10 junio, 2024

Beheaded generation: history, representatives and works

what was the beheaded generation?

The beheaded generation It was the name given to a group of poets considered the fathers of the Ecuadorian modernist movement. The reason for such a gloomy name is due to the fact that all these writers, at a very young age, ended their lives by committing suicide.

This generation was never aware of being part of a group or of being bulwarks or raising a movement. If there was something that united them, it was letters, melancholy, a deep sadness and a desire to leave soon, without anyone calling them.

The men who made up the decapitated generation were Humberto Fierro and Arturo Borja from Quito; and Ernesto Noboa y Caamaño and Medardo Ángel Silva from Guayaquil. As part of the ironies of life, the group’s christening was years after their deaths.

It was up to the writer Raúl Andrade to assign the name that set the tone and immortalized them beyond their letters. Andrade did it through an essay, which he called Altarpiece of a decapitated generation.


What was happening in Ecuador during the time when the decapitated generation exercised its poetic work, were events of great social, cultural and economic weight.

The indigenous people began to recover their rights, secular education began to take off, freedom of worship was imposed. Divorce was also allowed, women were given the right to vote, and the death penalty was abolished. All of these events occurred within a very short span of time between them.

They were not, then, simple times. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century represented years of far-reaching changes for Ecuador.

All social strata were directly or indirectly affected in the different areas of their lives. The beheaded poets and their lyrics did not escape this affectation.

Influences of the beheaded generation

As the main influence, bastion of these men of letters, we find the great poet Rubén Darío. The Nicaraguan, who was considered the father of Latin American literary modernism, was one of the brands that ignited the flame of letters in the hearts of these four men.

In addition to the important Spanish-American influence, the European influence was not absent. It was common for these men in their gatherings to recite the famous «cursed poets»: Victor Hugo, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine. The French court of poetry was of special importance to them.

Two important details that greatly influenced the lives of these men were heartbreak and opium abuse.

This intense mixture caused deep literary trenches in which the letters emerged one after the other, giving rise to his poetry. When reading them, it is possible to feel that heavy aura of listlessness, of perennial sadness.

Representatives and their works

Medardo Angel Silva

He was originally from Guayaquil. He was born in 1898, on June 8. His life was marked by poverty; This generated her own feeling of rejection and opprobrium, despite having an immense talent for letters.

Due to economic difficulties, he had to abandon his studies at the Vicente Rocafuerte School. That did not prevent him from continuing to write and his poetry, at such an early age, being recognized nationally and internationally.

To help himself and collaborate with the family, he went to work at a printing press. Working there made it easier for him in 1918 to publish his first and only book of poems: The tree of good and evil.

One year after publishing his book, the poet made the bloody decision to end his life in front of his beloved. As they say, it was an unrequited love. His poetry is marked by that melancholic air and with a wisdom that did not correspond to his age.

Ernesto Noboa y Caamaño

He was originally from Guayaquil. He was born in 1891 and had a comfortable position from the cradle. He read the cursed poets as a child and developed a delicate poetry, never seen before in Ecuador.

It was common to see him on bohemian nights, having consumed opium, reciting his own poems and those of the greats of Europe and America.

He had an overflowing sensitivity that was elevated after his trip to the Old Continent to meet a crucial part of the roots of his lyrics.

His life was not easy because he was wealthy, as many believe. He suffered from episodes of neurosis that made him take morphine to calm down.

published his book Romance of the hours in 1922. For this work he received great praise, but the recognition was not enough and he followed the fate of those beheaded five years later.

In 1927 he committed suicide, leaving an immeasurable literary legacy to Latin American modernism and Ecuadorian poetry.

Arturo Borgia

Originally from Quito, he was born in 1892. He also had a wealthy position, of royal descent. He was one of the youngest to say goodbye to die.

His work is not very extensive, but it has a considerable literary weight; in fact, he was the first of those beheaded to show clear modernist traits in his lyrics.

With marked depressive tendencies in his poems and in his life itself, he was also inspired by the cursed poets, whom he read and followed. He traveled to Europe with his father due to health problems in one eye; there he had contact with French letters.

At the young age of 20, he married and then committed suicide with an overdose of morphine. After his death, his collection of poems was formally published. The onyx flute and six more poems.

Humberto Fierro

He is originally from Quito. He was born in 1890, in the bosom of an Ecuadorian aristocratic family. He had contact with poetry thanks to the books in the family library; there he was captivated by letters for the rest of his life.

Although he was greatly influenced by the French symbolist and Parnassian poets, whom he read without measure, his poetry was pure and simple in language.

He made a great friendship with Arturo Borja and it was he who convinced him to publish his first book. In 1929, and after Borja’s insistence, he published the lute of the valley.

That work was his most significant achievement. His death greeted him 10 years after the publication of his book; After his death another book by him was published: palatine evening.

There are still doubts about whether it was an accident or suicide; the truth is that the last of those beheaded said goodbye in 1939. With him went the last breath of those who, without seeking to be much, changed the literary history of a country.

Indelible literary mark

There are subtle threads that unite us, threads that we do not touch but that hold us to events and things. The beheaded poets had their lives intertwined with two common letters: tragedy and transcendence.

The decapitated generation came to inject its poetic life into Ecuador in verses of true feeling. When nobody was betting anything on Latin American poetry, these men gave themselves fully to be present with their lyrics.

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