José Hernández

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José Hernández

The Argentine poet José Hernández (1834-1886) was an active social force during the period of consolidation of the Argentine nation. He is best known for his classic gaucho epic, "Martín Fierro."

José Hernández was born on Nov. 10, 1834, on a ranch not far from Buenos Aires. His family was engaged in cattle raising, and various difficulties prevented him from obtaining any sort of formal education. Political events of the mid-19th century in Argentina—most directly the civil wars then being fought—dictated his being sent to live with relatives in Brazil. He eventually returned to Argentina and came to know and sympathize with the life and tribulations of the gauchos of the plains, who were frequently little more than pawns in the raging struggles for political dominance in the young nation.

By 1863 Hernández had settled in Buenos Aires and, after experimenting with several professions, had secured a job as a journalist with the paper El Argentino. Six years later he founded the newspaper Río de la Plata, but it was soon shut down by order of his political adversary, the celebrated Argentine author Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who was then serving as the nation's president.

During these difficult years Hernández not only had formed strong sympathies for the gauchos' cause but had also developed profound scorn for those Europeanized fellow countrymen who viewed the gaucho as a subject unworthy of serious literary treatment and believed he could serve only as the model for quaint and picturesque caricatures.

"Martín Fierro"

Encouraged by a friend to write a "fundamental" gaucho poem, Hernández began composing in his Buenos Aires hotel room the verses of the first part of the long epic poem he would entitle Martín Fierro. In the 2,325 lines of the poem, which first saw print in 1872, he succeeded in capturing the authentic speech of the gaucho and in fashioning with his dominant sestinas and quatrains an eloquent attack on the social and political attitudes he opposed.

At the outset of the epic, the gaucho Martín Fierro announces that he will sing the song of his sorrows and with that song and the accompaniment of his guitar will seek consolation. There is an acute tone of social protest in Fierro's account of how the good old days had changed and how the government had come to abuse and cheat the gauchos it recruited for the Indian wars. Fierro becomes an outlaw, unites with a fellow gaucho, Cruz, and eventually goes off to live with the Indians, thus rejecting the society of civilized man.

The success of the first part of Martín Fierro was resounding. It was read in the cities and recited and enjoyed by the gauchos themselves on their ranches and around the country store-taverns, where they gathered for diversion. The second part, La vuelta de Martin Fierro (1879), is twice the length of the original poem and recounts Fierro's return to civilization, his search for his lost wife and sons, and further injustices perpetrated by the government. In the end, Fierro rides off aimlessly, with no future, but once more embracing society.

Under a new administration Hernández became a senator, serving in the Congress in Buenos Aires. He held this office until his death, which occurred on Oct. 21, 1886, as the result of a heart attack.

Further Reading

Two studies of Hernández in English are of special note: Henry Alfred Holmes, Martin Fierro: An Epic of the Argentine (1923), and Walter Owen's introduction to his translation of Hernández's The Gaucho Martin Fierro (1936). See also Enrique Anderson-Imbert, Spanish-American Literature: A History (1954; trans. 1963; 2d ed., 2 vols., 1969).

Additional Sources

Albarracín-Sarmiento, Carlos, Estructura del Martín Fierro, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1981.

Amaral, Anselmo F., As origens do gaúcho na temática de Martin Fierro: ensaio crítico, Porto Alegre: Martins Livreiro Editor, 1988.

Azeves, Angel Héctor, José Hernández, el civilizador, La Plata, Argentina: Departamento de Historia, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, 1986.

Barski, León., Vigencia del "Martín Fierro", Buenos Aires: Editorial Boedo, 1977 or 1978.

Borges, Jorge Luis, El "Martín Fierro," Madrid: Alianza; Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1983.

Cárdenas de Monner Sans, María Inés, Martín Fierro y la conciencia nacional, Buenos Aires: Editorial La Pléyade, 1977.

Chávez, Fermín, La vuelta de José Hernández del federalismo a la república libera, Buenos Aires, Ediciones Theoria, 1973.

