Rafael Cadenas receiving the Cervantes Prize on April 24, 2023 at the Alcala de Henares University, SPAIN. (Credit: Andrés Ballesteros/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)rec
Rafael Cadenas receiving the Cervantes Prize on April 24, 2023 at the Alcala de Henares University, SPAIN. (Credit: Andrés Ballesteros/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas receives Cervantes Prize 2022

In his speech, the poet, who at 93 years of age traveled to Spain to collect the award, called for the renewal of the pillars of democracy


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Venezuelan poet Rafael Cadenas, 93, traveled this week from Venezuela to Alcalá de Henares (Spain) to collect the Cervantes 2022 award, the highest recognition in Spanish literature.

In the traditional speech to collect the award from King Felipe VI at the University of Alcalá de Henares, Cadenas took the opportunity to launch a strong political speech, in which he defended the urgent need to reform democracy and warned of the danger of nationalism and the decline of language. 

"It is known that nationalisms, ideologies and creeds divide human beings, but our world, thanks to the development of communication, should be cosmopolitan," said Cadenas, as quoted in RTVE. "Nationalism, according to Einstein, is the measles of humanity. Seneca was cosmopolitan, Goethe too."

Cadenas also alluded to the "very battered" state of the Spanish language, due in part to English translations in television and media. "The current political chaos is related to the decadence of language and we could achieve some improvement if we started with the verbal," he said, quoting George Orwell, of whom he is a deep admirer.

"I think the time may have come to review the foundations of the whole culture," he claimed. And this revision should also apply to democracy. "It is urgent to defend it from everything that besets it, and for that it is necessary to recreate it. That task falls to education," Cadenas said. "Democrats must call loudly for its renewal. It must be internalized, become transparent, give primacy to social issues, abolishing poverty and supporting culture."

A left-wing militant since his youth, Cadenas (Barquisimeto, 1930) is the author of well-known poems such as "Derrota" (Defeat), written in 1963. The poem expresses the sorrow felt by a young idealist who is forced to accept the failure of the revolution in Venezuela.


"I who have never had a trade
who before any competitor have felt weak
who have lost the best qualifications for life
who as soon as I arrive at a place already want to leave (thinking that moving is a solution)
who have been denied in advance and scoffed at by the fitter
who lean on walls so as not to fall down
who am an object of laughter to myself
who believed my father was eternal
who have been humiliated by professors of literature
who asked one day what I could do to help and the answer was a guffaw
who will never be able to set up a home, nor be brilliant nor triumph in life
who have been deserted by many people because I hardly speak
who am ashamed of acts I didn’t commit
who have nearly started running down the street
who have lost a center I never had
who have become a laughing stock for many because I live in limbo
who will never find anyone to put up with me
who was passed over in favor of people more wretched than me
who will go on like this all my life and next year will be derided many times more in my ridiculous ambition
who am tired of receiving advice from others more lethargic than me («You’re very slow, get a move on, wake up»)
who will never be able to travel to India
who have received favors without giving anything in return
who go from one side of the city to another like a feather
who let others sway me
who have no personality and don’t want one
who keep a lid all day on my rebellion
who haven’t gone to join the guerrillas
who have done nothing for my people
who don’t belong to the FALN and despair over all these things and others it would take forever to enumerate
who can’t get out of my prison
who have been discharged everywhere because I’m useless
who in reality haven’t succeeded in getting married or going to Paris or having one serene day.
who refuse to recognize facts
who always slobber over my story
who was born an imbecile and worse than an imbecile
who lost the thread of the argument that was being worked out in me and haven’t been able to find in again
who don’t cry when I feel like it
who arrive late for everything
who have been ruined by all those marches and countermarches
who long for perfect immobility and impeccable haste
who am not what I am nor what I’m not
who in spite of all am satanically proud although at certain times I’ve been humble enough to match stones
who have lived fifteen years in the same circle
who thought I was predestinated for something unusual and have achieved nothing
who will never wear a tie
who can’t find my body
who have perceived my falsity in flashes and haven’t been able to knock myself down, sweep all away and create from my indolence, my floating and my straying a new freshness, and obstinately commit suicide within hand’s reach
I will pick myself up more ridiculous than ever to go on mocking others and myself till judgment day."


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