Gustavo Adolfo Domínguez Bastida, better known as Bécquer, (February 17, 1836 – December 22, 1870) was a Spanish writer of poetry and short stories, now considered one of the most important figures in Spanish literature. He adopted the alias of Bécquer to do as earlier his brother Valeriano Bécquer, a painter, had done. He was associated with the post-romanticism movement and wrote while realism was enjoying success in Spain. He was moderately well known during his life, but it was after his death that most of his works were published.
His best known works are the Rhymes and the Legends, usually published together as Rimas y leyendas. These poems and tales are essential to the study of Spanish literature and common reading for high-school students in Spanish-speaking countries.
His work approached the traditional poetry and themes in a modern way, and is considered the founder of modern Spanish lyricism.
Born in Seville, Bécquer was left an orphan at an early age. He was born with the last name of Domínguez Bastida, but he chose his Flemish father's second last name of Bécquer. He was educated by his godmother, studied at San Telmo's School (he was going to be a sailor, but school was closed because of funds), then he became a pupil at Cabral-Bejarano's Painting Studio. After that – at the age of eighteen – he drifted to Madrid in 1854, where he obtained a small post in the civil service due to a letter given by his uncle Joaquín. He was dismissed for carelessness, became an incorrigible Bohemian, and earned a precarious living by translating foreign novels, he worked as a journalist in several newspapers including El Contemporáneo and La Ilustración de Madrid. He was also "Censor de Novelas" – a government post – during the González-Bravo administration.
He died in great poverty in Madrid of pneumonia disease with some liver complications (the story of tuberculosis is a lie) at age 34. His works were published posthumously by his friends in 1873. In such prose tales as El Rayo de Luna, "El beso", "La Rosa de Pasión", Bécquer is manifestly influenced by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and as a poet he has analogies with Heine. He dwells in a fairyland of his own, crooning a weird elfin music which has no parallel in Spanish; his work is unfinished and unequal, but it is singularly free from the rhetoric characteristic of his native Andalusia, and its lyrical ardour is of a beautiful sweetness and sincerity. He also wrote in an epistolary style: "Cartas desde mi Celda" – written during his travels to Veruela's Monastery – or "La Mujer de Piedra" or little theatre plays "La novia y el pantalón". It is not so known he was an excellent graphic artist. Most of his work concentrated on and comprised of spontaneity of love, and the solitude of nature.
This book was composed after his death from many sources, the primary one hand-written by Bécquer himself, The sparrows' book. Birds are a motif that shows up frequently in Bécquer's canon, like in "Rima LIII" (Rhyme 53), where swallows appear as a sign of the end to a passionate relationship.
In Rhymes (Rhyme 21) he wrote one of the most famous poems in the Spanish language. The poem can be read as a response to a lover who asked what was poetry:
A rough translation into English reads:
The Legends are a variety of romantic tales. As the name implies, most have a legendary tone. Some depict supernatural and semi-religious (Christian) events, like The mount of the souls, The green eyes, The rose of the Passion (a blood libel) and The miserere (a religious song). Others cover more or less normal events from a romantic view, like The moonlight ray and Three dates.
He also wrote some narrative pieces in prose, "Narraciones", which are loaded with imagination and implausibility, such as "Memorias de un Pavo" (Memoirs of a Turkey) whereas, as the title implies, he describes the trip of a turkey from its home farm to the city, and its purchase to be eaten, when its writings are discovered inside the already cooked body.