Jorge Carrera Andrade (1902-1978)

Dr. J. Enrique Ojeda

Boston College

Jorge Carrera Andrade’s poetry, sober in volume, has evolved throughout the sixty years of the author’s literary life; from 1917, when his first verses appeared, up to 1976 when he published his Obra poética completa (Complete Poetry). During the course of those years, Carrera Andrade, as journalist, diplomat, traveler and, above all, as poet, not only reflected in his work the American landscape from which he originated but also the universal concerns of his time. His poetry emerged and developed under the sign of an intense bucolicism inspired by the geographical setting of his childhood as well as by his early readings. But, between 1928 and 1933, during his first travels in Europe, he began to focus on man’s being and destiny, subjects he concentrated on with growing absorption. With the sharp sensibility of the primitive American he perceived the gradual decadence of humanism and its ideal of individual perfection, while at the same time witnessing existentialism and its sequels of uncertainty, disillusion and anguish. The poetry written during his mature years expresses the theme twentieth century European literature has repeated in various contexts: the isolation and helplessness of contemporary man. However, the originality of his attitude resides in the integrity with which he faced man’s destiny, in the pathos of his effort, always rekindled, to find a handle against the shipwreck of the universal anguish and, if one attends to the form, in the originality and brilliancy of his metaphoric language by means of which he configures his experience of man, both American and universal, by virtue of his fertile fantasy and lyrical fullness. The wide variety of Carrera Andrade’s literary production, enriched by indefatigable readings and continuous travels, finds unity in the autobiographical character of his poetry. The poet himself has called attention to this fact and has demonstrated in three autocritical essays that his poetry must be interpreted in close relation to the interior and exterior circumstances of his personal life: “My poems are as visual as a collection of prints or paintings that integrate a passionate and nostalgic autobiography”, he declared in a lecture given at Columbia University (My Life in Poems, 9). His date of birth and the chronology of his publications place Carrera Andrade in the group of poets who, after the last reverberations of modernismo, gave new splendor to Spanish American lyric poetry: César Vallejo, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, among others

Jorge Carrera Andrade was born in Quito, Ecuador, on September 13, 1902. His father, a distinguished lawyer, was for many years Minister of the Supreme Court of Justice. His mother, possessed of a fine artistic temperament, played the guitar and painted. She taught Jorge French, facilitating the reading of authors who would come to have considerable influence on his early poetic production. The childhood and youth of Carrera Andrade coincided with profound transformations in Ecuador. In the political arena the consolidation of liberalism was completed with the final victory of the dictator Eloy Alfaro. The poet’s father, an ardent liberal, recruited Jorge into the party. But in his early twenties, disillusioned by the corrupt politicians and lack of interest in political and social reform, he collaborated in founding the Ecuadorian Socialist Party. It was a time when Marxist doctrines were spreading among the young Spanish American intellectuals. It should be noted, however, that liberalism and Marxism, as practiced in Ecuador and other Andean countries, bore the loss of religious faith, a fact that would have a deep and lasting impact in his literary work. His poetry, like that of many writers of his time, arises as Paul Claudel said referring to modern French literature, “from the darkness left by the absence of God”.

Carrera Andrade’s first writings correspond in time and spirit to the period in which late modernism fleetingly crystalized in Ecuador. Friend and almost a contemporary of his modernist compatriots -particularly Humberto Fierro whose book El laúd en el valle (The Lute in the Valley) Carrera Andrade published when he was seventeen years old -it was expected that his first poetry would be composed under the influence of the masters who had inspired his countrymen: Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Samain. The intense elegiac tone of Ecuadorian modernism owed its origin to Albert Samain, that delicate poet who composed his work in a minor key on the frontier that separated symbolism from vanguardism. Samain died in 1900. His poetry was a nostalgic farewell to an ending century. The lean harvest of Ecuadorian modernism was also a farewell to a period of tedium and melancholy, followed by the new era -affirmative and hopeful- of Carrera Andrade and his literary companions. A happy intuition revealed to them that modernism had wasted away in the fires of its verbal {excesses} marvel and that all efforts to prolong it would be fruitless.

The precocious writings of Carrera Andrade responded to different influences. During his childhood, summers were spent on the family farm on the outskirts of Quito, in intimacy with a gentle and fertile natural setting. He lived there among the Indians who worked the farm and represented a conquered race for which he felt a deep concern his entire life . In the journal Letras (Letters), organ of Ecuadorian modernism, there appeared a 1917 an interview with Guillaume Apollinaire by Gaston Picard in which Appolinaire declared: “It is necessary to react against the pessimism that has not ceased revisiting writers from the beginning of the nineteenth Century. It is necessary to exalt man and not diminished and demoralize him…In this sense I am anti-Baudelaire”. And Maurice LeBlonde declared at the end of the century (1896): “We have admired Baudelaire and Mallarmé for too long. We want to rejuvenate our individualism in a universal embrace. We return to nature. We look for the pure and divine emotion”. These recommendations had an extraordinary impact at the outset of the young poet’s literary career. He read André Gide’s novel The Terrestrial Aliments (1887), the most eloquent expression of this new vital ardor, and prefaced his first book of poems with quotes taken from Gide. But even more transcendence in his formative years was the poetry of Francis Jammes. During the twilight of symbolism, Jammes predicated a new alliance between the spirit and the material world. No more symbols or allegories. Objects came back to life. All things, even the most humble and ordinary, could be described and sang. Everything prepared Carrera Andrade to let himself be impressed by the personality and poetry of Jammes: his long experience in the countryside, the patriarchal character of his family, the gentle and uneventful city where he lived. Referring to that time he wrote: “The rural sense of the country where I was born permeated me…Ecuador itself was like a great countryside whose life of stagnated water was not stirred by anything” (Poetic Ages, IX).

