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Lyric Reading: Woman and Juan Ramón Jiménez

Catherine Jaffe



Southwest Texas State University


Nor would I be a Poet-
It's finer -own the Ear-
Enamored -impotent- content
The License to revere,
A privilege so awful
What would the Dower be,
Had I the Art to stun myself
With Bolts of Melody!



(Emily Dickinson, Poem 505)                


Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958) frequently identifies woman, «la mujer», with his work, «la Obra». As object of erotic or spiritual desire, image of beauty, symbol of love, and form of the Ideal, «la mujer» is as central to his poetic discourse as «la Obra», his life-as poetry, and «la muerte» his preoccupation with death. «Suelo confundir la mujer desnuda con la muerte», the poet writes in 1923 (Páginas 91). «La poesía desnuda» first practiced in Diario de un poeta recién casado (1916) and Eternidades (1917), is grounded metaphorically in the nude female figure: «Poesía / desnuda, mía para siempre!» (SAP 411). Woman figured in his fife as well, for the poet's love affairs were reflected in his poetry9 and he especially valued the opinions of one woman in particular, Zenobia Camprubí Aymar, who became his wife and lifelong companion (Palau de Nemes, Vida 524-29; Sánchez-Romeralo, «Introducción» xix-xx). Thus women do not merely provide objects for representation, but their opinions as readers -their voices- were also taken seriously by the poet. It is in this context of woman as reader that I explore woman as object in Jiménez's poetry in an attempt to hear her voice along with the poet's. Zenobia's reading of her husband's poetry will provide the intertext, a separate text related to and informing the first, against which we can read the response of a female reader to the «Obra».

We can identify at least three aspects of a lyric reader: the image of the reader in the text (the textual clues which describe the author's imagined audience)10; the reader's activity in the reading process itself; and finally the encounter of an actual reader or group of readers with the text. Reader-response theorists describe the reader moving through the text, shifting perspectives, forming and abandoning hypotheses, deciphering codes, filling in gaps, etc.11 For the purpose of interpretation, one of the most promising approaches emphasizes the assumptions a reader makes upon reading a lyric. We can say that a lyric is a poem which invites its reader to identify momentarily with its speaker, to accept the speaker's concerns as his or her own and to empathize with them in that unique temporality which is the performance of lyric12. This definition thus implies some of the chief generic expectations of the lyric reader: sincerity of the lyric voice, intimacy of the address, and the significance of the experience13. A generic reader employs these expectations when reading the poem. The lyric is the genre in which this desire for intimacy and confidential relation is the strongest -an illusion of intersubjectivity we as generic readers work to maintain. It enables the lyric voice to convince the reader to listen and to identify sympathetically with the lyric voice while the reader correspondingly demands sincerity of the poem's speaker.

Most theories of reading do not take into account differences between readers, concentrating instead on how to exclude «arbitrary» readings through the action of «interpretive communities», or the relationships between groups of readers. But if we consider the relation between all three aspects of the idea of the reader -the textual cues which invite the reader's response, the activity of responding to these cues, and the individual reader's encounter with the text- we find that the gender of the reader does alter the experience of the genre itself, where genre is defined as the manner in which a reader approaches a text. According to Crawford and Chaffin, male

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and female readers respond, remember, and understand texts differently when the gender of the first or third person subject is male, female, or the «generic» masculine pronoun14. As Patrocinio Schweickart asks in her feminist critique of theories of reading,

If reading is necessarily subjective, if the prior experience and perspective of the reader is a significant determinant of the meaning that is read out of the text -then, it is perfectly reasonable to ask: what difference does it make if the reader is a woman?... To what extent are the literary and critical canons informed by the interests and needs (the intuitions) of male readers? To what extent are the prevailing models of reading contingent on the masculinity of its paradigmatic reader?


(«Add» 1)                


To answer these questions, I will describe the inscribed gender of Jiménez's lyrics -who speaks? and to whom?- and the possible response of one particular community of readers, women.

Feminist criticism asserts that to read as a woman is to read with a difference, to read without suppressing feminine identity. In Nancy K. Miller's words, «to reread as a woman is at least to imagine the lady's place; to imagine while reading the place of a woman's body; to read reminded that her identity is also remembered in stories of the body» (292). Judith Fetterly aptly describes the dangers of immasculation of women readers: the androcentric nature of our literary canon and culture encourages women to identify with a masculine point of view as «universal» and to accept masculine interests and needs. So the woman reader suffers

...not simply the powerlessness which derives from not seeing one's experience articulated, clarified, and legitimized in art, but more significantly, the powerlessness which results from the endless division of self against self, the consequence of the invocation to identify as male while being reminded that to be male -to be universal- is to be not female


(Resisting xiii).                


