Rubén Darío’s life was adventurous and bohemian. He traveled constantly in Europe and the Americas, renowned for his literary achievements but dogged by debt, sickness, and alcoholism throughout his life.
Darío was born Félix Rubén García Sarmiento in 1867 to a poor, part-Indian family in rural Nicaragua. He published his first poem at the age of thirteen, and his early promise as a poet won for him scholarships that enabled him to gain an education.
In 1886, Darío left Nicaragua for Santiago, Chile. There, he suffered a life of severe poverty and wrote in obscurity until the publication of Azul. Through Darío’s friend Pedro Balmaceda, the son of Chile’s president, Azul came to the attention of Juan Valera, a Spanish critic attentive to South American literature. Valera published an encouraging review in Spain and Latin America in 1889, but although this brought Darío literary recognition, it did little to ease his poverty. In the same year, the poet returned to Central America, where his writing in literary journals and other periodicals won regional fame for him.
In 1892, Darío traveled to Europe as an assistant to a relative who was an official of the Nicaraguan government. He made his first visits to Madrid and to Paris, developing a lifelong love for the artistic communities of Europe. On his return to Central America, Darío called on Rafael Nuñez, a former president of Colombia, who was, like Darío, a writer. Nuñez arranged for a consular appointment for Darío in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darío remained in Buenos Aires from 1893 to 1898, writing for many Latin American newspapers and other periodicals, including La nación, Argentina’s most influential newspaper. In the course of his Argentine stay, Darío’s literary reputation continued to grow. Prosas Profanas, and Other Poems, his second major volume, was published in 1896 and attracted critical attention in Spain and South America alike. Both the work’s literary maturity and treatment of erotic themes ensured Darío’s notoriety in the Spanish-speaking literary world.
In 1898, Darío returned to Europe as a foreign correspondent for La nación. In the course of the following ten years, he became a fixture of the literary life in Spain and France. He collaborated in establishing a number of fledgling literary journals, contributed to periodicals in Europe and Latin America, and produced important works of nonfiction as well as collections of poetry. Despite his commission from La nación and appointments to consular positions for Nicaragua in both Paris and Madrid, however, Darío’s financial difficulties continued.
In 1907, Darío returned to Nicaragua to an enthusiastic public reception but stayed in his native country only briefly; he remained restless until his death, spending the last ten years of his life traveling throughout Central America and Europe, holding a variety of diplomatic and ceremonial posts, lecturing, and publishing poetry and essays in periodicals of both continents. In 1914, he published his last major work, Canto a la Argentina, oda a mitre, y otros poemas, commissioned by La nación on the occasion of Argentina’s centenary of independence.
In 1915, Darío took his last trip home from Europe. His health was poor, and he died the following year in León, Nicaragua, at the age of forty-nine.
Rubén Darío (dah-REE-oh), born Féliz Rubén García Sarmiento in Metapa (now Cuidad Darío), Nicaragua, on January 18, 1867, shaped a revitalized Spanish literature. He began life in poverty, a circumstance that would beset him all his life. The marriage between his mother, Rosa Sarmiento, and Manuel García soon ended, and their son was adopted by his mother’s aunt Bernarda Sarmiento de Ramírez and her husband Colonel Félix Ramírez of Léon, Nicaragua. The boy began writing verses in primary school. He studied Greek and Latin in a Jesuit school, but when economic difficulties prohibited more formal education he learned on his own, reading widely and voraciously. At age fourteen, the young writer adopted the name Rubén Darío and so impressed the Nicaraguan president with his poems that he was offered educational support.
The offer of formal education financed by the government never materialized, but this limitation did not stop Darío. Throughout his life he thrived on intellectual kinships. As an adolescent he was introduced to the occult by an early teacher. He read Ecuadorian writer Juan Montalvo, sharing with him hope for the reestablishment of a Central American union. Through acquaintance with El Salvadorian writer Francisco Gavidia, he discovered the French Romantic and Parnassian writers. Later he read the French Symbolists, American writers Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe, and other Modernista writers. With these writers, he felt a sense of alienation from the newly prosperous and materialist Latin Americans and would work to develop a new Spanish discourse.
In 1884, he accepted an appointment to the secretarial staff of the Nicaraguan president in Managua and contributed articles and reviews to local periodicals. In 1885, he took a position at the National Library in Managua that enabled him to read the Spanish classics. In 1887, he moved to Chile after discovering that his sweetheart, Rosario Murillo, had become involved with another man.
In Chile, Darío became a customs inspector. He won a poetry competition for his Canto épico a las glorias de Chile (1888), a poem celebrating the heroes in Chile’s war against Peru and Bolivia, and he received honorable mentions for Rimas (1887), a collection of poems. Both of these works were inspired by Spanish Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. He published Abrojas (1887; thistles), another collection of poems, and his first major work Azul (1888; partial English translation as Blue, 2002). Introducing a new style and new themes reflecting French writers, Azul was a literary innovation.
In 1889, Dario moved to El Salvador, where the president of the county appointed him to manage La Unión, a daily newspaper espousing the idea of a reunited Central America. There he met and married Rafaela Contreras Cañas. On the night of their wedding, the president was assassinated, and Darío fled the country. In 1891, his son, Rubén Darío Contreras, was born, and Darío accepted a position in Spain. While he was away, his wife died.
Distraught, he returned to Managua, where he was manipulated into marrying Rosario Murillo, his former sweetheart. They married and had a son who soon died. Separating himself from this marriage, Darío accepted an appointment as consul general of Columbia in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1896, he published Prosas profanas, y otros poemas (Prosas Profanas, and Other Poems, 1922), a work reflecting the aestheticism of the French Parnassian poets, and Los raros (the uncommon ones), a book of prose portraits.
In 1898, Darío became the Argentinean correspondent in Spain for La Nación. In Spain, he began an enduring relationship with Francisca Sánchez. He also met Spanish writers, developing a friendship with Juan Ramón Jiménez, who supervised the publication of the volumes Cantos de vida y esperanza, los cisnes, y otras poemas (1905; Songs of Life and Hope, 2004). This book, recognized as his masterpiece, assimilates a variety of influences filtered through his own poetical search for an understanding of life and art.
Living in Paris and then in Spain, Darío continued to travel, write, publish, and struggle with the financial difficulties and demons that motivated bouts with a dissipated lifestyle. In 1906, his son, Rubén Darío Sánchez, was born. Darío published a book of essays, Opinones (opinions), followed in 1907 by El canto errante (the roving song) and Parisiana (from Paris). In 1910, he published Poema del otoño, y otros poemas (the autumn poem, and other poems). “Poema del otoño”(“Autumn Poem”), one of his best lyrical pieces, expresses both the realization of the brevity of life and an affirmation of individual and universal life. In 1911 and 1912, he published collections of essays Letras (literature) and Todo al vuelo (just in passing), and in 1914 published his last book of poems, Canto a la Argentina, oda a mitre, y otros poemas (English translation, 1920).
He began to compile his complete works and wrote several autobiographical pieces, including Historia de mis libros (1914; history of my books). Embarking on a tour to read his poems that he hoped would be profitable, he fell ill and returned to León, Nicaragua, where he died on February 6, 1916, of liver disease. Honored by a funeral service conducted in a cathedral filled with admirers, he was celebrated as the most important Spanish American poet of his era.