Rafael Alberti was one of those poets who left Spain for exile after the Spanish Civil War brought Franco to power. Those who stayed, like Garcia Lorca were not so fortunate – Lorca was shot by Franco’s troops. However, exile was not easy either, particularly as World War 2 started soon after, and a number of Spanish refugees found themselves in territory controlled by Germany or its allies. Whatever, their circumstances, the experience of exile could become a source of poetic inspiration, as in this sonnet from Alberti, which looks like it was written in Rome, where the poet lived after spending many years in Argentina.
LO QUE DEJÉ POR TI
Dejé por ti mis bosques, mi perdida
arboleda, mis perros desvelados,
mis capitales años desterrados
hasta casi el invierno de la vida.
Dejé un temblor, dejé una sacudida,
un resplandor de fuegos no apagados,
dejé mi sombra en los desesperados
ojos sangrantes de la despedida.
Dejé palomas tristes junto a un río,
caballos sobre el sol de las arenas,
dejé de oler la mar, dejé de verte.
Dejé por ti todo lo que era mío.
Dame tú, Roma, a cambio de mis penas,
tanto como dejé para tenerte.
Most of the poem is taken up with things the poet has lost, left behind and for which he feels longing. These are either tangible parts of his experience like woods, dogs, rivers, horses running along a beach; or just emotions or sensations – the lost years away from his native land. It as is if he has been torn away from his natural place in the world. The final two lines are a forlorn appeal to the city of Rome, where he resides, to give him some tangible equivalent experience in exchange for what he has lost. The balance of the poem indicates that this cannot be, so it leaves a sense of sadness and loss for the reader as well as the poet.
Alberti was able to return to Spain in old age, after the death of Franco in the late 1970s, but of course, by then he had experienced decades of exile, with the feelings expressed in this poem.
The Poetry Dude