The first volume of verses published in Quito in 1922, El estanque inefable (The Ineffable Pond), includes twenty seven poems written between 1920 and 1922 that respond to opposing spirits: Verlaine, Rubén Darío and above all, the neonaturalist Francis Jammes as expressed in poems like “A Familiar Ecstasy”, later entitled “Life of the Cupboard” where, with quiet affection, he sings of domestic objects, echoing the Jammes poem “The Dining Room”. Four years elapsed between The Ineffable Pond and his second book of poetry, (1926). It was a period consumed by political action and a journalism so critical of the government he was imprisoned. In May of 1926 Carrera Andrade took a leading role in the creation of the Ecuadoria Socialist Party and became the General Secretary. His enthusiasm for the cause inspired poems such as “Song to Russia”, “Lenin has Died” and others of Marxist content, which was highly poular at the time, but never included in his books. At this time he also composed Cuaderno de poemas indios (Notebook of Indian Poems) published in 1930. In Garland of Silence the poet who had begun to sing to the earth, turns his attention to the crystalline forms of the universe. In the poem “Return to Transparency” dated 1924 affirms: “I revert to elementary air and water / after having loved earth and fire / and the form and color of things”. He who contemplates “the recondite signs” finds that poetry is a “high science with letters of pure water” (Obra poética completa; from now on OPC, 75). In this invitation to diaphanity, the poet who will sing to windows, mirrors, and stars displays his early attraction to light and conceives of poetry as a decantation of clarity. “Window, book of water / where the eyes read / the marvelous unction of trees, kneeling heaps, the wicket of every day / with bushes stiller than banks of coral” (OPC, 108). The spirit of Francis Jammes lives in the tender simplicity of these lines. The young poet directs his attention to the humble beings that populated the poetry of Jammes: “the patient ass”, “the glass of clean water”, and “the sky with cranes and slow swallows”. Referring to this moment of lyrical creation Carrera Andrade affirmed: “My world revolved around an axis: the love of things themselves, not the reflections or echoes they awaken in our intellect” (My Life in Poems, 1962, 12). At this stage of his poetic development the themes are limited to small creatures: “Life of the Cricket”, “The Perfect Life the Rabbit, “The Sparrow that Drinks the Pearl of Good Weather”. He also deals with humble objects: “The Staircase”, “The Reed”, “The Playing Cards”. Or he tries to capture the charm of a fleeting moment: “After the Rain”, “A Windy Time”, “The hour of Illuminated Windows”. In this period of creation in which Carrera Andrade synthesized with the term “provincia” (countryside), his inspiration evolves around the bucolic world that surrounds him. Years latter he will recall his concerns from that time: “There is a tinged and ever changing immediate universe made up of small beings our hand can move to our will and place in a more or less harmonious order. In this brief and lively universe that surrounded me from childhood I could signal my favorite friendships and surrender to a kind of cosmic and yet intranscendental game” (“Ordering a Universe” in Microgramas, 27). In The Garland of Silence the poet’s inclination to define objects by means of metaphors and to forge epigrammatic formulas that are lyrical miniatures in which tenderness takes the form of humor and a subtle inventiveness stands out: “The bird is the morning newspaper / in the fields”; “Firefly / tiny lantern that lights the field”; “Clock: stonecutter of time”. It is in this second book of verses where his essentially visual character and extraordinary metaphoric capacity are first manifested. From then on these stylistic devices will be a defining element of his work. In Garland of

Silence there is also a poem written in 1928 and dedicated to the exaltion of the monuments of his native city. On the eve of his departure to the outside world he erects lyrical altarpieces in which the playful air of the short lines in the minstrel style (“versos de arte menor”) hardly shrouds the poet’s pensive mien: “Bell of San Blas /life gave me everything / but I coveted more…More, always more. My life /to the bottom, to the sky, beyond the islands. // To the Mainland, beyond the earth: / to the Blissful Islands” (OPC, 153). These early aspirations point to the last period of his work that he defined as utopia because in poems like “Aurosia” and “Distant Regions” he daydreams of paradisiac lands where happiness is plenary and everlasting.

Until May of 1928 Carrera Andrade had been dedicated to journalism, had founded and directed the Ecuadorian Socialist Party and lived such an intense bohemian life he put in danger his health and literary work. Of this psychic exhaustion he gives testimony in the poem “Crucifixion”: “From eternity, it fluttered through the air / a message of birds…/ To my highest thirst the twilight extends its sponge of gold. //On the timber of Silence / my body is nailed.// Unsettles the fragrant air of the burnt bramble / the mother that unfolds the staircase of her weeping”. / And in the night that arrives, the memories / play to the dice my love like a tunic” (OPC 100). A departure to the outside world was called for and in May of 1928, at twenty six years of age, he left for Europe. His two published books, The Ineffable Pond (1922) and The Garland of Silence (1926), had exalted the “countryside” exhausting the topic and influence of Francis Jammes. Did the young poet surmise that his first departure from his native land was to be the beginning of a pilgrimage that would not end until three years before his death? The urgency to travel came to him early and was lasting. In The Garland of Silence he announced: “Itinerary of the high seas, / towards which the sail of the spirit / propels the ship of my flesh” (OPC, 85) And in The Volcano and the Hummingbird (1970), an autobiography written in his maturity, he declared: “I traveled first to educate myself…later, traveling became the very reason for my existence”. One has to conclude that his most moving poetry was written in lands which were not his own and yet his work was nurtured in the living waters of his native landscape and sentiment. As Rilke intimated, the work of the writer’s maturity must be explained by the experiences of the author’s early years.

The purpose of that first trip to Europe was to represent the newly founded Ecuadorian Socialist Party at the Fifth International Socialist Congress in Moscow. The meager funds assigned to him delayed his arrival and bureaucratic problems prevented him from attending the Congress. Carrera Andrade then embarked on a pilgrimage through several countries in Europe, contemplating “the cities tattooed by lights from the windows of his third class wagon”. From Holland to Germany and then France, blissful finally at being in Paris, “the first port of men, city multiple and singular”, “desideratum” of every young South American intellectual. There he met Peruvian poet César Vallejo and Gabriela Mistral, future winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, who invited the Ecuadorian to her villa at Bedarrides in the Vaucluse, valley of Provenza {Provence}. Those summer days were dedicated to intense readings at the villa’s excellent library and lively literary discussions. In December of 1929 Carrera Andrade settled in Barcelona and began a period of external serenity and economic leisure that allowed him to read and write for three years while he observed the stormy events that shook the Spanish republic between 1930 and 1933. In 1930, in Barcelona, his third book of poems, Boletines de mar y tierra (Sea and and Earth Bulletins) which gathered compositions inspired by his travels. This slender volume initiated a new era in the works of Carrera Andrade, a period of discovery of the “registry of the world”. “Then it was revealed to me” –he wrote years later– “the poetry of travel and I was initiated into the green magic of geography. New forms, new symbols came to me during these encounters. The transparent and infantile creature of my poetry had to swallow a lot a salt water, climb into the rigging and travel into every port” (Selected Poems, 20). Far from the “calm pond” of his native Quito, he contemplates the world at a rapid traveler’s {pace} steps:

Estoy en la línea de trenes del Oeste empleado en el Registro del Mundo, anotando en mi ventanilla
nacimientos y defunciones de horizontes, encendiendo en mi pipa las fronteras
ante la biblioteca de tejados de los pueblos y amaestrando el circo de mi sangre

con el pulso cordial del Universo (OPC, 191).

