Porfirio Barba Jacob
(Colombia, 1883–1942)   
Porfirio Barba Jacob

Born in Antioquia, Miguel Ángel Osorio, his real name, died in Mexico, where he had lived most of his restless, tormented and bohemian life. As a young man he was recruited by the government to fight in Colombia’s last civil war and then worked briefly as a teacher. After this he left the country, returning only once, almost three decades later. He traveled widely, from Lima to New York, but mostly in Central America. Famous for his poems published in reviews and newspapers, but working as a journalist and founder of short-lived newspapers, schools and even universities, Barba Jacob was chased from cities and countries for his anti-authoritarian writings. Ironically, on other occasions, he accepted paid work praising those same factions who had outlawed him.

Porfirio Barba Jacob is the third and definitive of the pen names under which Osorio published his poems; he adopted it supposedly to evade the firing squad. He identified himself with Ahasverus, the wandering Jew, though in fact he led the wandering life of a poéte maudit, a homosexual bohemian. He could not stay put in one place, sometimes for compelling financial reasons, but mostly because of his overwrought personality. Ghosts, which he once humorously described as “plumed serpents, elephants with spectacles and mice with glasses”, haunted his nights.

When he was three months old, his father and mother left him with his paternal grandparents who raised him with the freedom to happily roam his beloved countryside. He particularly loved his grandmother and her death was one of the reason for abandoning Colombia. It was the countryside in which he grew up that inspired him to write his first, beautiful poems, and which made fleeting appearances in his later, darker work.

The poet did not receive much education, but he used to say that he had attended the Spanish American faculty of classic studies (the civil war campaign), and that he had also studied in the “Real University of the World.” During his lifetime, while he had published less than a hundred of his poems himself, admirers brought out selections of his work against his will. Curiously, he used to say that he did not want to ‘kill’ his poems by putting them in a book.

To define his poetry he said he had in him “classic, romantic and symbolist blood”, and he considered himself “…just a poet who has composed spiritual tragedies in the form of a refined art. The capacity to express human pain justly, soberly and musically, the perfection of the verse… interest me much more than the turbulence of history”.

Barba Jacob is perhaps Colombia’s best-known poet, but critics have accused him of a “gloomy anarchy of thought and conduct”, and of being wordy, plaintive and anachronistic because of his use of quaint and archaic words; they have also said that instead of being an act of rebellion, his bohemian life became one of passive conformity.

But his defenders admire his abandonment to passion, his lyrical raptures, his penetration into the darkest aspects of human pain, his brave attitude of remaining open keeping his sexual orientation while living in a puritanical society, and, above all, his artistry: the musical quality of his poems and, being a perfectionist who kept revising, their reflexive, beautiful, symmetry: the lustrous, burnished surface hiding the smoldering fervor behind them.

© Nicolás Suescún

La tristeza del camino, 1906.
Campiña Florida, Barranquilla, Colombia, 1907.
Canciones y Elegías, México, 1933.
Rosas Negras, Imprenta Electra, G.M. Stabler, Managua, 1933. ISBN 8475752810.
La canción de la vida profunda y otros poemas, J.B. Jaramillo Meza (ed.), Manizalez, 1937.
El corazón iluminado, Biblioteca Popular de Cultura Colombiana, vol.40, Bogotá, 1942.
Poemas intemporales, Cooperativa Talleres Gráficos de la Nación, México D.F., 1943.
Antorchas contra el viento, Bogotá, Colombia, 1944
Poemas, Procultura, Bogotá, 1985.
Antología, Editorial Panamericana, Bogotá, 1994. ISBN 9583001686.
Obras completas, Ediciones Académicas, Medellín, Colombia, 1962.<p>

El combate de la ciudadela, 1913.

El terremoto del Salvador, 1917.

In Spanish
Page Los-poetas.com: Biography and nine poems
A Plena Voz: Short biography and poems
Page Poems in Spanish: Poems
Page Poéticas: Bibliography and poems http://www.poeticas.com.ar/Directorio/Poetas_miembros/Porfirio_Barba_Jacob.html
Rabodeaji.com: Interview by Neftalí Beltrán for Noticia de Colombia http://www.rabodeaji.com/No-5/entrevista/default.htm
Palabra Virtual: poems http://palabravirtual.com/index.php?ir=crit.php&wid=53&show=poemas&p=Porfirio+Barba+Jacob

Page of the University of Mexico: Biography http://www.udem.edu.mx/agencia/historia/personajes/barba/


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