Rubén Darío (1867-1916) was a Nicaraguan poet whose work is considered to have given the major impetus to the late-19th-century literary movement in Spanish America called modernism.
Rubén Darío was born Félix Rubén García y Sarmiento on Jan. 18, 1867, in Metapa. Raised as an orphan in the home of an aunt, he showed at an early age an astonishing ability for versification. His early Jesuit training appears to have had little influence on his subsequent behavior, except perhaps to intensify his mystical inclinations. At 13, he published the first poem he was to sign as Rubén Darío, adopting the more euphonious last name of a paternal great-grandfather.
An intelligent, nervous, superstitious boy, Darío was taken by friends to the capital city of Managua in 1881. But in an effort to frustrate his announced plan to marry at age 14, he was sent to El Salvador. There he met the poet Francisco Gavidia, who introduced him to French literature and instructed him in new styles of versification. In 1884 Darío returned to Managua, took a job at the National Library, learned French, and set out on an intensive program of literary study.
In Darío's first volume of poetry, Primeras notas (1885), his liberal attitudes were clearly manifested. In 1886, hoping to find a more stimulating literary environment, he traveled to Valparaiso, Chile, where he wrote for the newspaper La Epoca. He began to read the French Parnassian and symbolist poets, whose influence on what he wrote in the next few years was fundamental.
Darío's Azul (1888) was a collection of the prose and poetry he had been writing in Chile. The elegance and refinement of his style were strikingly fresh in the Spanish language. Azul is generally considered to be the first book of the Spanish American literary tendency designated as modernism, which introduced new forms and standards of expression and effected a virtual renovation of Spanish American literary style.
Darío's subsequent travels were almost as influential as his writings in publicizing the new trend. He returned to Central America in 1889 and founded a newspaper in El Salvador, and another in Guatemala in 1890. He was married for the first time in 1890 and in 1891 settled in Costa Rica. In 1892 and 1893 he made his first visits to Europe, returning from the second trip directly to Buenos Aires, where he had been appointed the Colombian consul. Although he soon lost that appointment, he remained in Argentina until 1898, publishing his important works, Los raros (1896), a collection of essays dealing with writers Darío admired, and Prosas profanas (1896), the book with which the ground gained by the modernist tendency—now being cultivated by poets throughout Spanish America—was consolidated.
In 1898 the Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación, with which Darío had been associated since 1889, sent him to Spain as a correspondent. He was soon transferred to Paris, which became the center of his activities for nearly 5 years. In his most mature collection of poetry, Cantos de vida y esperanza (1906), much of the surface brilliance of his earlier work is replaced by a more serious, human, meditative tone. Some of the elegance is missing, but it is replaced by the conscience of a man now aware of the world around him and the social and political circumstances of Spanish America at the turn of the century.
Between 1907 and 1915 Darío's life was complicated by continuous travel between Europe and Spanish America, the consequences of his chronic intemperance, and persistent marital troubles involving his second wife, from whom he had long been separated, and Francisca Sánchez, a Spanish woman who had borne him three children. He continued to write and publish his poetry, but these later volumes reveal a decline in his creative powers: El canto errante (1907), El viaje a Nicaragua (principally prose; 1909), and Poema del otoño (1910). He died in León, Nicaragua, on Feb. 6, 1916.
The best source on Darío's life is Charles Dunton Watland, Poet-Errant: A Biography of Rubén Darío (1965). Much new Darío criticism appeared in commemoration of the centennial celebration of the poet's birth in 1967. Of the works in English, especially useful is George D. Schade and Miguel González-Gerth, eds., Rubén Darío: Centennial Studies (1970). Two excellent studies of distinct aspects of the poet's work are Donald F. Fogelquist, ed., The Literary Collaboration and the Personal Correspondence of Rubén Darío and Juan Ramón Jiménez (1956), and Dolores Ackel Fiore, Rubén Darío in Search of Inspiration: Greco-Roman Mythology in His Stories and Plays (1963).