Manuel Garcia and Rosa Sarmiento were married on April 26, 1866, in León, after obtaining thenecessary ecclesiastic permissions since they were second degree cousins. However, Manuel's conduct, who allegedly engaged in excessive consumption of alcohol, prompted Rosa to abandon her conjugal home and flee to the city of Metapa in Matagalpa where she gave birth to Felix Ruben. The couple made up and Rosa even gave birth to a second child, a daughter named Candida Rosa, who died a few days after being born. The marriage deteriorated again to the point where Rosa left her husband and moved in with her aunt, Bernarda Sarmiento. After a brief period of time, Rosa Sarmiento established a relationship with another man and moved with him to San Marcos de Colon, in Choluteca, Honduras.
Although, according to his baptism, Ruben's last name was Garcia, his paternal family had been known by the last name of Dario for many generations. Ruben’s great great-grandfather had Dario as his last name and he was known as Don Dario of the Dario family. The Garcia name began to disappear as his great-grandmother began signing documents as Rita Dario.
Ruben Dario spent his childhood in the city of Leon. He was brought up by his mother's aunt and uncle in law, Felix and Bernarda, who Dario considered, in his infancy, to be his real parents (as a matter of fact, during his first years in school, he signed his assignments as Felix Ruben Ramirez.) He barely spoke to his mother, who lived in Honduras, or with his father, who he referred to as "Uncle Manuel."
Although little is known about his first years, it is documented that after the death of Felix Ramirez, in 1871, the family went through rough economic times and they considered sending young Ruben as a tailor's apprentice. According to his biographer Edelmiro Torres, he attended several schools in Leon before going on, during 1879 and 1880, to be educated by Jesuits.
A precocious reader, (according to his own testimony, he learned to read when he was three years old) he soon began to write his first verses: a sonnet written by him in 1879 is conserved, and he published for the first time in a newspaper when he was thirteen years old. The elegy, Una lagrima,which was published in the daily El Termometro, of the city of Rivas on July 26, 1880. A little later he also collaborated in El Ensayo, a literary magazine in Leon, and gained a fame of "child poet." In these initial verses, according to Teodosio Fernández, his predominating influences were Spanish poets contemporary to José Zorrilla, Ramón de Campoamor, Gaspar Núñez de Arce and Ventura de la Vega. Further along the way, however, he became very interested in Victor Hugo's work, who would have a determinant influence in his poetic undertakings.
His writings of this time also show the stamp of liberal (classic) thought, hostile to the excessive influence of the catholic church, as documented in his essay El jesuita, written in 1881. Regarding his political attitude, his most noteworthy influence was the Ecuadorian Juan Montalvo, whom he deliberately imitated in his first journalistic articles. It was around this time (he was fourteen) that he wanted to publish a first book, Poesia y articulos en prosa, that would not see the light of day until the fiftieth anniversary of his death. He had a gifted memory, creativity, and was frequently invited to recite poetry in social reunions and public functions.
In December of that same year he moved to Managua, capital of the country, at the request of some liberal politicians that had conceived the idea that, given his gift for poetry, he should be educated in Europe at the expense of the public treasury. However, the anti-clerical tone of his verses did not convince the president of congress, the conservative Pedro Joaquin Chamorro y Alfaro, and it was resolved that he would study in the Nicaraguan city of Granada. Ruben, however, opted to stay in Managua where he continued his journalistic endeavor collaborating with the newspapers El Ferrocarril and El Porvenir de Nicaragua. In the capital, he fell in love with an eleven year old girl, Rosario Emelina Murillo, whom he wanted to marry. A little later, at the petition of his friends who wanted to delay his marriage plans, in August 1882, he embarked in the port of Corinto for El Salvador.
In El Salvador
In El Salvador, young Dario was introduced to the president of the republic, Rafael Zaldivar, by Joaquin Mendez, a poet who took him under his wing. There, he met the Salvadoran poet Francisco Gavidia, a connoisseur of French poetry. Under the auspices of Gavidia, Dario attempted, for the first time, to adapt the French Alexandrine verse into Castilian metric.
The use of the Alexandrine would become a distinctive trait not only of Dario's work, but also of modernist poetry as a whole. Although he enjoyed much fame and an intense social life in El Salvador, participating in celebrations such as the one hundredth year commemoration of Simon Bolivar, that started with a recitation of one of his poems, things began to get worse: he went through economic hardships and he contracted smallpox, which is why on October 1883, still convalescent, he returned to his native homeland.
