Rubén Darío 1867–1916
(Pseudonym of Félix Rubén García Sarmiento) Nicaraguan poet, short story writer, journalist, critic, essayist, autobiographer, and novelist.
Though not widely known in the English-speaking world, Darío was one of the great Spanish poets and the leading figure of the late nineteenth-century Spanish-American modernista literary movement. Influenced by French Parnassian and Symbolist poetry, he revitalized Spanish poetics, which had essentially remained unchanged since the seventeenth century. A cosmopolitan blend of modernist formal experimentation, classical motifs, and Hispanic traditions, Darío's poetry is valued as much for its linguistic brilliance and technical and formal innovations as for its advocacy of Hispanic solidarity and concern about the universal human condition.
Born Félix Rubén García Sarmiento on January 18, 1867, in Metapa, Nicaragua, Darío was a precocious writer, who began using his pseudonym at the age of fourteen. Dedicated to travel and literary pursuits, he emigrated in 1886 to Chile, where two years later he inaugurated the modernista movement with the publication of Azul (1888). After diplomatic service on behalf of Chile in Paris and Madrid, Darío arrived in Buenos Aires in 1893 as Colombian consul to Argentina, where he published Prosas profanas y otros poemas (1896). Following the Spanish-American War, Darío travelled throughout Europe as a correspondent for the Buenos Aires newspaper La natión, focusing his writing on more social, political, and contemporary themes. Between 1903 and 1907 Darío served as Nicaraguan consul to France; while in Paris Darío wrote Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905)—widely admired as his finest work—El canto errante (1907), and Poema del otoño y otros poemas (1910). After more than a decade of crisscrossing the Atlantic Ocean for diplomatic or literary purposes, Darío permanently left Europe in 1914 with plans for a North American lecture tour the following year. However, when Darío developed pneumonia in New York City, he returned to Nicaragua, where he died February 6, 1916.
Darío's greatest fame derives from three major poetry collections. Azul, recognized as the defining work of the modernista movement, is a collection of prose and verse that represents Darío's interpretation of the artistic principles of the French Parnassian school—restraint, objectivity, precise description—in his native language. With its
exotic themes and simple, direct syntax, Darío's writings in Azul reanimated Spanish literature. In Prosas profanas, a collection of poems influenced by contemporary French Symbolism and marked by exotic aestheticism, Darío aimed for the formal purity of music by experimenting with unconventional but revolutionary metrical forms. Cantos de vida y esperanza reveals a change in Darío's poetic vision, a move away from aesthetic concerns toward political and social themes. The poetry in this collection ranges from meditations on the future of South America to expressions of Hispanic solidarity under the threat of North American imperialism. Other notable collections of Darío's poetry include El canto errante, which expounds his humanist views by addressing fundamental dilemmas of human existence, and Poema del otoño, which attempts to resolve the poet's own religious and metaphysical conflicts in a passionate celebration of both life and death.
During his lifetime Darío was the toast of Spanish-speaking literati worldwide, and on his death he was mourned with eloquent eulogies extolling the vibrant language and technical virtuosity of his poetic vision. Salomón de la Selva called Darío "the Spanish Keats," and Pedro Henríquez Ureña remarked that "both Spain and Spanish America saw in him their representative poet." By mid-century, however, Darío's reputation had diminished somewhat among many scholars who suggested that for all its stylistic flair, his poetry sometimes lacked substance. C. M. Bowra found Darío's poetry explicitly derivative in its emulation of contemporary French verse, though Arturo Torres-Rioseco attributed a perceived critical neglect of the poet to a shift in readers' tastes. Other critics have interpreted and evaluated Darío's work on the basis of his biography, his socio-political position, or his place in literary history. Recent scholarship has continued to elaborate these aspects through close textual analysis, which in turn has highlighted other elements in Darío's poetry as diverse as Pythagorean philosophy and duality in his female imagery. As poet Octavio Paz once observed about Darío's literary significance, "Darío is present in the spirit of contemporary [Spanish] poets. He is the founder."
