Introduction to Ignacio Ramírez and Mexican Romanticism

Mexican poet Ignacio Ramirez was born on June 22, 1818, in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and died on June 15, 1879, in Mexico City.

Introduction to Ignacio Ramírez and Mexican Romanticism
Education, one of the concerns of Ignacio Ramírez, El Nigromante. Credit: Cultura
All the laws of nature for the use of each individual are subject to intellectual laws; and these are formed by means of the word. The study of such a powerful instrument as language constitutes the object of literature.

Ignacio Ramirez

The romantic movement acquired its physiognomy in Hispanic America. First of all, in their baggage of neoclassical rules, our Romantics tried to get rid of all canon. This is not to say that they always succeeded clearly. Our poets simply believed that they had emancipated themselves from the "limitation of the models", and that the field of their themes had widened, as had their vocabulary and their repertoire of metrical forms, but they had also adopted a new emotional style of composition and development in place of the rational technique of the neoclassical.

Romanticism was in Europe the literature of rebellion: rebellion against political oppression and in favor of freedom; sometimes also rebellion against society itself. Afterward, social and political problems ceased to be poetic; the poet preferred to live in isolation, in his world of imagination and feeling.

For the Romantics, mythology ceased to be the framework of the universe but, at the same time and as a duty to the new cult of imagination and emotion, they also abandoned the attempt to house their poetry within a world built with the materials of modern science.

Romanticism develops contradictory aspirations of the search for identity and national affirmation, on the one hand, and of Europeanized modernization, at the same time, on the other. In the understanding of Hispano-American romanticism, the orientation towards one's world and the picturesque representation of medium and even low levels of the American reality operate simultaneously with the particular and idiosyncratic adoption of the manifestations of European romanticism.

For Henríquez Ureña, the "carelessness" of the romantics "became fashionable" because they felt free to alter words to suit the needs of accent or rhyme. Anarchy was as prevalent in literature as in public life, and political unrest was another cause of haste and carelessness. Inspiration was left to sanctify everything.

But some poets remained, in part, classics. To call an author neoclassical or academic expresses that his voice maintains the academic arcadia as a survival of the humanistic education of the Colony and that from the nineteenth century was replaced by academicism, which continued to maintain its course more or less close to that of romanticism.

This mixture, except for a few examples, disallows the classification of poets as exclusively romantic or classicist. The mutual osmosis prevents such a separation of schools, which are sometimes confused, to the extent that poets of classical appearance have a romantic mentality and vice versa. This is the case of Carpio and "El Nigromante".

Ignacio Ramirez's biography

Writer, journalist, and liberal ideologue Ignacio Ramírez El Nigromante considered one of the most brilliant minds in Mexico and one of the most influential thinkers of his time, was born on June 22, 1818, in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and died on June 15, 1879, in Mexico City.

He was a great defender of the rights of the indigenous people, and a contributor to almost a dozen publications, in addition to promoting the National Library, he was considered by his contemporaries the Mexican Voltaire and the Apostle of the Reform.

Another of his contributions was to promote the reform of the country in the economic, educational, and religious fields. During the government of Benito Juárez, he unified primary education in the capital with that of the states.

Juan Ignacio Paulino Ramírez Calzada studied art and law in the nation's capital. He collaborated in newspapers such as El Monitor Republicano, Temis y Deucalión, El Siglo XIX, El Demócrata, El Porvenir, El Clamor Progresista, La Sombra de Robespierre, El Semanario Ilustrado, La Chinaca, La Insurrección, La Opinión de Sinaloa, La Estrella de Occidente, El Clamor Popular, El Federalista, La Voz de México and El Correo de México.

He was a member of the Lateran Academy. In the ceremony of his admission, he gave his famous speech in which he said: "There is no God", a phrase that Diego Rivera captured in his mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Central Alameda).

Ignacio Ramírez was "the implacable enemy of all tyranny; the sublime destroyer of the past, and the worker of the Revolution", as Justo Sierra once said, about his efforts to move the country from the "language of arms" to the "language of letters", as Juárez thought at the end of the Reform War.

