30 October 1910: Birth of republican poet Miguel Hernández

Poet Miguel Hernández was a member of the Generation of 36.
Poet Miguel Hernández was a member of the Generation of 36. / SUR
  • Raised in a poverty-stricken environment, Hernández had no academic background other than a limited state school education

Miguel Hernández Gilabert, the republican playwright and poet who received considerable fame during the late 1930s and early '40s, was born in Valencia on 30 October 1910.

Raised in a poverty-stricken environment, Hernández was associated with the collective of artists known as the Generation of 27. He was also part of the Generation of 36, a later literary movement active during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

Hernández had no academic background other than a limited state school education. His father, who took the youngster out of school after primary education, is said to have physically abused his son for having a passion to further his studies.

Hernández befriended Ramón Sijé, a young student from an educated background who encouraged him to write poetry. Sijé's death from an intestinal infection on Christmas Eve in 1935 inspired Hernández's poem Elegy, considered one of his most important works.

Hernández was strongly influenced by Spanish baroque poet Luis de Góngora, and he published his first book of poetry at the age of 23, which was shaped by the European vanguard movements. He married in 1937, and it was he wife who inspired him to write his most prolific romantic works. He soon attached himself to the group of socially conscious authors and became a member of the Communist Party of Spain, rallying support for Republican troops at the outset of the Civil War.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Hernández did not flee Spain after the Nationalists took power in 1939. He was arrested several times for his anti-fascist stance, and eventually received the penalty of death by firing squad. However, he escaped the death sentence, which was commuted to a 30-year prison term, due to the intervention of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who was the Chilean ambassador in Spain at the time.

He began serving his sentence in atrocious and extremely harsh conditions and he eventually died of tuberculosis in 1942.

Hernández produced a vast amount of poetry while in prison, much of which focused on the tragedy of the Civil War, and the loss of his first son, who died at the age of just ten months in 1938. Hours before his own death, the poet scribbled his last verse, 'Goodbye, brothers, comrades and friends, let me take my leave of the sun and the fields.'

One of his most celebrated works is Onion Lullaby, which he wrote to his wife after she had informed him she was surviving on bread and onions.