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This Day In Writing History
On December 24th, 1881, the legendary Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez was born. He was born in Moguer, Andalusia, Spain. Although he studied law at the University of Seville, Jiménez never practiced it, choosing to become a writer instead.
Jiménez' first two poetry books were published in 1900; he was eighteen at the time. That same year, his father died. Jiménez was devastated and fell into a severe depression. He was sent to France for psychiatric treatment, where he had an affair with his doctor's wife. Jiménez would spend the next two years at a sanitarium in Madrid.
The sanitarium was run by the nuns who lived at the nearby convent of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary order. Jiménez stayed at the sanitarium from 1901 to 1903. While there, he supposedly had passionate affairs with three young nuns who cared for him - Sister Pilar, Sister Amalia, and Sister Filomena. While there is no concrete evidence to prove this, Jiménez was expelled from the sanitarium by the Mother Superior, as were the three young nuns, who were sent to stay at other convents belonging to their order.
Beginning in 1911, Jiménez would write poems about his affairs with the nuns. One of the best known of these poems is Three Verses:
Sister! We stripped off our ardent bodies
In endless and senseless profusion….
It was autumn and the sun – don’t you remember?
Added sweet sadness to the white splendor of our abode
Sister Pilar, are your eyes still so black?
And your mouth so fresh and red?
And your breasts…? How are they?
Oh, do you recall how you would come into my room late at night,
calling to me like a mother, telling me off like a child?
When she fled, in a flight of deranged wimples,
from the impetuous will of my desire
she would seek shelter in a corner, like a cat…
but her nails were sweeter than my kisses.
In 1913, he met and fell in love with Zenobia Camprubi, a writer and translator known for her Spanish translation of the works of Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore. Shortly after meeting Zenobia, Juan Ramón Jiménez published a book of mildly erotic, lyrical poems. He planned to follow it with a book of more explicitly erotic poetry, but changed his mind after Zenobia reacted with disgust to his previous collection.
Jiménez continued writing and publishing collections of poems at a prolific rate. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Jiménez refused to side with General Franco's fascists. He and Zenobia eventually left Spain on a self-imposed exile, settling first in Cuba, then in the United States, and finally in 1946, Puerto Rico. For eight months, he would be hospitalized again for severe depression.
Jiménez would later become a professor of Spanish language and literature at the University of Maryland, which would name a building on its campus and a writing program after him. In 1956, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Three days later, his wife died of cancer. Devastated, his health began to deteriorate. He died in 1958, at the age of 76.
Among the most popular works of Juan Ramón Jiménez were poetry collections such as Spiritual Sonnets 1914-1916 (1916), Stones and Sky (1919), Poetry in Prose and Verse (1932), Voices of My Song (1945), and Animal At Bottom (1947). He also wrote a popular book-length prose poem, Platero and I (1917), a whimsical tale of a writer and his donkey, which is still read and studied by Spanish schoolchildren.
In 2007, a Spanish publisher released Books of Love, a compilation of Jiménez' erotic poetry. It contained his original book, plus a collection of previously unpublished poems - the more explicitly erotic poetry that Jiménez had wanted to publish earlier, but didn't. The poems about the author's affairs with the three young nuns were included in the new volume, resulting in a furious letter of protest from the nuns' order, the Sisters of the Holy Rosary.
Juan Ramón Jiménez remains one of the greatest Spanish poets of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"If they give you ruled paper, write the other way." - Juan Ramón Jiménez
Today's video features a reading of I Am Not I, a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez. Enjoy!