The First Revolutionary Years
When the revolution erupted, Vitier was one of the intellectuals who supported it most fiercely. He began embracing the revolution’s social ideas from a non-Marxist perspective rooted in Catholic liberation theology. Whereas in Lo cubano en la poesia, Vitier gave the “teleologia insular” a cultural connotation, once the revolution was in place, “lo cubano” (Cubanness) itself became political. From then onward, to be Cuban meant to be revolutionary, and this is how Vitier saw Lezama:
El empeno fundamental de Marti habia consistido en encarnar la poesia en la historia. Lezama en su vision de las eras imaginarias parece que quiere desencarnar la historia en la poesia. . . . Si en Marti el acto es el fecundador de la expresion, del verbo, de la imagen . . . en Lezama la imagen es la matriz de lo analogico, totalizadora de la realidad como verbo. Considerados separada- mente, ambos mundos parece que se excluyen o contradicen, pero si los vemos dialecticamente . . . si comprendemos que el mundo verbal de Lezama corresponde a la frustracion historica del mundo de Marti . . . se nos hace mas evidente una relacion mas profunda. A esa luz la obra de Lezama resulta una respuesta antifonal a la obra de Marti, el puente que lleva su ausencia a la otra orilla, mientras que por otros caminos los heroes y los hechos se dirigian al punto de la nueva convergencia de la imagen y la historia, de la nueva encarnacion de la poesia en el acto.
[Marti’s fundamental effort was to incarnate poetry in history. Lezama, in his vision of imaginary eras, seems to wish to disincar- nate history in poetry. . . . If in Marti the act is the progenitor of expression, of the word, of the image . . . in Lezama the image is the womb of the analogical, totalizing reality as the word. Considered separately both worlds seem to exclude or contradict each other, but if we consider them dialectically . . . if we understand that Lezama’s verbal world corresponds to the historical frustration of Marti’s world . . . a deeper relationship becomes evident. In this light, Lezama’s work appears to be an antiphonal response to that of Marti, the bridge carrying its absence to the other shore, while on other roads heroes and deeds head for the new point of convergence of the image and history, the new incarnation of poetry in the act.] (Vitier 2001, 345)
According to Vitier, Lezama followed Marti’s genealogy because for both authors poetry was as much a revolutionary act as a national allegory of redemption. That is, for Marti, poetry compensated for a failed revolution, whereas for Lezama the image could create an act. Paradoxically, while this interpretation would align Lezama with the cultural policies of the seventies, it also went against him. A poet who claimed that art could create a reality was immediately considered as an idealist for the seventies social poets. Revolutionary art could only exist on the basis of a materialist view of the world, which Lezama lacked.
Even Fernandez Retamar, who had praised Origenes for the transcendental nature of its poetics, began reading Lezama during the revolution as a messianic poet who had foreseen the 1953 Moncada barracks attack that would lead to the events of 1959:
Innecesario subrayar la fecha: 1953. Cuando Cuba habia sido metida hasta el cuello en la sentina descrita por Rodriguez Feo, Lezama, que nada tenia de poeta puro y muchisimo de poeta absoluto, llegando a serlo en una dimension que entre nosotros solo sobrepaso Marti, lanzo a proposito de este, en su centenario una profecia que pocos meses, invocandose tambien a Marti, intentaria a fondo encarnar en la historia.
[No need to underscore the date: 1953. When Cuba was up to its neck in the cesspool described by Rodriguez Feo, Lezama, who was in no way a pure poet and in many ways an absolute poet, to a degree that among us only Marti surpassed, issued on the centennial of the latter’s birth, also invoking Marti, a prophecy that in a few months would attempt to fully incarnate history.] (Fernandez Retamar 1994, 320)
In sum, whereas before the Revolution, critics had emphasized the cultural and ontological nature of Lezama’s poetry, in the early sixties they ascribed a political meaning to it.