Azul … (poetry and short stories) 1888
Prosas profanas y otros poemas [Prosas Profanas, and Other Poems] 1896
Cantos de vida y esperanza, Los cisnes, y otros poemas 1905
El canto errante 1907
Poema del otoño y otros poemas 1910
Canto a la Argentina y otros poemas 1914
Muy antiguo y muy moderno 1915
Eleven Poems 1916
Selected Poems of Rubén Darío 1965
Other Major Works
Primeras notas (letters and poetry) 1885
Emelina [with Edouardo Porier] (novel) 1887
Los raros (essays) 1893
Peregrinaciones (travel essays) 1901
Opiniones (criticism) 1906
El viaje a Nicaragua; e, Intermezzo tropical (travel essays) 1909
Autobiografia (autobiography) 1912
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SOURCE: "Rubén Darío: The Man and the Poet," in The Bookman, Vol. XLIX, No. 5, July, 1919, pp. 563-68.
[In the following excerpt, Goldberg offers his estimation of Darío's role in Spanish literature.]
Although it is but two years since his death, Rubén Darío is beginning to be looked upon not only as the greatest poet that Spanish America has produced, but as perhaps the greatest poet that has ever written in the Spanish tongue. Superlatives such as this always carry with them a trail of suspicion and mistrust; yet it is significant that they should be uttered at all, and doubly so when the utterance proceeds from a critic jealous of his standing, careful of his words and carrying conviction not only with the weight of his assertion but with the accumulation of his past services to letters. To Vargas Vila, the noted Colombian critic, Darío is even more: "One of the first in the world, if the world possesses another like him".
Assignment of rank, however, if it be one of the functions of criticism, is hardly the most important. What matters it if Darío be the greatest poet that ever wrote in Spanish, or merely the second or third, when we have the concrete and undebatable evidence of the immense influence he exerted upon the Spanish world of his time? To us of [the United States] Darío is important in more than one sense: not only is he the poet who summarizes an epoch and speaks...
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SOURCE: "A Reëvaluation of Rubén Darío," in New World Literature: Tradition and Revolt in Latin America, University of California Press, 1949, pp. 120-37.
[Chilean-born scholar and poet specializing in Latin American fiction and verse, Torres-Rioseco was the author of more than a dozen books about Spanish American literature, including three book-length studies of Darío. In the following excerpt, he traces the development of Darío's poetry, refuting claims that it is "superficial."]
Today the thirty years that have passed since the death of Rubén Darío afford a perspective through which we may view his poetry afresh. I have always maintained that Darío is the great poet of our continent and one of the most eminent in the Spanish language. But since recent criticism of him has been increasingly adverse I should like to examine … the reasons for it.
I believe that, as a general rule, every writer who is not a man of genius diminishes in esteem with the course of time. It cannot even be said that each generation produces a literary genius in any language. Hence the writers who compose the greater part of a nation's literary tradition are consigned to virtual oblivion; although their names recur in histories, anthologies, and even in conversation, their works do not command permanently the interest of readers. They are dying souls, who, though lingering on the brink, are...
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SOURCE: "Rubén Darío," in Inspiration and Poetry, Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1955, pp. 242-64.
[Bowra was an eminent English critic, literary scholar, and translator whose studies of classical and modern literature are known for their erudition, lucidity, and straightforward style. His books include The Heritage of Symbolism (1943) and The Creative Experiment (1949). In the following excerpt from the transcript of a lecture that was delivered in 1951, Bowra observes that Darío's fame may have exceeded his achievement, and suggests that the poet's aesthetic and literary goals likely hampered his natural talent.]
Rubén Darío (1867-1916) presents a signal case of a man who had a remarkable influence on poetry but whose own achievement may seem in retrospect not fully to deserve its first renown. That he, more than anyone else, was responsible for the dazzling revival of Spanish poetry with the generation of 1898 is beyond question. At the time when Spain lost to the United States the last remnants of her once world-wide empire this stranger from Nicaragua brought a ringing message of confidence and a range of verbal melodies such as Spain had never heard before. His metrical innovations, his rippling, lucent language, his unquestioning devotion to his art, did something to comfort Spain for her territorial losses by providing her with a new poetry. Through him men of pre-eminent gifts like...