Chiappini, Julio O., Borges y José Hernández, Rosario, Prov. Santa Fe, República Argentina: Zeus Editora, 1994.

Corro, Gaspar Pío del, Facundo y Fierro; la proscripción de los héroes, Buenos Aires: Ediciones Castaäneda, 1977.

Corte, JoséC., De Hernández y de Lugones: breviario conmemorativo, Santa Fe, Argentina: Librería y Editorial Castellví, 1975.

Dellepiane, Angela B., Concordancias del poema Martín Fierro, Buenos Aires: Academia Argentina de Letras, 1995.

Di Candia, Alcides J., Ayudando a leer el Martín Fierro, Montevideo: Comisió n Nacional de Homenaje del Sesquicentenario de los Hechos Históricos de 1825, 1975.

Díaz Araujo, Enrique, La política de Fierro; José Hernández ida y vuelt, Buenos Aires, Ediciones La Bastilla, 1972.

Fernández Latour de Botas, Olga, Prehistoria de Martín Fierro, Buenos Aires: Librería Editorial Platero, 1977.

Galarza, Pedro Ignacio, Presencia de la mujer en el Martín Fierr, Catamarca Argentina, Dirección General de Cultura, 1970.

Gálvez, Manuel, José Hernánde, Buenos Aires, Editorial Huemul, 1964.

Gandía, Enrique de, José Hernández: sus ideas políticas, Buenos Aires: Ediciones Depalma, 1985.

Giménez Vega, Elías S., Hernandismo y martinfierrismo (geopolítica del Martín Fierro), Buenos Aires: Plus Ultra, 1975.

González Lanuza, Eduardo, Temas del "Martín Fierro," Buenos Aires: Academia Argentina de Letras, 1981.

Haboba Tobal, Víctor J., Martín Fierro (José Hernández): crítica literaria, Montevideo: Librería Editorial Ciencias, 1978 or 1979.

Halperín Donghi, Tulio, José Hernández y la formulación de una ideología rural en la Argentina, Montevideo: Departamento de Historia Americana, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias, 1985?

Halperín Donghi, Tulio, José Hernández y sus mundos, Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana: Instituto Torcuato di Tella, 1985.

Isaacson, José, Encuentro político con José Hernández: notas y digresiones, Buenos Aires: Ediciones Marymar, 1986.

José Hernández (estudios reunidos en conmemoración del centenario de El gaucho Martín Fierro) 1872-197, La Plata, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación, 1973.

Leumann, Borges, Martínez Estrada: Martín Fierro y su crítica, antología, Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1980.

Lugones, Leopoldo, El payado, Buenos Aires, Otero Impresores, 1916.

Lugones, Leopoldo, El payador y antología de poesía y prosa, Caracas, Venezuela: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1979.

Martín Fierro: cien aänos de crítica, Buenos Aires: Editorial Plus Ultra, 1986.

Martín Fierro en su centenari, Washington, D.C.: Embajada de la República Argentina en los Estados Unidos de América, 1973.

Martínez Estrada, Ezequiel, Muerte y transfiguración de Martín Fierro: ensayo de interpretación de la vida argentina, Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1983.

Neyra, Juan Carlos., Introducción criolla al Martín Fierro, Buenos Aires: Librería Huemul, 1979.

Paso, Leonardo, La idea del cambio social, Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1993.

Paz, Carlos, b. 1886., Hernández y Fierro contra la oligarquía, Buenos Aires?: Ediciones del Mirador, 1974?

Rela, Walter, De Martín Fierro a D. José Hernández, Montevideo: Editorial Ciencias, 1979.

Sansone de Martínez, Eneida, La poesía gauchesca en Martín Fierro, Montevideo, Uruaguay: Ediciones de la Casa del Estudiante, 1981.

Scroggins, Daniel C., A concordance of Josée Hernández' Martín Fierro, Columbia University of Missouri Press, 1971.

Catalogue of Martín Fierro materials in the University of Texas Library, Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1972, c1973.

Verdugo, Iber, Teoría aplicada del estudio literario: análisis del Martín Fierro, México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1980. □