Gabriel Escorcia Gravini against the “great human misfortune” of oblivion

On a night as dark as the beginning of the world itself, in 1976, the ears of musician Lisandro Meza the poetic verses in the tenth of “La gran miseria humano,” recited with feeling by a drunkard from his town, Los Palmitos, in the department of Sucre.

Months later, teacher Lisandro would burn this poem onto a long duration entitled “El burro leñero” without suggesting that this piece of music would be fundamental, so that the name of its author, Gabriel Escorcia Gravini, would not succumb to oblivion, perhaps the worst of the accidents that can befall an artist and his work.

a night of mystery

while the world sleeps

looking for lost love

they pass the cemetery

From the blue hemisphere

The moon set its light

over the cold wall

From the sacred necropolis

where he sings to the dead

The owl his sad elegy

Gabriel Escorcia Gravini is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the great Colombian authors of necropoetry and epic poetry, but only a few titles published in periodicals of the time survive of his works and a text by him compiled in “La Boliviada,” a published epic poem in six cantos in 1925 under the curatorship of his classmate, friend and patron José Miguel Orozco, also a bard of Soledad, and who rests in the library of Luis Ángel Arango in Bogotá.

The rest succumbed to the exorcism of a bonfire lit by his family with all his possessions—including, of course, his manuscripts—when he died of leprosy on December 28, 1920, in Soledad, Atlantico.

He was born there on March 19, 1891 into a wealthy family. According to Fernando Ferrer of the Soledad Historical Academy, the country of letters has a historical debt to settle with this poet.

“Because I was from the periphery, at that time Colombia was a conservative country where Parnassus was centered on Bogotá and the Andes. Then he suffered cultural marginalization, even social of the elites even of Barranquilla itself, because we got tired of looking for photographic or journalistic records of his death in the newspapers of the time and it was unsuccessful,” explains the historian Ferrer.

The few images that are known of Gabriel Escorcia Gravini are spoken portraits, such as the one that accompanies this story, made by the artists Juan Camilo Duque, Fernando Nibbles, and Hugo Gravini in a mural in the Soledad Cemetery.

“It was made on the basis of some descriptions of oral tradition and factions of some descendants — primarily nephews — on the Escorchia and Gravini side,” explains Ferrer.

They were right on Soledeños related to history and of art those who tried to save the figure of the poet from ostracism. And thanks to them, it is known that at the age of 14 he contracted leprosy, and it was this disease that condemned him to eternal days of reading in a room at the back of his house.

In 1890, a year before his birth, and due to outbreaks of this disease, an unrestricted order was issued, forcing the territorial authorities and doctors to report any infected person for confinement in leprosariums.

Journalist and culturologist Giovanni Montero assures that “Escorcia Gravini he was harassed by the administrative authorities and the sanitizing of Soledad to confine him in the infirmary situated at Caño de Loro, on the island of Tierra Bomba, in Bolivar.”

According to historian Fernando Ferrer, thanks to the fact that his family was respected and loved in the commune – his grandfather, an Italian, was a prosperous landowner – the doctor hid his opinion on the condition that he remain isolated.

Confined to his room, says Ferrer, Gabriel Escorcia Gravini, who studied only until the third year of primary school, gave himself up to reading, especially the French “accursed poets”, a definition introduced by Paul Verlaine, who made a compilation of authors from “Symbolisme ” and titled it that way. And also by Julio Flores, the most brilliant Colombian poet of those years.

“If you look at the linguistic content, the prose of “The great human misfortune and from his other texts you can appreciate the linguistic richness gained from these readings, because he was self-taught,” analyzed Ferrer.

The sonnet entitled “Pajarillo” by Gabriel Escorcia Gravini not only confirms what the historian said, but also reveals the mystery of death as an inspiration and waiting for its final moment.

In your wire cage, prisoner, you’re on time, good bird

And you only have a trill for free

which modulates the peak of your songbook

I too am a prisoner, a partner, in the vast cage of fate

And only my Latin singing is free,

that I throw with a pathetic accent

You dream of the air you used to have

flap your wings in the beautiful afternoons

and you think of the nest in which you lived;

I hope that death, without strife,

break my sadness very soon

to make her nest among the stars.