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SOURCE: "The Siren and the Seashell," in The Siren & the Seashell, and Other Essays on Poets and Poetry, translated by Lysander Kemp and Margaret Sayers Peden, University of Texas Press, 1976, pp. 17-56.
[A preeminent Mexican literary figure, Paz has earned international acclaim for works in which he seeks to reconcile divisive forces in human life. His works also reflect his knowledge of the history, myths, and landscape of Mexico as well as his interest in Surrealism, existentialism, Romanticism, Oriental thought—particularly Buddhism—and diverse political ideologies. In the following excerpt from an essay that was originally published in 1965, Paz discusses the Modernist context of Darío's poetry, commenting on its fundamental themes, sources, and archetypes.]
Every language, not excluding that of liberty, eventually becomes a prison, and there is a point in the process at which speed becomes confused with immobility. The great Modernist poets were the first to rebel, and in their mature work they go beyond the language that they themselves had created. Therefore, each in his own way prepared for the subversion of the vanguard: Leopoldo Lugones was the immediate antecedent of the new poetry in Mexico (Ramón López Velarde) and Argentina (Jorge Luis Borges); Juan Ramon Jiménez was the guiding spirit of the generation of Jorge Guillén and Federico Garcia Lorca; Ramón del...
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SOURCE: "Master of Hispanic Modernism," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 3459, June 13, 1968, p. 620.
[In the following excerpt, the critic assesses Darío's career and literary influence, concluding that he "remains one of the most talked of and least understood of Latin American poets. "]
At the height of his career, the Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío, bestrode the Atlantic like a colossus. Although born in a remote corner of Central America, this most provincial of provincials was to become the focus of literary life in Central America, in Chile, in Buenos Aires and finally in Madrid; and the outstanding representative of the Modernist movement which ended the provincialism of nineteenth-century Hispanic literature and brought it into the mainstream of western culture.
Darío's success as a poet is inseparable from his personal history. From the moment when—still in his early teens—he was taken from León to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua, each new city broadened his opportunities and brought to bear increasingly sophisticated influences on his poetry. The poems of Azul (1888), published in Chile, were late romantic in style. The poems of Prosas profanas (1896) in which Parnassian and Symbolist contours can be traced, were mostly written in Buenos Aires; in Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905), published in Madrid, we have the self-assured prophet who...
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SOURCE: "Rubén Darío: Classic Poet," translated by David Flory, in Rubén Darío Centennial Studies, edited by Miguel González-Gerth and George D. Schade, Institute of Latin American Studies, 1970, pp. 85-96.
[In the following excerpt, Torres-Rioseco explains elements of classical aesthetics in Darío's poetry and highlights the poet's emphasis of simplicity and clarity.]
From his earliest youth, Rubén Darío acquired the aura of an exceptional poet, one already marked out for a singular and prodigious destiny. At first the indications were vague and superficial, as for example his precocious anti-clericalism, his infantile Voltairianism and his predilection for scientific problems. Later on we have evidence of his extraordinary facility for versification in his thirty-page poems, his improvisations on outlandish subjects and his versified journalism. His prolific output attracted attention even in his native tropics, where indeed it became confused with poetic genius. This mechanical facility for expression, on its own, would not have taken him anywhere, but the young man possessed a keen sensibility for the language, and little by little new and poetic words began to appear in these long and prosaic compositions: new poetic words which were to be the first manifestations of exoticism. When these efforts became more numerous, when the experimental linguistic process became more precise, the value of...
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SOURCE: "Rubén Darío's Final Profession of Pythagorean Faith," in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. X, No. 20, Spring-Summer, 1982, pp. 7-18.
[In the following essay, Jensen traces the influence of theosophic Pythagoreanism on Darío's poetry, noting his classical and Christian sources and the prevalent tensions in his works.]
