This Day In Literary History
On January 18th, 1867, the legendary Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío was born. He was born Félix Rubén García Sarmiento in Metapa, Nicaragua. Shortly after his birth, his parents' rocky marriage fell apart. His father was a hopeless alcoholic.
Rubén's mother moved to Honduras to live with her new boyfriend, leaving him to be raised by her aunt and uncle in Leon. Rubén considered his Uncle Felix and Aunt Bernarda his real parents and never had any use for his birth parents.
A child prodigy, Rubén Darío learned to read when he was three years old, and begin writing poetry not long afterward. At the age of twelve, his first published poem appeared in a local newspaper.
Within a year, his work was appearing regularly in El Ensayo, (The Test) a literary magazine in Leon, where he became famous as El Niño Poeta de Leon - The Child Poet of Leon. He would often be invited to read his poetry at public functions.
Around this time, Rubén's Uncle Felix died, and he was sent off to be formally educated by the Jesuits. By then, his private studies of the great Spanish poets and writers of the day had kindled within him strong liberal convictions.
These convictions clashed bitterly with the teachings of the Jesuits, whom he would blast in El Jesuita, an essay written in 1881 - when he was fourteen.
In December of that year, Rubén Darío moved to Managua, where some liberal politicians campaigned to have a government grant pay for him to be educated in Europe.
Unfortunately, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Alfaro, the conservative president of congress, denied the grant, as he was offended by Rubén's anti-religious writings.
After a public outcry, a compromise was offered that would pay for Rubén to be educated in the city of Granada, Nicaragua, but he opted to stay in Managua, where he would write for the city's top newspapers.
The following year, in 1882, Rubén Darío met a girl named Rosario Murillo. It was love at first sight for both of them, but there was a problem - he was fifteen years old and she eleven. He planned to marry her when she reached the age of consent, but his friends talked him out of it. He left Managua and set sail for El Salvador.
Several years later, following the sudden death of his first wife, he would be reunited with Rosario, now in her late teens. After her brother caught them in bed together, he forced Rubén to marry her in a shotgun wedding. It would not be a happy marriage. He drank and lived mostly with his mistress.
In El Salvador, Rubén Darío was befriended by the Salvadoran poet Joaquin Mendez, who took him under his wing and introduced him to the President, Rafael Zaldivar. Darío also met poet Francisco Gavidia, a connoisseur of French poetry.
Gavidia introduced him to the works of the French symbolist poets and Victor Hugo. He would later meet his idol, French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, in Paris. He learned the French language well enough that he began writing poetry in French and using French rhythm and meter in Spanish poems.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, Darío served as a war correspondent. In his prophetic poem, To Roosevelt (1905), published several years after the war ended and dedicated to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Darío accurately predicted the plunder and exploitation of Latin America and her people by U.S. imperialists:
You are the United States
you are the future invader
of the naive America that has indigenous blood
that still prays to Jesus Christ and that still speaks Spanish
His work as a war correspondent finished, Darío served as the Nicaraguan ambassador to France. He had held other diplomatic positions before, which enabled him to travel around the world.
When he visited New York City, he met Cuban poet José Martí. While working as an ambassador, he remained a prolific poet and continued to publish collections of his work.
In 1916, after writing his autobiography, Darío went bankrupt and fell ill with pneumonia. He returned home to Nicaragua and his wife Rosario, and died peacefully in bed. He was 49 years old.
Rubén Dario remains a huge influence on Spanish poetic voice and is considered a folk hero in Latin America. If you visit Nicaragua, you'll see a huge portrait of him hanging in Managua's international airport.
In 1965, a collection of Rubén Darío's poetry would be published in an English language edition by translator Lysander Kemp. This volume includes the classic Nocturne:
Silence of the night, a sad, nocturnal
silence — Why does my soul tremble so?
I hear the humming of my blood,
and a soft storm passes through my brain.
Insomnia! Not to be able to sleep, and yet
to dream. I am the autospecimen
of spiritual dissection, the auto-Hamlet!
To dilute my sadness
in the wine of the night
in the marvelous crystal of the dark —
And I ask myself: When will the dawn come?
Someone has closed a door —
Someone has walked past —
The clock has rung three — If only it were She! —
Quote Of The Day
"I seek a form that my style cannot discover, a bud of thought that wants to be a rose." - Rubén Darío
Today's video features a complete reading of Rubén Darío's poem To Roosevelt in English. Enjoy!