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Amado Nervo

Alberto Acereda Extremiana

    Amado Nervo

    (27 August 1870 - 24 May 1919)

  • Books:
    • El bachiller (Mexico City: Tipografía de El Mundo, 1896);
    • Místicas, 1892-1895 (Mexico City: Imprenta de I. Escalante, 1898);
    • Perlas negras (Mexico City: Imprenta de I. Escalante, 1898);
    • Poemas (Paris: Librería de la Viuda de Ch. Bouret, 1901);
    • La hermana agua (Madrid: Hernández, 1901);
    • El éxodo y las flores del camino (Mexico City: Oficina Impresora de Estampillas, 1902);
    • Lira heroica (Mexico City: Oficina Impresora de Estampillas, 1902);
    • Otras vidas (Barcelona: Ballescá, 1905);
    • La literatura lunar y la habitabilidad de los satélites (Mexico City: Aguilar, 1905);
    • Los jardines interiores (Mexico City: Imprenta de I. Escalante, 1905);
    • Almas que pasan: Últimas prosas de Amado Nervo (Madrid: Tipografía de la Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos, 1905);
    • En voz baja (Paris: Ollendorff, 1909);
    • Ellos; Los que ignoran que están muertos; La locomotora; Las varitas de virtud, etc. (Paris: Ollendorff, 1909);
    • Juana de Asbaje (Madrid: Hernández, 1910);
    • Mis filosofías (Paris: Ollendorff, 1912);
    • Poemas (Paris & Mexico City: Librería de la Viuda de Ch. Bouret, 1912);
    • Serenidad, 1909-1912 (Madrid: Renacimiento, 1914);
    • Elevación (Madrid: Tipografía Artística Cervantes, 1917);
    • Plenitud (Madrid: Tipografía Artística Cervantes, 1918);
    • El sexto sentido (Mexico City: La Novela Semanal, 1918);
    • El estanque de los lotos (Buenos Aires: Jesús Menéndez, 1919);
    • La mujer moderna y su papel en la evolución actual del mundo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Tor, 1919);
    • La última vanidad: Colección de autógrafos (Mexico City: Editorial Hispano Mexicana, 1919);
    • Obras completas, 29 volumes, edited by Alfonso Reyes (Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 1920-1928)
    • Fuegos fatuos y pimientos dulces, edited by Francisco González Guerrero (Mexico City: Porrúa, 1951);
    • Semblanzas y crítica literaria (Mexico City: Impr. Universitaria, 1952);
    • El donandor de almas: Novela corta (Mexico City: Libro-Mex., 1955); translated by Michael F. Capobianco and Gloria Schaffer Meléndez as The Soul-Giver (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1999);
    • El pequeño Amado: Selección de poesía, prosa, cuentos, crónicas y lecturas infantiles de Amado Nervo, edited by Lourdes C. Pacheco Ladrón de Guevara and Mayra Elena Fonseca Ávalos (Nayarit, Mexico: CONACULTA, Fondo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes de Nayarit, 1999).
  • Editions and Collections:
    • Poesías completas (Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 1935);
    • Poesías completas, 2 volumes, edited by Alfonso Méndez Plancarte (Buenos Aires & Mexico City: Espasa-Calpe Argentina, 1943);
    • Poesías completas (Mexico City: Nueva España, 1944);
    • Obras completas, 2 volumes, edited by Francisco González Guerrero and Plancarte (Madrid: Aguilar, 1962);
    • Cuentos y crónicas de Amado Nervo, edited by Manuel Durán (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1971).
  • Edition in English:
    • Confessions of a Modern Poet, translated by Dorothy Kress (Boston: B. Humphries, 1935).

Amado Nervo is considered one of Mexico's foremost poets of modernismo, the artistic and literary movement that emerged in Hispanic culture around the turn of the twentieth century. Although the author himself always preferred his prose, critics consider his poetry the superior part of his works. In prose, he wrote newspaper articles, novels, essays, short stories, drama reviews, and what can be defined as «poetic prose». His works were characterized by the themes of religion, philosophy, and mysticism, an area often explored by other modernista authors of the Hispanic world. Nervo shared many of the common characteristics and attitudes held by modernista writers. French literary movements and writers influenced him, in particular the French Romantic and Symbolist poets, who sought to break from traditional poetic forms. Nervo was also a friend of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, one of the leaders of the modernista literary attitude. They both experimented with colors and images, renewed verse forms long forgotten, enriched the poetic vocabulary, and carried out the reform of rhythm. But Nervo's earliest writings were also under the influence of Romanticism, and many of the emotional attitudes reflected in his works were still predominantly Romantic -as was also the case in the poetry of another Mexican, Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera, whom Nervo considered a master. While Nervo earned a reputation for his literary experimentation, he was perhaps most noted for the spiritual direction of his works and his continuous search for an explanation of human existence.

