Rafael Alberti


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Spanish poet.

Born near Cádiz into a formerly well-to-do family, Alberti was educated at a local Jesuit college. His position as a charity student left a bitterness that may have contributed to his later allegiance to Marxism. Although his first interest was painting, in 1923 he started writing verse and his first volume, Marinero en tierra (1925), was awarded the National Prize for Literature in 1924 while it was still in manuscript. This was followed by two other volumes (La amante, 1926; Cal y canto, 1927), written in traditional Spanish forms of ballad, tercet, etc. In these early books the subject is mainly the idyllic world of his youth; the memory and recovery of an ideal unspoiled world was indeed to remain the dominant theme of much of his more mature work, even in its more political and committed phase. His fifth volume, usually considered his greatest, was Sobre los ángeles (1929; translated as Concerning the Angels, 1967). The result of an intense personal crisis that affected him both emotionally and physically, the book breaks with the traditional forms of his previous poems and uses a longer flexible line in a frequently surrealistic rendering of the ‘angels’ (representing internal states, such as jealousy).

In 1931 Alberti became involved in antimonarchical activities and two years later proclaimed his commitment to revolution and the Communist Party; his subsequent work in the 1930s (for example Consignas, 1933) reflects his political engagement. His plays written at this time, such as Fermín Galán (1931), were less successful than his poetry. With the overthrow of the Republic in 1937 he went into exile, living mainly in Argentina (until 1963) and then in Rome, returning to Spain in 1977. He campaigned for a seat in the Cortes – reading his poetry rather than making political speeches – and was elected as Communist representative for Cádiz. After a few months, however, he resigned to devote himself entirely to his work. During his long exile Alberti produced a substantial body of political verse, most of which is now considered inferior to his early work. Among his many volumes are Retornos de lo vivo lejano (1952), poems on painting entitled A la pintura (illustrated edition, 1968), and Alberti tal cual (1978), poems written and recited during his political campaign. In 1959 he published his autobiography, La arboleda perdida (2 vols; translated as The Lost Grove, 1978). Selected Poems (1966) was edited and translated by Ben Belitt.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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