Reading a lyric deliberately «as a woman» means to resist the immasculation demanded by the lyric tradition which has historically excluded woman as subject/poet. The lyric demands a strong, self-assertive I, while woman is socially conditioned to be self-effacing (Gilbert and Gubar, Shakespeare's xvii-xxi). Employing the hypothesis of the female reader involves playing a role we construct with reference to our identity as a woman; it is using our «freedom to» read ideologically in order to assess «the quality of the response invited by the whole work», and so supplementing the text with our own voice and context (Culler Deconstruction 49-64; Booth 56-59). Specifically, I propose that when the represented object of the lyric is a woman, a female reader can respond immediately as both subject and object, even at the risk of upsetting a reading called for generically, in which there is an impulse to sympathize confidentially with the lyric voice.

One of the original lyric modes, the I-You lyric meant to be performed, yet nevertheless couched in a pronominal form, implies -creates, in fact- the illusion of the presence of an addressee. W. R. Johnson calls this «the classic form for lyric solo» and observes that «in this category the person addressed (whether actual or fictional) is a metaphor for readers of the poem and becomes a symbolic mediator, a conductor between the poet and each of his readers and listeners» (3). The You of the poem mediates between the poem and its reader, providing an illusion of intersubjectivity. The pronouns dramatize the self-objectification of the single mind contemplating itself in the lyric. In reading Jiménez's poetry about «la mujer», we can thus consider two general classes of lyric: the first spoken about a woman as object but not as an addressee; the second type addressed directly to the woman/beloved, as «I to You». Either of these may be gender specific or not, depending on the use of pronouns, gender specific adjectives, or proper names. The response of a female reader is dual: she feels both the need to identify with the strong lyric voice and with its addressee. She experiences a dual impulse to succumb to the lyric voice's rhetorical pressure and to resist it. The gender of the reader and addressee heighten this dual response, which is potentially present in any reader.

In Jiménez's early poetry, that of his «primera plenitud» before his marriage to Zenobia in 1916, woman plays a significant yet ambiguous role in his poetic discourse. As the Andalusian poet worked through his early Decadent, Symbolist, and Romantic influences toward his own unique voice and style, woman is for him both an impossible desire in his erotic poems and a memory of purity and innocence in the poems dedicated to his childhood sweethearts. The poet remembers, for example, in «Adolescencia» from Primeras Poesías (1898-1902) «la dulce mañana» when he and his friend first declared themselves «novios»:


Le dije que iba a besarla;
bajó, serena, los ojos
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y me ofreció sus mejillas,
como quien pierde un tesoro


(SAP 13)                


This memory, however, remains irrevocably in the past, in a garden covered with fallen leaves, analogous to the tears which drop from the young girl's «ojos melancólicos». The girl's resigned assent allows her to be used by the poet, as lightly in the surrendered kiss as in his memory, to express his own attempt to relive that innocence. Both the event described and the poet's re-creation of it in memory represent an attempt to appropriate the object, pure, childlike love, while the melancholic tenor of the images betrays the perspective of the fallen state of the adult poet. As a cue for a female response, the little girl offers merely a passive mirror of the poet's melancholy and a submissive acceptance of the lover's demands.

This sense of sad submission changes to elusiveness, as in Arias tristes (1903) woman is figured as the unrealized object of the poet's desires in a garden covered by fallen leaves:


Mi alma es hermana del cielo
gris y de las hojas secas.
¡Sol interno del otoño,
pásame con tu tristeza!
-Los árboles del jardín
están cargados de niebla.
Mi corazón ve por ellos
esa novia que no encuentra;
y en el suelo húmedo me abren
sus manos las hojas secas.
¡Si mi alma fuera una hoja
y se perdiera entre ellas!


(SAP 16)                


The elusive «novia» contributes to the frustration of the poet's «alma»; his spiritual state, filled with sad memories like the fallen leaves. The figure of the «novia» like the bare, fog shrouded trees she is glimpsed through, remains a shadowy projection of the poet's desires. His attitude is resigned, for rather than pursuing the unattainable «novia», he would lose himself in his own sweetly-sad melancholy, which is brightened only by the vague, golden «músicas» and «esencias» of an ideal, «más divina primavera», when, it is assumed, the trees would be green with leaves and love attainable. In this «otoño»; however, beauty remains only suspected, stirring in the poet's heart unknown, «ocultas bellezas» This lyric voice derives its authority precisely from the self-absorption which invites the reader's confidential attention, further strengthening its claim by hinting at its power to invoke the spiritual state by its apostrophe, «Sol interno del otoño», to breath life into the leaves («me abren / sus manos»), and to glimpse «no sé qué ocultas bellezas». Woman as object is held at arms' length, non-specific and inactive. In this poem there seems to be only a slight opportunity for a female reader's breaking with the lyric voice to identify as well with the «novia», who remains too distant to show any recognizable features. Yet in this very elusiveness lies a fundamental problem for woman as reader/object, for she is unarticulated, deliberately unrealized.

In another early poem from Jardines lejanos (1903-1904), however, the poet pursues woman as his object with more tenacity:



Bajo al jardín. ¡Son mujeres!
¡Espera, espera! ...Mi amor
coje un brazo. ¡Ven! ¿Quién eres?
¡Y miro que es una flor!