I am in the line of western trains employed in the Registry of the World, keeping notes in my window
of the births and deaths of horizons, lighting in my pipe frontiers
facing a library of roofs
and taming the circus of my blood with the cordial pulse of the Universe.

Sea and Earth Bulletins brings twelve lyrical miniatures –“microgramas”–dedicated to Gabriela Mistral and the “Notebook of Indian Poems” whose compositions, written in 1928 when the author toiled to propagate the socialist doctrines in his country, respond to a Marxist inspiration. They are the only ones that he included in his books, perhaps because he found them to be less ideological and more poetic. In Sea and Earth Bulletins the themes polarize around the light. “Matutinal poetry”, according to the author, sings the effulgence that makes visible forms and colors, giving them a metaphysical entity: the light is the existence of things. Of the nineteen poems of Sea and Earth Bulletins, seven are dedicated to the light and beings associated with it: the dawn, the day, the window, the mirror. In “Biography”, the window appears as a living and beneficent reality whose “history” the poet synthesizes this way:

La ventana nació de un deseo de cielo
y en la muralla negra se posó como un ángel. Es amiga del hombre
y portera del cielo (OPC, 195)

The window born of a desire for sky
has stationed itself in the black wall like

an angel.
It ‘s a friend to man,
and gatekeeper of the sky.

For the poet attracted to the cult of the light there is no higher destiny than that of the window. “With diaphanous harangues it leads the multitudes./ The window distributes to everyone a quart of light, a bucket of air” (Ib.). It is the radiance of his native landscape that presents itself in his work. In an unpublished autobiographical essay he affirmed: “My vision of the world became realistic. There is nothing phantasmagoric in my work which is totally constructed from matter and clarity. Meridian, equatorial clarity made from the solar light that descends vertically upon objects”. If the two previous books were pervaded by an air of melancholic stillness, the feeling that prevails in Sea and Air Bulletins is of an essential felicity, a jubilant vision of the world. The word “happiness” abounds in these lines, revealing the author’s “vital euphoria”, his youth, his delight in being the “joyful traveller”, for whom the “harbors, like children, whirled gaily on the carrousel of the horizon”. “It was a time of human love –he wrote years later– a station of sun and vital sweetness that rendered light and appealing the image of foreign cities” (Selected Poems, 21). This third volume of poetry, prefaced by Gabriela Mistral’s cordial foreword, was well received by critics and brought the author international recognition. Alfonso Reyes commented from Mexico: “Sea and Earth Bulletins keep me ‘listening’ with delight and rapture;” Jorge Guillén wrote from Spain: “Sea and Earth Bulletins: precious, exquisite, very ‘felicitous’, happily poetic”.

In July of 1933 Carrera Andrade returned to Ecuador. He wanted to use in service to his homeland the experiences acquired in the three years spent in republican Spain. His concern for his country, also afflicted by chaotic and at times violent political events, moved him to write six long articles while in Spain, all of which first appeared in a local newspaper and then in a pamphlet, entitled Cartas de un emigrado (Letters from an émigré). What stands out in those pages is his deep concern for his country and his faith, certainly naive, in the reforms attempted in republican Spain, such as agrarian reform which, in his opinion, could possibly solve the Indian problems in Ecuador and the other Andean countries. However, Carrera Andrade’s aspiration was to enter into the foreign service and in February of 1934 he was appointed Consul in Paita, a minor Peruvian town on the frontier with Ecuador. Thus begun his diplomatic career which, intermittently,s extend to 1968. The tranquil existence in Paita allowed him to prepare an edition of his first book of essays, Latitudes. Latitudes is partially a journal that details the stages of his itinerary across the Atlantic and in Europe. It is therefore a prose version of Sea and Earth Bulletins and much of the lyrical enchantment of this book is reflected in those brief and densely poetic travelogues. To these geographical reports Carrera Andrade added critical essays inspired by the readings that constituted his intellectual journey from that time: Duhamel, Montalvo, Zola, Torres Bodet, Guillén, Eluard. Latitudes contains also commentaries of a political nature in which the author displays an extraordinary clairvoyance. In “Furs, Soldiers and Vodka”, for instance, he points out, that despite the positive aspects of international communism, it has enormous faults: “There is a lack of theoreticians who know the process of world economic development and they send mistaken directives to parties affiliated with the International, promoting an anti-intellectuals reaction among the labor {movement}

classes and sacrificing the best militants through their absurd attempts” (Latitudes, 102).

