Shadowing Silva


Literary criticism, Love poetry, Symbolism, Indexicality, Modernist poetry, Prisoners, Modernismo, Caves


The dark eroticism of Jos? Asuncion Silva's "Nocturno m" has scarcely been domesticated by over a century of criticism and the poem's canonization in countless literary anthologies. The reasons for the spell it has held over readers are apparent. Not only is the poem highly innovative from a metrical standpoint, its composition shortly after the death of Silva's sister Elvira has invited some critics to find images of incest and even necrophilia in the text.1 Others have stridently opposed such readings.2 In fact, the history of the poem's critical reception has in large measure been the history of interpretations of the "sombras enlazadas" that constitute its structural and thematic focus. Given the richly ambiguous imagery of "Nocturno," it is not surprising that there has been no consensus as to the meaning of the conjoined shadows depicted in the poem.3 Oddly enough, many of the poem's readers who have most fully elucidated the circumstances of its composition and catalogued its apparently autobio graphical elements have claimed to find no indication of sexual impropriety in it whatsoever. Their interpretive strategy has typically been to deny the poem any truly erotic content or baldly to state that what is really at issue is something like "uni?n espiritual" (Orjuela Luci?rnagas 148). Roc?o Oviedo, for instance, has claimed that at some unspecified point in the poem, the figure that she initially identifies as Elvira becomes "la Mujer en todos sus contenidos [sic]: madre, hermana, amiga, amada, la mujer que evita el sentimiento de soledad y angustia del poeta" (35). Of course it is unclear how identifying the female figure as not only sister but also as friend, lover, and mother would not entail difficulties any less distasteful than simply identifying her as Elvira throughout.

Original Publication Citation

“Shadowing Silva.” ​Nineteenth-century Literary Criticism​. Vol. 280. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Farmington Hills,MI: Gale-Cengage Learning, 2014. 267-70. [republication of 2002 article]

Document Type


Publication Date



Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispanicos







University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor