Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

The Mystical Imprint in the Poetry of Unamuno

Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (2017), 94, (7), 715–730.

Abstract

Unamuno’s interest in the writings of Christian mystics is attested by his references to a large number of them in his philosophical essays, not only well-known Spanish mystics but also a number of Central European ones. Unamuno’s quasipantheism – apparent at times in Del sentimiento trágico de la vida (1912), among other works – is almost certainly derived from the mystics, but it is in his poetry that his incursions into the mystical tradition have left their deepest imprint. This essay seeks to establish the important influence of mysticism on Unamuno by examining a number of themes frequent among mystical writers that make repeated appearances in his poetry: the longing for gnostic insight, the experience of states of barrenness, the use of metaphors such as light/darkness or presence/absence, the notion of nothingness, the problem of ineffability, and the ever-present danger of the loss of individuality.

Las abundantes referencias a diversos místicos cristianos que hallamos en los ensayos filosóficos de Unamuno, no solo españoles sino también centro-europeos, delatan su interés en los escritos del misticismo. El cuasi-panteísmo de Unamuno, detectable en Del sentimiento trágico de la vida (1912), entre otros lugares, parece enteramente derivado de la tradición mística, pero es sobre todo en su poesía donde mejor se aprecia su predilección por los escritos místicos. El presente trabajo se propone rastrear la influencia del misticismo mediante el análisis de diversos temas frecuentes en la mística cristiana y que reaparecen en la poesía unamuniana: el anhelo de llegar a la comprensión gnóstica; la experiencia de estados de aridez espiritual; el uso de metáforas tales como luz/sombra o presencia/ausencia; la noción de la nada; el problema de la inefabilidad; y la amenaza de la pérdida de la autoconciencia.

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Berdyaev, Nikolai, 1949. The Divine and the Human (London: Geoffrey Bles). The Divine and the Human Google Scholar

Deissmann, Adolf, 1912. Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History (London: Hodder & Stoughton). Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History Google Scholar

Hugel, Friedrich von, 1908. The Mystical Element of Religion as Studied in St Catherine of Genoa and her Friends. 2 vols (London: Dent). The Mystical Element of Religion as Studied in St Catherine of Genoa and her Friends Google Scholar

Ilie, Paul, 1967. Unamuno. An Existential View of Self and Society (Madison, WI, and London: University of Wisconsin Press). Unamuno. An Existential View of Self and Society Google Scholar

James, William, 1985. The Varieties of Religious Experience (London: Penguin). The Varieties of Religious Experience Google Scholar

Longhurst, C. A., 2016. ‘Language and Creativity in the Poetry of Unamuno’, Forum for Modern Language Studies, 52.1: 56–59. Language and Creativity in the Poetry of Unamuno Forum for Modern Language Studies 52.1 56 59 Google Scholar

Macquarrie, John, 2005. Two Worlds Are Ours (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press). Two Worlds Are Ours Google Scholar

Orringer, Nelson, 1985. Unamuno y los protestantes liberals (Madrid: Gredos). Unamuno y los protestantes liberals Google Scholar

Orringer, Nelson, 2005. ‘Introduction’, in Miguel de Unamuno, Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos y Tratado del amor de Dios (Madrid: Tecnos). Introduction Del sentimiento trágico de la vida en los hombres y en los pueblos y Tratado del amor de Dios Google Scholar

Pfleiderer, Otto, 1905. Die Entstehung der Christentums (Munich: Lehmann). Die Entstehung der Christentums Google Scholar

Ribbans, Geoffrey, 1991. ‘Unamuno in England: Four Unpublished Articles (1909)’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (Liverpool), 68.3: 383–94 (Part I) and 68.4: 479–88 (Part II). Unamuno in England: Four Unpublished Articles (1909) Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 68.3 383 94 Google Scholar

Santa Teresa de Jesús, 1909. El castillo interior o las moradas (Madrid: Clásicos Castellanos). El castillo interior o las moradas Google Scholar

Sinclair, Alison, 1999. ‘Boundaries and Black Holes: The Physics of Personality and Representation in Unamuno’, in A Further Range. Studies in Modern Spanish Literature from Galdós to Unamuno (Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press), pp. 238–57. Boundaries and Black Holes: The Physics of Personality and Representation in Unamuno A Further Range. Studies in Modern Spanish Literature from Galdós to Unamuno 238 57 Google Scholar

St John of the Cross, 1972. The Poems of St John of the Cross, ed. Willis Barnstone (New York: New Directions). The Poems of St John of the Cross Google Scholar

Tasende, Mercedes, y Luis T. González del Valle, 1996. ‘La mística española: un ensayo rescatado de Unamuno’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies (Glasgow), 73.1: 5–28. La mística española: un ensayo rescatado de Unamuno Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 73.1 5 28 Google Scholar

Unamuno, Miguel de, 1995–2009. Obras completas. Edición de Ricardo Senabre. 10 vols (Madrid: Biblioteca Castro). Obras completas Google Scholar

Valdés, M. J., y M. E. Valdés, 1973. An Unamuno Source Book (Toronto: University of Toronto Press). An Unamuno Source Book Google Scholar

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Author details

Longhurst, C. A.