In November of 1934, Carrera Andrade returned to France as Ecuador’s consul in Le Havre. The enthusiasm and novelty of his first year in the Breton port was followed by a period of loneliness and discouragement expressed in personal correspondence as well as in poems written at the time. He refers to Normandy as “a desert without sun or books”. At the time he is busy preparing an anthology of contemporary French poets, facilitated by regular visits to bookstores and friendships with some of the writers whose works he was translating. In 1935 a new volume of verses, Rol de la manzana (Role of the Apple) appeared in Madrid. It is partially an anthology that gathered the best from his previous books. Among the new poems there are twenty “microgramas” in which the poet tries to apprehend the intimate reality of objects, their “secret attitude”, in intensely lyrical notes. Examples: “Swallow”: Anchor of feathers / through the seas of the sky, / it looks for the earth” (OPC, 84). “Apple”: “Cell of the whole aroma / and freshness of the world / is your painted balloon”. In a brief foreword of the book he notes: “For me it was a time of discovery of things, and the small globe loaded with vegetable essences summarized all that life can offer of secret delight…Apple: canteen / of the sky in this life of noise and coal. Promise of a virginal enjoyment without duplicity. Emblem of a simple life” (Role of the Apple, 11-12). Also in Madrid another book of verse, Tiempo manual (Manual Time), 1935, appeared that responded to a spirit radically different to his works published until then. The period of “discovery of things” followed one now which could be defined as a “discovery of man”. “Cities were conversing through the air. / I discovered man. Then / I understood my message” (OPC, 184). If the stanzas of Sea and Earth Bulletins were penetrated by vital joy and left a poetic record of his geographical and sentimental itinerary, the poet perceives now that “the only common profile of the cities he visited was a gesture of old age and history endured like a family illness” (Poetic Ages, XIX). In “Loneliness of Cities”, the opening poem sets the tone to this new volume of verses when the poet questions: “Where were you, loneliness, / that I did not know you until my twentieth year? / In trains, mirrors and photographs/ you are always by my side…Everything has been invented / but nothing can release us from loneliness” (OPC 221-222). In “Edades de mi poesía” (“Ages of my Poetry”) he asserts: “Loneliness is certainly the final exit from our planet. It is also the prime matter of which all things are made. It is mother to the elements and ephemeral forms. The river is a loneliness of water. The wind, a loneliness roving in space. Everything is an affirmation of the vast loneliness of the earth,” Spanish American Interpretations (1967, 48-49). Referring to this period of his lyrical output he affirmed: “That was the time of the workers’ movement and political turmoil which I called ‘Manual Time’”. Loneliness revives in the poet a sentiment of solidarity: “Among images of social struggle…I intended to contain in my series of poems from Manual Time a feeling of human solidarity and universal unity” (“Ages of my Poetry”, XV). The social connotation in this book is to be found in “Poems From the Day After Tomorrow”. Its five compositions relate to the functioning of a factory, a lockout due to superproduction, a strike and the military repression that ends with the massacre of workers. The metaphoric language adapts itself well to these new themes when he refers to the “winds’ mutinies”, “the strike of vegetables”, “the terrorist complot of the sunset”, etc. There is also a radical change in the structure of the poems. Whereas in his previous

book the alexandrine and hendecasyllabe prevailed, in Manual Time free verse dominates and his interest in assonance disappears.

Carrera Andrade remained in Le Havre until February of 1938 when a new consular appointment took him to Japan. In his four years on the coast of Normandy he got married and had a son. The poems composed during this period were published in 1937 with the title Biografía para uso de los pájaros (Biography for the Use of Birds). The first two lines of the opening poem that gives the title to the volume ominously attest to the victory of the industrial order upon the natural world: “I was born in the century of the death of the rose / when the motor had already frightend away the angels” (OPC, 251). The insecurity and anguish felt in Europe on the eve of the Second World War echo in the desolate lines of “Earthy Dwelling”:

Habito un edificio de naipes,
una casa de arena, un castillo en el aire
y paso los minutos esperando
el derrumbe del muro, la llegada del rayo,
el correo celeste con la final noticia,
la orden como un látigo de sangre
dispersando en el viento una ceniza de ángeles (OPC, 270).

I inhabit a building of cards,
a house of sand, a castle in the air
and spend the minutes in fear of the crumbling wall, the arrival of lighting,
the celestial mail with its final news,
the command like a blood whip dispersing
in the wind an ash of angels.

Referring to those years he later wrote: “Dispossessed, a foreigner, ignorant of the commercial languages of men, locked in my ‘terrestrial dwelling’, the certainty of the inevitable collapse of the highest human constructions overcame me” (Selected Poems, 25). The euphoria of his first travels gives way to a new experience: one of exile that, with time, becomes more intense and philosophical. Thus the lines of “The foreigner” are pervaded by loneliness and nostalgia: “A frozen territory encircles me, / an impermeable and silent zone / where the ardent signs are extinguished / and the terrestrial languages lose their meaning” (OPC, 266). Frightened, he experiences in “Vital Alchemy” his own slow but inescapable annihilation: “An old man lives in me fabricating my death. / At his breath years turn to ashes” (OPC, 263). And yet he still sings to the objects of his predilection: “Windows, doors, skylights: intimate friends, / accomplices of a clear and agile world” (OPC, 253). But more and more his lyrical work becomes melancholy, pensive, philosophical. It is highly meritorious that a South American poet, precariously settled in a port of France, would have captured and given voice to the pervading anguish felt in Europe in those years, in a language that deeply affected the readers of his poems. The translations into French of Manual Time and Biography for the Use of Birds appeared in 1936 and 1938 and gained for the Ecuadorian poet, among French writers, an esteem that will grow and deepen with time.

When Carrera Andrade settled in Yokohama as Consul General of Ecuador in Japan at the beginning of 1938, Tokyo still displayed the ruins caused by recent earthquakes. By then a general mobilization had been declared and the proliferation of soldiers attested to the expansionistic policy of Japan and its imminent war with the United States. His two years in the Far East are mirrored in two books published in Tokyo in 1940: Microgramas (Microgrammas) and País secreto (Secret Country). The first volume gathers thirty one lyrical miniature poems preceded by a lengthy study of this minor genre. The second is a slender tome that includes ten poems written in the mist of a desolate Japonese landscape. In “North Wind” the violence of the typhoon -“architect of ruins”- is represented with epic force in the shape of an armed assault: “Alarming trees, / sails and fish, / supported by their watery brigades North and East set in motion their plans of earth disorder; // and confused horses of the wind break loose, / savages of the wind in a unanimous war cry…” (OPC, 275). While in Japan, news of his mother’s death engulfed him in a period of deep and lasting depression which, in turn, inspired “Second Life of My Mother” (OPC, 278-279), which due to its pathos and metaphorical plasticity is one of his most beautiful poems:


Brújula de mi larga travesía terrestre,
Origen de mi sangre, fuente de mi destino. Cuando el polvo sin faz te escondió en su guarida, me desperté asombrado de encontrarme aún vivo.

Y quise echar abajo las invisibles puertas
y di vueltas en vano, prisionero.
Con cuerda de solllozos me ahorqué sin ventura, y atravesé, llamándote, los pantanos del sueño.

Mas te encuentras viviendo en torno mío. Te siento mansamente respirando
en esas dulces cosas que me miran
en un orden celeste dispuestas por tu mano. ……………………..

Compass of my long earthly passage. Origin of my blood, source of my destiny. When the featureless dust hid you in its lair I awoke astonished to find myself still alive.

And I wanted to tear down the invisible doors
and vainly, a prisoner, I prowled around.
I hanged myself haplessly with a rope of sobs,
and calling on you, traversed the marshes of dream.

