In the summer of 1936, when the Spanish Civil War was reaching its peak, a teenager in Catalonia, Spain, wrote a series of short poems. They tell a story of the conflict that would change the course of history.

The Spanish Civil War is often remembered as a trial of strength: the Nazi-Soviet alliance was defeated by a ragtag coalition of anti-fascists and communists—a sort of “good company” versus “bad company” scenario. But the reality is that both sides were fighting for a much more complex truth, about the role that modern technology played in society.

After the Spanish Civil War, the warring factions made a promise to one another to restore peace. The victors, the fascist Nationalists, and the liberal Republicans, agreed to grant equal rights to all non-combatants, including political prisoners, and to end the persecution of opponents. This agreement was ratified by the General Amnesty of 1939, but by then it was too late.

Miguel Hernández Gilabert was born in Orihuela, Spain, in 1910. His parents were poor, and his father kept him out of school and physically abused him for reading and writing instead of tending the family’s goats and sheep. But Hernández was set on becoming a poet, and he published his first volume of poetry, Perito en lunas (Lunar Expert), at age 23. With the help of others—notably the Catholic writer Ramón Sijé, who became his mentor—Hernández would master his craft and emerge as one of Spain’s greatest and best-loved poets. 

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Hernández, a member of the Communist Party of Spain, joined the Fifth Regiment, which was battling Generalissimo Francisco Franco and the Nationalists. He was a member of the 11th Division during the Battle of Teruel, one of the deadliest battles of the conflict, and he also campaigned for the Republicans by arranging cultural events, composing poems, and speaking to troops on the front lines.

After the Republicans surrendered in 1939, Franco’s government arrested, tried, and condemned Hernández for composing anti-Franco poetry. He was set to be killed, but due to the intervention of poet Pablo Neruda, who was the Chilean consul in Madrid at the time, his death sentence was reduced to a 30-year jail sentence. Hernández was eventually moved to an Alicante jail. He contracted pneumonia as a result of the extreme circumstances and died of typhus and TB in 1942. “Goodbye, brothers, comrades, friends: let me take my leave of the sun and the fields,” Hernández wrote on the hospital jail wall just before his death.

The following poem is from Miguel Hernández’s Selected Poems: A Bilingual Edition (University of Chicago Press, 2001), and it is reprinted with the permission of the editor, Ted Genoways, who also translated it.

To the Fallen International Soldiers in Spain

If there are men who have a soul that knows no bounds,

a brow strewn with hair from all around the world,

horizons, ships, and mountain chains, horizons, ships, and mountain chains, horizons, ships, and mountain chains,

You’re one of them if you like sand and snow.

With all their flags, the fatherlands beckoned to you.

so that your breath was full of lovely motions

You intended to satisfy the panthers’ hunger.

They fluttered furiously in defiance of their mistreatment.

With a taste of the suns and oceans of the world,

Spain beckons you since it is there that you discover who you are.

Your Majesty, you are like a tree that encompasses a whole continent.

Olive orchards will sprout around your bones.

extending their iron roots into the earth,

widely and honestly embracing mankind

With the headline: Poetry | Ode to a Patriot, this essay appears in the Summer 2022 edition (Vol. 33, No. 4) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History.

Poetry of the Spanish Civil War

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Frequently Asked Questions

How did the Spanish Civil War affect literature?

The Spanish Civil War was a time of great change for Spanish literature. It was a time of great change for the country, and great changes in literature. Q: Who invented the domino? The Domino was invented in approximately 1600 AD. The Domino was primarily used as

Which Spanish poet was killed in the Spanish Civil War?

Federico Garcia Lorca was a Spanish poet who was killed by Nationalist forces on August 18, 1936, during the Spanish Civil War. He was shot in the back of the neck and buried in a mass grave. His body was never recovered. Q: What is the difference between an elephant

What writers fought Spanish Civil War?

The Spanish Civil War was fought between the Republican faction and the Nationalist faction. While many writers did fight in this war, the most notable are George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, and James Jones. Q: What is the best way to clean a cat’s ears? A

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