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The Princess of Asturias Foundation

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José Hierro

Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 1981

I have been entrusted with the honourable task of expressing the thanks of the Laureates for the bestowal of the Prince of Asturias Awards. Any of them could have played this role much better than I. And I do not say so exclusively in consideration of their merits –which would suffice in themselves–, but for other reasons. Poets are essentially subjective. If I were to speak on my own behalf, if I were not the accidental spokesman of these eminent figures, I do not doubt that I would be permitted a certain degree of subjectivity, even a certain degree of irony that did not sound out of place, which did not disturb the solemnity of this academic event. However, by speaking on behalf of the Laureates, the courtesy and respect I owe them force me to adopt an impersonal tone. They force me to save for myself expressions or opinions to which my distinguished colleagues cannot subscribe. Of course, I shall not say what I do not feel, but I shall say what I feel in a slightly different way.

Let me get to the point then. I shall proceed from the particular and specific to the general. Let my first words constitute an act of gratitude to the members of the Juries that decided that we were the ones worthy of the Prince of Asturias Award in each of its sections. The scientific, artistic and literary standing of each and every one of the members of the various Juries is a source of satisfaction and pride for us. Not only for their intellectual prominence. There is also –or, above all– the matter of their independence, their impartiality. Besides the intrinsic merits of each nominee for the Awards, other jury members would probably have taken into consideration their greater presence in Spanish public life. Our Juries have not fallen into that trap, however. They have acted in accordance with their conscience to the point –and allow me to serve as an example– of choosing from among so many important writers and poets existing today a poet who has not published for many years.

If it is our –oh so pleasant– duty as highborn to express our thanks to the Jury members for the honour they have bestowed on us, it is no less so to make public our recognition of the Institution that convened and endowed the Awards: the Prince of Asturias Foundation, which –and I quote– “aims to revitalize the scientific, technical and cultural life of Asturias [...] to be a lever for development and progress [...] to create a link, on a par with current times, between the region of Asturias and the heir to the Spanish throne.” This is a form of patronage similar to that exercised by the kings and nobles of the past. However, these Awards present an advantage with respect to the latter: they are not limited to sponsoring the work of already-known great artists and researchers, but point to the future; they opt for unfamiliar names, helping them to develop their full potential, even at the risk of being wrong. If these foundations of modern conception such as the Prince of Asturias Foundation, which has been in existence for one year now, have something to do with the old forms of patronage, they have little or nothing to do with other foundations that came into being a century ago, or even less, the sole purpose of which was to use the founder’s capital to maintain (sometimes truly absurd) private collections open to the public. When all was said and done, their purpose was none other than to show people that there was a certain gentleman very interested in the Arts, Literature or Science. But what was their real utility, their projection into the future?

The promoters of the idea of creating the Prince of Asturias Foundation –as they themselves state– “are aware that their purposes can only lead to a successful conclusion if they can count on the cooperation of Asturians, those living in the region as well as those who have sought in another land suitable ground for their life adventure, while never forsaking the memory of their land.” I do not think that, in this aspect, the Foundation will encounter any major obstacles. Of course, it is not for me to comment on the mentality and sentimentality of Asturians. What we can know –guess would be the better term– proceeds from literature, which is truer than history, though it exaggerates and caricatures reality, and also from my own observation of the friendly company I have enjoyed on my fleeting visits to these lands. There, in the background, stands Jovellanos: a man of the 18th century surrounded by people –those of the north of the Iberian Peninsula– whose culture had been arrested in the Gothic, if not in the Romantic period. People resigned to living in contemplation of a truly beautiful land. Poor people and noblemen isolated from the rest of the country by the mountains. The Asturians’ relationship with their land is that of lovers with their beloved. They are, or have been, like those couples in love who worship each other, who cannot live apart: unable to do anything that does not constitute constant contemplation of one other. The cure to break the spell was therefore to go far away from their land, to head for America. It was not a question of discovery, of founding, but rather of finding a place where the great capabilities of Asturians could be developed; though always evoking the motherland, dreaming of returning. And many –the most unfortunate or the luckiest– returned. The latter, the ones that fortune had smiled on, were the so-called Indianos: they employed what they had earned in foreign lands to erect churches or schools in their own land. They were witness to that love and that absence, and to a way of compensating the child who had no school, the one who had to emigrate. They constituted the prehistory of foundations.