¡Por la fuente; sí, son ellas!
¡Espera, espera, mujer!
...Cojo el agua ¡Son estrellas,
que no se pueden cojer!


(SAP 31)                


Woman is an addressee in this poem, collectively rather than individually. Again, she remains elusive, another figure in another garden. In this space of inspiration and self-contemplation, the poet's anxious attempt to identify his desired object (who is figured only as «un brazo») is futile: she is semantically transformed into a flower, an emblem of natural beauty, and then into stars reflected in a fountain, a fragile mirror of the ideal. Woman forms the semantic relationship between these symbols for love, beauty, and the Ideal because of their common resistance to attainment by man; the poet cannot grasp («cojer») his object («mujer»)-not even in the chaste kiss of the young «novio»- but can only touch her indirectly, as a flower or water, and thus desires her more.

Jiménez foregrounds the experience of the subjective lyric voice, which commands the reader's attention through peremptory first person verbs and narrates its experience vividly. While «a» reader's attention and sympathy are decidedly with the dominating lyric voice, a female reader can naturally feel as well a pressure to identify with the addressee («Quién eres?»), adding another moment, an interval, to the illusive intersubjective en counter between lyric and reading subjects. The addressee refuses to respond and evades her questioner; the female reader feels the dual rhetorical pressure of desire and refusal,

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unlike the poet's encounter with his passive, first «novia» who offers him her cheek. The refusal is here a denial to identify herself, to allow herself to be approached. Yet as a reader confidential with the lyric voice, woman is approached and grasped through the poet's unique power: to create symbols15. By the time she reads through to «estrellas», woman as object of the lyric voice's desire no longer exists as a female body (brazo), but merely as part of a semantic relationship.

The notion of intersubjectivity in the reading process, which has also been identified here as an illusion of confidential, intimate relationship crucial to the process of lyric reading, remains problematic in theories of reading. Schweickart's comments on this point are useful, for she notes that while reading is «necessarily subjective», the autonomy of the text must be respected: «reading is at once an intersubjective encounter and something less than that ...the text is a screen, an inanimate object. Its subjectivity is only a projection of the subjectivity of the reader» («Reading» 48). Lyric expectations make an intense demand upon its reader to enter with out hesitation the space it creates in its moment of utterance, becoming a self divided against itself as it performs the lyric utterance. Unlike the novel, which creates an imaginary world with an imaginary time and space contoured by the various perspectives of narrator, characters, etc., the lyric's generic expectations call on its reader to listen and share confidentially in an atemporal moment realized only in its performance by the lyric voice and reader. As Jonathan Culler explains about the characteristic trope of lyric, «Apostrophe resists narrative because its now is not a moment in a temporal sequence but a now of discourse, of writing» (Pursuit 152)16. In this poetic moment, the lyric voice alone controls the readers' experience. We have examined some of the consequences of resisting this pressure for confidentiality by identifying with the female object and have found a dual response of conformity and resistance to the rhetorical pressure of the lyric voice, accepting this voice's interests and concerns or feeling alien to them. Such response is possible even when the object is not a woman and the reader is not female; so what, we might ask, makes the case of the female reader and object any different?

Part of the answer lies in the lyric tradition itself and each poet's working and reworking of it. While assessing the role of woman in these early poems of Jiménez, we must take into account his assimilation of his Romantic and Decadent legacy. Richard A. Cardwell, in his detailed study of this period of the poet's career, observes that Jiménez joined the long lyric tradition as well as his immediate predecessor, the Romantic Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, of figuring the platonic ideal of beauty as a woman. Skeptical and idealistic, the Andalusian poet embodied as woman the ideal world of beauty he glimpsed because of his heightened and refined sensibility -an important aspect of the authority claimed by his lyric voice. Confusing spiritual longings with religious, aesthetic, and erotic feelings, his art becomes a consolation for a tormented soul condemned to inhabit a material world. Art is thus an activity of self-contemplation, haunted always by the fear of the annihilation of death and acutely troubled by the gap between the ordinary world and the refinement of his desires. Hence we observe Jiménez's vacillation between self-punishing and decadent eroticism and idealization of woman. The transcendence sought in mystical union with woman-as-muse is in fact the self-objectification of the poet, in which he experiences an intuition of beauty, essence (Cardwell 73-120). The pain of non-union with this tempting object induces the poet to hold it at arm's length, like the «novia», and to dwell on the search in an effort to bring it under semantic control («mujeres» / «flor» / «estrellas»).

Jiménez was also familiar with the English Romantic tradition. Shelley's Spirit of Beauty, which «proposes to develop a spiritual structure for a world that has seen its traditional religious account of the nature of things undermined by Newton, Vico, and Hume», provided Jiménez a framework for his spiritual and erotic desires, claims Howard Young (93). In Shelley's essay «On Love», the English poet articulates love as a universal need for communication, expression which desires a reception, and indicates the difficulty of satisfying this desire. He believes that we form within ourselves a reflection of our idealized nature to which we will always refer when searching for a person to love. This narcissistic self-reflection is tempting but of course unattainable. Young describes how Jiménez was able in his poetry of «la mujer desnuda» to aestheticize his carnal desires. He moved

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away from this solipsistic self-contemplation to accept the love of a cultivated and intelligent woman who could share his intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Jiménez describes the attraction of such a woman in a letter to Luisa Grimm de Muriedas, an unhappily married woman with whom he carried on a close, admiring, yet platonic relationship: «El trato con la mujer inteligente y bella activa la viveza de nuestro espíritu y nos llena las horas de una plenitud de pureza, de un encanto espléndido que no da la misma amistad con hombres superiores» (Young 54-55; 73-79; 84-107).

