Aleixandre, Vicente

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.
  • Date of entry: May-23-2017
  • Last revised: May-23-2017


"Blood" ("La Sangre") is a poem in Spanish by Vincente Aleixandre, a member of the Spanish intellectual group called "The Generation of '27" and the 1977 Noble Laureate for Literature. It first appeared in "En Un Vasto Dominio", a collection published in Madrid in 1962, consisting, in part, of "a series of poems on parts of the body." (page 264). The present volume is a bilingual edition with the Spanish text on the left page and facing English translations by 15 different translators (including Willis Barnstone, Robert Bly and W. S. Merwin) on the right. The editor, Lewis Hyde, is a poet, translator and teacher of creative writing. He has also furnished an introduction to Aleixandre's work and the selections in this volume in particular, based in part on his personal acquaintance with the poet. Tomás O'Leary translated this poem, the only translation of his in the book.  

"Blood" has no formal elements or rhyme scheme. In a curiously casual voice, it describes the cycle (a word never used in this poem) that the blood makes in its journey from oxygenation in the lungs to the heart - nor are these organs mentioned by name in the Spanish text of the poem - and thence to all the near and remote cells of the body in order to deliver this beneficial oxygen. Once the blood has delivered its cargo, it completes the cycle by returning as de-oxygenated venous blood to the heart, the origin of the cycle, only to begin it, and the sustenance of life, anew.


Aleixandre was fascinated by anatomy and especially blood. He begins his poem on the arterial side with the beat of the heart pushing the blood to the extremities, all the way down to the feet,  

"searching, giving itself
all down the arms,
right out to the fingertips;
down through the legs
until it almost touches the earth,"  

until it must return as de-oxygenated blood.  

Aleixandre invests the blood of this physiologic cycle with anthropomorphic intentions: searching ("indagando"), refreshing ("refrescando") and sharing ("repartiendo") its cargo of "human knowledge."  As a messenger of nutrients and goodness, it transports youth ("juventud", and renewal (the word "new", Spanish "nuev*", occurs four times in the poem). As it approaches its final lines, "Sangre", already a heavily symbolic poem, not so subtly likens the return of the de-oxygenated blood to the refreshing, renewing source of the heart to the ceremony of baptism, or, if you will, resurrection (Span ll. 38-44; Eng. ll. 38-43):

At last, searching blindly along the horizontal path
for its resting place,
the fountain, the source
of light, of life: the fresh
well where it will wash its dark tunic
and rise up new  

I would have translated the final "new" as "anew" to correspond with "de nuevo"; it also fits the symbolism of renewal better, as it does in Spanish. Interestingly, Homer, centuries earlier, similarly used a natural liquid akin to blood - sea water - and a protective tunic (a veil given Odysseus by Ino) to tell the story of his symbolic rebirth and renewal after his literary death (the time spent with Calypso in book IV of the Odyssey). (Ref. 1)

As though saving the best for last, Aleixandre ends the poem with a Coda,  an even greater imaginative leap: from the physiology of blood at the cellular and molecular level, often describing its more mundane contribution to arm or hand or leg movement, to the higher role this substance plays in the enablement of one of the distinguishing characteristics of humans - intelligent speech:

"The truth is that sometimes, from inside the mouth, it still scatters rays
          of light
and makes
a human word."  

Indeed, one realizes as one finishes this delightfully dense poem that the "human word" the poem ends with is ... this poem.

A note on the translation. It is admirably fluid and poetic. O'Leary preserves the sense of Aleixandre's poem with occasional welcome additions of his own, e.g., "shuddering" for the more prosaic "regresa" ("returns") in Eng. l 20: "a shadow shuddering back through its tunnels,” .

"Blood" is a very poetic look at a biologic cycle we take for granted. The poet takes the raw physiologic facts of the circulatory cycle and looks at them as a poet, not as a physiologist. To the cargo of oxygen, in other words, Aleixandre adds the cargo of symbols, a cargo the words lightly carry, nourishing the reader as the oxygen in the red cells of the blood enrich the body's cellular organelles. One can only imagine Thomas Willis, who first charted blood's journeys in his 1628 De Motu Cordis, reading this poem with a nod and a smile.

It is clearly no co-incidence, that this poem, published  in 1962, is a poetic version of part of his 1977 Nobel Laureate speech:

"He stands with his feet firmly planted on the ground, but beneath the soles of his feet a mighty current gathers and is intensified, flowing through his body and finding its way out through his tongue." (Ref. 2)

It will serve readers and students of literature and medicine well and compares nicely with other works in the NYU collection, e.g., Updike's "Giving Blood" , Durcan's "Blood" ; Plath's "The Surgeon at 2 A. M." and many others in which this richly symbolic bodily fluid figures.


For readers able to read the poem in the original Spanish, there are many poetic delights that O'Leary could not possibly translate in full. Examples include "oleadas" ("waves", Span. l. 2), which reverberates with "oreada" ("breeze", Span. l. 43) - one, motion in water; the other, in air.  The diction helps re-inforce the theme of a cycle via repetition ("empuj*" (thrice), "push"; "nuev*" (four times), "new"; "carg*" (thrice), "carry"; "sombra" (twice), "shadow"; "indag*" (twice), "search"; "oscur*" (thrice), "dark"; "esper*" (twice), "hope"); and slant rhymes, like "hombr", thrice in 19 lines as either "hombre" or "hombro" ("shoulder"); and "frente", "forehead", and "fuente", "fountain".  

Also available to readers of Spanish are two possible puns involving Federico García Lorca, the Spanish playwright. The first may be a reference to his play "Bodas de Sangre", ("Marriage of Blood") suggested by the word "bodas" ("marriage") in Spanish line 11, a fairly forced metaphor for the re-union of lymph and earth at burial. The second is "yema", Spanish line 4 ("egg yolk", or any candy made from egg yolks; or the "bud" of a plant; here, "fingertips", English line 4), possibly an allusion to Lorca's play, "Yerma". Aleixandre's poem and Lorca's plays use blood as highly visible symbols and referents to human emotions. The two poets met in 1927 and were very close friends until Lorca's assassination in the Spanish Civil War.        

1.  Newton, Rick M. The Rebirth of Odysseus. GRBS 1984; 25(1): 5–20.    
2. The Nobel Prize in Literature 1977. Vicente Aleixandre. Nobel Lecture. December 12, 1977. Accessed May 10, 2017.

Primary Source

A Longing for the Light: Selected Poems of Vicente Aleixandre


Copper Canyon Press

Place Published

Port Townsend, WA


1979, 2007


Lewis Hyde

Page Count

xxi + 279