Se ha retirado el campo

This poem from Miguel Hernandez is about the human propensity to slip into violence and war, to discard the trappings of civilisation and to become as an animal, red in tooth and claw. It is at once a poem which reflects its time, Spain slipping inexorably into a Civil War which pitted neighbour against neighbour, family member against family member and divided the country for two generations; but it is also a more universal statement of man continually reverting to his animal state, letting loose social conventions and societal inhibitions and becoming again the carnivorous mammal we all are.

Miguel Hernández

Se ha retirado el campo
al ver abalanzarse
crispadamente al hombre.

¡Qué abismo entre el olivo
y el hombre se descubre!

El animal que canta:
el animal que puede
llorar y echar raíces,
rememoró sus garras.

Garras que revestía
de suavidad y flores,
pero que, al fin, desnuda
en toda su crueldad.

Crepitan en mis manos.
Aparta de ellas, hijo.
Estoy dispuesto a hundirlas,
dispuesto a proyectarlas
sobre tu carne leve.

He regresado al tigre.
Aparta, o te destrozo.

Hoy el amor es muerte,
y el hombre acecha al hombre.

From <;

The poem starts atmospherically with the countryside withdrawing to the background to bring the focus on the man changing his nature. The scene is Andalucia, Hernandez’s native region, where peasants toil in the olive plantations – but here, the countryside withdraws and the olive trees distance themselves from the man.

The third stanza begins to refer to man as the animal – a true description, but one we are all conditioned to forget. There is still an element of civilised humanity – this animal can sing, cry, put down roots, but he is rediscovering his claws, and beginning to display them in all their cruel and violent potential. This is the potential of any human, but the poet could see this happening literally all around him in the Spain of the 1930s.

The poet warns his son to stand clear, to stay away, as he is capable of sinking his claws into the son’s flesh, just as in Spain, families could fight each other if they were on different sides of the conflict. The man has become a tiger, out to destroy anybody who gets in his way.

The poem finishes with the impossibility of love when man turns on man – a reflection of the poet’s times, but times like that are repeated again and again, as in Syria and Iraq in 2015.

The Poetry Dude


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