Because of their richness, and the multiple currents encountered in his works, and perhaps the paradoxes and eccentricities of his life, scholars have been reluctant to hypothesize that any one of countless ideologías [ideologies] or manías [whims] manifested in Rubén Darío's writings might be predominant. Consequently, while some analysts have begun to point to Pythagoreanism as a strong influence on the Nicaraguan bard, only Raymond Skyrme [in his Rubén Darío and the Pythagorean Tradition, 1975] and Erika Lorenz [in her Rubén Darío bajo el divino imperio de la música, 1960] have come close to a complete disclosure of its real importance. Yet it appears that even they have not presented a complete picture of the relationship between Darío and lo pitagórico [Pythagoreanism].
At the risk of seeming presumptuous, but in the interest of promoting deserved scrutiny of this aspect of the poet's art, this writer suggests that Rubén Darío was, in fact, a modernista Neopythagorean. Pythagoreanism was not just a...
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SOURCE: "Rubén Darío: Latin American Modernism and Literary Tradition," in Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, Vol. 9, 1983, pp. 36-42.
[In the following essay, Pearsall contradicts the traditional view of Latin American modernism as an "isolated phenomenon" by revealing the movement's historical and contemporary literary significance as expressed in Darío's poetry.]
The works of Latin American Modernism written at the beginning of the twentieth century are an ideal source for studying the problem of literary tradition in twentieth-century literature, for they represent a crisis in our cultural history, a transition between two periods: Romanticism and the twentieth century. The "traditionalist" view of Hispanic Modernism has been that it has very little to do with our own present-day literature. Modernismo has therefore tended to be seen as an isolated phenomenon, relatively separate from both earlier and later trends.
The work of the important revisionist critics of the contemporary period, including Juan Ramón Jiménez, Federico de Onís, Manuel Pedro González, Ricardo Gullón, and Iván Schulman, has helped to change the sense that Latin American Modernism has little to do with what has followed. They have insisted upon its periodicity and its nature not as a literary movement but as a period. Juan Ramón Jiménez insisted that Hispanic Modernism was a whole...
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SOURCE: "Stranded by Politics and War: Nicaragua's Loved, Neglected Poet," in The New York Times Book Review, January 18, 1987, p. 3.
[Kinzer is an American journalist who has served as a bureau chief in Nicaragua and Germany for the New York Times. While working in Managua, Nicaragua, for nearly thirteen years, he developed a native's perspective of Central America's complex politics that few American journalists have been able to duplicate. In the essay below, Kinzer laments the neglect suffered by Darío's poetry in contemporary Nicaragua.]
One can hardly imagine how remote the newborn republic of Nicaragua must have been from the world's cosmopolitan centers during the last century. It was perceived, not quite correctly, as a tropical backwater, steamy, inert and destitute of learning and culture. Yet from a wretched Nicaraguan village, by some amazing mystery, emerged Rubén Darío, the vagabond poet who was to influence Latin American and Spanish literature forever and dazzle Europe as no provincial ever had. "That such a thing could happen makes you believe either in God or Darwin," said Carlos Martínez Rivas, a prominent Nicaraguan poet who, inescapably, has spent much of his life immersed in Darío's legacy.
Today is the anniversary of Darío's birth in 1867, and in his hometown, schoolchildren will declaim his poetry and official functionaries will read florid...
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SOURCE: "Why the Dichotomy of Active and Passive Women in Darío's Poetry?" in Discurso literario: revista de temas hispanicos, Vol. 6, No. 1, Fall, 1988, pp. 137-49.
[In the following essay, Burt compares images of active and passive women in several of Darío's poems, suggesting that the contrast arose from subconscious motivations in the poet.]
Darío's poetry has received a great deal of critical attention over the years, and his relationship with women its full share as well. Almost all of the critics recognize the ubiquitous element of eroticism as the single most controversial theme of his poetry. Yet at the same time, none of them has noted an interesting and important dichotomy of feminine behavior.