The 19th-century Indiano was almost the opposite of the 16th-century conquistador. The conquistador left to never to return. He changed lands. The Asturians bore in their hearts these mountains and valleys that are like gardens, green mosaics where everything is tiny, where everything can be caressed with the eyes; where everything is at hand, at an intimately human scale, dwarfed, made tiny, like Asturian architecture. They went so as to contemplate their native land dwarfed by distance. And they compared it to their adopted land. And it was the latter that lost the contest. But when outsiders began to stain the purity of the landscape –recall the testimony of Palacio Valdes–, Asturians began to lose that quasi-sacred respect for their land and, while not ceasing to love it, knew it could be a suitable land to develop their economic, cultural or industrial capabilities. Vetusta’s casino , and especially its library, became a faded image of the past. That is why –and I apologize for the digression– I think the Prince of Asturias Foundation will count on –already counts on— the collaboration of Asturians.

These words of mine have strayed from my original track. I said at the beginning of my speech that I would try to be objective, since I am simply the spokesman of those favoured with this truly important distinction. Man proposes and the demon of subjectivism disposes. My speech has become a sort of Russian doll. Inside, the Jury. Containing the Jury, the Prince of Asturias Foundation. And embracing the Foundation, the land, the landscape and its people. And its culture. Or, if you will permit me another example: first the string, then the sound box, and, finally, the premises, the concert hall. Although the sound that those who write, or make music, or research could not be transmitted without air. So, after thanking the Jury, the Foundation and the people of a land that make a beautiful cultural adventure possible, it is necessary to thank the air. The air, distancing ourselves now from the slippery terrain of metaphor and allegory, is called freedom, the beautiful freedom of our classic: the air that those of us who believe have to breathe. And in this ceremony lies a sign that the air has recently begun to reach our lungs.

The Awards whose granting we the favoured express our thanks for here today bear a name: “Prince of Asturias”. That of Your Highness. I am not so impertinent –nor so sage– as to allow myself to lecture. I simply wish to draw attention to an event which, perhaps, when it is a descendant of yours who bears the title of Prince of Asturias, may have faded in your memory. This event is significant because it represents the recognition of something that governments do not always take into account: the values of culture. Dictatorships place culture –one alone, theirs– at the service of their politics. Democracies place themselves at the service of culture; they accept it as it is. Deep down, it is an intelligently political task. Because, just as Stalin’s question regarding the Pope was stupid: “How many divisions does he have?”, it is unwise to ask how many divisions a researcher, a musician, a poet has. For many, a poet –who constitutes the lowest rung on the ladder of utilitarian values– is, at best, the volute that adorns the pinnacle of a building. Yet that object, considered little more than a decorative object and which is mercilessly broken and thrown to the winds, can cause enormous damage in its downfall. Let us put a name to that volute –Federico Garcia Lorca– and we know the damage its toppling caused from the political point of view.

I said I am not prepared to give advice. Except for this, which I do not consider overly impertinent. This air of freedom we breathe, which will enable us to continue forward in the task of achieving the Spain we long for, has a date: the 24th February. That is: Your Highness does not have to pay attention to my words; you need only look around you. Sire, if the present did not begin on the 24th February, but was called the evening of the 23rd February, we would not be here. We have spent so many years listening to words of prefabricated praise that I truly fear that someone may believe equally mechanical these words that, interpreting the sentiments of many, are addressed to you. Your Majesty does not ask how many divisions a man of culture can mobilize. You know that a freely created book or painting is of importance. That is why you receive writers and artists every year. You do not need to turn them into chamber writers or painters; by respecting and admiring them, you have won their respect and admiration.

That is why I said, Your Highness, that examples and not my words are what are important. Maybe one day you will understand the importance for Spain of this attitude of Your August father, who has not allowed one more step to be taken towards tyranny. He has turned towards tolerance; that is, he has turned towards democracy, which consists in the fact that Mr Santiago Carrillo can say what he could not say before and Mr Blas Pinar can keep on saying the same things he always said.

[1] The social club in Clarín’s literary city of Vetusta (Oviedo).

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