Nueva aproximación a Ramos Sucre / Eugenio Montejo

New Approach to Ramos Sucre

Regarding the work of José Antonio Ramos Sucre there exists in our letters, particularly since 1958, a peculiar convergence that has turned it into a nearly unanimous center of attention. An attention that is quite disparate, indeed, not exempt from misguidance, but with sufficient roots and expansion to warn us that the phenomenon escapes the accident of a mere fad. An attention that fortunately displays its efficacy when it conquers numerous adepts for his work in other confines of our language and beyond. The fiftieth anniversary of his death, which we commemorate this year, will undoubtedly expand the bibliography on the poet, which is already larger than that of many of his companions in letters, while nonetheless always incomplete, as if the expanding wave that broadcasts it still were far enough from the point at which we might consider it, at least for ourselves, fixed as a whole.

I employ the year 1958, that of the generation I belong to, as a conventional way of locating the demarcation of the revision that takes his work as its object. Starting at that point the study of the art and life of Ramos Sucre intensifies in a manner perhaps unpredictable for his own contemporaries. Unpredictable for him as well? This, at least, was believed at first. However, some letters of his that are now being divulged for the first time are corroborating for us the opposite opinion. The doubts regarding his absolute confidence in the path he was exploring, so different from the reigning modes as well as from many attempts at renovation, were only another attribute of the poor reading he was given. So, Guillermo Sucre is right, “he wasn’t a forgotten poet, but rather one that was poorly read.” (1)

Revision, therefore, has reached not only his work, it has also addressed the critical pages that were written at the time his books appeared or shortly afterward, up until the year I tentatively choose to situate his reappraisal. The exegesis full of sympathy and no small amount of perceptiveness that V.M. Ovalles would attempt with a few of his texts, Carlos Augusto León’s book, Félix Armando Núñez’s examination, as well as the more recent testimonial contribution by Fernando Paz Castillo, mark the beginning of that criticism to which, not without frank dissent in certain cases, we have later returned. The revaluation, moreover, is far from complete. It continues by means of various focus points, some of which pay tribute to the structural analysis in fashion as we can note in certain commentators. Among the most recent contributions, an essay by Ángel Rama about the poet’s symbolic universe (2) privileges in a sometimes unconvincing manner the first of his books, La torre de Timón, in an effort to amend the most accepted criteria. But we will return to this shortly.

What interests me now, more than a balance of the critical perspective achieved, is another, less debated aspect. I want to say that such a manifested convergence around his work would perhaps be impossible if there were not a suspicion of it having a value still active today, and because of that having a modernity still in use in our days. In his case, it is a matter of being strange, in Darío’s sense of the word, as Francisco Pérez Perdomo noted (3), with an element of the maudit as well, but being cursed and strange are recognizably vital symptoms in the history of contemporary poetics. We must formulate two questions, among several, regarding this matter: the first concerns the peculiarities the modernity of his system covers. The other one attempts to inquire how he ends up being reflected, if such is the case, in the work written afterward among us. I intend to briefly answer the first, knowing the topic goes beyond the limits of a simple note. Regarding the second, I will be able to say even less, wanting to say more.

Let us proceed in parts. I don’t think Ramos Sucre proposed to forge above all a deliberately modern oeuvre, if by such we understand the conscious procedure of prolonging the echo of some nascent avant-garde in his time. It is erroneous, therefore, to suppose he is in anxious symphony with the European movements emerging at the beginning of the century, Surrealism and others. On the contrary, his writing reveals an attentive worship of the past, beginning with the invocation itself of the Latin source for the Spanish language, whose concision obsessed him. His modernity doesn’t cover a deliberately pursued goal, then, it always points to deeper roots. This leads us to see his specifically modern achievements as a consequence of his arduous linguistic investigation. From this perspective we verify that his rejection of the traditional stanza, of measured verse, with or without rhyme, is another derivation of his idiomatic investigation. His preference, on the other hand, for the open form of the prose poem, whose tradition we know goes back to Aloysius Bertrand, is part of an event that derives from the same demand. That is why when he translates the classic stanzas of Lenau, he does so with his only favorite form, defending a tonal fidelity more than a syntactical one, just as Pierre Jean Jouve, for example, does with Shakespeare’s sonnets. The suppression of the relative, the forced dependence on the copulative conjunction, the sometimes bothered emphasis of the I, the unusual meanings of a word or the ellipsis as a resource given more power each time, are some other traits of this writing that doesn’t assume the myth of the modern as a desideratum. “Don’t forget that beauty comes before originality,” (4) he says in a letter to his brother Lorenzo. In effect, the innovation he procures goes above all to the root, even if we confirm it by its fruits. In this manner, without intending to be modern at all costs, he evidently achieves it, and he is able to incarnate a unique exploration in our literature.