In their relationships with the poet, either literally with Darío or with his poetic masculine alter ego, women exhibit two very different behavior patterns. One kind of woman behaves demurely, spending most of her time awaiting her lover only to awaken with a languorous submission to his wishes when he arrives (a passive, reactive role). The second kind of woman makes decisions for herself, changing her role in the situation at her own wish rather than at that of the poet, and becomes clearly the one who establishes control of the relationship (a decisive, active role).
Darío exemplifies both patterns quite clearly in eight representative poems selected from his...
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SOURCE: "Woman as Image in Darío's Prosas Profanas," in Romance Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 3, August, 1989, pp. 281-88.
[In the following essay, Davies examines classical and Judeo-Christian images of woman in Prosas profanas, assessing the role of the archetypal female in Darío's verse.]
Rubén Darío's Prosas Profanas, first published in Buenos Aires in 1896, was an audacious attempt to introduce the "aristocracia literaria" of European learned culture into what Darío considered a Philistine South America. It is significant that all but two of the thirty-three poems of the first edition involve gynaecomorphic images. Two-thirds of them take the female figure from Classical myth and the rest from Christian mythology and the Neo-classical reworkings of folk-tale—in short, from the quintessence of Western culture. It was into this highly contrived and erudite framework that Darío introduced the erotic and its apparent rejection of the narrow-minded, hypocritical mores of a sex-obsessed bourgeoisie. This was an idealistic eroticism, symptomatic of the end-of-century moral and spiritual malaise which the poet, in this case, attempted to overcome by means of "el culto por la belleza." Through a mystical appreciation of artistic creation Darío believed that the poet-idealist could transcend a banal, dualistic existence and aspire to universal harmony, preferably within himself. In...
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SOURCE: "Socio-Political Concerns in the Poetry of Rubén Darío," in Latin American Literary Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 6, July-December, 1990, pp. 36-49.
[In the following essay, Jrade identifies sociopolitical themes in Darío's poetry, focusing on the literary and political similarities between Spanish-American modernism and an emergent Spanish-American identity.]
Critics who have set out to examine Rubén Darío's political poetry have tended to define politics in a narrow manner. They have confined themselves for the most part to those poems that deal explicitly with American themes. As a result of this focus, scholars as perceptive as Pedro Salinas, Arturo Torres-Ríoseco, and Enrique Anderson-Imbert, among others, have written about gaps in Darío's interest in politics—usually from the 1888 publication of Azul … [Blue …] to the 1905 publication of Cantos de vida y esperanza [Songs of Life and Hope]—and have tended to emphasize a few specific poems such as "A Colón" ["To Columbus"], "Los cisnes" ["The Swans"], "Salutación al optimista" ["Greetings to the Optimist"], "A Roosevelt" ["To Roosevelt"], "Salutacion al águila" ["Greetings to the Eagle"], "Raza" ["Race"], "Pax" ["Peace"], and "Canto a la Argentina" ["Song to Argentina"]. But Darío's concern with social and political conditions in Latin America is present throughout his career. Much of his writing subtly deals with...
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Brotherston, Gordon. "Modernism and Rubén Darío." In Latin American Poetry: Origins and Presence, pp. 56-76. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Studies Darío's poetry within the context of the Modernist movement.
Cardwell, Richard A. "Darío and El Arte Puro: The Enigma of Life and the Beguilement of Art." Bulletin of Hispanic Studies XLVII, No. 1 (January 1970): 37-51.
Examines philosophical attitudes in Darío's work.
Craig, G. Dundas. "Rubén Darío." In The Modernist Trend in Spanish-American Poetry, pp. 255-76. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1934.
Comments on individual poems by Darío in a variety of contexts.
Ellis, Keith. Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974, 170 p.
Treats various types of Darío criticism, including biographical, socio-political, literary tradition, philosophical, and structural analysis. This study also includes an appendix, "Rubén Darío as a Literary Critic."
Ellison, Fred P. "Rubén Darío and Brazil." Hispania XLVII, No. 1 (March 1964): 24-35.
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