But you are here, living all around me. I feel you breathing softly

in those sweet things that gaze upon me
in a heavenly order arranged by your hand. …………………………………………..

The poems of Secret Country reveal the state of mind of Carrera Andrade during his stay in Japan. “Corpses”, “dust”, “ruins”, “death”, “silence” are words repetitively used throughout the poems. The dominant color of those desolate landscapes is gray: “Gray of age, gray of the common and final dust, gray of ash” (Selected Poems, 25). His return to Ecuador in August of 1940 was a soothing interlude spent among relatives and the familiar things of his native country. During this brief period of three months he published an anthology, Registry of the World, with a prologue by Pedro Salinas. The Spanish poet praises the Ecuadorian for his interest in the things of the universe that compose “its envelope of wonder”, the visionary character of his poetry, his will to avoid abstractions and his exceptional metaphoric capacity (“the power and metaphoric success of this poet are truly exceptional”). This constitutes –according to Salinas– the first poetic period of Carrera Andrade; the second is inhabited by shadows and omens.

In December of 1940 Carrera Andrade arrived in San Francisco as General Consul of Ecuador in that city. After his afflictive experiences in Japan and the sorrow of seeing his mother country invaded by Perú and his beloved France by Germany, he considered his new destiny in California to be a period for “reconstruction of happiness” as he wrote to a friend. The entry of the United States into the war against the Axis powers inspired Carrera Andrade to write two poems of epic resonances: “Song to the Flying Fortresses” and “Notebook of a Parachutist”. Of the two, the most accomplished is the second: “I found only two birds and the wind, / clouds with their coiled maps / and flowers of smoke that opened looking for me / during my vertical drop through the sky” (OPC, 305). Two other poems inspired by his stay in California are “Song to the Oakland Bridge,” published in a bilingual edition in 1942, and “Signs of Sutro Park,” which appeared in Venezuela in 1945. The presence of Carrera Andrade in the United States generated a remarkable interest in his work among North American poets, translators and critics of that period. English versions of his poems as well as critical essays were published in the literary journals of that period. Muna Lee published a bilingual edition, Secret Country (1946), which deeply impressed the poets of this country as evidenced in letters to the translator. Carl Sandburg declared: “Carrera Andrade is my brother in the poetic endeavor more than any other [poet] in this hemisphere”. Archibald McLeish defined Carrera Andrade’s poetry as “a fountain of living water amid the barrenness of our time”, and William Carlos Williams wrote: “I don’t know when I have had so clear a picture, so unaffected by the problems of the mind which are our daily bread. The image are so extraordinarily clear, so close to the primitive that I feel as though I am seeing as a native and participating in a vision already lost to the world. It is a sad picture but a great one”. In 1943 Carrera Andrade took a retrospective glance at his life and denoted the stages of his spiritual and poetic itinerary. “Ages of my Poetry” details with amiable simplicity his literary autobiography and reveals the lyrical heights to which his works in prose could rise.

Political events in Ecuador brought Carrera Andrade back to his country. By then, his international reputation had inspired a group of young Ecuadorian writers to invite him to elucidate his work. He obliged: “My poetry has evolved in three stages. Discovery of my own country; exit to the outside world and discovery of the universe and human solidarity and return from the vast world to an interior country, to a spiritual zone where lie the darkest keys of man’s existence and drama” (Letras del Ecuador, III, 28- 29, 19). At the end of 1947 Carrera Andrade sailed to England to represent his country at the court of St. Jammes. London with her perpetual fog, monumental architecture, pervading ruins caused by German bombs, and the never ending lines of people waiting for food rations deeply affected this poet who came from the tropics and was accustomed to the precision of lines and joy of light. In his “Song to the Bay Bridge” he had stated: “Nothing is hidden to my open eyes / eyes of a man born in a land without vocation of a cloud, / where the exact light / does not forget any form and the Equatorial line / teaches the just weight and place of things” (OPC, 296). But now it was the time for elegies. Desolate meditations dictated a brief book, Visitor of Mist and Other Poems. In “Tower of London” the poet intimates that the whole world has become a prison, an invisible prison whose material symbols arise everywhere: “The clouds watch over us, prisoner and guard condemned to the same sentence / in the terrestrial jail incarcerated” (OPC 337). “Juan sin cielo” (“John without Heaven”), one of Carrera Andrade’s best known poems, is the symbol of modern man who has exchanged his treasures for glass beads and trinkets: Amidst the ruins, came to meet me “John without Heaven”, the wounded universal being, the image of contemporary man who has lost all his possessions, his “treasure of centuries” -that is, his principles, his beliefs, his hopes- because he trusted the force and let himself be seduced by the new materialism as preached by the merchants of mirrors and executioners of swans (Interpretaciones hispanoamericanas, 51). “Formas de la delicia pasajera” (“Forms of the Fleeting Delight”), the second of four sonnets, because of its perfection of form and depth of disillusion, brings the reader back to the best of the disconsolate sonnets of the Spanish baroque:

El pájaro y el fruto: forma pura, cárcel uno de miel y flor del vuelo
el otro, en una altísima aventura como un cáliz de plumas por el cielo.

Prisioneros los dos de la hermosura
que acaba nada más en sombra y hielo
ya gastado el tesoro de dulzura,
ya el puñado de plumas en el suelo (OPC, 334)

Birth and fruit: pure form,
jail one of honey and flower of flight
the other, in a highest adventure like a chalice of feathers by the sky.

Prisoners both of their beauty
that ends in nothing more than ice and darkness a treasure of sweetness already spent,
a handful of feathers on the ground (OPC, 334).