On the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth, the writer Vicente Quirarte said: "Among the liberals, he was the most advanced thinker. When one thinks about the representations of Ignacio Ramírez in the city, we find his statue on the Paseo de la Reforma and his appearance in the mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, by Diego Rivera, in which he can be seen brandishing a leaf on which is written: 'God does not exist'. Ramirez never said that, he commented: 'There is no God, the beings of nature sustain themselves'. What happened was that the consciences of that time scraped the mural, there was a lot of religious intolerance and they planted this over his ideas.

"Ramirez embodied the radical and advanced thinking of liberalism. Calling himself Nigromante was a declaration of principles and an attitude towards life, as he knew he was responsible for a generation that had to bet everything or offer nothing," said Quirarte.

In the same context, historian Javier Garcia Diego recalled that Ignacio Ramírez was a journalist, in addition to being a member of Benito Juárez's cabinet and a military defender of the homeland before the United States and France. "For his contributions in all fields, Ignacio Ramírez and his generation should be recognized as builders of this nation," he said.

It is worth mentioning that his ideas include primary education, the education of indigenous people, the new education and orientation that should be given to women, as well as textbooks, popular education, and religious education, among other principles.

Ignacio Ramirez's poems

About a hundred poems are preserved from his pen, of which more than half are fragments or notes to be developed. The oldest verses are from 1846 when he was 28 years old and wrote in El Rapto (The Abduction) a genre picture. The latter ones are from 1876, when he was already 58 years old, when, feeling outdated, he wrote the sonnet El amor. Among these extremes, are the moral meditations in which he expressed his materialistic ideas, the cycle of poems said in the commemorations of the Gregorian Association between 1867 and 1872, and the beautiful poems of the helpless widower written after the death of his wife, Soledad Mateos, and those whose theme was that of the old lover, which he dedicated to Rosario Peña between 1872 and 1876, stand out in his oeuvre.

Politician, orator, poet, of clear intelligence, and with a fanatic temperament of aggressive passion, Ignacio Ramírez made a religion of his audacity that frightened his supporters. In art, however, he was more conservative than his political enemies. Ignacio M. Altamirano paints Ramírez in this way:

We have also seen Ramirez persecuted for twenty years, for teaching the most advanced progressive doctrines, and called "atheist", "demagogue", and "disruptive", even by those who called themselves liberals in those times.

His haughty, proud, and ironic temperament; his extreme materialistic ideas; his fervor for his fallen co-religionists and his hatred against his political enemies; his disdainful intellectual superiority; the prestige and ascendancy he enjoyed in his milieu, and his having fallen in love -widowed, poor and old- with a much sought-after muse, all this set of circumstances, favorable and unfavorable, is manifested in the plurality of his writings. The most exalted of his production is classical, but in this context, he sounds the romantic note.

Most of the poetic work of "El Nigromante", in terms of its aesthetic content, is mediocre. His art, subject to political and anti-religious service, degenerates into oratory, and prosaism. His erotic-romantic production does not surpass, in general, the usual style of his time.

What is undeniable is that he was a man ready for effusion and to put his feelings into words. That is why, perhaps, he is most clearly portrayed in the short poems in which he left his joys and sorrows, his hopes, and his loves. The poem, then, served him as a vehicle to undress and confess, to give us the reflection of his drama.

A man of extreme achievements, his life was occupied, above all, by ideals, passion, politics, and meditation. The successes and misdirections come from his exaltation and sudden reflexes. The emotions, the frequent crises, remained in his verses as the testimony par excellence that he wrote under the imperative of inspiration:

Why, Love, when I sigh unarmed,
Do you mock me? Take away that beautiful
Maiden so fiery and so graceful
That through my dark asylum thou hast peeped
To the helpless lion, the ass humiliates
Give me back, love, my youth, and then
Thou thyself my rivals lead.

"The Necromancer" and his idea of death

In the nineteenth century, only philosophical ideas that had an immediate political or social application were accepted in America. This happened precisely with the intense anticlerical campaign carried out by the group of politicians who led the Reform: Altamirano, Riva Palacio, Prieto, Lerdo de Tejada, Martínez de Castro and, of course, Ignacio Ramírez.

The ideal of freedom, the desire to break with all the norms of the past, and the anarchic individualism that manifested itself everywhere, are, both in politics and in literature, characteristic tendencies of romanticism.