After his return, he briefly resided in Leon and then in Granada, but he finally moved again to Managua where he became an employee of the Biblioteca Nacional de Nicaragua (the Nicaraguan National Library) and he resumed his romance with Rosario Murillo. In May 1884 he was condemned for vagrancy and sentenced to eight days of public work, although he managed to evade the fulfillment of the sentence. During that time he continued experimenting with new poetic forms, and he even had a book ready for printing, which was going to be titled Epístolas y poemas. This second book also did not get published, it would have to wait until 1888 when it was finally published as Primeras notas. He tested his luck with Theater, and he released his first play, titled Cada oveja..., which had some success, but no copy of it has been found. Nonetheless, he found life in Managua unsatisfactory, and prompted by the advice of some friends, he opted to embark for Chile on June 5, 1886.
After making a name for himself with love poems and stories, Dario left Nicaragua for Chile in 1886, and disembarked in Valparaiso on June 23, 1886. In Chile he stayed with Poirier and a poet by the name of Eduardo de la Barra. Together they co-authored a sentimental novel titled Emelina, with which they entered in a literary contest (although they did not win). It was because of his friendship with Poirier that Dario was able to obtain a job in the newspaper La Época, in Santiago on July 1886.
During his stay in Chile, Dario had to endure continuous humiliation from the Chilean aristocracy that scorned him for his lack of refinement and for the color of his skin. Nonetheless, he managed to forge a few friendships, like the one with the son of the then president, the poet Pedro Balmaceda Toro. Dario soon after published his first pieces, Abrojos, in March 1887. Dario lived for several months until September 1887 in Valparaiso where he participated in several literary contests. In the month of July 1888, Azul , the key literary work of the modernist revolution that had just begun, was published in Valparaiso.
Azul... is a compilation of a series of poems and textual prose that had already been published in the Chilean media between December 1886 and June 1888. The book was not an immediate success, but it was well received by the influential Spanish novelist and literary critic Juan Valera, who published in the Madrid newspaper El Imparcial, in October 1888, two letters addressed to Ruben Dario, in which, although reproaching him for the excessive French influence in his writings (Valera's used the expression "galicismo mental" or 'mental Gallicism'), he recognized in Dario "[a] un prosista y un poeta de talento" ('a prose writer and poet of talent'.) Dario's fame was firmly consecrated because of these letters from Valera, which were later published in Chile and other countries.
Journey in Central America
The newly attained fame allowed Dario to obtain the position of newspaper correspondent for La Nación of Buenos Aires, which was at the time the most heavily circulated periodical in Hispanic America. A little after sending his first article to La Nacion, he set off on a trip back to Nicaragua. During a brief stop in Lima he met the writer Ricardo Palma. He arrived at the port in Corinto on March 7, 1889. In Leon he was received as a guest of honor. His stay in Nicaragua was brief, and he moved to San Salvador where he was named director of the periodical La Unión which was in favor of creating a unified Central American state. In San Salvador, he was married by law to Rafaela Contreras, daughter of a famous Honduran orator, Álvaro Contreras, on June 21, 1890. One day after the wedding there was a coup d'état against president (and general) Menéndez. The coup was mainly engineered by general Carlos Ezeta, who had been a guest at Dario's wedding. Dario's marriage ended with the death of his wife, which lead him to remarry for a brief period, only for him to separate very shortly thereafter.
Dario decided to leave El Salvador despite job offers from the new president. He moved to Guatemala at the end of June, while his bride remained in El Salvador. Guatemalan president Manuel Lisandro Barillas was making preparations for a war against El Salvador. Dario published, in the Guatemalan newspaper El Imparcial, an article titled Historia Negra in which he denounced Ezeta's betrayal of Menéndez.
In December 1890 he was tasked with directing a newly created newspaper, El Correo de la Tarde. That same year the second edition of his successful book Azul..., substantially expanded, and using Valera's letters, which catapulted him to literary fame, as prologue (it is now customary that these letters appear in every edition of this book), was published in Guatemala. In January 1891 his wife reunited with him in Guatemala and they were married by the church on February 11 in the cathedral of Guatemala. In June, the periodical that Dario was directing, El Correo de la Tarde, ceased to receive government subsidies, which forced it to close. Dario chose to move to Costa Rica and installed himself in the country's capital, San Jose, in August. While in Costa Rica, where he was barely able to support his family, haunted by debt despite being employed, his first son, Rubén Darío Contreras, was born on November 12, 1891.
