| Prosas Profanas
By Nicole Cuadra Jan 16, 2007
My pick is working deep in the soil of this unknown America, turning out gold and opals and precious stones, an altar, a broken statue. And the Muse divines the meaning of the hieroglyphics. The strange life of a vanished people emerges from the mist of time. — Rubén Darío
The SF Library Mission Branch is commemorating
Rubén Darío in January.
Photo: Jennifer Pickens
This January marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Born in 1867 into humble circumstances in the town of Metapa, now renamed Ciudad Darío, Nicaragua's precocious Niño Poeta went on to lead a revolution in the then dreary world of Spanish letters. According to Yale professor Roberto González Echevarría, “In Spanish, there is poetry before and after Rubén Darío… (He) was the first major poet in the language since the seventeenth century.”
Darío rocked the Spanish speaking world with the 1888 publication of Azul, when Darío was a mere 21 years old. Darío's book swept through Spain and the Latin American capitals, ushering in a new era in Spanish poetry and casting Darío as a literary celebrity. Darío's utterly fresh approach to metrics and syntax, symbolism and imagery, earned him the title Father of Modernismo. There were other sobriquets, among them El Príncipe de las Letras Castellanas, and the Sorrowful Lion (for his tendency to drink and despair).
“One would be hard pressed to find a poet writing in Spanish who was not influenced by Darío” writes González Echevarría. He was also their subject: Luis Cernuda, Gastón Baquero, Pedro Salinas, Enrique Anderson Imbert, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz - all were moved to write about Darío.
In later years, Dario's themes turned more to politics. The imperial ambition of the United States, so evident after the Spanish-American War, was the subject of Dario's 1905 poem To Roosevelt (referring to the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine). A translation of the poem is reprinted here.
The Mission Branch Library commemorates the birth of Rubén Darío and his singular impact on poetry and prose in the Spanish language. Darío died in 1916.
The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
in Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are active and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.
You are the United States, future invader of our naive America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.
You are a strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a Professor of Energy,
as the current lunatics say).
You think that life is a fire, that progress is an eruption.
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.
The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: “The stars are yours.”
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines; the star of Chile is rising ...)
A wealthy country, joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.
But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Nezahualcoyotl;
which preserved the footprints of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantis
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauhtemoc said:
“am not on a bed of roses”—our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
0 men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God’s own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter,
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.
And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing:
For a more in-depth analysis of Rubén Darío’s impact on the Spanish speaking world, see “The Master of Modernismo” by Roberto González Echevarría in the February 13, 2006 issue of The Nation.
The Mission Branch Library is located at 300 Bartlett St., at 24th Street between Mission and Valencia. Call (415) 355-2828 for specific hours.
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