José Amado Ruiz de Nervo was his original name, but his father shortened it to Amado Nervo. The first child of a modest family of Spanish roots, Nervo was born in Tepic, a small city of the mainly indigenous province of Nayarit on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, on 27 August 1870. He began to write when he was a child; on one occasion his brother discovered the verses that he had furtively written. When his father died in 1883 he moved with his mother to the state of Michoacán, where Nervo studied in a secondary school that was also a seminary. Soon he abandoned his studies in order to find employment to help his family's economic difficulties. After a stormy first romantic relationship, he returned to the seminary and in 1891 began his theological studies for the priesthood. But once again, the economic distress of his family made him seek a new job in Tepic and then in Mazatlán, where he helped a lawyer and wrote for the daily El Correo de la Tarde (The Evening Post). Like many of the Spanish and Spanish American poets of his time, Nervo was compelled to make a living in a society where almost nobody read books and where the only form of dissemination was the daily newspaper.

In 1893, at the age of twenty-three, he decided to move to Mexico City, where he expected to meet the literary figures of the capital, especially Gutiérrez Nájera, whom he admired. Although he had a hard time adjusting to city life, by August of 1894 he was contributing to the important modernista journal Revista Azul (Blue Magazine) with the support of Gutiérrez Nájera. By 1895 he started publishing his first short stories as well as articles, essays, and chronicles of social events, and he began to work as a drama critic. In 1896 Nervo published his short novel El Bachiller (The Student), which dealt with the sexual problems of a seminary student and was received with great interest by its readers for its open treatment of the theme of adolescence. Another of his early works, such as a short story called «Pascual Aguilera» included a description of life on a rural ranch, and it depicted a protagonist whose uncontrollable passion and lack of spirituality ultimately destroyed him. During these years Nervo was writing many journalistic pieces for a variety of newspapers-commercial articles written for the purpose of earning money. In his portraits of writers and his chronicles for papers such as El Nacional (The National) or El Mundo (The World) Nervo displayed a curious interest in social affairs, science, and all artistic manifestations at the turn of the century.

Soon he was widely known also as the co-editor of the literary review Revista Moderna (Modern Review), a significant forum of Hispanic modernismo. The year 1898 was a watershed for Nervo since he was able to publish his first two important books of poetry: Místicas, 1892-1895 (Mystical Poems, 1892-1895) and Perlas negras (Black Pearls). These two volumes included some interesting parallels of poetry and the Catholic litany, although Nervo did not reach the extremes of sacrilegious imagery and erotic content that some of his fellow modernista poets did. Místicas included poems such as «A Kempis» (To Kempis), which is among the most representative examples of religiosity in Hispanic modernismo.

At this time, Nervo had a secure job as a journalist for El Universal (The Universal), and in 1900 the author was able to prepare for his first trip to Europe, a trip ritually taken by most modernista Spanish American authors. He visited England, Germany, Bohemia, Switzerland, Italy, and France, where he attended the World Fair. In Paris, Nervo met Darío, who was at the time writing chronicles for the Argentinean daily La Nación (The Nation) as correspondent to the fair. Nervo also met other important Hispanic and French poets of the period. Although the newspaper soon ended its payments to him, forcing him to work as a translator, Nervo chose to remain in Paris and traveled widely in Europe.

In 1901 he published in Paris a volume titled Poemas (Poems). He also published La hermana agua (Sister Water, 1901), a collection in which he examines the multiple forms that water can take, an idea leading to the metaphysical concern regarding the nature of reality. Still in Paris in 1901, Nervo met Ana Cecilia Luisa Dailliez, the woman who was his great love. For unknown reasons they never married, although they lived together until her death in 1912. In 1902 they returned to Mexico, where Nervo was given a job as professor of Spanish language and literature at the National School in Mexico City. That year also marked the publication of El éxodo y las flores del camino (The Exodus and the Flowers of the Road), a book that mixed his chronicles and his poetry. Nervo offers in these books an oscillation between the erotic and the religious, the doubts of youth tormented by the desire for perfection and the struggle with the demands of the flesh. Finally, that same year he published his political volume Lira heroica (Heroic Lyre). At this point, Nervo's popularity came partly from his journalistic articles but mainly from his poetry, which was being perceived from different and even contradictory perspectives. Several contemporary critics have considered these years, until Nervo reached the age of thirty-two, the first stage of his literary production.

