Words Over Water Greguerías


Ramón Gómez de la Serna

Alberto Ríos        All work ©2006 by Alberto Ríos


     Ramón Gómez de la Serna y Puig (1888-1963), born in Madrid, was a Spanish writer, dramatist, and avant-garde provocateur.  He is especially well known for developing a poetic form called the "Greguería," which he defined as
metaphor + humor.  In practice, it encompasses the breadth of thought expressed from the epigraph and aphorism in literature to the one-liner in comedy, with the overarching requirement that it be as short as possible--hence its qualification, at its best, for the poetic canon. 
     The form is well within the Spanish literature tradition, quite specifically in that it blurs the line between high seriousness and curious humor, often in the form of an epiphany based on a very simple association or sudden understanding.  The humor is often, quite simply, the human reaction that comes from making a connection, which can't help but feel good to the reader, even as the situation being rendered may be bleak. 
     A very good example--my favorite--of one of Gómez de la Serna's greguerías, written in Spanish, goes like this:
The old sailor on his deathbed asked for a mirror, that he might look at the sea one last time.  The humor--a curious word in this instance, since the sailor is dying--comes from our understanding of how an old sailor looking in mirror might be a glimpse at the sea itself, an homage to a life lived in that difficult circumstance.  It is an epiphany for the reader--a sudden connection, an aha! moment, even as it is a dire moment for the old sailor.  This is the essence of so much Spanish literature, seeing the two parts of something so clearly and so equally, tragedy and comedy reconciled in a single instant.
     Gómez de la Serna, often called simple Ramón, and his works called
ramonismos, published over 90 works across the literary genres.  He was in counterposition to the Surrealists, and formed another important literary front in the years between the World Wars.  His work is finding increasing, rather than decreasing, popularity, even though it is sometimes sadly misinterpreted--a book of his was published, for example, in this country under the title "Aphorisms," even as the introduction tried so valiantly and for so many pages to show how the form, which might more accurately be translated as "discoveries," were not aphorisms, which slighted and even denigrated the work of the greguería.
     In 1933, Ramón Gómez de la Serna was in invited to Buenos Aires, where he stayed during the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing Franco regime.  Ramón died in Argentina in 1963.
     For examples of contemporary greguerías, see my work on water imagery, the Words Over Water project, and the greguerías about water that I wrote with Ramón in mind.
     A quick search of the Internet will yield many sources of more information.

--Alberto Ríos

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