In 1892, Dario left his family in Costa Rica, and traveled to Guatemala and Nicaragua, in search for better economic prospects. Eventually, the Nicaraguan government named him a member of the Nicaraguan delegation to Madrid where events were going to take place to commemorate the fourth centennial of the discovery of America.
During the trip to Spain he made a stop in Havana, where he met Julián del Casal and other artists, such as Aniceto Valdivia and Raoul Cay. On August 14, 1892 he disembarked in Santander, where he continued his journey to Spain via train. Amongst those he interacted with frequently are poets Gaspar Núñez de Arce, José Zorrilla and Salvador Rueda; novelists Juan Valera and Emelia Pardo Bazán; erudite Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo; and several distinguished politicians such as Emilio Castelar and Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. In November, he returned to Nicaragua, where he received a telegram from San Salvador notifying him of his wife's illness, who died on January 23, 1893.
At the onset of 1893, Ruben remained in Managua, where he renewed his affairs with Rosario Murillo, whose family forced Dario to marry her. In April he traveled to Panama, where he received the news that his friend, the Colombian president Miguel Antonio Caro, had given him a position as honorific consul in Buenos Aires. He left Rosario in Panama and undertook his journey to the Argentinian capital. Before going to Argentina, he stopped briefly in New York, where he met the illustrious Cuban poet José Martí, towards whom he had a sense of affinity; and he realized his dream of visiting Paris where he was introduced to the bohemian ways by the Guatemalan Enrique Gómez Carrillo and the Spaniard Alejandro Sawa. In the French capital city he met Jean Moréas and he had a disappointing encounter with a man he admired much, Paul Verlaine (possibly, the French poet who most influenced his literary work.) Finally, on August 13, 1893, he arrived at Buenos Aires, a city that marked him deeply.
Dario was well received by the intellectual media of Buenos Aires. He collaborated with several newspapers: in addition to La Nación, to which he was already a correspondent, he published articles in La Prensa, La Tribuna and El Tiempo, to name a few. His position as the Colombian consul was merely honorific, since, as Dario has stated in his autobiography: "no había casi colombianos en Buenos Aires y no existían transacciones ni cambios comerciales entre Colombia y la República Argentina." In the Argentinian capital he led a libertine life-style, always at the margin of his economic possibilities, and his abuse of alcohol led to the need for medical care in several occasions. Amongst the personalities he dealt with are the illustrious politician Bartolomé Mitre, Mexican poet Federico Gamboa, Bolivian poet Ricardo Jaimes Freyre and the Argentinian poets Rafael Obligado and Leopoldo Lugones.
His mother, Rosa Sarmiento, died on May 3, 1895. Although the poet barely knew his mother, her death considerably affected him. In October of the same year there was another mishap; the Colombian government abolished its consulate in Buenos Aires depriving Dario of an important source of income. As a remedy, he obtained a job as Carlos Carlés' secretary, who was the general director of the institution handling mail and telegrams in Argentina.
In 1896, in Buenos Aires, Dario published two of his most crucial books: Los raros, a collection of articles about the writers that most interested him, and second, Prosas profanas y otros poemas, the book that established the most definite consecration of Spanish literary modernism. It took time to happen, but eventually the poems published in both works grew to great popularity in much of Latin America. However popular it became, though, his work was not initially well received.
Dario's petitions to the Nicaraguan government for a diplomatic position went unattended; however, the poet discovered an opportunity to travel to Europe when he learned that La Nación needed a Correspondent in Spain to inform about the situation in the European country after Spain's disaster of 1898. It is from the United States military intervention in Cuba that Ruben Dario coined, two years before José Enrique Rodó, the metaphorical opposition between Ariel (a personification of Latin America) and Calibán (a monster which metaphorically represents the United States of America.) On December 3 of 1898, Dario embarks once again towards Europe. He arrived in Barcelona on December 22 of 1898.
