>Rubén Darío, Azul…/Cantos de vida y esperanza

January 22, 2011 § 2 Comments


Nada más triste que un titán que llora,
hombre-montaña encadenado a un lirio,
que gime, fuerte, que pujante, implora:
victima propria en su fatal martirio.

Nothing more sad than a titan that cries,
man-mountain chained to a lily
who strong, cries, who vigorous, implores:
victim in his own fatal martyrism.

From “A un poeta”/”To a Poet”

Born in Nicaragua in 1867 but citizen of all of Latin America, the late nineteenth/early twentieth century poet Rubén Darío is perhaps one of the two greatest poets the Americas have produced; Walt Whitman may be his only true peer.  Wheras Whitman sung this songs of self and the United States of America, Darío spoke in harsher, more personal tones of the “other” America:  those lands south of the Río Grande.  Yet Darío was not wholly preoccupied with laying out the concerns and fears of those who saw the U.S. as a threatening imperialist power.  Rather, his works, especially the two works collected in this Austral edition, Azul (1888) and Cantos de vida y esperanza (1905), contain a wealth of thought, written not just in poetry but also in short, sharp prose.

Azul was an interesting reading experience.  A century before the term “flash fiction” came into vogue, Darío was writing fictions that often failed to surpass one thousand words.  In the tales collected here, augmented in a revised edition with some sonnets, Darío concerns himself more with capturing intimate moods rather than laying out a situation.  We are often thrust in media res into events, forced to react as the characters do, trying to make sense of it all.  That Darío so often succeeds at creating memorable situations and characters pales in comparison to how superbly constructed these short fictions are.  Darío is very economical with his words and this allows each word to carry more weight, creating this sense of resonance by the time he completes each tale.

However much I liked the short stories here, Azul‘s poems are my favorite part of this first collection.  Of particular note is “Ananke,” whose very title is foreboding and whose rapid descent from the carefree boasting to its sudden conclusion makes this a startling poem to read no matter how many times it is pored over by a reader.  Darío is often considered to be one of the first and most influential Modernists in Latin America, due to his influence on other writers and poets.  But in reading this poem and the ones in Cantos de vida y esperanza, his greatest strengths as a poet are capturing emotional moments that transcend time, space, and culture.

Cantos de vida y espanza (Songs of Life and Hope) contains one of my favorite poems composed in Spanish, “A Roosevelt” (or “To Roosevelt” in translation).  Here is the original text of the poem:

Es con voz de la Biblia, o verso de Walt Whitman,
que habría que llegar hasta ti, Cazador!
Primitivo y moderno, sencillo y complicado,
con un algo de Washington y cuatro de Nemrod.

Eres los Estados Unidos,
eres el futuro invasor
de la América ingenua que tiene sangre indígena,
que aún reza a Jesucristo y aún habla en español.

Eres soberbio y fuerte ejemplar de tu raza;
eres culto, eres hábil; te opones a Tolstoy.
Y domando caballos, o asesinando tigres,
eres un Alejandro-Nabucodonosor.
(Eres un profesor de energía,
como dicen los locos de hoy.)

Crees que la vida es incendio,
que el progreso es erupción;
en donde pones la bala
el porvenir pones.


Los Estados Unidos son potentes y grandes.
Cuando ellos se estremecen hay un hondo temblor
que pasa por las vértebras enormes de los Andes.
Si clamáis, se oye como el rugir del león.

Ya Hugo a Grant le dijo: «Las estrellas son vuestras».
(Apenas brilla, alzándose, el argentino sol
y la estrella chilena se levanta…) Sois ricos.
Juntáis al culto de Hércules el culto de Mammón;
y alumbrando el camino de la fácil conquista,
la Libertad levanta su antorcha en Nueva York.

Mas la América nuestra, que tenía poetas
desde los viejos tiempos de Netzahualcoyotl,
que ha guardado las huellas de los pies del gran Baco,
que el alfabeto pánico en un tiempo aprendió;
que consultó los astros, que conoció la Atlántida,
cuyo nombre nos llega resonando en Platón,
que desde los remotos momentos de su vida
vive de luz, de fuego, de perfume, de amor,
la América del gran Moctezuma, del Inca,
la América fragante de Cristóbal Colón,
la América católica, la América española,
la América en que dijo el noble Guatemoc:
«Yo no estoy en un lecho de rosas»; esa América
que tiembla de huracanes y que vive de Amor,
hombres de ojos sajones y alma bárbara, vive.
Y sueña. Y ama, y vibra; y es la hija del Sol.
Tened cuidado. ¡Vive la América española!
Hay mil cachorros sueltos del León Español.
Se necesitaría, Roosevelt, ser Dios mismo,
el Riflero terrible y el fuerte Cazador,
para poder tenernos en vuestras férreas garras.

Y, pues contáis con todo, falta una cosa: ¡Dios!

A full translation can be found at this link.   But even if you choose only to read my words and not the translation, consider the tone in which Darío delivers these words.  “It is with the voice of the Bible, or Walt Whitman’s verse…”, such a powerful, evocative way to begin a poetic address to the Hunter President, whose policies threaten to shadow the entire Americas.  Darío minces no words here.  By casting Roosevelt as a modern-day Nimrod, he is playing upon the ambiguity found within that Biblical personage, who was (depending upon the translation and interpretation) a mighty hunter, with the implication that this hunting could embrace more than just the stalking of animal prey.  In contrast to Roosevelt’s Hunter, Latin America is portrayed as an ancient, proud, and yet vulnerable to the growing Yankee power.  Yet despite this, Darío’s poem does not slip into a simple dichotomy of powerful/weak, rich/poor.  There is a subtlety that underlies this poem, removing it from the first decade of the twentieth century and permitting interpretations that are applicable to situations in the first decades of the twenty-first century.

Although “A Roosevelt” is my favorite Darío poem, the rest of the collection is nearly as moving.  Darío largely eschews extended metaphors, instead utilizing shorter yet no less powerful metaphors and direct allusions to create moods that linger in the reader’s mind long after the final poem is read.  Darío is one of the finest poets that Latin America has ever released, yet perhaps due to his ambiguous attitude toward the North American governments, he has not ever received quite the reception in English that a Pablo Neruda enjoyed.  Yet Darío’s poems are, for me at least, at least as elegant and often are more powerful for expressing sentiments that the later Chilean poet rarely attempted to cover in his poetry.  Highly recommended.


§ 2 Responses to >Rubén Darío, Azul…/Cantos de vida y esperanza

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading >Rubén Darío, Azul…/Cantos de vida y esperanza at Vaguely Borgesian.


%d bloggers like this: