Luis Cernuda (1902–1963)
Luis Cernuda (1902–1963), a Spanish poet, did not live in Headington for very long, but while he was here wrote two poems about the area. His general biography can be found in Wikipedia.
Bill Clennell writes below about Cernuda’s time in Headington and one of his poems.
A poem about St Andrew’s churchyard
During the summer vacation of 1941, the poet Luis Cernuda (1902–1963), one of the most important Spanish writers of the twentieth century, was resident in Old Headington, renting rooms from Mrs Mattock at 1 St Andrew’s Lane (then Church Lane). At the time he was teaching in Glasgow, which he experienced as grim exile, and was found this summer place through his friendship with the family of Don Salvador de Madariaga, then living at 3 St Andrew’s Road.
His stay resulted in two poems of local interest, one about Cuckoo Lane, Vereda del Cuco, the other, Otro Cementerio, about St Andrew’s churchyard. It is the last of a group of four poems he wrote on the subject, beginning in 1935 with a translation from Hölderlin. As a scholar of English literature, he would have known works of Wordsworth on the subject, and no doubt Gray’s Elegy also.
At first Cernuda reacted with horror at the prospect of literally overlooking a graveyard (above) from his window, and exclaimed to that effect when first shown the room in company with Emilia Rauman, Don Salvador’s second wife. “Mimi, you surely wouldn’t expect me to come and live here, only to see every day and feel every night this cemetery at my feet.” This is perhaps understandable in view of the fact that a preceding poem in the group expresses a sense of alienation and despair brought on by the prospect of a municipal cemetery in Glasgow. However, in the tranquil setting of Old Headington he seems to have become reconciled to the idea, and the tone of Otro Cementerio is very different. This is a place of everyday life as well as of death, a reconciliation of the two communities, a place where children may play, instead of being excluded as they were in his Glasgow poem.
It is reproduced below in the original, with a translation, for which I am extremely grateful, by Professor Peter Dunn. I am also greatly indebted to Mr John Wainwright, of the Taylor Institution Library, who first drew my attention to the poem and the circumstances of its composition.
Tras de la iglesia, en este campo santo
Remanso te aparece verde y sosegado,
La prueba de una tierra
Toda una historia, un alma se te muestran
Behind the church, in this hallowed ground
It reveals itself as a haven, green and restful,
The proof of a place
Here an entire history and a soul are disclosed,
The house in Headington where Cernuda stayed