These impulses to embody Love and Beauty, the deities salvaged from the wreck age of our spiritual past, as woman, and the subjective, self-absorbed origin of the sought after Ideal, show why woman as reader and object is so important. She is called on with all the force of generic tradition to save «man» from his spiritual crisis. Woman as well as man, however, experiences this spiritual emptiness. Yet in the very discourse in which our redemption is taking place, woman finds her self -as form and figure of beauty- represented as semantic object rather than subjective self. Instead of being the speaking subject seeking redemption, she becomes a means to this end. She is not the creator, but the created. The consequences of this transformation are serious and far-reaching, as Christine Brooke-Rose points out. She traces the semiotic use of woman as an object of exchange, and asserts that such use depends upon women's silence, «on the repression of their signified into the unconscious». Yet she also reminds us that «it would seem that man thinks he shapes and masters and exchanges words and women, while all the time language is shaping and mastering him (and women), so that his exchanges and controls and double standards must be as mutable as language itself» (12, 17).

The lyric invitation to confidentiality -a generic expectation- can be described as an invitation to experience this process of self-objectification which leads to the Ideal. As the masculine poet divides speaking self against desired ideal self, he frequently identifies her as Other, woman, true object of desire. Howard Young notes that Jiménez frequently writes about this process of «desdoblamiento» into self and ideal self: «Yo no soy yo. / Soy éste / que va a mi lado sin yo verlo...» (77)17. For a female reader experiencing the doubling process when the represented object is a woman, the female Other is more (un)comfortably familiar than a male Other. Only by rejecting her own feminine identity can she feel the same strange pull of wondering and erotic desire that for the poet is the mystical reality of the attraction. Or she must substitute as male any female Other in order to not end up contemplating self as object of desire, a consequence Jiménez first resolves by embodying woman as his object and later by ad dressing his «dios deseado y deseante» in the triumphal Animal de fondo.

Hence the «bifurcated response» Schweickart identifies as characteristic of the process of immasculation becomes necessary even for lyric reading: «This thesis implies that the male text draws its power over the female reader from authentic desires, which it rouses and then harnesses to the process of inmasculation». She notes also that a female reader may unconsciously reverse gender roles and identify with representations of her own desires. Certain texts written by men, she concludes, «merit a dual hermeneutic: a negative hermeneutic that discloses their complicity with patriarchal ideology, and a positive hermeneutic that recuperates the utopian moment -the authentic kernel- from which they draw a significant portion of their emotional power» («Reading» 42-44)18.

It is important for the idea of the lyric reader to note the possibility of this dual response and dual hermeneutic in feminist readings. Theories of the lyric have concentrated on the strong pressure of the reader to identify with the lyric voice as the key to lyric reading. As we have seen in these poems by Jiménez, there is also pressure to identify with the addressee, if it seems recognizable. When the poet addresses only himself, the reader must try to re-create the experience of the poem, while feeling the rhetorical pressure of the lyric voice to accede to its address. The reader can experience conflicting needs to identify with the speaker and to be addressed by her/him19. So when Jiménez provides a clear addressee, «mujeres», a reader identifying with the addressee feels the rhetorical pressure of the lyric voice: «Espera... ¡Ven!» For a woman this pressure, as well as the repercussions of her succumbing, are heightened because of her more direct generic identification with the addressee.

The Petrarchan portrayal of female beauty

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-praising the beloved's body parts rather than the whole and the resultant silencing and dismemberment of its object (Vickers 95-109)- exerts its authority clearly in Jiménez. In this poem from Melancolía (1910-1911), woman remains «in pieces»:



La tarde iba jugando con colores suaves,
por distraer la pena y el tedio de mi vida.
Sobre el campo incoloro del fondo del ocaso,
abrió y cerró cien flores de luz y de armonía.

¡Qué rosa! Se encendió, se hizo triste, cayó
en el río, lo mismo que una frente marchita.
Después fue un malva lento, mate, que recordaba
no sé qué melancólica boca descolorida.

¿Un suspiro? Era un oro que pensaba, doliente,
en algo que no se ve nunca. ¿Una sonrisa?
Era como en los labios de no sé quién, que en sueños,
una tarde, no sé ya dónde, sonreían.

¿Unos ojos azules? Los ojos se cerraron.
¿Una mano? La mano, dulce, se despedía.
No quedó más que un vago cristal, como un desierto,
sin nada, ¡y lleno de nostaljias infinitas!


