[(essay date 1982) In the following essay, Persin analyzes four of Guillén's poems written at different times in his career, in an effort to define the poet's "evolution in his attitude to poetry and changes in his artistic expression and composition," especially in terms of the "self-referential or metapoetic dimension" of poetry.]
In recent literary criticism the view has developed that all poetry on one level or another is self-referential in nature.1 This concept of self-referentiality is based on the idea that the poet in effect must attempt to make language coincide with a reality that is exterior to it. There are several critics who espouse such a view in their writings. According to such critics as Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man and J. Hillis Miller, the poet's effort to recreate this reality within the text is doomed to failure because of the intrinsic, metaphoric nature of language. But the isolated attempt is a creative process in its own right. By merely attempting to describe, express or recreate something through language, the poet necessarily destroys the original reality, but in turn creates a new one in the text. Thus language is both destructive and creative at the same time.
The self-referential or metapoetic dimension is much easier to discern in some texts than in others. While some poems do not lend themselves openly to a metapoetic interpretation, since reference to the act of poetic creation is metaphoric, in others self-reference is both the theme and the structure of the text. The poets of the Generation of 27 viewed themselves as master-craftsmen in the production of their verse. For them there is a perfect identification or one-to-one correspondence between the thing and the name, and therefore by extension, between exterior reality and the poetic text. It could be argued that perhaps all of Jorge Guillén's poetry is metapoetic, since the poet attempts to transform all reality, both the conceptual and the tangible, into poetic expression. For Guillén, life is art.2 His world view is that of artistic creation, no more or less. And in his poetry he not only describes a work of art, but also creates a poetic experience in which the reader may share. Guillén is certainly aware of the relationship between poet, poetic speaker and reader. This consciousness of himself and his identity as poet, in fact, is a central element which helps to establish unity in the diversity of his poetic creation. Self-commentary and self-allusion are a significant form of self-awareness in his poetry. In his later poems he refers again and again to his earlier poems.3
In this paper I will consider four poems by Jorge Guillén, in which the poet confronts directly the problem of literary expression, i.e., the relationship of the poet to his art. Guillén's quest to find the right name for things is one which results in an evolution in his attitude to poetry and changes in his artistic expression and composition. Through detailed analysis of the four...