ruben darioIntroduction

The life of Rubén Darío (1867-1916), the greatest poet of Spanish America and one of the supreme technicians in the language, reads as a tragicomedy. He was born Félix Rubén García Sarmiento in the Nicaraguan town of Metapa in 1867, now renamed in his honour.

His parents separated when he was two, and as a child prodigy, Darío was brought up by an aunt in León, where he started contributing to local newspapers. In 1881 he moved to Managua, fell in love with the unfaithful Rosario Murillo, was spirited away to El Salvador (1882), returned to Nicaragua (1883) and then went to Chile (1886), where he published the first edition of Azul (1888). He returned to Nicaragua and El Salvador, married Rafaela Contreras in 1890, and took to drink (and a forced marriage with Rosario when Rafaela died in 1893). Thereafter, the pattern of his life was established: short-lived government positions in various Latin American administrations, a tangled love life, continual travel (many European countries and Morocco), incessant contributions to newspapers, many of which he founded, and increasing incapacity through drink. Miraculously, the gift largely survived. Prosas profanes y otras poemas appeared in 1896, Cantos de vida y esperanza in 1905, Poema del otono y otros poemas in 1910, and Canto a la Argentina y otros poemas in 1914. On a visit to Spain in 1899, Darío began a relationship with Francisca Sánchez, a simple country girl who bore him several children. But Rosario snatched him back, and Darío died of cirrhosis of the liver in his boyhood town of León, where he is buried in the cathedral.

Darío was the leading exponent of modernismo, a fusion of the French Parnassian and Symbolist movements, which has no English equivalent. Modernismo began in Cuba (José Martí), Mexico (Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera) and Argentina (Olegario Andrade & Rafael Obligado)as a development from Romanticism. Originally influenced by the Parnassians and Góngora, the movement aimed at verse of intricate and brilliant imagery, taking the visual arts as a model. Later, with Darío, the movement absorbed the musical evocation of the Symbolists, along with its preciosity, eroticism and exotic reference. Musicality of language and prosodic virtuosity are preeminent in Darío, whose poems in no less than 37 metres and 136 stanza patterns did much to reinvigorate Spanish poetry. The vocabulary was equally diverse, and included borrowings from antiquity onwards and his own coinages. The usual symbols of a para-religious approach to poetry (taken from dreams, occultism and depth psychiatry) appear, but Darío had his own: centaur (human & bestial traits), forest (gradation from gross to ethereal) and the swan (purity and eroticism). Arcane concerns today, but a reminder of the many dimensions of poetry.

Though older generations in Latin America have his poems by heart, Darío is hardly a potent influence on the current literary scene and is not as well known to English readers as Neruda or the pre-Revolution poets of Spain. The usual political dimension of Latin American literature is missing. As an individual, Darío was as nationalistic as anyone, but he wrote a poesie pure that transcends national and social questions, often mundane realities altogether. His autobiographies (1912, 1913) are incomplete, and the few poems that seem autobiographical (Canción de otono en primavera, etc.) are only loosely modelled on personal experience. Darío's is a poetry made rather than expressed, one carefully constructed from the individual properties of words (literal meanings, rhythm, colour, everyday connotations, literary antecedents), and therefore somewhat artificial or declamatory by today's standards. Modernismo faded gradually from the Spanish American scene, in the works of Leopold Lugones, Amado Nerva, Luis Urbina, Rufino Blanco Fombona, Julio Herrara y Reissig, Ricardo Jaimes Freyre, Guillermo Valencia, José Santos Chacano, José María Eguren, Manuel Magallanes Moure, Carlos Pezoa Véliz, Enrique González Martínez, and many others — writers worth investigating by those attracted to the sheer craft of poetry.

A good introduction is provided by the Spanish American Poetry section of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993), and these take matters further: K. Ellis's Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío (1974). and I. Gibson's Yo, Rubén Darío: Memorias Postumas de un Rey de la Poesía (2002) The bibliography of Rubén Darío is vast, much of it in Spanish and/or Latin American journals, but a start is provided by H. Woodbridge's Rubén Darío: a Selective and Annotated Bibliography (1975). Workmanlike translations appear at about the world, dariana and craneclan, and literal renderings are provided by S. Appelbaum's Stories and Poems/Cuentos y poesías: Rubén Darío (2002). More expensive is Acereda and Derusha's Rubén Darío: Selected Poems (1996).

Suggestion: Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry Edited by Stephen Tapscott. University of Texas Press. 1996. $16.98

A collection of excellent translations, many by prize-winning American poets. Poets include Neruda, Darío, Reyes, Vallejo, Borges, Paz, and some 70 less well-known figures in a hundred year range of work — from the Cuban José Martí born 1853 to Marjorie Agosín born in 1955.


C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.