By the time world attention focused on Juan Ramon Jimenez in the form of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Literature, it was too late. The tranquil ecstasy that had made his poetry revolutionary, the joy in everyday living, was fading as his wife Zenobia lay dying. The prize meant nothing, he said. He would never write again.
Jimenez never did write again; he died in 1958 at his home in Puerto Rico. But what the literary world may have missed at the time, Maryland had not: Jimenez was perhaps happiest -- and wrote some of his most outstanding poetry -- during the eight years he lived in the quiet neighborhoods of Takoma Park and Riverdale and taught on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland.
One hundred years after his birth in Moguer, Spain, the worldwide community of Hispanic literature is celebrating Jimenez' contribution to modern poetry. Leading critics from Spain, Puerto Rico and universities throughout the United States last week gathered at College Park to commemorate his triumphs.
"People want to make up for the neglect of him," explained Graciela P. Nemes, who studied under Jimenez and, along with other members of College Park's foreign language department, nominated him for the Nobel Prize. Nemes has devoted her career to the works of the man she calls "my friend, my mentor," and spent the last year organizing the ceremonies that climaxed this month at the campus.
The events included seminars sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, poetry readings and biographical studies concluded in a special symposium last weekend. And, in a tribute previously reserved for state politicians, the school named a building -- the foreign languages building, appropriately enough -- for Jimenez.
It was while he lived with his wife on Queensbury Road in Riverdale, exiled from civil war-torn Spain, that Jimenez enjoyed his most tranquil period, a time when he perfected the form he called "naked poetry," a personal fulfillment of everyday living. Out of the 50 volumes of his works come poems with titles inspired by the local area: "From Lower Takoma," "The Elms of Riverdale," "A Meridian Hill." Scenes from everyday life -- people passing silently, trees on the hillsides near his home, the solitude of a small garden -- sparked much of his writing.
"He's not a descriptive poet," Nemes said. "He observes and makes the landscape an insight, an abstract thing."
"Jimenez does not write of politics or religious doctrines," Robert Bly, a great American poet, wrote in his collection of Jimenez' poetry, "but only of the strange experiences and the strange joy that come to a man in solitude."
The following excerpts have been translated from poems in the book, "A Meridian Hill:" Its Crown of Glory (from the" Elms of Riverdale" collection) Under the elm tree All the leaves are lying. It looks at them, fallen, They see its blue glory With all the white clouds That are now its crown. Up there they were all Laughing with the birds. (Today the grey squirrels Jump madly between them.) I do not burn the leaves, I let them Pleasantly enter The earth which always Nourishes their mouths So that the roots may Grant them their red souls, The roots which have been The profound shapers. That none might be lost, Not one, not one! Would that once again All might be green singers. Would that all return To the crown its glory, That all might possess Their glory in its crown! With Her and with the Cardinal (from the "Elms of Riverdale" collection) You have seen them, those elm trees On the slope of yonder hillside Setting fire to their time With their own red and endless light, Those elm trees, when we turned back at night To look at them, red in their places, Were dreaming that they burned in the eyes Of the ones who discovered them in their corner. What a fire that was, what elm trees were there For us, Were there just for us alone, in a place That one longs to come back to see, come back to see, Always come back to see the same thing! No, it was not wandering gold in constant gold, It was gold in action, it was gold in an orbit, It was a star of gold in a red tree, With spaces of earth among its branches With a cardinal of glory Withdrawn among mute, folded wings, Spaces no longer of sky But of inner eternity. You have seen them, those elm trees. Do not tell me again they were not the ones, The ones we dreamed of. They were the ones, The ones on the slope of yonder hillside, Setting fire to their time, the lofty time, With their own red and endless light. Stanzas of the Three Lost Ones (from the "Lower Takoma" collection) Therefore Never The sun strikes in another way On this strange hillside Which does not end. Therefore I am strange. Because this unusual roadway Was my absurd destiny Which does not end. Therefore I alone go. Because in me, the mistaken one, All is shadow of that other side Which does not end. Therefore I am always other. Because I go out of this life With its unknown land Which does not end. Therefore never is my today.