(SAP 188)                


Identifying with the lyric voice is the favored response, since it exerts the authority of a speaking presence in the face of the object's silence. Yet if a female reader identifies with the woman as represented object and assumes the consequential loss of power, she becomes the desired object of the subjective lyric voice and feels the pressure to conform to its demand. She experiences intense desire yet irrevocable distance, the powerlessness of dismemberment, and the elimination of her subjectivity.

The poetry of Jiménez's «segunda plenitud» changed considerably from that of his earlier period. A catalyst for this change was his relationship with his new wife. The opinions of Zenobia Camprubí as reader were decisive for Jiménez's work and life. When Juan Ramón, already recognized as a major poet in Spain, first met the woman who would be his wife in 1913, he was immediately enamoured of her, but not she of him. The American-raised young woman objected to the erotic tone of the Spaniard's works, in particular that of his latest collections, Melancolía and Laberinto, published in 1912 and 1913 (Palau de Nemes, «Naked Poetry» 128). Her favorite reading united aesthetic taste with desire for action, as she reminded her suitor in a letter: «Yo pienso en cada ocasión en servir de algo». The poet, in turn, attempted to justify the erotic tone of Laberinto, which seemed unreconciled with his announced desire for purity in woman: «En todos mis versos 'carnales' hay, si lo miras bien, una tristeza de la 'carne'. ...ese y todos mis otros libros están plenos de aspiración ideal y de sentimientos nobles». The dreamy poet responded to Zenobia's efforts to draw him out of his «tristeza» and to encourage him to be more practical (Palau de Nemes, Vida 525-29). Sánchez Romeralo attributes the new spirituality of Sonetos espirituales, written in 1913 and 1914, and the emergence from the «melancolía» and «tristeza» evident in Estío (1915), to the presence of Zenobia («Introducción» xix). Her desire for action, «servir de algo» informs Jiménez's evolving conception of the role and authority of the poet; correspondingly, it contributes to a reevaluation of the role of the reader of the «obra».

The turning point in Jiménez's career is his book of verse and prose Diario de un poeta recién casado, written during his trip to the United States to marry Zenobia in 1916. Here he first practices his new style of verse, «poesía desnuda» stripped of traditional poetic meters, corresponding to the natural rhythm and harmony of speech, and free of rhetorical ornamentation. As Palau de Nemes observes, «the concept of nakedness represents a stylistic phenomenon, a unifying force in his life and works, and it also embodies a personal and artistic goal» («Naked Poetry» 125). A new poetry calls for a new reader, and especially the role of the woman reader has changed. While the description of this new style of poetry appears in Eternidades rooted metaphorically in the nude female figure («Vino, primera, pura»), Palau de Nemes -a female reader herself- turns the metaphor around and claims that the phrase naked poetry can be applied metaphorically to the beloved woman («Naked Poetry» 126-27), drawing a parallel between the poet's love affairs and his image of his verse as innocent, gaudy, disrobing, and nude. It is an interesting turn, for it seeks to privilege woman as the origin of poetry, rather than, as discussed here, poetry as origin of woman. Palau de Nemes relates her claim that «the symbol naked poetry is rooted in a sublimated concept of the essential, naked woman loved and possessed by the poet, who is always the speaker in his verses», to an aspect of the verb «desnudarse» which connotes purity:

the aspect of the symbol naked poetry that relates to desnudarse or disrobing is rooted in the culture of Spain and signifies «to give up», «to deprive oneself»; «to renounce» ...Jiménez's naked poetry is the result of a life of solitude,

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of renunciation of all external distractions. It also signifies a personal purge to rid himself of his obsession with the flesh. These attainments were made possible by his wife.


(«Naked Poetry» 130-31)                


Juan Ramón himself describes the relationship in terms of passion and possession: «Yo tengo escondida en mi casa, por su gusto y por el mío, a la Poesía, como una mujer hermosa; y nuestra relación es la de los apasionados».


(Páginas 213)                


Although he describes a reciprocal, emotional bond of dependence with the woman/poetry, she is nevertheless confined in his own space, hidden in his «casa».


In the new world of Diario, woman as object of the poetry is whole and above all, attained. Often the lyrics are I-You addresses, lyric voice and addressee, spirit and flesh, existing together harmoniously:


¡Qué dulce esta inmensa trama!
Tu cuerpo con mi alma, amor,
y mi cuerpo con tu alma.


(SAP 384)                


Here both I and You are body and soul, intertwined in a shared subjectivity, rather than a speaking subject desiring an elusive object. The poems addressed to the beloved reveal intimacy and wonder:


¡Qué débil el latido
de tu corazón leve,
y qué hondo y qué fuerte su secreto!
¡Qué breve el cuerpo delicado
que lo envuelve de rosas,
y qué lejos, desde cualquiera parte tuya
-y qué no hecho-,
el centro de tu alma!


