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About this poet

Poet, novelist, and playwright Miguel de Unamuno was born on September 29, 1864, in the Basque city of Bilbao. Unamuno's father, Felix, died when the poet was six, and his mother, Salomé Jugo, provided her children with a deeply Catholic upbringing. (Unamuno at one time wished to become a priest, but his love for a childhood sweetheart, Concepción Lizárraga, kept him from the priesthood. They would marry in 1891.) Unamuno attended the University of Madrid, where he studied languages and philosophy and received a PhD in 1884. He returned to Bilbao after school, and in 1891 he became a professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca. Later that year, he married his childhood sweetheart, Concepción; together they would have ten children. In 1900, Unamuno became the rector at the university. Throughout his life he would publish essays on metaphysics, politics, religion, and travel; he also published over ten novels and a number of plays.

Unamuno did not begin to publish poetry until the age of forty-three. His first book, Poesías (1907), used common Spanish to offer the poet's impressions of nature and travel. Unamuno had translated the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Giacomo Leopoardi, and their influence on his early work is clear. In 1907, he published Rosario de sonetos lícos (Rosary of Sonnets, 1911), which was followed in 1920 by El Cristo de Velasquez (translated as The Christ of Velasquez, 1951). Begun in 1913, The Christ of Velasquez ran 2,538 lines and reflects the poet's desire to define a uniquely Spanish Christ. Many people consider it to be Unamuno's greatest poem.

During the summer of 1920, while El Cristo was in press, Unamuno prepared a volume of travel sketches, Andanza y visions (Spanish Travels and Visions, 1922). Many of the prose poems in this volume were published in daily newspapers, and the book contains some of Unamuno's most anthologized work. This book was followed by Rimas de dentro (Rhymes from Within, 1923), and another book of prose and verse, Rimas de un poeta desconocido presentadas y presentado por Miguel de Unamuno, (Teresa: Rhymes of an Unknown Poet Presented by Miguel de Unamuno, 1924).

Before copies of Teresa reached Unamuno, political events forced a change in his life. On September 13, 1924, General Miguel Primo de Rivera launched a successful military coup in Spain. Unamuno published a number of articles critical of the new government; he was exiled without his family in 1924 to the island of Fuerteventura in the Canaries. His exile brought him international attention and acclaim. He left Fuerteventura for Paris on a private boat, and in 1924 he published De Fuerteventura a París: Diario íntimo de confinamiento y destierro vertido en sonetos (From Fuerteventura to Paris: Intimate Diary of Confinement and Exile Poured Out in Sonnets). While in Paris he completed Romancero del destierro (The Ballads of Exile, 1928), which would be the last book of poetry published in his lifetime.

In 1930, King Alfonso of Spain removed the dictator, Primo de Rivera, and in February Unamuno triumphantly returned home and regained his position as rector at the University of Salamanca. When General Franco took power in 1936, many of Unamno's friends and colleagues were executed. At university convocation, the poet angrily denounced Franco's rebellion. General Franco gave permission to shoot him, but to avoid an international incident, the poet was confined to strict house arrest, where he died on New Year's Eve, 1936.

It is Night, in My Study

Miguel de Unamuno, 1864 - 1936
It is night, in my study.
The deepest solitude; I hear the steady
shudder in my breast
--for it feels all alone,
and blanched by my mind--
and I hear my blood
with even murmur
fill up the silence.
You might say the thin stream
falls in the waterclock and fills the bottom.
Here, in the night, all alone, this is my study;
the books don't speak;
my oil lamp
bathes these pages in a light of peace,
light of a chapel.
The books don't speak;
of the poets, the meditators, the learned,
the spirits drowse;
and it is as if around me circled 
cautious death.
I turn at times to see if it waits, 
I search the dark,
I try to discern among the shadows
its thin shadow,
I think of heart failure,
think about my strong age; since my fortieth year
two more have passed.
Toward a looming temptation
here, in the solitude, the silence turns me--
the silence and the shadows.
And I tell myself: "Perhaps when soon
they come to tell me
that supper awaits,
they will discover a body here
pallid and cold
--the thing that I was, this one who waits--
just like those books quiet and rigid, 
the blood already stopped,
jelling in the veins,
the chest silent
under the gentle light of the soothing oil,
a funeral lamp.
I tremble to end these lines
that they do not seem
an unusual testament,
but rather a mysterious message
from the shade beyond,
lines dictated by the anxiety
of eternal life.
I finished them and yet I live on.

From Roots and Wings: Poetry from Spain 1900-1975, translated by William Stafford and Lillian Jean Stafford, edited by Hardie St. Martin, and published by Harper & Row. © 1976 by Hardie St. Martin. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Miguel de Unamuno

The poet, novelist, and playwright Miguel de Unamuno was born in 1864, he was the author of several collections of poetry and translated the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Giacomo Leopardi into Spanish

by this poet

poem
The snowfall is so silent,
so slow,
bit by bit, with delicacy
it settles down on the earth
and covers over the fields.
The silent snow comes down
white and weightless; 
snowfall makes no noise,
falls as forgetting falls, 
flake after flake.
It covers the fields gently
while frost attacks them
with its sudden