Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Songs of Life and Hope confirms Darío’s position as not only the exemplar of Modernismo but also as Spanish poet par excellence. This work elucidates his tragic vision of life and articulates its redemption. As Darío focuses on these themes, he continues to extend innovations of style, form, and development of ideas.
In the preface Darío reasserts his belief in the supremacy of art and his disdain for the conventional-minded. In the poems, he develops the free verse, rhythms, and repetitions that contribute to the poems’ lyrical qualities. He use symbols to reflect the fusion of contrasting spirits. He laments the fate of humankind, then explains and exemplifies what redeems life, what offers comfort and hope.
The first poem, “Nocturno” (“Nocturne”), an autobiographical piece, describes his struggles and longing. Awareness of loss, of time wasted, and of mortality reverberate throughout. Comfort and hope are offered in descriptions of both how to live—engage in life fully and passionately—and where to find inspiration—in the sources of redemption, beauty, and harmony. For Darío, the comfort of the flesh makes life whole and even makes the spiritual accessible. “Leda”explores this impetus and result.
Religious belief and recognition of harmony and beauty also provide comfort. The tragic life is relieved by spiritual belief. In “Spes.” the poet prays for the grace that will purge his unworthy impulses and the guilt that follows. Recognizing a universal mood of despair and pain, the speaker waits in “Canto de esperanza” (“Song of Hope”) for a second coming and mourns the sterile, hopeless world of no belief. The optimistic spirit, he explains in “Salutación del optimista” (“Greetings from an Optimist’), enables doleful misgivings to melt away.
Harmony is created by the uniting of contrasting elements. In “Al rey Óscar” (“To King Oscar”), the regal emissary from Norway brings to Spain a spirit that complements the Spanish spirit. Art and artists create this harmony as well. “Cyrano en España” (“Cyrano in Spain”) and “Salutación a Leonardo” (“A Salutation to Leonardo”) describe other felicitous unions. Again, Darío uses symbols to create a mythology of life and hope. Classical figures of mythology and everyday creatures, such as swans, represent beauty and life.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Applebaum, Stanley, ed. and trans. Introduction to Cuentos y poesias/Stories and Poems: A Dual Language Book, by Rubén Darío. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2002.
Derusha, Will, and Alberto Acereda, eds. Introduction to Songs of Life and Hope/Cantos de vida y esperanza, by Rubén Darío. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004.
Imbert, Enrique Anderson. “Rubén Darío.” Translated by Peter Latson. In Latin American Writers. Vol. 1 in The Scribner’s Writers Series. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1989.
Jrade, Cathy L. “Socio-Political Concerns in the Poetry of Rubén Darío.” The Latin American Literary Review 18, no. 36 (1990): 36-49.
Pym, Anthony, “Strategies of the Frontier in Spanish-American Modernismo.” Comparative Literature 44, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 161-173.
Stavans, Ilan, ed. Introduction to Rubén Darío: Selected Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.