Critics and editors of the Latin American essay usually include Nicaraguan Rubén Darío in their survey of this genre in Spanish America. Darío is best remembered, however, as a poet who knitted his craft into standard, well-defined structures in verse, applying and enriching rhyme rules available in Spanish as no one had done before.
Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905; Songs of life and hope) is among his most famous collections of verse. He is also recognized for his short stories, some of which are examples of the fantastic, a subgenre dominated by the masters of the Americas such as the U.S. writer Edgar Allan Poe and Argentines Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar.
However, Darío’s creativity challenged the rules by skillfully mixing subgenres in what critics have called prose poems, which he published along with versified compositions in Azul (1888; Blue), the collection that propelled him to literary stardom.
As a consequence, his prose has been the subject of conflicting interpretations. For the novice reader, the titles of his collections are deceptive; for example, Prosas profanas (1896; Profane prose) is composed of standard poetic composition using orthodox metrics.
Darío’s essayistic production can be divided into at least three distinct categories. The best known takes the form of standard literary criticism as well as highly personalized literary portraits of outstanding figures and the subjects of his artistic admiration. The second category can be considered journalism and is composed of distinctively personal and impressionistic columns resulting from his travels in the United States, Latin America, and Europe. The third is unique pieces in the form of an autobiography and a long essay in which he narrates his return to his native country.
Most of Darío’s literary comments meet the canonical expectations of the genre and reveal his innate skills. They are dispersed in numerous literary journals, as prefaces to several of his best-known books of poetry, and collected in anthologies such as Los raros (1896; The rare ones). In these pieces Darío is semantically and lexically precise in his use of language, displays strong cultural sensitivity, and is extremely opinionated. Most of the linguistic characteristics of his bestknown poems in the tradition of modernismo are also revealed in his literary comments. Musical tones, baroque variations, and an overwhelming richness of vocabulary and syntactic structures often appear in his literary articles.
It is ironic that Darío himself had little respect for what has become his best-known writing besides his poetry. His articles published in newspapers, especially those commissioned by La Nación (The nation) of Buenos Aires, are among the most impressive generated in Spanish American literature. Darío labeled this task “el trabajo diario y preciso y fatal” (daily, precise, and fatal work), a characterization frequently made by others who have had to earn a living as journalists; however, in Darío’s case his journalism had no discernible negative impact on his poetic craft (for which he was paid nothing). The journalistic genre that best applies to Darío is the freestyle crónica, a hybrid of reportage and informative column pieces. In his case, as well as in the journalistic ventures of other established Spanish and Latin American writers, the presence of his voice is paramount, constituting the trademark of the pieces. Still relevant are his lively turn-of-the-century commentaries on post-’98 Spain in España contemporánea (1901; Contemporary Spain), in which he shows increasing awareness of that country’s regional and social differences, its rich multilingual cultural heritage, and its search for a new identity as it would be expressed by the Generation of 1898. Several Latin American settings (especially Argentina and Chile, where he resided) became the center of his attention, as did different aspects of the United States, inter-American relations, Italy, and France. In most cases, these articles still reveal a freshness in their analysis and point of view.
A third variation came in the form of personal “artistic prose,” timeless essays loaded with commentaries on local customs and less anchored in sentimental diversions; this approach is mostly reserved for his autobiographical pieces. La vida de Rubén Darío escrita por él mismo (1915; The life of Rubén Darío as written by himself) is a short, meticulous document, a fine example of autobiography as a variation of the essay. The use of journalistic leads at the beginning of each chapter captures the attention of readers just as it does in his best poems. El viaje a Nicaragua (1909; Travel to Nicaragua), mixed with poems under the subheading Intermezzo tropical, is a narrative essay, a hybrid of memoirs and journalism, full of personal impressions as well as information and commentary on local mores.