I should add something else. Almost from the start of his literary initiation one notices in Ramos Sucre the seal of a distinct and very personal writing, whose demarcation is found in the base of critical studies and perhaps in the fervor his work causes. It is an autonomous verbal model, for which the poetic will serves as a triggering stimulus. And even though it will end up taking over his voice, as we know, at the beginning it will have to share space with the historical, social or grammatical meditations toward which he shows affection. That verbal model, while it ends up being identifiable from early on, points to an evolution that is manifested throughout his texts, purifying his means at the same time as it complicates his key points. All one needs to do is read one of his compositions to notice the handling of the common tongue with unprecedented skill. I am not trying to suggest his work lacks a profound nexus with the past. Ramos Sucre, like all truly original authors, has imbibed a great deal from the ancients and, in his case, from those who, like Gracián, reestablished the demanding attempt to look at our tongue from its initial moment. (“I write Spanish from a Latin base.”) His attempt achieves then, among others, this merit: of rejecting the penitential heaviness of the Christian tongue, bringing back to it wherever possible the concise levity that makes pagan pleasure transparent. The speaker, the lyrical I, is not a sinner who unconsciously punishes himself with the employment of heavy syntactical structures, rather he tends to clear away debris, up to the point that the duty to make himself intelligible allows him, by means of that effort of concision the language of paganism models. I venture in this extreme affirmation only to highlight the manifest propensity that guides the development of his literary form. An aphorism by Leonardo da Vinci can very well supply us the identification of this tendency to which his style leans: “Every natural action is realized by the very nature of the mode and in the shortest possible time.” The withdrawal of the phrase that insists on reducing itself to its indispensable terms, even at the risk of remaining trapped in an abstract atmosphere, stands out as his most notorious distinction. Alongside this lives the deliberate anachronism, the gloss at the margins of history, the always multiform paintings, in the end, that compose his “poetry of civilizations.” (5)

The motives that summon this poetry, on the other hand, tend to almost always be pretexts for his efficacy, which being varied aren’t able to extract themselves from the merely conventional. But the composition is able to impose itself thanks to the control of a form that often reaches an unsurpassable point within the possible expressive combinations. It is frequently the exact turn, despite being the least predictable. A key component of such a procedure would be his use of adjectives, always ready to abolish all conventionalism. “Employ original adjectives –he advises his brother– that belong to you, that reflect your opinion on what you think or see.” (6) From this same attitude language also forms part of his recovery of rhetoric, with which he defies the Romantic credo, orienting himself once again by the ancients. It is an endeavor similar to the one accomplished in Spain during that time by Antonio Machado, one of whose apocrypha would be precisely professor of rhetoric.

Ramos Sucre is in his manner a lucid exponent of the so-called aesthetic of construction, because he concedes, like other inheritors of Symbolism, a greater conscious preponderance to the creative act. “Whoever wants to write his dream should be completely awake,” advises a well-known postulate by Paul Valéry, a defender like Ramos Sucre of the supremacy of consciousness in the work of composition. He is the determined engraver who doesn’t consent to leaving anything to chance. More than once he alludes to occult intentions between his lines, whose decipherment is left up to the reader. (“The solitary one laments a distant absence. He consoles himself by writing the difficult sonnet, where analysis often discovers a new sense.”)

Because of this total vigilance his pages reveal, I think an enigma that has yet to be cleared up arises from the publication, in 1929, of the two simultaneous volumes that gather his production after La torre de Timón. What secret norms does that mysterious ordering of his two books obey? The nature of equally varied motives in both is confused, and doesn’t seem to be the point of distinction. Nor does the meaning of the titles reveal their secret to us, as they most likely form part of it. To what unidentified clues does the separation of these two works still respond, if it surely doesn’t obey an impulsive procedure? I have asked myself this, and I ask myself today, without finding a satisfactory answer. Is the order of both compilations perhaps the same as the dates they were written, but according to what reasons would he consider one finished and begin the other? As we know, since the publication of his Obras completas, in 1956, Las formas del fuego has been accepted as his final book. However, the elliptical evolution of his phrases, a certain greater looseness and ownership of syntactical turns seems to contradict this order and situate El cielo de esmalte in the final spot. A support for this presumption would be the fact that he closes this book with a text titled “Omega,” which can be read as a counterweight to “Preludio,” the first one of his initial book. In this strengthening of the power of consciousness in the face of the theses defended by Romanticism, one would find a trace of the modernity that we feel in use in his work. It is a matter of the progressive celebration, so clear in contemporary art, to which Gottfried Benn would refer, another prestigious and uncomfortable theorist of the Constructivist aesthetic.

