1910 - 1942
"Perito En Lunas"
Hernández Gilabert (also known as Miguel Hernández)
was a leading 20th century Spanish poet and playwright.
Born in Orihuela, Spain to a family of seven children and given
little formal education, Hernández published his first
book of poetry at 23, and gained considerable fame before his
death. His 1933 book, Perito en Lunas (“Expert
in Moon Matters”) was marked by his creative use of
metaphors, and is one of his most famous works.
He spent his childhood as a goatherd, and was, for the most part,
self-taught, although he did receive basic education in state
schools and with the Jesuits. He was introduced to literature
by his friend, Ramon Sije. As a youth, he greatly admired the
Spanish poet Luis de Góngora, who was an influence in Hernández's
early works. As many Spanish poets of his time, he was deeply
influenced by the European vanguards, remarkably by Surrealism.
However, although he used novel images and concepts in his verses,
he never abandoned classical, popular rhythms and rhymes. Two
of his most famous poems were inspired by the death of his friends
Ignacio Sánchez Mejías and Ramon Sijé.
During the Spanish Civil War he campaigned in favor of the Republic,
writing poetry and addressing the troops deployed to the front.
Hernández was arrested multiple times after the war for
his anti-fascist sympathies, and was eventually sentenced to death.
His death sentence, however, was commuted for a prison term of
30 years, leading him to live in multiple jails under extraordinarily
harsh conditions until eventually succumbing to tuberculosis in
While in jail, Hernández produced an extraordinary amount
of poetry, much of it in the form of simple songs, which he collected
in his papers and sent to his wife and others. These poems are
now known as his “Cancionero y romancero de ausencia”
(“Songs and Ballads of Absence”). In these works,
Hernández writes not only of the tragedy of the Spanish
Civil War and his own incarceration, but also of the death of
an infant son and the struggle of his wife and another son to
survive in poverty. The intensity and simplicity of the poems,
combined with his extraordinary situation, give them remarkable
Perhaps the best known of Hernández’s works is a
poem called "Nanas de Cebolla" ("Onion Lullaby"),
a poem in which Hernández replies to a letter from his
wife in which she told him that she was surviving on bread and
onions. In the poem, Hernandez envisions his son breastfeeding
on his mother's onion blood (sangre de cebolla), and uses the
child's laughter as a counterpoint to the mother's desperation.
In this as in other poems, Hernandez turns his wife's body into
a mythic symbol of desperation and hope, of regenerative power
desperately needed in a broken Spain.
Biography reviewed by the
Cultural Miguel Hernández