Carrera Andrade, in this stage of his poetic maturity, returns to the classic metric form of the sonnet and consonance, after the prolonged use of free verse. Perhaps it was due to his devotion as reader and translator of Paul Valéry whose “verbal alchemy” he admired His presence in London was an opportunity for English intellectuals to celebrate the works of the Ecuadorian poet. G. S. Fraser organized a recital of his poetry and in presenting Carrera Andrade affirmed that “the characteristic of the poetry of Carrera Andrade is its rich atmosphere and a style more controlled than that of Neruda’s”. In 1950 Visitor of Mist appeared bringing forty four translations into English by G.R. Coulthard and Kathleen Knott. The English critic compared the work of the Ecuadorian with the poetry of Archibald McLeish whose Act Five and Other Poems had just been published: “The similarity between these two poets –wrote Fraser– is in their sense of the mutability of things, in the afflictive limitation of the days that follow” and declared that, “while in MacLeish the force resides clearly in his verbal music, Carrera Andrade achieves his poetic power by force of imaginative evocation”. The journal Adam International Review of London dedicated a 1949 issue to his work: “We chose Jorge Carrera Andrade -the editors stated- when we discovered in his work those elements of cosmic sensitivity and universal amplitude that, in our opinion, allow poets of today to have freedom from their increasing contradictions and dilemmas”. However, if the English translators and critics manifested uncommon interest in his work, the French did not lag far behind. Between 1948 and 1949 six books of French translations of his poetry appeared as well as several important critical essays.

In March of 1951 Carrera Andrade was back in Ecuador. “The trees and births of the equinoctial America visited me in my dreams. My native land was calling me”, he wrote at the time. The fifteen months spent in his country allowed him to publish two important books: Contemporary French Poetry and Place of Origin. The first volume is a work of vast scope since it encompasses fifty two French and Belgian poets represented in three hundred poems, some of them of long dimension, chosen and translated by Carrera Andrade. One has to admire the knowledge of contemporary French poetry shown by the anthologist and translator. “These pages have taken many days of my life -wrote the poet in the introduction of this work– and is intended as a tribute to France. Of the French culture, poetry is the highest flower, its most delicate and original expression. French poetry is not only an aggregate of forms and music but also, and above all, a direction of the spirit” (Contemporary French Poetry, 11). France rewarded Carrera Andrade with the decoration “L’Ile St. Louis” and the French critics exalted this work as the best anthology of contemporary French poetry in any language. Place of Origin, with its forty poems, was an anthology of the author that brought only six new sonnets of rare perfection.

For political reasons to which are common to diplomatic appointments in the Andean countries Carrera Andrade left the foreign service but remained in Paris with the modest job of writer for the Unesco Spanish publications department and later as Director of the journal El Correo de la Unesco. For six years, away from the glittering life of a diplomat, a prisoner in his office or in the National Library where he daily searched for materials for his studies on Ecuadorian history, he lived in solitude and total dedication to his intellectual work. A deep sense of futility and isolation finds expression in the melancholy lines of “Transformation”:

Mi trabajo se trueca en dos ventanas a la calle, en diez metros de terreno, en un plato de luna cada noche
y un bostezo de cántaros vacíos.

Todos los días para mí son lunes:
siempre recomenzar, pasos en círculo
en torno de mí mismo, en los diez metros
de mi alquilada tumba con ventanas…(OPC, 378)

My work is transformed in two windows to the street, ten meters of land,
a moon plate every night
and the yawn of empty pitchers.

Every day for me is Monday:
always starting anew, steps in a circle around myself, in the ten meters
of my rented tomb with windows.

The gray monotony of those years was interrupted by invitations and homages. In September of 1952 he read at the inaugural session of the First Biennial of International Poetry in Knokke-le-Zoute, Belgium, his speech “A Half Century of Spanish American Poetry”. In November the literary circle Paul Valéry organized an event in his honor at the Sorbonne. In 1953 a new book of poetry published in Paris, Family of Night, was, for all its smallness, perhaps the work that achieved the fullest expression of his lyrical powers. At this time of extreme emotions, he departs from the brief meters and compositions to write long poems in which he interprets human destiny and sings to the most diaphanous beings of creation: water and light. The poem that gives its name to the book brings us back to his last return to Quito (1950-1951) which was for him an experience of extraordinary impact: his father had died and his childhood home “of resonant corridors” had been sold. The 21 stanzas of Family of Night not only modulates an elegy to his unrecallable youth but enters into the realm of history searching for the living roots of his personal existence. Through the effect of the lyrical process, the poet becomes representative of the Eternal Man:

Si entro por esa puerta veré un rostro
ya desaparecido, en un clima de pájaros. Avanzará a mi encuentro
hablándome con sílabas de niebla,
en un país de tierra transparente
donde medita sin moverse el tiempo
y ocupan su lugar los seres y las cosas en un orden eterno…(OPC, 359)

If I enter through that door I will see a face

already disappeared, in a climate of birds. It will advance to my encounter
speaking with syllables of fog,
in a region of transparent soil

where time meditates motionless
and beings and things occupy their place in an eternal order…

The great figures of history: Moses, Heraclitus, Columbus, Magellan and others move through those stanzas followed by the images of his parents as he saw them in childhood: “Here you descend, father, every evening / from the horse lucent like water / with the foam of march and fatigue. You bring us the city well ordered / in numbers and faces” (OPC, 363-364). And more movingly returns to the memory of his mother: “In that door, mother, you measure / your stature shoulder by shoulder with the evening / and your hands send swallows / to your absent children / posing questions to the clouds, listening to the sunset’s footsteps / and quiet with your sighs /the birds’ ominous shouts” (OPC, 362-363). Pedro Salinas had died by then and Carrera Andrade offered in his memory a remarkable elegy of affecting intensity. But from the point of view of pure lyrical beauty “Dictated by The Water” and “The Arms of Light” are perhaps Carrera Andrade’s best poems. “The water dictated me a few transparent images” –wrote the author of those six “cantos”– which are variations on the theme of water and objects related to it bythe kinship of clarity and innocence. Thus the magnolia:

Sueñas, magnolia casta, en ser paloma o nubecilla enana, suspendida
sobre las hojas, luna fragmentada. Solitaria inocencia recogida

en un nimbo de aroma.
Santa de blancura inmaculada.
Soledad congelada
hasta ser alabastro
tumbal, lámpara o astro (OPC, 369-370).

You dream, chaste magnolia, of being a dove or a dwarf cloud, suspended
upon the leaves, fragmented moon.
Solitary innocence gathered

in a nimbus of aroma.
Saint of immaculate whiteness. Congealed solitude
unto being alabaster
tumbal, lamp or star.