(SAP 386)                


The poet represents the beloved as «corazón», «cuerpo» and alma, unified body and soul. Her subjectivity is acknowledged, although it is still a «secreto». The difference between these poems and those from his earlier works lies in the proximity of lyric voice and addressee: woman as object (only presumed from familiarity with the poet, since these poems are not gender-specific) is held close rather than kept at a distance; the sensations described are precise, not vague; and there is an easy reconciliation of distinct yet harmonious «alma» and «carne». While the first poem describes union in a balanced equation, the second admits and accepts, unafraid, the unreachable subjectivity, «alma», essence, of the beloved. Rather than figuring the female object in an attempt at self-transcendence, the poet represent her as another, although mysterious, subjectivity.

The transcendence sought in union with woman as muse, earlier felt as threatening, reaches an equilibrium through attained love. The reflexive desnudarse may signify a process of purification, but the transitive verb turns the action out onto the object. This turn becomes «deshojar» when woman is figured as a rose:



Te deshojé, como una rosa,
para verte tú alma,
y no la vi.

Mas todo en torno
-horizontes de tierras y de mares-,
todo, hasta el infinito,
se colmó de una esencia
inmensa y viva.


(SAP 381)                


Through the process of disrobing the lyric voice searches inwardly and unsuccessfully for the soul of the beloved, only to discover that the sought-after essence is everywhere, in the living space of creation sustained by love. The semantic link of woman/rose established in Diario encourages identification of the addressee as woman/beloved. Yet such an identification is not damaging to the lyric voice/addressee relationship from the object's perspective; the beloved's essential subjectivity, while acknowledged as unreachable, is nevertheless united with the poet's in the primal, harmonious space of attained love. The reciprocity and equality of feeling determines the relationship and the terms/space in which lover and beloved meet.

Woman continues to be a major theme and symbol, «presencia» in Jiménez's vast Obra following Diario, and space of course limits comment here to only a few poems which suggest certain patterns of interaction between the «Obra» and its female reader. While the importance of the achieved union and love of marriage celebrated in Diario cannot be underestimated in Jiménez's poetic vision, this union is not the end of his spiritual search. The poet admits as much in this poem from Eternidades:



Mujer, ¡qué pronto
el muro opaco, fin de la ilusión,
que me pones delante con tu abrazo,
se hace trasparente!

¡Qué poco tiempo
eres el término de mi horizonte!


(PUE 14)                


The poet must continue in his search for spiritual and poetic inspiration, yet woman will stand as but one guidepost on the road. A female reader, identifying with the addressee, «mujer», experiences the lyric voice's acknowledged desire, but the desire to go beyond

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requires a shift to identification with the lyric voice in order to participate in its exploration past that horizon. The female reader limited to identification as addressee risks being cast aside as object and left behind.

In the posthumously published book Jiménez entitled La mujer desnuda (1918-1923), woman as object is figured as inspiration (water, fountain, [mus]ic, life) poetry, «la Obra», and as death. The poet both creates woman as his object and acknowledges her ideal, platonic existence in «La mujer desnuda»:



Humana fuente bella,
surtidor de delicia entre las cosas,
tierna, suave agua redonda,
mujer desnuda; ¿un día,
dejaré yo de verte;
te tendrás que quedar sin estos asombrados ojos míos,
que completaban tu hermosura plena,
con la insaciable plenitud de su mirada?

(¡Estíos; verdes frondas,
aguas entre las flores,
lunas alegres sobre el cuerpo,
calor y amor, mujer desnuda!)

¡Límite exacto de la vida,
perfecto continente,
armonía formada, único fin,
definición real de la belleza,
mujer desnuda; ¡un día,
se romperá mi línea de hombre,
me tendré que espandir
en la naturaleza abstracta;
no seré nada para ti,
árbol universal de hoja perene, eternidad concreta!


(PUE 136)                


In this poem, woman as reader again will be caught up in identification with the addressee, «completed» by the poet's vision and then transformed into an eternal ideal. Only by reading not as a woman can she fully experience the lyric voice's satisfaction with her iconic stature, for her presence can only be created by the complementing poet. This perspective is literally created by the poet's gaze, his «asombrados ojos» complete her beauty with «la insaciable plenitud de su mirada». Jiménez explores the idea of woman as both life, «agua redonda», «calor y amor», and death, end, limit, defined, perfect form. He acknowledges his need to go beyond this horizon he has himself created. As he foresees the dissolving of his subjectivity, his identity, «línea de hombre», he suggests that the ideal form of beauty will still exist as an «árbol universal», the «eternidad concreta» beyond death. Yet this cannot occur without the poet's voice and his «ojos», the reader's performance of the incribed «obra», «su mirada», he leaves behind.

In another poem from La mujer desnuda, woman is again the object of contemplation as the sleeping spouse, absent in soul yet present in body to the lover, handing herself over like death: «(Te entregas cual la muerte)». These poems reveal that despite the fulfillment brought by marriage and «poesía desnuda», woman continues to be ambiguous for the poet. There is always something unreachable -her own subjectivity, mirror of the poet's divided self- about her. In the dialectic of presence and absence, strength and tenderness («tierna azucena» and «tendida espada fuerte»), woman remains in essence different from man: «(...la desnudez eterna, / para la que el hombre es ciego)». [PUE 155, 156]. The female reader/addressee possesses a secret essence denied to the male speaker, and the lyric voice increases the distance between it and its addressee. In these poems, woman is entirely different from man, and so the female reader experiences rather the thrill of possession of the secret than the wonder and mystery expressed by the lyric voice.

