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Celebrating Poetic Freedom: Rubén Dario

(The following is a post by Juan Manuel Pérez, Reference Specialist, Hispanic Division.)

Detail of República de Nicaragua showing Metapa. By L. Robelin. Paris: Monroco, Hermanos, Impr. Editores, [1913?]

Through 2016 Nicaragua and the Spanish-speaking world have been celebrating the 100th anniversary of the death of one of Latin America’s greatest poets, Félix Rubén García Sarmiento, universally known as Rubén Darío (1867-1916). His poetry ushered in a literary movement known as “modernism,” characterized by rebelling against and shedding the constraints imposed by romanticism (the dominant literary movement in 19th century Latin America), adopting new themes focused on aesthetic beauty, and experimenting with metrics and verse composition. In the words of Alberto Acereda and Will Derusha, authors of a work on the poetry of Darío, “[he] remains one of the greatest voices in all lyrical poetry ever written in Spanish.”(“Selected Poems of Rubén Darío: A Bilingual Anthology,” edited by Acereda and Derusha. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press; London; Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2001). Such has been his influence that he is often referred to as “el príncipe de las letras castellanas” (the prince of Castilian Letters).

The picturesque city market, Masaya, Nicaragua. Meadville, Pa.: Keystone View Company, c1902.

Despite a life of family difficulties, constant economic deprivation, and an adulthood complicated by alcoholism, Darío was able to produce an exceptional body of work in poetry and prose. His poetry in particular is known for its beautiful imagery, eroticism, and exultation of indigenismo concerning the status of indigenous peoples of the Americas. He traveled to many Latin American countries, and lived in some of them for an extended period of time. He was posted to France and Spain as his country’s diplomatic representative, where he met and befriended prominent politicians, literary figures, and intellectuals, including a very young Spanish writer named Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881-1958), who helped Darío publish one of his most celebrated works, “Cantos de vida y esperanza” (Songs of Life and Hope, 1905) in Madrid. Jiménez went on to win the Nobel Prize for his own writings in 1956—but that’s a tale for another blog post.

A Nicaragua paradise, C.A. Meadville, Pa.: Keystone View Company, manufacturers and publishers, c1902.

Rubén Darío is one of the greatest literary figures in Nicaragua and is still greatly revered. Many streets, schools, and other buildings and landmarks are named after him. In 1920, his hometown of Metapa changed its official name to Ciudad Darío in his honor. He has had such a powerful influence on his country that poetry and poetry writing have become a sort of national pastime.

The Library of Congress collections include over 500 volumes by or about Rubén Darío, including the 1905 edition of “Cantos de vida y esperanza,” held in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. The Library also has a 1923 recording of a reading of one of his poems in Buenos Aires, Argentina by Berta Singerman, a famous Argentine performer who specialized in literary declamation. The collections also hold correspondence between Darío and Jiménez. To find more books and articles by and about Darío, search the Handbook of Latin American Studies and the Library of Congress catalog.

One Comment

  1. Georgette Dorn
    September 28, 2016 at 8:19 am

    An excellent portrayal of one of Latin America’s an indeed the world’ great literary figures.

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