(Poetry Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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."

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)


Abrojos 1887

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

Isaac Goldberg (essay date 1919)

(Poetry Criticism)

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 for a continent; he is the man of the world who epitomizes a racial culture that we must surely understand better than we do now if we are to cement those ties with our Spanish-American neighbors which commercial relations only initiate but never fully tighten. Were it only from purely material motives we should know the cultural background of our prospective customers better, for it has become a platitude that in order to do business with our Southern neighbors we must be able to meet them socially and intellectually as well. But the [First World War] has emphasized another fact, one more fundamental to our present purpose: intellectual intercourse between different peoples leads to beneficial fertilization of one nation by another. In the past mere difference has too often been dismissed as inferiority; an increase in knowledge of one another must inevitably work toward a friendship that is founded on something more firm than a profitable interchange of commodities. Is there not something of silent reproach in the fact that North American poetry has nothing to match with Darío's "Salutation to the Eagle", written in 1906 to welcome our delegates to the Pan-American Congress held that year in Brazil—a poem in which the proud fear of the United States as an invader of South America (expressed in his ode "To Roosevelt") gave way to a more optimistic view? Such a note, which is more or less casual in Darío, is fundamental in the labors of José Santos Chocano, his successor. Yet did the completion of the Panama Canal elicit from our poets such a paean as Chocano's "Isthmus of Panama" or the same bard's "Song of the Future"? The war has done much to dissipate the atmosphere of distrust that is characteristic of certain of Darío's poems, but it is questionable whether Chocano's Pan-Americanism yet reflects the spirit of Spanish-America as a whole. Those of us who give thought to the matter at all cannot feel that we as a nation are totally blameless. Fortunately the situation, far from being hopeless, grows brighter every day….

The Modernista movement in Spanish poetry, which Darío definitely established in 1888 with the appearance of his volume of mingled prose and poetry called Azul (Blue), had precursors in other Spanish-American countries. But Darío did more than merely crystallize the movement; he rapidly became the leader and pathblazer, finally carrying the revolution to Spain itself. The "modernistas" received their inspiration from France, the beloved renovator in all ages of Spanish letters. The revolution originated, under the influence of the Parnassians, decadents and symbolists, in a reaction against the cold formalism into which Spanish verse had fallen. That Poe and Walt Whitman should quickly have become favorites with the new Spanish school is hardly surprising; we learned really to appreciate these compatriots from the same source—France.

In a larger sense Darío is of no school but that of beauty. His technical innovations are numerous, and naturally receive much consideration from the Spanish critics; to foreigners, especially...

(The entire section is 1866 words.)

Arturo Torres-Rioseco (essay date 1949)

(Poetry Criticism)

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 entire section is 3557 words.)

C. M. Bowra (essay date 1951)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2426 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1968)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2128 words.)

Arturo Torres-Rioseco (essay date 1970)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3809 words.)

Theodore W. Jensen (essay date 1982)

(Poetry Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 4764 words.)

Priscilla Pearsall (essay date 1983)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2587 words.)

Stephen Kinzer (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1611 words.)

John R. Burt (essay date 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4620 words.)

Catherine Davies (essay date 1989)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3159 words.)

Cathy L. Jrade (essay date 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5793 words.)

Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


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...

(The entire section is 902 words.)