A review of Rubén Darío's Selected Writings
In Spanish, there is poetry before and after Rubén Darío. The Nicaraguan (1867-1916) was the first major poet in the language since the seventeenth century, the end of the Golden Age whose masters included Garcilaso, Saint John of the Cross, Fray Luis, Góngora, Quevedo and Sor Juana. And despite an abundance of great poets in the twentieth century on both sides of the Atlantic--García Lorca, Alberti, Salinas, Cernuda, Neruda, Vallejo, Paz, Palés Matos, Lezama Lima, to name a few--his stature remains unequaled. The poetic revolution led by Darío spread across the Spanish-speaking world and extended to all of literature, not just poetry. He ushered Spanish-language poetry into the modern era by incorporating the aesthetic ideals and modern anxieties of Parnassianism and Symbolism, as Garcilaso had infused Castilian verse with Italianate forms and spirit in the sixteenth century, transforming it forever. Darío and Garcilaso led the two most profound poetic revolutions in Spanish, yet neither is known abroad, except by Hispanists. They have not traveled well, particularly in English-speaking countries, where they are all but unknown.
Darío's case is the most baffling because he is nearly our contemporary, whereas Garcilaso, who lived from 1501 to 1536, can today be safely left on library shelves along with Petrarch, Ronsard and Spenser. Besides, Garcilaso has by now been so thoroughly assimilated into Spanish poetic discourse that it is easy to overlook his presence in the poetry of Neruda and Paz. Darío's innovations, style and even manner are still contemporary, however, as are the polemics that his poetry provoked among other poets, professors and critics. What is more, his influence penetrated all levels of Latin American and Spanish society, where his voice is still audible in the lyrics of popular love songs; the artistic movement that he founded, Modernismo, had a tremendous impact on everything from ornaments to interior design, from furniture to fashion. Darío, more than a Nicaraguan poet or a Latin American poet, was a poet of the Spanish language--and its first literary celebrity, embraced throughout Latin America and Spain as the most original and modern of poetic voices.
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