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Family of Spain's dead great poet Hernandez want name cleared

To literature fans, Miguel Hernandez was one of Spain's greatest modern poets, a socially conscious young writer who combined Baroque-era rhythms and surreal images such as a mother breast-feeding her baby on "onion blood".

To Spaniards unfamiliar with powerful verses such as Onion Lullaby, the late poet is a beloved-yet-tragic figure, a lesser-known Federico Garcia Lorca who was persecuted by the Franco regime and wrote much of his verse from his cell.

Miguel Hernandez died at 32 in prison in 1942, after a death sentence for his left-wing sympathies was commuted to 30 years. Now the poet's family want his supposed crime wiped from the records. In a law suit filed this week in the Spanish Supreme Court they ask for his guilty verdict to be annulled. In March, the family had a posthumous "declaration of reparation" from the Spanish government. But they are not satisfied. "We want something more, that they void the death sentence, so we can take away that burden," his daughter-in-law, Lucía Izquierdo, said. "That's why we are asking that justice be served, that they hand down a ruling of innocent."

The court has rejected dozens of petitions to void summary judgments by Franco-era military courts on the grounds that they followed the law of the times. But lawyers for the poet's family are optimistic. They are presenting new evidence, a 1939 letter from a fascist military official, Juan Bellod, testifying to his innocence. The letter was part of an unresolved case against the poet that was recently discovered when historic archives were digitised.

"I have known Miguel Hernandez since he was a boy," the letter began. "He is a person with an impeccable past, generous sentiments and deep religious and humanist training, but whose excessive sensitivity and poetic temperament have led him to act in accordance with the passion of the moment rather than calm, firm will. I fully guarantee his behaviour and his patriotic and religious fervour. I do not believe that he is, at heart, an enemy of our Glorious Movement."

But Miguel Hernandez died of tuberculosis before that letter reached a judge. He reportedly scribbled his final verse on the hospital wall: "Good-bye brothers, comrades, friends, let me take my leave of the sun and fields."

The poet rose from a humble childhood as a goatherd in Valencia to the literary circles of Pablo Neruda in Madrid. Influenced by both Golden-Age writers such as Quevedo and the surrealists, he joined a generation of sociallyconscious Spanish authors concerned with workers' rights.

In 1936, he volunteered to help the Republican army fight the fascist military uprising that led to 40 years of dictatorship. He also addressed troops on the losing Republican side of the war.

Hernandez was arrested in 1939 and condemned to death as "an extremely dangerous and despicable element to all good Spaniards". Franco later reduced his sentence so that he would not become an international martyr, as did Lorca. As Hernandez he shuttled between jails, he completed one of his best-known works, Songs and Ballads of Absence, about his wife's poverty and the death of his infant son.

They were beloved by a battered and disoriented post-war generation. The most famous is the Onion Lullaby: "My little boy was in hunger's cradle," it reads. "He was nursed on onion blood. But your blood is frosted with sugar, onion and hunger."