With very few exceptions, old poetry is not really my thing. And by old, I mean anything written before T.S. Eliot published “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1915, so I definitely run the risk of missing out. With the new year, I’ve been making an effort to read some of the classics of what, in my mind, fall under the terribly inadequate label of “Old Poetry.”
One of the greats of Latin American “Old Poetry” is Félix Rubén García Sarmiento, more commonly known as Rubén Darío. His hallmark “Cantos de Vida y Esperanza” or “Songs of Life and Hope,” written in 1905, so barely within the realm of the old, is lyrical, traditionally metered and expressive of then-current events. Too lyrical and traditional for my personal taste, but beautiful and relevant nonetheless.
The highlighted text to the right translates into:
And very eighteenth century and very antique
And very modern; daring, cosmopolitan;
Strong with Hugo and ambiguous with Verlaine,
And an infinite thirst for illusions.
This text exemplifies why Darío is known as the father of the Spanish-American literary movement known as modernismo, which is completely different from all the various English-speaking historical uses of the word “modern.”
Modernismo was like the Art Nouveau of Spanish-American poetry. It was rooted in classical forms but then went over the top with its extravagant symbols and rich language as a form of commentary on upholstered Bourgeoise life. I guess the important thing to keep in mind is that, at the time, this was an ultra contemporary way to write. So, even if this type of poetry is not everyone’s favorite read, it matters because it is part of the constant universal process whereby our “modern, daring, cosmopolitan” values are happily renewed.