The medical order of confinement in leprosy was not strictly observed by Escorcia Gravini, who went from night fishing with your friends and take part in some cultural evenings. This is how cultural researcher Giovanni Montero explains it.

“The poet walked the streets of Soledad on Sunday night, accompanied by fellow poet Jose Miguel Orozco, composer of the Soledad anthem. These night tours ended at the outskirts of the municipality’s central cemetery. I have the text of a talk given by the bard José Miguel Orozco on the subject: “I was the poet’s inseparable companion until the day of his death. I walked with him on Sundays and at night in the streets of the city. And we finished these walks sitting on the side benches of the old cemetery. There he began to sing to silence the songs of Julio Flores, whose fanatical admirer as well as his songs. There improvised, to the rhythm of a stringed instrument, which he always took out to sweeten his pains”.

It is believed that “La gran miseria Humana” was born during these visits to the Soledad Cemetery. Montero and other connoisseurs believe that this was not a single moment of inspiration, but that Gabriel Escorcia Gravini gradually strung the verses into dozens.

Another of the myths surrounding this poem is who inspired it. Lisandro Meza Junior, artistically known as Chanein dialogue with music collector Carlos Javier Pérez of Candelazos Tropicales, told the story of what he and his father knew was an elusive love for the author due to his leprosy condition.

“He fell in love with a young woman and hid to see her pass. He didn’t know how to approach. She dies and he visits her grave and that’s where the lyrics are born,” according to Chane Meza.

However, this does not coincide with other versions such as that of the researcher Montero, who assures that “‘The Great Misfortune’ tells the imaginary dialogue between a visitor to a tomb and a talkative skull, not inspired by a specific person.”

“This is part of the obituary language that the poet Gabriel Antonio Escorcia Gravini began to construct from around 1912, which was consolidated in 1918 with the publication of the said work in a pamphlet entitled “Pétalos y alfileres”, edited by who his patron, José Miguel Orozco,” Montero recounts.

What both versions can agree on is the origin of the appearance of a female name in the lines of the poem:

the moon was still shining

in the blue skies

And the clouds with their veil

They covered him without fear

And in the procession passing

For the secret immensity

The wind was restless

And he goes crazy in the mud

this emperlaba with its light

Diana, the poet’s friend

“Some associate Diana with one of the elusive ladies from the municipality of Soledad that the poet had in mind. I say elusive because in the poet’s time there was a social rejection of those suffering from leprosy,” explains Montero.

The only sure thing is that these verses, recorded by Lisandro Meza – accordion and voice – to the rhythm of son montuno, on the label Delujo, a subsidiary of Discos Fuentes, were successful despite the skepticism of the label and lasted more than 10 minutes of the song, something unusual for the time.

“The day after the night when my father could not sleep listening to a drunken man recite the poem in the street, he was on his way to the farm when the reciter was discovered. He found a cassette player, gave him a bottle of rum and begged him I recited the verses again. We recorded it under the title ‘La miseria humano’ in Medellin and that album was so successful that they even had to sell it without the covers because people wanted their vinyl and couldn’t wait to print them,” says Chane Meza.

Before this recording, “La gran miseria mumana” was spread by word of mouth as a yawn, using the oral tradition that even adopted these tithes as pastoral songs in the Caribbean. This is largely due to the publication sponsored by José Miguel Orozco, the owner of the lithograph.

This series was recalled by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez in his autobiography Living to Tell the Story:

“My early friends found it incomprehensible that I insisted on writing short stories, and I myself could not explain it in a country where the greatest art was poetry. I knew it from a very early age because of the success of Human Misery, a popular poem that was sold in paperback. butcher paper or recited for two cents in the markets and cemeteries of the Caribbean cities,” Nobel wrote.

In cemeteries, in the world of the dead, the name of the poet is still mentioned as a mythical figure. Giovanni Montero is convinced that “Gabriel Escorcia Gravini sought to perpetuate his existence through poetry.” To confirm this, he quotes a quatrain written on his grave, which is also the epitaph of this story:

In the garden of melancholy,

where my heart is a hard lily

I grow the flower of poetry

to be able to live after death…

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