saavedra (Colombia: 1924), Roberto Fernandez Retamar (Cuba: 1930), and Marco Antonio Montes de Oca (Mexico: 1932) tilt the balance of contemporary Latin American poetry on the side of committed poetry. A host of other young poets have adopted this stance.

This kind of writing involves a risk. Important social causes, when inartistically handled as subjects of poetry, are made to seem trivial by their association with inadequate expression. The great poets have avoided this pitfall and have managed to keep poetry, as it was in pre-Columbian times, intimately bound up with the important achievements, preoccupations, and aspirations of the people of Spanish America.