The poet knows that those winged and luminous beings “in the fleeting alchemy of scents /prepare their fragrant annihilation”. In the background of this universe of

splendors, death awaits: “I am both, captive and jailer / of this prison of lime that walks with me / of which, oh death, you keep the key”. The stylistic perfection of these compositions and their consonant rhyme relates them to the best poems of the Spanish baroque and, perhaps more closely, to the most accomplished lyrical creations of Paul Valéry. Carrera Andrade had proclaimed, throughout his poetic endeavors, his obession with light but never before had expressed it with such fullness, depth and lyrical intensity as he did in the seven stanzas that form “The Weapons of Light”: “I surrender to the radiant besieger, / prisoner of darkness, without a fight, / subdued to the dazzling evidence / omnipresent in tree, rock, insect…”(OPC, 372). The poet discovers, under the empire of light, the fundamental principle of universal unity and the antidote against death:

Amistad de las cosas y los seres
en apariencia solos y distintos,
pero en su vida cósmica enlazados
en oscura, esencial correspondencia
más allá de sus muertes, otras formas
del existir terrestre a grandes pasos
hacia el gris mineral inexorable (OPC, 375).

Friendship of things and beings
in appearance alone and different,
but in their cosmic life connected
in dark, essential correspondence
beyond their deaths, other forms
of the terrestrial existence in great strides towards the inexorable gray mineral.

In 1958 a bilingual Spanish-French edition of a brief volume of poems La moneda del forastero (The Stranger’s Coin) appeared. The four compositions are of a high lyrical temperature, particularly “Invective against the Moon” and “Love’s Visit”, which is perhaps Carrera Andrade’s best love poem. With “Aurosia”, a mythical planet where the joyful inhabitants experience a happiness without end, the author initiates a period defined by him as “Utopian”. Disillusioned by life’s limitations, he dreams of paradisiacal places among which “Aurosia” is the first. Carrera Andrade returned to Ecuador in 1958. He published there three volumes of a historical nature in which he reconstructed the past of his fatherland from the pre-Columbian period: The Highway of the Sun, The Fabulous Kingdom of Quito, and Gallery of Mystics and Insurgents. Gallery of Mystics and Insurgents is a cultural and literary history of Ecuador from colonial to republican times. Just as the long years of research at the Library of Paris made these volumes a valuable contribution to an understanding of Ecuadorian history, the clear and harmonious style makes the three volumes immensely readable.

In 1961 Carrera Andrade was appointed Ambassador to Venezuela where he remained until 1963. During these years he published two editions of Planetary Man, one in Bogotá, the other in Quito. This long and complex work with its twenty poems deals with the theme of contemporary man’s destiny. At first he tries to identify himself:

¿Soy ese hombre que mira desde el puente los relumbres del río,
vitrina de las nubes?
Fui Ulises, Parsifal,

Hamlet y Segismundo , y muchos otros antes de ser el personaje adusto
con un gabán de viento que atraviesa el teatro de la calle (OPC, 439).

Am I that man who watches from the bridge the dazzling brightness of the river,
show case of clouds?
I was Ulises, Parsifal,

Hamlet and Segismundo, and many others before becoming the taciturn personage who, withan overcoat of wind, crosses
the theater of the street.

His convictions and yearnings for social justice inspire in him harsh accusations against the “potentates of this world” who “weigh in their fraudulent scales friendship, love, even the sky”. Full of irony, he intones a hymn to the manufacturers of automobiles and inventors of the “Great Universal Vitamin”. He asks: “What will I do without my metaphysical anguish, / without my blue ailment? What men will do / when, perfect, uniform mechanisms, will not be able to feel at all?” (OPC, 446). Facing this artificial world the poet turns once more to the symbols of the natural realm and asks the rose, emblem of life, to reveal its vital secret:

¿Dónde se encuentra, rosa,
la máquina secreta
que te forma y enciende, brasa viva
del carbón de la sombra
y te impulsa a lo alto
a expresar en carmín y terciopelo
el gozo de vivir sobre la tierra? ……………………………………
¿Qué vienes a decir con tantos labios?
¿Eres sólo una boca del misterio
que intenta pronunciar una palabra
nunca oída hasta ahora
para cambiar el curso de este mundo? (OPC, 447-448).

Rose, where is
the secret mechanism
that forms you and ignites you, live coal, from the charcoal of darkness
and impels you to the heights

to express in carmine and velvet
your joy of living on this earth? …………………………………..
What do you want to say with so many lips? Are you only the tongue of mystery

trying to pronounce one word never heard until now
to change the course of this world?

The early stanzas in which the poet attempts to define his identity find an answer in the following lines: “I am man, mineral and plant at the same time, / relief of the planet, fish of the air, / a terrestrial being in short”. To this certainty he joyfully adds his conviction that he is identified with the human beings from all times and latitudes: “I am the inhabitant of stones /…I am the citizen of one hundred towns /… the Planetary Man…Upon my heart the nations sign / a peace treaty until death” (OPC, 450-451). The hesitations, the uncertainties regarding his own identity, the ironies against the contemporary life, the enigma of the universe, all yield at the end to the certainty that the destiny of the human being is to become a “Planetary Man”. It is the only defense against individual death and a singular hope for immortality.

At the end of 1963 Carrera Andrade was appointed as ambassador to Nicaragua, Rubén Darío’s country. His brief presence there inspired poems collected under the title Floresta de los guacamayos (Verdant Grove of the Macaws) in which he exalted the radiant beauty of the tropics, represented by the bird’s fiery plumage. It is not a descriptive poetry. The promise of a paradisiacal region awakes in him a visceral yearning for an ever lasting bliss: “Bird of Utopia: / Your sleepy eye and false voice / reveal to me the signals in plants and rocks / that lead to the Islands of the Eternal Sunday” (OPC, 458). In “Unknown Regions”, to entertain his hunger for immortality, he reconstructs the utopian realms dreamed by poets of past ages: “Acroceraunia, Aurosia, Acuarimántima / fantastic regions of eternal verdor / where there are no vestiges of death / oh the fatherlands longed by my true being!…oh names my exiled heart repeats in vain! Will I find you some day / guided by the light of my desire?” (OPC, 460-462). Thus, upon reaching his sixtieth birthday, he links in the most intimate way his old passion for the material world with his recent longings for a transcendent life. By the summer of 1964 he is back in Paris, after a four year absence. To the joy of being again “the man from Ecuador under the Eiffel tower”, he adds the dignity of ambassador for his country in France. The intellectuals there welcome him with joy. Acts in his honor are celebrated in Paris. In September of 1965 he attends the Second International Biennial of Poetry at Knokke-le-Zoute where he gives the inaugural lecture “The Poet and the Material World”. In that lecture he analizes the relationship poets have had with the material world since the era of Greece and Rome up to contemporary Latin America, whose original posture in this regard he sums up this way:

“It is in Spanish America where poetry feeds itself in the primeval fountain of things, without logical or metaphysical considerations. The New World man did not feel in his spirit the burning coals of the Middle Ages and could freely contemplate the phenomena of the material world unfolded before his eyes with a symphonic richness. Surrealism’s failure as imitation in our America and the death rattles of a whole poetrywork disproportioned, dropsical, convoluted, inexpressive, voided of concepts and language and, in sum, antipoetic announces the approaching lyric restoration of the New World with its own contribution: the attitude of the man who interprets the messages of things and establishes an alliance with the universe (Spanish American Interpretations, 270-271).

