Life, Light and Truth
The Triple Flame of Rubén Darío
By Sophia Klempner
Perhaps Nobel Prize-winning Chilean writer Pablo Neruda describes Rubén Darío’s influence on the Spanish language (1867-1916) best in his 1955 book, Viajes: "without him we would not speak our own tongue ... we would still be talking a hardened, pasteboard, tasteless language."
Darío absorbed the turbulent emotions and power struggles of his era and transformed them into verse and prose. A decisive literary figure, Darío's poetry brims with symbolism, natural inspiration, and political and historical allusion. He was a champion of Central American unity, and is widely considered the father of modernist Spanish literature.
Darío as a poet was a potent counterforce to the radical social and economic upheaval of his time. Born a decade after the countries of this region joined forces to oust land-grabbing megalomaniac William Walker, Darío put Nicaraguans at the center of their own destinies with an almost unconscious reflection of the emerging industrial economy at the turn of the 20th century. "Life is hard. Bitter and heavy," he writes in Song of Autumn in Spring; and, in What Really Gets Me, he says, "there is no greater sorrow than the sorrow of a human being." "for there is no greater grief than the grief of being alive"
The antidote to sorrow? Poetry.
Poetry was what Dario considered the very "armor of a thousand sharp points” that he wore over his soul" (Melancholy). Prose seemed in fact what Darío painfully and inevitably needed to work through life's struggles. In I'm the One Who Was Just Yesterday Saying... , he reveals his quest for wisdom saying, "Life, light, truth, this triple flame/produces the interior infinite flame." He refers to the poet as "a celestial lightening rod/ who resists the rough storms/ like bald summits/ ... / like a sea wall," / sea wall of the eternities," in Tower of Gods! Poets!
Despite his immense talent, Darío was an itinerant journalist and diplomat who struggled to make ends meet. Over the years he was ushered across borders at the whim of political patrons, working in El Salvador, Chile, Argentina and Spain. In addition to his three published collections, he wrote several volumes of poetry, over 100 short stories and tales, an autobiography, piercing literary criticism, and voluminous articles in Latin American and European newspapers – several of which he founded.
His first collection, Azul, was published in Chile at age 22. In his autobiography, published four years before his death, he says " I never learned to write verse. It was organic, natural, innate in me." He died at 49 of cirrhosis in León, Nicaragua, the city where he was raised until his teenage years by an aunt.
Few of Darío's writings are available in other languages – his greatest works use a graceful, lyrical, sometimes very singsong style with intricate rhyme and rhythmic patterns that are daunting to translate. If ever there were reason to buckle down and learn Spanish once and for all, delving into Darío's insightful works is a compelling one.