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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.

The Snowfall Is So Silent

Miguel de Unamuno, 1864 - 1936
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 flashes of white;
covers everything with its pure
and silent covering;
not one thing on the ground
anywhere escapes it.
And wherever it falls it stays,
content and gay,
for snow does not slip off 
as rain does,
but it stays and sinks in.
The flakes are skyflowers,
pale lilies from the clouds,
that wither on earth.
They come down blossoming
but then so quickly
they are gone;
they bloom only on the peak,
above the mountains,
and make the earth feel heavier
when they die inside.
Snow, delicate snow,
that falls with such lightness 
on the head,
on the feelings,
come and cover over the sadness
that lies always in my reason.

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

From Roots and Wings: Poetry from Spain 1900-1975, translated by Robert Bly, 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
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