In December of 1965 the epic poem Chronicle of the Indians based on historical facts related to the despot Gonzalo Pizarro,the discoverer of Peru and founder of Lima, who was assassinated as a result of intestine political struggles, appeared in Paris. The poet wanted to lecture the world’s modern dictators by arguing the futility of their exorbitant ambitions, of the spilled blood and unavoidable final fall, representing the emptiness and vanity of all human destiny.

Once more the political transformations in his country had a decisive impact on the life of Carrera Andrade. In November of 1996 the new president of Ecuador appointed him Secretary of State. Among the farewell homages in Paris the most important was the book Jorge Carrera Andrade by René L-F. Durand. This French professor analyzes the life and poetry of the Ecuadorian by dividing it into three stages: “The World’s Inventory”, “Country without A Map” and “Ecuador of the Heart”. He concludes his remarks by noting that “In his evolution we can appreciate the singularly passionate accents that make Carrera Andrade the poet of our anguish, but also the poet of our hope, more human and fraternal as he is profoundly rooted in his America and his country, Ecuador” (Jorge Carrera Andrade, 88). Six months later, due to political pressure, he resigned from his post of Secretary of State and in September arrived in Holland as Ambassador to the Low Countries. While in Quitoin 1967 he published a volume of essays, Spanish American Interpretations, in which he reveals his profound knowledge of South American culture, his deepening appreciation of the reality and destiny of his continent, and the dazzling lucidity in poetic matters that always pushed him to illuminate those mysterious regions of the self where poems are conceived. Among his books of essays this is perhaps the most indispensable for those who may want to better understand the author’s human and literary personality.

In 1968 Carrera Andrade representing Latin America at a festival organized by the “Poetry Center” and Lincoln Center of New York, as well as at an International Poetry Festival sponsored by the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Long Island. At the same time Poesía última (Recent Poetry), a volume that gathered his most recent compositions, still unpublished under the title “The dawn knocks at the door, appeared in New York”. In “The Ephemeral Kingdom”, in opposing the essential vacuity of things, he identifies with nature: “I am the man of the forest and I am the forest itself”…”The sorrow of the trees without leaves / enters the penumbra of my bones” (OPC, 492). This identification extends to the human family in all times and latitudes: “I am a man- people a successive man / who comes from the original being / to form the sum: single man” (OPC, 492). It is then that arises in him, after a silence that has lasted his whole life, a religious feeling: “The dawn knocks at the door/ and every day awakens / my thirst of sky and sun / and my appetite of God” (OPC, 524). After retiring from the foreign service in 1969 Carrera Andrade was named Distinguished Visiting Professor at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. What followed was twenty-two months dedicated to reading and reflection in the midst of the lovely vistas of the Long Island sound. The lectures given at Stony Brook, Vassar College and Harvard University appeared in in an English translation with the title, Reflections on Spanish American Poetry. In this book he returns to the themes that have concerned him throughout his career as a writer, his interest in defining the essence of his continent’s culture, particularly in regard to the lyric poetry, and the elucidation of his own literary production of the last ten years. Upon ending his contract at Stony Brook, Carrera Andrade returned to Paris. At age 69 he begun a period beset by sickness, financial problems and an estrangement from his wife that forced him to return to Ecuador in 1975. There was of course the consolation of the international recognition of his poetry: in 1970 a bilingual Spanish-Italian edition of Uomo planetario, with an introduction and translations by professor Giuseppe Bellini, appeared in Milan; in 1972 the study Jorge Carrera Andrade: Introducción al estudio de su vida y de su obra by J. Enrique Ojeda was published in Madrid; in 1973 Selected Poems, a bilingual anthology with introduction and translations by H.R.Hays, appeared from SUNY Press; Reflections on Spanish American Poetry, translated by Don C. Bliss and Gabriela de C. Bliss, also appeared SUNY Press. Living now in Ecuador, Carrera Andrade held the prestigious position of Director of the National Library, which brought with it a modest stipend. During this period he resisted with fortitude an incapacitating illness and the loneliness and obscurity that marked his last three years. The publication in 1976 of his Obra poética completa , prepared with utmost care by the author himself, was enthusiastically celebrated in Ecuador. The government rewarded him with the “Eugenio Espejo” prize, the highest accolade accorded to a literary figure in Ecuador.

Carrera Andrade, in attention to being a poet, was also a writer of prose and left a body of work of high artistic value. In fact, the content of many of his pages in prose reappears, quintessentially molded, in his poems. According to Carrera Andrade there is a moment in a poet’s life when poetry stops flowing to make way for prose. “First youth seems to mysteriously prepare the poetic gift… once youth’s Cape Horn has been rounded, the song’s liquid vein flows into the wide gulf of the prose” (Latitudes, 1999). Of all his abundant prose the most interesting is perhaps his autobiography, The Volcano and the Hummingbird (1970). Its pages reflect an attentive and concerned observer of Ecuadorian and international events. By virtue of his diplomatic assignments Carrera Andrade was eyewitness to the horrors of World War II, to its reconstruction period and the prolonged “Cold War”. Perhaps no Spanish American writer has had the rare opportunity to live the vicissitudes of our century and to recreate those experiences in the crystal-clear mirror of a prose that, with the maturity of its author, had reached a transparency, harmony and expressiveness not to be found but in his most accomplished poems. But, above all the power of observation, an exquisite sensitivity, a prodigious memory that evoked details and events from many years before, and a frequently lyrical style, it is the love for his country and for America that gives this autobiography its fascination and enchantment and, finally, its highest significance.

Jorge Carrera Andrade died unexpectedly in Quito on November 7, 1978. He was 76 years old.

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