In 1905, at the age of thirty-five, upon his mother's death, Nervo published two books of prose -Otras vidas (Other Lives) and Almas que pasan (Souls that Pass)- in which he clearly showed his interests in other aspects of reality and the metaphysical world. Nervo had read widely, and several English and French prose writers influenced his fiction. Almas que pasan includes several of his early short stories, first published in newspapers. Some of these stories advanced a sort of fantastic atmosphere that later became important in the twentieth-century Spanish American short narrative genre.

His next collection of poems, Los jardines interiores (The Inner Gardens, 1905) also appeared at that time and was well received. This book of poetry, along with En voz baja (In a Low Voice, 1909), initiates what critics have defined as the second stage of Nervo's writing. In both of these books Nervo searches for transcendent beauty in an attempt to find a deeper spiritual significance. These collections confirm his interest in the esoteric and in the idea of pantheism. Until that point, some of his poems were heavily influenced by the Symbolist poets and subsequently dwelled on philosophy, mysticism, and even melancholy. Nervo deviated from any fixed literary persuasion and concentrated even more on his personal quest for spirituality. He questioned the tenets of Christianity by exploring the renunciation of the material world advocated by Hindu and Buddhist religions. After studying philosophy and mysticism, Nervo hoped to better understand both natural and supernatural existence.

Nervo's fame was increasing both inside and outside of Mexico, and in 1905 he entered the diplomatic service as a secretary of the Mexican Embassy and traveled to Madrid, where he lived until 1918. In fact, he was the Spanish American modernista author who lived for the longest period of time in Spain. While in Madrid, Nervo was able to write some of the most representative poetry books of the movement, and he had the opportunity to meet with the most prominent Spanish authors. He also collaborated with several newspapers, such as La Nación of Buenos Aires. As a literary critic he published Juana de Asbaje (Juana de Asbaje, 1910), a study of the great poet nun of seventeenth-century Mexico.

After several comfortable years in Madrid, Nervo suffered the loss of his lover Dailliez, of whom so little is known, in 1912. That episode had a profound effect on Nervo's work. The great pain after her death made Nervo return to the idea of a divine God, and all his works after this date carry a religious connotation. Nervo's next book, Serenidad (Serenity, 1914), along with the posthumous La amada inmóvil (The Unmoving Beloved, 1920), reflects the author's search for consolation after the death of Dailliez. Both books represent a confession of the poet's anguish at her death, the recognition of his own inexorable fate, and finally the search for serenity. These poems also reveal what critics recognize as an individual and mature style exploring the possibilities of transcendence. In regard to the origins of his religious temperament, these volumes link Nervo to the sense of tragic despair visible in Spanish and Spanish American modernismo, and more particularly in the work of Darío.

These books by Nervo can also be linked to other authors such as the Spanish Miguel de Unamuno, often not included in the modernista canon, but with whom he shared a similar concern about the question of God. Contrary to Unamuno's anguish, however, Nervo's search always expressed a deep affirmation of God's existence, and his poetry can be read as one of the most vivid religious and spiritual pursuits in all Hispanic modernismo. Nervo, for instance, wrote in «Yo no soy demasiado sabio…» («I am not too wise...») of Serenidad (Serenity):

Yo no soy demasiado sabio para negarte,
Señor; encuentro lógica tu existencia divina;
me basta con abrir los ojos para hallarte;
la creación entera me convida a adorarte,
y te adoro en la rosa y te adoro en la espina.

(I am not too wise to deny you,
Lord; I find logical your divine existence;
I have enough by opening my eyes to find you;
The entire creation invites me to adore you,
And I adore you in the rose and I adore you in the thorn.)

Nervo enjoyed a period of great fame. He was often called a mystic; but more than that, he was a man who had an immense desire to believe and a willingness to understand the secret of the world. He had previously stated that he did not belong to any particular school because as an artist he was independent and free. In the long debate over modernismo, Nervo defined the aesthetics of this movement as an interior and individual art. He believed there had only been two literary trends: those authors who see outside, and those who see inside. He felt that he was part of the interior perspective.