Materialism and other doctrines that found enthusiastic acceptance in Mexico were embraced more for what they denied than for what they affirmed and were used as political weapons to destroy traditional ideas. For Mexicans, they were not so much a new conception of the universe and human life as a set of arguments to combat religion, metaphysics, and everything that was considered to be linked to the colonial regime.

Ignacio Ramírez contributed to the spread of materialism and atheism, which, at the time, were making their influence felt in the field of literature, even in the lyric poetry itself. Samuel Ramos affirms that "El Nigromante" symbolizes one of the most typical incarnations of the Mexican spirit of rebellion. A sincere and active Jacobin who made a public profession of his atheism with these words:

There is no God; the beings of Nature are self-sustaining.

In this way, Ramirez developed a completely new theory and deduced from

an inflexible series of experimental truths, the conclusion, unheard of until then, that matter is indestructible, and therefore eternal: in this system, a creator and preserver God could therefore be suppressed.

Representing the ideologist who tends to use doctrines as an instrument of negation, Ignacio Ramírez was not a philosopher but a writer and orator full of passion and irony" who did not stop at the immediate and surrounding, also taking as the subject of his poems the great metaphysical questions: life, death, eternity.

And this, is this called existence?
Broken, tarnished glass,
That was a mirror, a spring
That spills in the sand;
The fire that smokes without flame;
As my dust does not carpet
The grave astonishes me!
But I will not oppose fate
The shield of death:
What for? I am a shadow.

This desire to surpass the immediate limits also responded to the essence of the romantic soul. But the ultimate limit, death, is not only for Ramírez the end of his corporeality, but also the end of his being, of his existence, and of everything that gives him "form". Ramírez poses the problem of death in the sense of abandoning the body, assuming for a moment the attitude of the future dead that we will all be and, with his eyes, he contemplates those who will contemplate them:

What is our life but a coarse vessel
whose price is the price of the desire
that nature and chance keep in it?
If spilled by age I see it,
only in the hands of the wise earth
It will receive another form and another use
Prison is, and not life, the one that encloses
deprivations, laments, and pains;
gone is pleasure, death, whom does it terrify?
Mother Nature, there are no more flowers
where my faltering step advances;
I was born without hope or fear,
I return to you without fear or hope.

Ignacio Ramírez speaks of change as the only permanent feature of the universe and the human spirit, as a mere fleeting flame that disappears with the body, expressing his materialistic ideas in a desolate and haughty lyricism.

Another poem of this kind, though more inclined to philosophical reflection, is The Man-God, written in tercets in 1866. It is a pure exposition of his materialistic ideas, a reflection of skepticism and exaltation of matter with some satirical features:

Everything has its law in this world,
Whether the sun rises to the starry sky,
Or sand, let it fall into the deep sea.
Natura made this law, and not an old one;
And given this law, I serenely rule
That the Man-God does not pass from counsel
Well might a wise man with a mischievous mind
To figure a thing without a figure
And write: "I am God" on his forehead.
But the pure substance, nor the impure,
Have they never undressed before man?
Who knows how they have their nature?
Does the vile dust enjoy that power
That with its agitation on earth and sky
Of a spirit announces the presence?
"A handful of dust, which from the ground
Any lout lifts, of what luck,
Like a flock of angels, the flight
Can it assemble? Is not matter inert?
Has not the universe always proclaimed
That he who says matter, says death?..."..."
Already sir, already toy of destiny,
To be lost in the grave one day;
It is already good night, O mortal divine mortal!

And Ramírez ends his tercets with a practically autobiographical declaration of his irreligiousness and atheism:

I who in prodigies never take into account
The testimony of others, nor that of the Pope,
I will not see God if he is not transparent
Like the light that escapes from a lantern.

