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Prince of Asturias Award for Literature 1985
I would be committing the sin of ingratitude if I were not to begin by expressing my appreciation to those who favoured the cause of this twofold honour falling to me: that of receiving the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters –one of the most prestigious throughout the far-reaching world of literature written in the Spanish language– and that of speaking here today before such an august, illustrious and generous audience.
I wish to stress that I speak, of course, in my own name. I will not incur in the arrogant claim of voicing the feelings and ideas of all the laureates, truly eminent personalities in different fields of science and culture, with greater merits than my own. I also speak as a writer, seeing as I am here as such. I would like to speak as a poet, but I could not do so without seriously contradicting myself, as I have always maintained that poets do not exist, except in reading. If I were to speak as a poet, I would speak, in my opinion, as a nonentity. The poet Ángel González, if he exists, will exist in books as a possibility, as a proposal to the reader who will be the one who, ultimately, decides his existence or his inanity. Here stands only the man who has contrived the words that give life to the poet, insufficient words in themselves, which would be meaningless without the assistance of others. And that is, in my opinion, one of the great lessons that stem from poetry. Because the way we are, what we are actually are, depends on others more than we usually think. Nobody, and this is very evident in the case of poets, can exist without others.
Let us never forget this.
It is true that the poet, the great lyric poet, rouses passions that man encounters at the core of his most inner self or at the heart of his experience. But these psychological and emotional reactions, however personal they may seem, cannot be unique or non-transferable. If they do not vibrate sympathetically in the hearts of others, if they do not resound and become manifest in sensitivities which are far from, yet close to the purpose, the poet will have been born dead. The poetic act is, in essence, eminently supportive, not for what it says, but for what it actually does.
And it is also so due to the self-same material with which the poet works: the word, the language which, as Antonio Machado repeatedly stressed, is always a shared good, a heritage and collective creation that the community who speaks it delivers, ready-made, to the poet.
In no literary genre does language play such a predominant role as in poetry. And that predominant role allows the words of the poem to become freely manifest regardless of the intentions of the one who writes them, to bring into being the infinite range of forgotten or unrevealed expressive possibilities that underlie the language. Often, poems reveal more than the thoughts and feelings of one single man; it is not uncommon for words, on their own initiative, to feel and think in and through him, rekindling the feelings and thoughts of all the people who use and create them.
I have spoken of poetry not only because it is one of the few topics I can address in a more or less knowledgeable way, but also because the twofold statement of solidarity that may be appreciated in its essence coincides with the objectives of the Prince of Asturias Foundation and represents its goals in an exemplary way, always aimed at highlighting and reinforcing that which is most positive: the cultural ties that constitute the common heritage of the peoples who speak the Spanish language, which unites and binds them in a brotherhood.
To go to others, to highlight what we have in common with them,–an endeavour that in itself justifies the Prince of Asturias Foundation–, to recognize ourselves in the greatest number of our fellow men, is a task that, in my opinion, is still urgently needed in today’s Spain in order to definitively distance ourselves from a sombre past and prepare for the advent of a brighter future.
And by stating that that task still seems necessary to me, I am not forgetting that Spaniards have achieved much in the field of solidarity and coexistence. Perhaps accustomed eyes do not perceive the magnitude of the changes; but mine, which are those of a traveller who returns each year to his land to recognize the things he loves most, have still not got over their astonishment. The Spain of today is much more cheerful and lively, much more liveable and fair than the one I left twelve years ago.
The extraordinary mutation of Spain did not seem easy, but it was possible, first and foremost, thanks to freedom and democracy, which allowed the majority of Spaniards to impose their will to evolve and live in harmony.
And having reached this point, it is inevitable to make a reference to the decisive, intelligent and courageous role played by the Crown in the process of the instauration and consolidation of these two great assets –freedom and democracy– through its ability to understand, encourage and defend the best aspirations of its people when it was necessary: a flawless performance that deserves the respect and gratitude of us all.
For all these reasons, for what poetry represents as a radical act of solidarity, I think that this award, which only to avoid misunderstandings I shall call my award, is an award conferred primarily on poetry. The poetry being written in Spanish right now is so varied and rich that I cannot hide the fact that there are many who, with the same merits as mine –some even more deserving–, could now be occupying this spot. I thus interpret and accept this great honour as being as much or more a distinction to poetry as an award to my writing.
One last point before putting an end to my words. I am the first person born in Asturias to receive one of the Prince of Asturias Awards. Owing to that circumstance, I may be forgiven for making a specific reference to Asturias, a land that one day long ago, sixty years ago now, I first saw as a compendium and image of the whole earth. If the fact of having been born here, in this city, in Oviedo, has significance for me, it is because it was in fact the world that came to me precisely in this place, materializing before my astonished infant eyes as an unprecedented and magical apparition. Here in Asturias, I first saw all the wonders of the universe that are within our reach: mountains and rivers, the sea, animals and plants, the sky and the rain –especially the rain–. Here I discovered the meaning of love, even more valuable when its light stood out against the sombre background of misery and hatred. Here I became acquainted with not only the beauty of the earth, but also the great human virtues: the solidarity, selflessness, generosity and dedication of men determined to fight for justice and freedom.
Everything I saw and lived later, in my adulthood, never ceased to be a mere representation of that first, striking presence: the virginal appearance of the world that was indelibly etched in my spirit as an inevitable reference to understand the totality of things and events which life was to confront me with later.
From there, from that past time that is now only memory, much of my poetry is made. That is why I think that the poet receiving the award on this occasion owes as much to Asturias as the man who wrote his verses.
For everything, and to everyone, thank you very much.
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