Between Paris and Spain
Dario arrived in Spain under the commitment, which he impeccably fulfilled, of sending four chronicles per month to La Nación about the prevalent mood in the Spanish nation after the defeat it suffered to the United States of America, and the loss of its colonial possessions; Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Philippines, and Guam. These chronicles would end up being compiled in a book that was published in 1901, titled España Contemporánea. Crónicas y retratos literarios. In the writings, Ruben expresses his profound sympathy towards Spain, and his confidence in Spain's revival, despite the state of despair he observed.
In Spain, Dario won the admiration of a group of young poets who defended Modernism (a literary movement that was not absolutely accepted by the most established writers, especially those belonging to the Real Academia Española.) Amongst these young modernists there were a few writers that would later have important roles in Spanish literature such as Juan Ramón Jiménez, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán and Jacinto Benavente, and some that were prevalent in their time, like Francisco Villaespesa, Mariano Miguel de Val, director of the magazine Ateneo, and Emilio Carrere.
In 1899, Ruben Dario, who was still legally married to Rosario Murillo, met Francisca Sánchez del Pozo in the Casa de Campo of Madrid. Francisca was an illiterate peasant from Navalsauz in the province of Ávila, she would become his companion through the last years of his life.
In the month of April in 1900, Dario visited Paris for a second time, commissioned by La Nación to cover the Exposition Universelle that took place that year in the French capital city. His chronicles about this topic would later be compiled in the book Peregrinaciones.
During the first years of the twentieth century, Dario lived in Paris, and reached some stability, not exempt of misfortunes. In 1901 he published, in Paris, the second edition of Prosas profanas. That same year Francisca had a daughter by the poet and after giving birth traveled to Paris to reunite with him, leaving the girl to the care of her grandparents. The girl died of smallpox during this period, without her father ever meeting her.
In 1902 while in Paris Dario met a young Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, who was a self-declared admirer of Dario's work. In March 1903 he was appointed as consul by Nicaragua, which allowed him to improve his economic condition. His second child by Francisca was born on the next month, and would also die at a very young age. During those years, Dario traveled through Europe, visiting, among other countries, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and Italy.
In 1905 he went to Spain as a member of a committee named by the Nicaraguan government whose task was to resolve a territorial dispute with Honduras. That year he published, in Madrid, the third of his most important poetry books, Cantos de vida y esperanza, los cisnes y otros poemas, edited by Juan Ramón Jiménez. Some of his most memorable poems came to light in 1905, like "Salutación del optimista" and "A Roosevelt", in which he extols Hispanic traits in front of what was perceived as the threat of United States imperialism. The second poem, directed at then president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, is almost prophetic in terms of the type of politics that the United States would pursue in Latin America:
You are the United States
you are the future invader
of the naive America that has indigenous blood
that still prays to Jesus Christ and that still speaks Spanish
In 1906 he participated as secretary of the Nicaraguan delegation to the Third Pan-American Conference held in Rio de Janeiro. He used this as a motif to write his poem "Salutación del águila", which offers a view of the United States very different to that offered in prior poems:
Come, magic eagle with the great and strong wings
to extend over the South your great continental shade,
to bring in your claws, adorned with red bright rings,
a palm of glory of the color of the immense hope,
and in your beak the olive of a vast and fecund peace
.This poem was criticized by several writers who did not understand Ruben's sudden change of opinion with respect to the United States' influence in Latin America. In Rio de Janeiro, the poet was involved in an obscure romance with an aristocrat, believed to be the daughter of the Russian ambassador in Brazil. It seems that he then conceived the idea of divorcing Rosario Murillo, with whom he had been separated for years. On his way back to Europe, he made a brief stop in Buenos Aires. In Paris, he reunited with Francisca Sánchez, and together they spent the winter of 1907 in Mallorca, island in which he later frequented the company of Gabriel Alomar, who would later become a futurist poet, and that of painter Santiago Rusiñol. He began writing a novel, La Isla de Oro, which he never finished, although some of its chapters were published in La Nación.
His tranquility was interrupted by the arrival of his wife, Rosario Murillo, in Paris. She did not accept granting a divorce unless she was guaranteed an economic compensation, which the poet judged to be disproportionate. In March 1907, when he was leaving for Paris, Dario, whose alcoholism was very advanced, fell gravely ill. Upon recuperating, he returned to Paris, but he was unable to reach an agreement with his wife, so he decided to return to Nicaragua to present his case in court.
