The Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded yesterday to Vicente Aleixandre, a Spanish poet whose work is acclaimed in the Spanish-speaking world, but it little known elsewhere.
Aleixandre, 79, was cited for his expression of the "strength to survive" despite a long battle with tuberculosis and years of intellectual isolation during and after the Spanish civil war. The choice of Aleixandre reflects a tendency of the Swedish Academy in recent years to honor national figures rather than internationally know nominees.
"The purpose of the Nobel Prize." Academy Secretary Lars Gyllersten told reporters in Stockholm, "is not to declare the current literary 'champion of the world. That would be an impossible task."
Aleixandre was a member of a group of young poets called the "generation of 1927" who looked back to the "golden age" of Spanish poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries in their writing.
One of its best-known figures, Federico Garcia Lorca, who never won the Nobel Prize, was killed in 1936 by supporters of Generalisimo Francisco Franco.
While acknowledging that Aleixandre was not well known, Academy Secretary Gyllensten said, the Spanish poet's "outlook should attract modern man, the way he sees man's place in the world as a whole and his opposition to violence and oppression."
American poet Robert Bly, who has translated Aleixandre's work told United Press International it was a "disgrace" that major "American publishers had over-looked the Spanish poet. Bly and Lewis Hyde translated and published a collection of Aleixandre's work entitled "Twenty Poems." Another book of his works in English is "Vicente Aleixandre," of Twayne Publisher's World Author Series.
The Swedish Academy said Alexandre "mentally . . . survived the Franco regime, never submitting and thus becoming a rallying point and key figure in what remained of Spain's spiritual life." He was not permitted to publish his work from the end of the civil war in 1939 until 1944.
Juan Marichal, professor of Spanish literature at Harvard University, told United Press International that Aleixandre is "a father figure for most of the young poets of Spain."
Marichal added, "He represents the whole history of Spanish poetry in the 29th century, going from a very individual poet . . . to someone more concerned with problems affecting everyone, the very large issues of life."
Among the internationally known writers who were suggested for the Nobel Prize this year were Britain's Doris Lessing and West Germany's Guenther Grass.
Other relatively unknown figures who have won the literature prize in recent years were Italian poet Eugenio Montale, Swedish novelists Eyvind Johnson and Harry Edmund Martinson, and Australian novelist Patrick White.
Aleixandre's poetry is carefully cadenced free verse that sometimes evolves into prose poems. He deals with basic themes of love, death and eternity, but the pessimism of his work is tempered by recollections of his happy childhood in southern Spain.
Reporters invaded the poet's tile-roofed villa in Madrid yesterday, rear-ranging antique furniture in his book-lined study and peppering him with questions.
The poet's eyes filled with tears as he said he was surprised to receive the award and would try to go to Stockholm to receive it.
He said that although the citation did not mention them, "I cannot but remember with dearest feelings my friends in the group of 1927 with whom I feel total solidarity."
Poetry, he said, is "communication between men, the deepest and most precise means of expression."
Aleixandre, a backhelor who lives with his sister, appeared perplexed by the sudden attention. When reporters suggested that he take the constantly ringing phone off the hook, he hesitated, until one of the reporters did so.
This year's Nobel literature award is $145,000. Because of three devaluations of Sweden's kroner, the prize is worth $5,000 less than last year.
The following is part of one of Vicente Aleixandre's early poems:
They loved during the nighttime, when the dogs of the deepness
Bark underground. The valleys seem as if they were stretching
Like the backs of archaic beasts which can feel a stroking.
Caresses, silk, a hand and moon which comes and touches.
They loved with true affection just as the dawn was breaking,
Among the hard, serrated which surround the nighttime.
They were hard as those bodies which many hours have frozen,
They were hard as those kisses given tooth to tooth only.
Spanish Poetry Since 1939, by Charles David Ley