Apart from his standard prose writing, some of Darío’s best poems have essayistic qualities. Because of the intimacy between political ideas and the evolution of the essay in Latin America, these poems, as “essays in verse,” a common subgenre in Latin American literature, were milestones in the changing attitudes concerning Latin America’s search for cultural and political identity, and the use of the United States as a model. Historians of diplomatic and inter-American relations admire these works not so much for their lyricism as for the ideas expressed in them. Three of these poems are classics: “Oda a Roosevelt” (1904; Ode to Roosevelt), “A Colón” (1892; To Columbus), and “Salutación al Aguila” (1906; Salutation to the eagle). They are among the most used and abused documents by politicians, historians, and other essayists in discussing the Latin American perception of and relationship with the U.S. With these poems Darío, along with other modernista masters such as Cuba’s José Martí and Uruguay’s José
Enrique Rodó, ushered in a new era in Spanish American literature and intellectual history.
Born Félix Rubén García Sarmiento, 18 January 1867 in Metapa (now Ciudad Darío), Nicaragua. Worked for newspapers in Santiago, Valparaiso, and Buenos Aires, from age 14; correspondent for Latin American papers in various parts of Latin America, including La Nación, Buenos Aires, from 1889, and in Paris and Madrid. Served Guatemala in various diplomatic and representative functions. Married Rafaela Contreras, 1890 (died, 1892): one son. Married (under duress) Rosario Murillo, 1893. Colombian consul to Argentina, 1893–94. Cofounder, Revista de América (American review), Buenos Aires, 1896. Long liaison with Francisca Sánchez, from 1899: one son (two other children died in infancy). Traveled in Europe, from 1900; Nicaraguan consul to France, 1903–07. Died (of cirrhosis of the liver) in León, Nicaragua, 6 February 1916.
Essays and Related Prose
Los raros, 1896
España contemporánea, 1901
La caravana pasa, 1902.
Tierras solares, 1904; edited by Noel Rivas, 1991
El viaje a Nicaragua: Intermezzo tropical (travel writing), 1909
Todo al vuelo, 1912
La vida de Rubén Darío escrita por él mismo, 1915
El mundo de los sueños: Prosas póstumas, 1917
Alfonso XIII, y Sus primeras notas, 1921
Rubén Darío periodista (selection), 1964
Escritos dispersos de Rubén Darío (recogidos de periódicos de Buenos Aires), edited by Pedro Luis Barca, 1968
El mundo de los sueños (selected essays), edited by Ángel Rama, 1973
El modernismo y otros ensayos, edited by Iris M.Zavala, 1989
Other writings: poetry (including the collections Azul, 1888; Prosas profanas y otros poemas, 1896; Cantos de vida y esperanza, 1905), three novels, short stories, and two works of autobiography.
Collected works editions: Obras completas, edited by Rubén Darío Sánchez, 22 vols., 1917–19, Alberto Ghiraldo and Andrés González-Blanco, 21 vols., 1923–29, and M. Sanmiguel Raimúndez, 5 vols., 1950–55.
Greco, Arnold Armand del, Repertorio bibliográfico del mundo de Rubén Darío, New York: Las Américas, 1969
Jirón Terán, José, Bibliografía activa de Rubén Danío, Managua: Ministry of Culture, 1981
Woodbridge, Hensley C., Rubén Darío: A Selective Classified and Annotated Bibliography, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1975
Ellis, Keith, Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974
Ingwersen, Sonya A., Light and Longing: Silva and Darío: Modernism and Religious Heterodoxy, New York: Lang, 1986
Jrade, Cathy Login, Rubén Darío and the Romantic Search for Unity: The Modernist Recourse to Esoteric Tradition, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983
Reyes Huete, Alejandro, Darío en su prosa, Granada, Nicaragua: Editorial Hospicio, 1960
Rodríguez-Hernández, Raúl, “Los raros: La otra estética modernista de Rubén Darío,” Texto-Crítico 14, no. 38 (January-June 1988): 51–58
Schick Gutiérrez, René, Rubén Darío y la política, Managua: Editorial Nicaraguense, 1966
Schräder, Ludwig, “Rubén Darío, crítico literario en Los raros,” in El ensayo y la crítica literaria en Latinoamérica, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970: 95–99
Watland, Charles Dutton, Poet-Errant: A Biography of Rubén Darío, New York: Philosophical Library, 1965
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