11 feb. 2011

Miguel Hernández

The "Elegía" of Miguel Hernández contains quite a few uncommon (or slightly less common) derivatives from very common words.

hortelano (huerto)

estercolar (estiércol)

colmenera (colmena)

sedienta (sed)

pajarear (pájaro)

manotazo (mano)

hachazo (hacha)

desamortazar (mortaza)

angelical (ángel)

dentelladas (dientes)

And so on. There is one of these in just about every stanza.

So by figuring out this poem when I was 19, I was really giving myself a complete workout in Spanish morphology. Estiércol is dung, estercolar means to fertilize with dung. Mano is hand, manotazo is blow with the hand. Colmena is a beehive, colmenera is an adjective derived from it. Mortaza is a shroud, des-a-mortaz-ar is to unshroud, Pájaro is a bird, pajarear is to fly around like a bird. I was not just learning words, but morphological rules, how to create new derivations from scratch. If manotazo is a blow with the hand, then hachazo is a blow with an ax.

The poem has some syntactical complications as well: you have to be able to figure out some inversions and why some adjectives precede their nouns rather than vice-versa. It's written in terza rima, in classic sounding 11-syllable lines and contains many rhetorical figures. It participates in a genre (the elegy) and brings generic conventions into play as well. For example, the topos that the body of the dead one fertilizes the ground and thus produces new life, or the reference to Hamlet (besarte la noble calavera): to kiss your noble skull.

So the poem offers a wide-ranging lesson in prosody, morphology, syntax, rhetoric, poetics. By memorizing it and simply knowing what each word meant and how it related to other words in the same family, I was really learning an enormous amount and having a great time doing it. The poem is powerfully hyperbolic in its rhetorical staging of the speaker's emotional response.

it seemed to take a long time to memorize, but it was really quite time-efficient work, as it turned out. I didn't think of it that way until just now.

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