The Mexican Revolution that started in 1910 resulted in a virtual cessation of Mexican diplomatic services, and in 1912 Nervo was suspended as a diplomat, causing him economic distress. The social chaos provoked by the Mexican Revolution, however, aroused little, if any, echo in Nervo's literary works. In contrast to the social and political concerns visible in the works of several modernista authors, Nervo preferred to keep his concerns turned inward toward the mysterious questions of life and death, religion and spirituality. After Nervo's temporary loss of his diplomat position, the Spanish government offered him a pension, but he did not accept it, opting instead to support his household through writing and editorial work until 1916, when he resumed work as a member of the foreign service. Finally, the newly implanted Mexican government asked him to return, and in 1918 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Argentina and Uruguay. During these years Nervo wrote and published several volumes that clearly belong to a third and final stage in his poetic work, including Elevación (Elevation, 1917), El estanque de los lotos (The Lotus Pond, 1919), and El arquero divino (The Divine Archer, 1922).

In 1918 Nervo also published the collection of essays Plenitud (Plenitude), a book greatly valued by its author and in which he summarized his religious thoughts, his mystical spirit, and his meditations in search of spiritual perfection. As time went on, Nervo had matured in style and in content. His early works full of verbal and lexical exoticism had led to a clear, precise, and concise style. On 24 May 1919 he died of a heart attack in Montevideo, shortly after taking up his duties at the Mexican Embassy. At the time of his death, Nervo was one of the first literary celebrities in the Hispanic world; he had already achieved an extraordinary renown, acclaimed by both the people and by the intellectual elites. He was named the best lyrical poet of the Americas and the «Príncipe de los poetas continentales» (Prince of the Continental Poets).

Nervo's significance in Spanish American literature can be understood as a constant oscillation between opposite poles: sensuality and religiosity, faith and doubt, pessimistic resignation and hopeful faith. He explored a wide variety of orthodox and unorthodox belief systems with the purpose of achieving knowledge of reality more profound than the fragmented view of the limited human experience. From his early studies in the seminary, spiritualism played a major role in Nervo's life, and he continued to read widely in Christian works as well as in theosophy and several esoteric doctrines. As he grew in stature and maturity, Nervo's poetry became increasingly focused on the essential theme of the mystery of being and the limitations of life. This process was exacerbated by the death of his lover. Nervo began to purify his work of the external, chromatic features of modernismo. As he became less interested in form, his rhymes became simpler, and his poetry reached new levels of spiritual purity.

For several decades after the author's death, however, his reputation declined, and critics questioned the value of his works. He was accused of superficiality, aestheticism, and lack of originality, until his reputation reached its lowest point in the 1950s. For quite a long time, Nervo was rarely well regarded and was nearly forgotten by critics and scholars. After a necessary reassessment of his literary works, Nervo is being revisited, as is modernist poetry in general, but critics are still far from reaching agreement. For some, he was a great poet, but for others his work represents an exotic, falsely elegant, and pseudophilosophical approach to literature. There is no doubt, however, that he exercised an immense influence on Spanish and Spanish American poetry, and he should be considered a key author in modern Hispanic poetry. He was a master of modernista aesthetics, and his themes anticipated much of what came later in twentieth-century Hispanic poetry.

  • Letters:
    • Un epistolario inédito: XLIII cartas a don Luis Quintanilla, edited by Ermilio Abreu Gómez (Mexico City: Impr. Universitaria, 1951);
    • Desde nuestras sendas soledades: Amado Nervo y Unamuno, epistolario, edited by José Ignacio Tellechea Idígoras (Salamanca: Cátedra de Poética «Fray Luis de León», Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, 2000).
  • Bibliography:
    • Genaro Estrada, Bibliografía de Amado Nervo (Mexico City: Imprenta de la Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores, 1925).
  • References:
    • Manuel Durán, Genio y figura de Amado Nervo (Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 1968);
    • Pedro César Malvigni, Amado Nervo, fraile de los suspiros (Buenos Aires: Editora Difusión, 1964);
    • Lucio Mendieta y Núñez, Vida y obra de Amado Nervo (Mexico City: Instituto Mexicano de Cultura, 1979);
    • Bernardo Ortíz de Montellano. Figura, amor y muerte de Amado Nervo (Mexico City: Ediciones Xochitl, 1943);
    • Alfonso Reyes, Tránsito de Amado Nervo (Santiago de Chile: Ercilla, 1937);
    • Esther T. Wellman, Amado Nervo, Mexico's Religious Poet (New York: Instituto de las Españas, 1936);
    • Eduardo O. Zapiola, Amado Nervo: Su vida, su calvario y su muerte (La Plata, Argentina: Edición de Bases, 1931).