Ambassador in Madrid
After two brief stops in New York and Panama, Dario arrived in Nicaragua where he was given a honoring welcome. Regardless of the tributes offered to him, he was unsuccessful in obtaining a divorce. In addition, he was not paid what was owed to him due to his position as consul, which made him unable to return to Paris. After a few months he managed to be named resident minister in Madrid for the Nicaraguan government of José Santos Zelaya. He had economic problems since his limited budget barely allowed him to meet all of his delegation's expenses, and he went through much economic difficulty during his period as Nicaraguan ambassador. He managed to get by, partly with to his salary from La Nación and partly with the help of his friend and director of the magazine Ateneo, Mariano Miguel de Val, who, while the economic situation was at its toughest, offered himself as secretary to the Nicaraguan delegation at no charge and offered his house, number 27 in Serrano street, to serve as the diplomatic quarters of the Nicaraguan delegation. When Zelaya was overthrown, Dario was forced to renounce to his diplomatic post, which he did on February 25 of 1909. He remained loyal to Zelaya, whom he had heavily praised in his book Viaje a Nicaragua e Intermezzo tropical and with whom he had collaborated in the writing of Estados Unidos y la revolución de Nicaragua, in which the United States and the Guatemalan dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera were accused of planning the toppling of the Zelaya government.
During his time as ambassador, there was a rift between Dario and his former friend Alejandro Sawa, whose requests for economic assistance went unheard by Dario. The correspondence between them gives room to interpret that Sawa was the real author of several of the articles that Dario had published in La Nación.
His last years
In 1910, Dario traveled to Mexico as a member of a Nicaraguan delegation to commemorate a century of Mexican independence. However, the Nicaraguan government changed while Dario was abroad, and Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz refused to receive the writer, an attitude that was probably influenced by United States diplomacy. Dario, however, was well received by the people of Mexico, who supported Dario and not the government. In his autobiography, Dario relates those protests with the Mexican revolution which was about to occur:
For the first time in thirty three years of absolute control, the house of the old Caesarean emperor had been stoned. One could say that that was the first thunder of the revolution that brought the dethronement.
In light of the slight by the Mexican government, Dario left for La Habana, where, under the effects of alcohol, he attempted to commit suicide, perhaps triggered by the way he had been scorned. In November 1910 he returned to Paris, where he continued being a correspondent for La Nación and where he took a position for the Mexican Ministry of Public Instruction (Ministerio de Instrucción Pública) which may have been given to him as a compensation for the public humiliation inflicted upon him.
In 1912 he accepted an offer from the Uruguayan businessmen Rubén and Alfredo Guido to direct the magazines Mundial and Elegancias. To promote said publications, he went on tour in Latin America visiting, among other cities, Río de Janeiro, São Paulo, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. It was also around this time that the poet wrote his autobiography, which was published in the magazine Caras y caretas under the title of La vida de Rubén Darío escrita por él mismo; and the work Historia de mis libros which is very important when learning about his literary evolution.
After ending his journey due to the end of his contract with the Guido brothers, he returned to Paris and in 1913, invited by Joan Sureda, he traveled to Mallorca and he found quarters at the Carthusian monastery of Valldemosa, where many decades into the past figures such as Chopin and George Sand had resided. It was in this island where Ruben began writing the novel El oro de Mallorca, which was a fictionalization of his autobiography. The deterioration of his mental health became accentuated, however, due to his alcoholism. In December he headed back to Barcelona, where he lodged at General Zelaya's house. Zelaya had taken Dario under his wing when he was president of Nicaragua. In January 1914 he returned to Paris, where he entered a lengthy legal battle with the Guido brothers, who still owed him a large sum of money for the work he had done for them. In May he moved to Barcelona, where he published his last important work of poetry, Canto a la Argentina y otros poemas, which includes the laudatory poem he had written to Argentina, which had been made to order for La Nación.
With the outbreak of World War I, Dario departed for the United States and he left his wife Francisca and their two surviving sons behind. In January 1915, he started reading his poems (most specifically from “Pax”) at Columbia University in New York. But by the end of the year, he returned home to Nicaragua. Dario died on February 6, 1916 after he went back to Leon, his birthplace. The funeral lasted several days, and Dario was ultimately buried in the Cathedral of the city of Leon on February 13 that same year, at the base of the statue of Saint Paul near the chancel under a lion made of marble by the Granadan sculptor Jorge Navas Cordonero.