The second question, that investigates the probable reflection of that modernity in work that comes after his own is, as I said, harder to clarify. It seems to me, despite this, that the critical updating that investigates the value of his work holds scarce correspondence with the grade of influence we might be able to attribute to him in our time. If we discount certain episodical tones in the novice work of some of our poets, we notice that the preferences today move through different paths than his own. We are, then, in front of an insular oeuvre, a distant landmark, paradoxically admired even without having any notorious followers. His greatness, his pulchritude, his algebraic elegance, perhaps owe little to the mestizo sensibility that identifies us. Will his humor be missed? It’s true that he is no longer rejected from our lyrical patrimony with as much contempt as before, but his most gifted continuers have yet to appear.

At the beginning I mentioned Ángel Rama’s essay, “El universo simbólico de Ramos Sucre,” one of the latest analysis consecrated to the poet’s work. Rama’s critical experience contributes to uncovering, indeed, many clues in the art of Ramos Sucre, some of them already served by preceding studies, though well developed in his work. His essay includes notable lateral soundings, although all of them are nourished by the thesis that tends to situate La torre de Timón in a preferential spot in respect to the other books. It is difficult to accompany him, however, when he affirms that this compilation turns out to be “more singular and more disconcerting than the two following brief collections.” Those two brief collections add up to nearly three hundred poetic texts. Rama’s enthusiastic assessment of that first book as “more representative and adjusted to the writer’s purposes,” leads him to prefer it to the following two. His arguments, however, remain in debt to the reader. Ramos Sucre must have carefully meditated, there is no doubt, the definitive arrangement of La torre de Timón. Likewise, or even more because he had gained experience and a delimitation of his own zone, at the moment of composing the two remaining books. If in these he rejects all extra-literary motives and exclusively embraces his lyrical texts, it is because he has decided to clearly define for us the option of his creative adventure. How can we conceive that he would abandon material “more adjusted” to his purpose as a writer? Historical marginality, a vision of the world, are indispensable for the true comprehension of his work, but, just as with the aphorisms he published in Elite, they are far from constituting his central point. An ideological reading, from what can be seen, instead of illuminating for us the artistic reading, vainly procures to displace it.

“Leopardi is my equal,” Ramos Sucre reiterates in his final days, highlighting the parallelism between his life and that of the Italian poet. He will live only one year longer than him, but he will stop writing sooner. The paragon does not turn out to be illusory since both of them make their affliction a means of knowledge. In both, as well, sensation and the intellect are allied in a proportion that turns their adventure into asceticism, their physical penury into an existential test. Little by little death is transformed, for these two solitary men, into a consolation quite preferable to the rending through which their lives proceed. Against “the infinite vanity of everything” (Leopardi), both offer “the desire for solemn oblivion” (Ramos Sucre). Oblivion, happily, has not conquered their names. These lines from La torre de Timón, referring to Schiller and Shelley, can perhaps tell us why: “Intrepid heralds, irritated seers, beneath the stormy and enigmatic sky they sustain and vibrate a beam of rays in their right hands.” (7)

I will now finish in an orthodox manner, recounting a very brief dream. Some African tribes, according to Carl G. Jung, distinguish among their dreams those of merely individual signification and those that can result, because of their magical revelations, of interest to the group. This dream vision that I have already told before (Revista Poesía, no. 24, Valencia) surely doesn’t attain the importance of the second category, nor am I, at least not completely, African. I refer to it because it alludes to the poet I have been talking about. It happened in Paris, more than ten years ago. I had recently traveled to Geneva, in a failed attempt at finding any trace of him in the city of his death. Upon returning to Paris, I reread his entire work intensely for days. When I was finished, late at night, I saw in dreams how the wall in my room turned into a long green chalkboard. Immediately afterward Ramos Sucre walked in and nervously wrote upon it, to my surprise: “I am Faustus.”

1. Guillermo Sucre, «Ramos Sucre: anacronismo y/o renovación, Revista Tiempo Real, núm. 8, Univ. Simón Bolívar, Caracas, 1978.

2. Ángel Rama, «El universo simbólico de ]osé Antonio Ramos Sucre», Cumaná, Edit. Universitaria, UDO, 1978.

3. Francisco Pérez Perdomo, Antología de J. A. Ramos Sucre, Caracas, Monte Ávila Editores, 1969.

4. Cited by A. Rama, ibid, p. 46.

5. Guillermo Sucre, op. cit., p. 13.

6. Cited by A. Rama, ibid., p. 46.

7. J. A. Ramos Sucre, “Sturm und Drang,” in Obras completas, Caracas, Ediciones del Ministerio de Educación, 1956.

{ Eugenio Montejo, Revista Oriente, Caracas, Revista de Cultura de la Universidad de Oriente, 1981 }

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