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Palés Matos, Luis (1898–1959)

Palés Matos, Luis (1898–1959)

Luis Palés Matos (b. 20 March 1898; d. 23 February 1959), Puerto Rican poet, journalist, and essayist. Founding figure of the negrista movement and one of its most important exponents within the wider Hispanic Caribbean, Palés Matos is perhaps Puerto Rico's most significant modern poet. He was born in Guayama, the son of poets. A precocious talent, he published his first book of verse, Azaleas (1915), under the influence of the romantics, symbolists, and modernistas. In his early twenties he served as director of the newspaper El Pueblo (1919–1920), and he later became a regular contributor to the newspapers El Imparcial, El Mundo, and La Democracia, and journals such as La Semana and Puerto Rico Ilustrado. In 1921 he joined José I. de Diego Padró in inaugurating the short-lived diepalismo movement (a term formed from the initial syllables of their patronymics). Its nonconformist insistence on the search for novelty, the need for insular aesthetic renewal, and highlighting of onomatopoeic and musical effects as key elements of poetry were, despite diepalismo's brief moment, suggestive of things to come. In 1918 and 1926 Palés published the first examples of his negrista poetry, which culminated in Tuntún de pasa y grifería: Poemas afroantillanos (1937). The embodiment of a mestizo middle class's more congregationally inclusive vision of a defining national ethos, this collection reflected an important shift of emphasis in island cultural politics. It pointed to the inevitably syncretic character of Puerto Rican life. Persisting elements of a conventional exoticism and an objectionable racial stereotyping notwithstanding, Palés's Afro-Antillean poems challenged a reigning Hispanophilic disregard of the African ancestor. Palés's metaphorical, thematic, lexical, historical, and powerfully rhythmic invocation of that neglected legacy dramatized its importance and his conviction that "The Antillean is a Spaniard with the manner of a mulatto and the soul of a black." By the 1950s the poet's central image of a "mulatta antilla" (mulatto Antilles) had itself become ideologically dominant and Palés was generally regarded as the island's unofficial "national poet." In his later years Palés's poetry, included in Poesía, 1915–1956 (3d ed., 1968), turned increasingly inward and metaphysical and assumed a less celebratory, more skeptical and intimate tone of existential anguish. Other collections of his works include Obras, 1914–1959, 2 vols. (1984), and Poesía completa y prosa selecta (1978). Lesser-known works include the unpublished poems of "El palacio en sombras," written in 1919–1920, and "Canciones de la vida media," written between 1922 and 1925, and the novel Litoral: Reseña de una vida inútil, an unfinished work published serially in newspapers, mostly in 1949 and 1951.

See alsoLiterature: Spanish America; Négritude; Puerto Rico.


G. R. Courthard, Race and Color in Caribbean Literature (1962).

Josefina Rivera De Álvarez, "Luis Palés Matos (1898–1959)," in Diccionario de literatura puertorriqueña, vol. 2, pt. 2, 2d ed. (1974).

José Luis Méndez, Para una sociología de la literatura puertorriqueña (1982), esp. pp. 119-127.

Arcadio Díaz Quiñones, El almuerzo en la hierba (Llorens Torres, Palés Matos, René Marqués) (1982), esp. pp. 73-129.

Aníbal González-Pérez, "Luis Palés Matos (1898–1959)," in Latin American Writers, vol. 2, edited by Carlos A. Solé (1989).

Additional Bibliography

López-Baralt, Mercedes. El barco en la botella: La poesía de Luis Palés Matos. San Juan, PR: Editorial Plaza Mayor, 1997.

Marzán, Julio. The Numinous Site: The Poetry of Luis Palés Matos. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

                                         Roberto MÁrquez

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