Perhaps also because of this essential difference from man, she is his «...faro desnudo, guía de la muerte!». (PUE 157). Woman as reader again must perform a double reading to experience the lyric voice's fatal attraction for this radical Other, death, absence of self, for as a female reader she feels her own self called upon as the end of subjectivity. A new state of being, «Hacia otra desnudez», is the end of this quest:


A ti me lego, rosa.
Sé tú, desnuda, mi descanso;
sé tú la suma, para mí,
rosa, mujer ya casi y obra ya,
de mujer; muerte y obra.


(PUE 291)                


Note that transcendence of the flesh through the spiritual experience of love is figured as the nude woman as well as death, the fear of which haunted the poet throughout his life. He writes in a note entitled «Las tres presencias»:

Cada cinco años, visto más hermosa a mi Poesía desnuda, para volver a desnudarla mejor durante otros cinco años. Este es el proceso natural de lo completo.

Y esto, bien evidente en los diversos tiempos de mi Poesía, ha sido, es y será mi juego fatal, hasta que yo le encuentre a la Poesía, a la Mujer desnuda, el hueso de la Muerte (Estética 213).


As Sánchez Romeralo observes, associating the female figure with death is an attempt to

––––––––   601   ––––––––

neutralize death and his own fear of it («Introducción» xxv). The perfection of his poetry leads inevitably to death.

In Espacio (1941-1942, 1954), the poet touches on all of the themes mentioned so far, as well as on what can be called the feminine principle in his poetic discourse. In the first fragment, for example, the lyric voices speak of woman as «forma de las formas», «esencia», yet laments man's need to go beyond woman: «Luego, de pronto, esta dureza de ir más allá de la mujer, de la mujer que es nuestro todo donde debiera terminar nuestro horizonte!» (PUE, p. 267). As in «La mujer desnuda», woman as imagined by man, «nuestro todo», represents a limit, «nuestro horizonte», surpassed, perhaps, in death. Since woman is not addressed but rather referred to in the third person, a female reader will feel distanced from the lyric voice at this point, while making a recuperating move as intertextual reader, reading this treatment of woman as object against his others, as part of his poetic discourse. If woman is distanced in that passage, man is even more so in this one: «El niño todavía me comprende, la mujer me quisiera comprender, el hombre... no, no quiero nada con el hombre; es estúpido, infiel, desconfiado; y cuando más adulador, científico» (PUE, 270). Here the poet identifies woman as a more sympathetic, under standing addressee for his lyric discourse than man.

Jiménez believed that «feminine» intuition and sensitivity lead to the truth more surely than «man's» scientific, rational modes of thought. Indeed, living in the male-oriented culture of Spain, the sensitive poet was on more than one occasion called upon to defend his own «feminine» delicacy. An anonymous attack published in 1945 on Jiménez's question, «Y Dios, señores críticos, ¿es masculino o femenino?», offered a «rational» apology for pure misogyny: «...la recta razón filosófica, y la filosófica moral sobre todo, sí necesita tal vez agarrarse de nuevo a una escala de valores en que la virilidad se encuentre en la zona de la perfección sexual». Jiménez, observing that his «virile» critic lacked the courage to sign his attack, defended his alleged «femininity»:

En mi poesía hay todos las temas y los tonos porque yo creo que el poeta hombre tiene dentro siempre al niño y a la mujer, por fortuna, como la montaña tiene la florecilla y el arroyo... ¿Es necesario hablar del sexo en poesía? El problema es otro. Cuanto más cultivado es el hombre más delicado es. Esto, que también lo he dicho mucho, se ve en todas las civilizaciones, la china, la griega, la india, la arábigo-andaluza, la latina, la gótica. Y los países verdaderamente fuertes, fuertes por dentro, señor crítico español oportunista, son los más delicados y los más respetuosos con lo delicado. En los Estados Unidos, por ejemplo, que se considera hoy un país tan fuerte, los hombres podrían parecer afeminados en España por sus sentimientos, su manera de vestir y sus formas sociales. Pero eso es porque en España perdura el tipo que ya satirizó Quevedo, del hombre estúpidamente varonil. En esto me considero poco español, menos que usted y los suyos. No, no soy castizo, no soy chulo, no soy castúo, no soy conquistador, no soy totalitario, no soy imperialista, señor crítico, anónimo, caballeroso y valiente.


(Guerra 326-30)                


In this statement, Jiménez clearly accepts the delicacy of woman as part of himself, along with the innocence of youth. If the parallelism of his simile is intended, then the fragile, lovely «florecilla» of youth and the cleft, interior, water-bearing «arroyo» are both parts of the «montaña», the looming mass of subjectivity.

