On December 10, 1996, it was granted to José García Nieto the Cervantes Prize, the highest award in Hispanic literature. Officially, he was awarded the prize on April 23rd of the following year. Due to his delicate state of health, Joaquín Benito de Lucas from Talavera had to take the chair in the auditorium of the University of Alcalá de Henares for the reading of his speech.
A few words from that text give an idea of the importance that his relationship with God takes on in our Oviedo poet. He writes: "'God is here...' is the beginning of a religious song [García Nieto alludes to a beautiful Catholic text by Cindy Barrera. You can easily listen to it on You Tube]. I would sing: 'God is there...'. It's a matter of distance. I have had a simple, prayerful faith, which changes over time. But this He knows. And I hope that in my weakening His mercy, which I believe to be infinite, will show through.". To which he adds: "Thank you, Lord, for you are / still in my word; / under all my bridges / your waters pass." four verses from his collection of poems Truce (1951), which will premonitory define the last years of the vital and religious trajectory of this man of whom those who knew him, in addition to his great value of friendship and politeness, also pointed to his affirmation of hope over the dark and his uninterrupted presence of God.
Although in García Nieto's poetic production beats his faith in God, which he assimilated since he was a child in his father's house, mainly transmitted by his mother - his father died when he was six years old - and by the education given to him by the Piarists, some lyrical deliveries give him away in particular: Truce, The network, several poems by The eleventh houra large part of The suburb and various isolated compositions that, due to their religious themes, reflect this: especially those that revolve around Christmas or the Corpus Christi in Toledo.
In all of them there is an epochal flavor, extensible to other contemporary poets such as Luis López Anglada, Francisco Garfias, José Luis Prado Nogueira or Leopoldo Panero, who speak, like him, of a particular geographical territory, of the deep sense of friendship or of their closest relatives: wife and children. However, together with this group echo, generational, typical of the time in which they lived, the personal voice, and at the same time in evolution of each one, is easily recognized.
In the case of García Nieto, he is the poet who, together with formal perfection - on which so much emphasis has been placed as if his poetry had ceased to be read after 1951 - emphasizes the certainty of divine providence, the support of his life, which invades reality with its mysterious presence.
It is the one he refers to when he writes: "For you are so in everything, and I feel it, / That, more than ever, in the stillness of the day, your hands and your accent are evident." A feeling that will mark his continued lyrical activity. In fact, in The eleventh hour condenses his existential and fervent restlessness in a definitive sonnet -one of those in which he emphatically shows his deepest existential aspirations- in which he leaves a record of the mortal condition of man, saying: if being a man brings with it the encounter with death, I necessarily "demand" to meet you throughout my life.
And so he writes: "Because being a man is little and it ends / soon. To be a man is something that guesses / the look behind any cry / I demand that there be more. Tell me, my God / that there is more behind me; that there is something of mine / that has to be more for wanting it so much." That "something of mine" is his own freedom, as can be read in some composition: "You and your net, enveloping me, / Did I have / A blind sea of freedom, perchance, / To escape to? [...] And yet, free, O God, / How dark / My breast is by thy light wall, / Counting sorrows and hours, / Knowing itself in thy hand. Net, tighten! / Let thy yoke feel more this secret / Freedom that I spend and Thou treasureest!".
Living from freedom
Living from the same freedom that he places in God's hands becomes for José García Nieto an exciting game, subject to the passing of time, where love and death, fire and final snow intertwine; a game -that of his own existence- in which, as if he were a child, he knows who he trusts: his maker, the one who watches over his own steps. He writes: "How peaceful it is to think / that God watches over things; / that if we set our eyes / on the clear, deep water, / he returns our gaze / with his remorseful gaze." a game of preparation for the fact of dying, whose most important incentive is that personal and definitive encounter that will inevitably take place at some point in life and that will require the poet's total acceptance.
He is also subject to pain, from where God calls him unceasingly: "Again [...] Thou hast called me. And it is not the hour, no; but You warn me; / (...) And You call and call, and wound me, / and I ask You still, Lord, what do You want [...]. / Forgive me if I do not have You within me, / if I do not know how to love our mortal encounter, / if I am not prepared for Your coming.".
The religious thought of García Nieto is thus established, a man of faith, with no other pretensions than that of being touched by God so as not to falter in his invariable determination to discover His presence here on earth; a man who makes himself heard from his own identity, from his solitude, from his fears, through the poetic word, in order to unravel the mysteries of life, understood as a preparation for death; whose search is more for the presence of divinity in the world than for Himself.
Thus, in the aforementioned, broad initial composition of The eleventh hour condenses what is longing and repeated search of the poet, who, without the support of God, is nothing more than ruin, abdication, tower without foundation, cloud unraveling, impossible coal towards another fire, drumming of letters in a cracked leather...; however, with his support, everything makes sense: "Tell me that You are there, Lord; that within / my love of things You hide, / and that You will appear one day full / of that same love already transfigured / in love for You, already Yours... [...] Name me, / to know that it is still time! [...]. I am the man, the man, your hope, / the clay that you left in the mystery".
It is worthwhile to make a slight incursion into the best known and most inspired sonnet of his poetic trajectory, the one entitled The game. A crucial poem, in which, imagining his death approaching, García Nieto sees himself playing a game of cards with God himself: "With you, hand in hand. And I do not withdraw / the position, Lord. We play hard / Empeñada game in which death / will be final trump. I bet. I look at / your cards, and you beat me every time. I throw / mine. You hit again. I want to / cheat you. And it's not possible." This is a poem of salvation and full trust in divinity; a poem in which he realizes that, in the face of his rival, he has the odds stacked against him: "I lose a lot, Lord. And there's barely / time left for retribution." Suddenly, prompted by grace, the poem shifts focus and becomes a most beautiful prayer of petition: "Do thou that I may / equal still. If my share / is not enough because it is poor and poorly played, / if of so much wealth there is nothing left, / love me more, Lord, to win you."
In the end, one comes to the conclusion that García Nieto's poetry is an exercise of encounters and misencounters with the love of God, that love that saves if it is accepted; a magnificent opportunity given to Him for "give the lily a chance"that is, to become the master of his own life.