Welcome all who are reading these words.
Since September of 2004, I have carried in my billfold an article published in Harper’s Magazine, from a lecture by Federico Garcia Lorca, entitled, “Imagination, Inspiration, Evasion.” It has travelled with me through five countries and three continents, often being my only companion; its discerning voice like a silent pulse, rising and falling. It is a breath of fresh air.
It is with this beloved article that I should like to begin this forum. Below is the lecture in full. It is written in a kind of slow build-up, each paragraph expanding on the next, and every word written as an act of love.
I hope you enjoy.
In an intimate gathering at the Residencia de Estudiantes, the architect Le Corbusier once said that what he had best liked about Spain was the expression dar la estocada, to make a clean kill, because it expressed the intention of going directly to the subject and the yearning to master it rapidly, without pausing over what is merely accessory and decorative. I too believe in that doctrine, though, naturally, my sword is not a clean, agile one. The bull lies before us, and we must kill it. At least that is my intention.
Because I know how difficult this subject is, I am not trying to define, merely to emphasize. Don't ask me about truth or falsehood, because "poetic truth" is an expression that changes with the person to whom it is applied. Light in Dante can be ugliness in Mallarme. Furthermore, as everyone knows by now, one must love poetry. Poetry is like faith – it isn't meant to be understood but to be received in a state of grace. No one should say "this is clear," because poetry is obscure. And no one should say "this is obscure," because poetry is clear. What we must do is search out poetry energetically and virtuously so that it will surrender to us. But we need to have forgotten poetry completely before it can fall naked into our arms. What poetry cannot bear is indifference. Indifference is the devil's armchair. But it is indifference we hear babbling in the streets, dressed grotesquely in self-satisfaction and culture.
For me, imagination is synonymous with discovery. To imagine, to discover, to carry our bit of light to the living penumbra where all the infinite possibilities, forms, and numbers exist. I do not believe in creation but in discovery, and I don’t believe in the seated artist but in the one who is walking the road. The imagination is a spiritual apparatus, a luminous explorer of the world it discovers. The imagination fixes and gives clear life to fragments of the invisible reality where man is stirring.
The imagination merely discovers things already created, it does not invent, and whenever it does so it is defeated by the beauty of reality. The imagination hunts for images using tried and true techniques of the hunt. The mechanics of poetic imagination are always the same: a concentration, a leap, a flight, a return with the treasure, and a classification and selection of what has been brought back. The poet dominates his imagination and sends it wherever he wants. When he is not happy with its services he punishes it and sends it back, just as the hunter punishes the dog who is too slow in bringing him the bird. Sometimes the hunt is splendid, but the most beautiful birds and the brightest lights almost always get away.
The imagination is limited by reality: one cannot imagine what does not exist. It needs objects, landscapes, numbers, planets, and it requires the purest sort of logic to relate those things to one another. The imagination hovers over reason the way fragrance hovers over a flower, wafted on the breeze but tied, always, to the ineffable center of its origin.
The poetic imagination travels and transforms things, giving them their purest meaning, and it defines relationships no one had suspected. It was imagination that discovered the four cardinal directions and that has discovered the intermediate causes of things, but imagination has never been able to rest its hands in the burning embers, without logic or sense, where one finds free, unrestrained inspiration.
It is difficult for a so-called pure imaginative poet to produce intense emotion with his poetry. He can, of course, produce poetic emotions; and he can produce with the technique of verse that typical musical emotion of the Romantic, which falls short, almost always, of the deep meaning of the pure poet. But the imaginative poet cannot produce virginal, unrestrained poetic emotion, free of walls – rotund poetry with its own newly created laws. Imagination is poor, and the poetic imagination more so.
Visible reality, the facts of the world and of the human body, are much more full of subtle nuances, and are much more poetic than what imagination discovers. One notices this often in the struggle between scientific reality and imaginative myth, in which – thank God – science wins. For science is a thousand times more lyrical than any theogony.
The human imagination invented giants in order to attribute to them the construction of great grottoes or enchanted cities. Later, reality taught us that those great caves are made by the drop of water. The pure, patient, eternal drop of water. In this case, as in many others, reality wins. After all, it is much more beautiful that a cave be a mysterious caprice of water – chained and ordered by eternal laws – than the whim of giants who have no other meaning than that of an explanation.
The daughter of the imagination – the logical and legitimate daughter – is the metaphor, which is sometimes born from a sudden stroke of intuition and sometimes brought to light by the slow anguish of forethought.
The poet strolls through his imagination, limited by it. He hears the flowing of great rivers. His forehead feels the cool of the reeds that tremble in the midst of nowhere. He wants to hear the dialogue of the insects beneath the boughs. He wants to penetrate the current of the sap in the dark silence of great tree trunks. He wants to understand the Morse alphabet spoken by the heart of the sleeping girl.
He wants. We all want. But this is his sin: to want. One shouldn't want, one should love. And so he fails. Because when he tries to express the poetic truth of any of these motifs, he will have to make use of plastic analogies that will never be sufficiently expressive, for the imagination cannot reach those depths.
As long as he does not try to free himself from the world, the poet can live happily in his golden poverty. All the rhetorical systems, all the poetic schools in the world, from the Japanese on, have a lovely wardrobe of suns, moons, lilies, mirrors, and melancholy clouds that can be used by all intelligences at all latitudes.
But the poet who wants to break free from the imagination, and not merely live on the images produced by real objects, stops dreaming and starts to desire. Then, when the limits of his imagination become unbearable and he wants to free himself from his enemy – the world – he passes from desire to love. He goes from imagination, which is a fact of the soul, to inspiration, which is a state of the soul. He goes from analysis to faith, and the poet, previously an explorer, is now a humble man who bears on his shoulders the irresistible beauty of all things.
Imagination assaults the theme furiously from all sides, but inspiration receives it suddenly and wraps it in subtle, pulsing light, like those huge carnivorous flowers that envelop the trembling bee and dissolve it in the acrid juice exuded by its merciless petals.
Imagination is intelligent, orderly, full of equilibrium, but inspiration is sometimes incongruent – it does not recognize man, and often it places a livid worm in the clear eyes of our muse. Just because it wants to, without offering an explanation. Imagination creates a poetic atmosphere, and inspiration invents the "poetic fact."
Just as poetical imagination has a human logic, poetic inspiration has a poetic one. Acquired technique and aesthetic postulates are no longer of any use. And just as imagination is a discovery, inspiration is a gift, an ineffable gift. It was Juan Larrea who said, "This, which comes to me because of my innocence."
The mission of the poet is just that – to give life (animar), in the exact sense of the word: to give soul. Because I am a true poet, and will remain so until my death, I will never stop flagellating myself with the disciplines, and never give up hope that someday my body will run with green or yellow blood. Anything is better than to remain seated in the window looking out on the same landscape. The light of any poet is contradiction. I haven’t tried to force my position on anyone – that would be unworthy of poetry. Poetry doesn't need skilled practitioners, she needs lovers, and she lays down brambles and shards of glass for the hands that search for her with love.