Jiménez's preference for woman as addressee offsets some of the disadvantages a female reader experiences when woman is figured as object in his poetry. In the third fragment of Espacio, for instance, Jiménez recalls the experiences of Diario as well as those of his other momentous sea voyage to Argentina in 1945, during which he produced Animal de fondo. In this final fragment, he and woman have become Adam and Eve, poised to begin fife anew:

El mar, el sol, la luna, y ella y yo, Eva y Adán, al fin y ya otra vez sin ropa, y la obra desnuda y la muerte desnuda, que tanto me atrajeron... y hay que vestirse en este mar, en esta eternidad de Adán y Eva, Adán de smoking, Eva... Eva se desnuda para comer como para bañarse; es la mujer y la obra y la muerte, es la mujer desnuda, eterna metamorfosis.


(PUE, 273).                


At the beginning of this fragment, woman and man stand together and equal. At the end she is again different, nude, unlike the socially conforming Adam. Eva becomes the eternal feminine principle, natural and unassimilated: the poet's work and his death. Describing the influences of William Blake's illustrations of Paradise Lost on Jiménez, Howard Young notes that Eve's role in man's fall from paradise into mortality is countered by her identification as «la obra» as well: «The paradox is evident: woman led the poet out of paradise, and for Juan Ramón she will lead him back again, capable of miraculous changes that he recognized...» (224).



––––––––   602   ––––––––

If Jiménez often figures woman as Other during his process of self-objectification, he also envisions the ultimate union of all through the power of love. Through an abundance of differences, he perceives unity:

«Pero tú en medio, tú, mujer de hoy, negra o blanca, americana, asiática, europea, africana, oceánica; demócrata, republicana, comunista, socialista, monárquica; judía; rubia, morena; inocente o sofística; buena o mala; perdida indiferente; lenta o rápida; brutal o soñadora; civilizada, civilizada llena de manos, caras, campos naturales, muestras de un natural único y libre, ...mujer, la nueva siempre para el amor igual, la sola poesía... Si todos nos uniéramos en todo... estos claros del campo nuestro, nuestro cuerpo... el mundo un día nos sería hermoso a todos... todo unido... un astro humano...».


(PUE 277)                


Despite all possible variations of race, creed, and personality, Jiménez addresses woman «en medio», what he perceives as her essential nature. Like Eva who eats and bathes nude, woman is more than exterior, civilizing influences like clothes. Her «manos, caros, campos naturales» mark her proximity to the natural. Woman as addressee is again privileged; her difference and presence enable the ultimate union of all. This role is so explicit and the definition as addressee so precise that there is no room for doubt regarding her special role as reader: her body as agent of natural harmony and love. Yet because of this precise definition, she is certainly not the speaking lyric voice; she is stiff «la sola poesia» itself, not the creator of poetry. Femininity and its differences are valued, for the female as reader is encouraged to be different among women and to be woman, not man. Thus the female reader paradoxically identifies with the speaking lyric voice and with the addressee -an addressee defined in opposition to the lyric's male voice- in a role which enables the unification of all humanity.

Through these examples of reading as a woman, we have seen that Jiménez's treatment of woman as object develops during his career and never is entirely resolved. From the early poems where she is a distant object of desire, to the achieved union of marriage and approximation of subject and object, and finally the poet's characterization of her as sensitive, comprehending addressee in his search for the divine, woman plays a major role in «la obra». Just as Zenobia's reading changed the poet's work, so the idea of woman as addressee influences Jiménez's lyric discourse.

These readings of Jiménez's poetry about and to woman show that the relationship between lyric voice and addressee is never stable. When woman is object or addressee, gender differences do play a role in the reader's experience of the poem, sometimes separating the female reader from the male reader's response. Yet since identification with the lyric voice is such a strong expectation for the genre, woman also experiences the poem from the speaker's point of view, creating an interval in her response to the poem. In addition, she can make a later, recuperating move by reading beyond the text of the single poem, placing the poem in the context of the poet 's life and work.

Reading these poems about woman as a woman also helps to restore female experience to the lyric tradition. Recording a female response gives woman the voice she often tacks in the genre in which she is most frequently an object. As Gilbert and Gubar have asserted, novel writing, in which she was an observer, a small part of a large pattern, was traditionally a more acceptable trade for a woman than writing poetry, which demands a strong expression of a self-absorbed, speaking, assertive I (xxii). Zenobia impressed upon her husband that his poetry was too self absorbed and that she wanted always to be useful to others. Rather than mere self-effacement, her reading of his poetry, her voice, is useful because it can articulate and include another's response to the «obra» Adrienne Rich, in her reading of one of Jiménez's favorite American poets, Emily Dickinson, reminds us of this usefulness of woman's voice:

But there is a more ancient concept of the poet, which is that she is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who -for whatever reasons- are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet's existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.


(119)                


Juan Ramón declared that he wanted to create poets, not disciples, and woman, as his favorite addressee, must read as woman as well in order to find her voice as poet.20



––––––––   603   ––––––––


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