Thus, the poem is an affirmation of the ideas of our poet, of his atheism, of his "faith" in the matter (the existence of a substance is manifested above all in bodies...), and of his constant allusion to its inexorable finiteness, death, of which, as he affirms: "Not even a god will return to life". The substance is a principle and a cause"), and the constant allusion to the inexorable finiteness of this, death, of which, as he affirms: "Death, becomes an almost obsessive theme in his old age, and his poetry makes constant allusion to it:

Do you know what is the port of the road
What are we carrying? The grave, already shipwrecked
Our ship; in splinters falls the pine;

He feels old, somehow even decrepit, much closer to death than to life, and regrets that he is no longer capable, given his age, of what he could do when he was young, even though he is still a human being with desires:

Not my strong heart
In misfortune it is cast down;
With youthful fever beats
To the fire of a passion.
To the glow of an illusion
To my lips it rushes;
And in his daring he attains
Science, fame, poetry;
All he keeps still,
Except for love and hope

His verses are sad and hopeless, he almost assumes himself dead without being in the grave. In the first paragraph, the old man -which is how he considers himself- has lost everything, even the hope of life, making death nothing more than the inexorable end that awaits his body -old and tired- and that, somehow, he longs for.

In another of his poems, the poet also criticizes the faith of believers, which, far from saving them, submits them to the clerical will and distances them from their freedom.

Superstitious to all people we see
With the help of a strong God judge himself strong;
We will only invoke
Indignation, gunpowder, and death.

But what could we ask of a man who, like Ramirez, believed in nothing but intellect and matter? If his reason alone was his end and his argument:

Higher, it is true, are the regions
Where the fruitful understanding wanders,
And more than any other animal, thou, man, hast at thy disposal
Of that social, splendid element;
He, with will and memory
The head he hath chosen for his chamber;
He rules in speech, that is his glory;
But impartial and fearful he commands
When he cannot, passion, his history.
The space he has circumscribed
Perhaps he trespasses, and to rule he intends;
To man, as if he were granite
From the slightest affection it detaches him;
Proscribes pleasures and pains;
And kindles a formless desire in the soul.
Then are born the worshippers
Of moral suicide, and nature
Among her children sees her detractors.

No transcendence or ultra-terrestrial life; no divine omnipresence either: man is god to himself and his life acquires full meaning in its limitation. As Larroyo states, Ramirez was a furious negativist, the enemy of all institutions and compromising with the most advanced ones (...) sarcastic, cruel, hard, and inexorable, pulverizing with his phrase a series of arguments and demolishing everything with the laughter of Voltaire.

Conclusions on Ignacio Ramírez

In general, Hispano-American romanticism was an outwardly projected romanticism. There was lyrical sentiment but it remained, above all, in erotic effusion and pain. There was also a poetry of the night, but it remained more in the external than in the oneiric penetration, in the stripping of the unconscious, and the world of myths and magical relationships. But one of the most common themes (not exclusively romantic as it can be found throughout the history of literature) is that of death.

For the Romantic, death always occurred in unfortunate, tragic situations, almost always referring to that of the beloved, or the loved one, being, therefore, his works, great odes of pain and absence with a melodramatic tinge.

The poetry of Ignacio Ramírez, that of sepulchral tone, does not refer (in its majority) to the death "of another", but serves him as a reflection on his old age and, therefore, of the proximity of his death; of the finiteness of matter, which is how Ramírez considers his body. In it, he also manifests himself before the impossibility that his intellect offers him of thinking of a God, of which he fiercely denies, or of an ultra-terrestrial life.

But it is in this meditation on the inexorable end of his body that Ramírez bares his poetic soul, and beyond exposing his philosophical ideas, he shows us a man deeply distressed and overwhelmed by his old age, by the passing of the years that have robbed him of his youth and with it his opportunities. He has achieved fame, knowledge, and wisdom, but that, far from bringing him hope (which for him would be life), brings him a deep feeling of loneliness that drags him faster and faster towards the grave.

Perhaps his erudition and his literary eclecticism make him a different character from his contemporaries; his "intimate" poetry moves away from the romantic canons as much as from the classics, and even from the national ones, offering in it his very personal idea of opposites such as life-death and youth-senescence, inserting a personal search as far as the subject matter of his poetry is concerned.

It cannot be said that the poetry of "El Nigromante" has brought to Mexican literature a new ideology or that it has completely revolutionized the national literature, what can be said is that there has not been a real evaluation of Ignacio Ramírez's work because, although it is not in its totality a "masterpiece", there is in it a great feeling and a scholarly work worthy of admiration.


Author: Vanessa Tello, Correo del Maestro. No. 40, pp 46-51.
Secretariat of Culture