“Their idyll was a smile of four lips…”
The era was one of turmoil where in Uruguay, modernism moved across the nation. Women were discovering freedoms previously denied the female gender while confined within the constraints of traditional Catholicism.
A poet emerged, the product of a middle-class family, a puritan father and authoritarian mother. At a young age, she exhibited a talent for music and published poems in literary journals under the pen name of “Joujou.” By the time Delmira Agustini was twenty-one years old, she published her first book of poems, El libro blanco, and was recognized by the literary world. Unfortunately, her physical appearance, blue eyes and fair skin, seemed to garner as much attention as her written words, a trend that plagued her throughout her career.
Agustini was docile, modest and respectful to all around her yet as a poet, she unleashed sexuality, sensuality and passion with a lack of inhibition that was a controversial one-eighty in mores for the period. Critics responded by using derogatory terms such as “pithiness in heat,” “sexually obsessed” and “fevered Leda.” Typical for the day, such personal judgments were not passed against male writers who composed similar verse. Resistance often gives rise to condemnation and considering that Agustini lived in the early 1900s, the redefinition of male dignity drew strong defensive responses.
In 1912 Ruben Dario, American poet and creator of Modernism, visited Agustini and stated in part: “Of all the women who write in verse today, none have impressed my mind as Agustini … is the first time in Spanish feminine soul appears in the pride of his innocence and his love … if this beautiful girl’s lyrical revelation continues in its spirit as before, will astound our Spanish speaking world .. . therefore be very exquisite woman says things that have never been said.”
Agustini’s experimented with her writing, relying on Modernism forms of poetry (breaking ties with the pathos and excesses of romanticism) and later abandoning the Modernism movement. She focused primarily on the figure of the male, on Eros, which she portrays as the crux of devotion and attention but deems ultimately unreachable.
Agustini married Enrique Job Reyes in 1913 and divorced him after only a couple of weeks. Following the divorce, she continued to have a sexual relationship with Reyes. Their secret affair ended tragically in 1914 when Reyes murdered Agustini with two bullets to the head. He then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Delmira Agustini, in my opinion, was a groundbreaking poet, releasing the creativity of all female poets to follow. Imagine her struggle, to be a modernist in a time and country when women were just beginning to break past the walls of subservience, to be brave enough to have a poetic voice that goes against religious convention and to create lasting poetry in spite of it all.
The following passages have been translated from the original Spanish version to English. Sadly, translations tend to lose some depth yet as you read, I believe you will find Agustini’s passion intriguing even in their non-native version.
El Nudo (The Knot)
Their idyll was a smile of four lips…
In the warm lap of blond spring
They loved such that between their wise fingers
the divine form of Chimera trembled.
In the glimmering palaces of quiet afternoons
They spoke in a language heartfelt as weeping,
And they kissed each other deeply, biting the soul!
The hours fluttered away like petals of gold,
Then Fate interposed its two icy hands…
Ah! the bodies yielded, but tangled souls
Are the most intricate knot that never unfolds…
In strife with its mad superhuman entanglements,
Life’s Furies rent their coupled hands
And wearied your powerful fingers, Ananké*…
*Ananké: Goddess (Greek) of Unalterable Necessity
Tu Boca (Your Mouth)
I was at my divine labor, upon the rock
Swelling with Pride. From a distance,
At dawn, some bright petal came to me,
Some kiss in the night. Upon the rock,
Tenacious a madwoman, I clung to my work.
When your voice, like a sacred bell,
A celestial note with a human tremor,
Stretched its golden lasso from the edge of your mouth;
—Marvelous nest of vertigo, your mouth!
Two rose petals fastened to an abyss…—
Labor, labor of glory, painful and frivolous;
Fabric where my spirit went weaving herself!
You come to the arrogant head of the rock,
And I fall, without end, into the bloody abyss!
I’m Beth Winter and once again, there is much more to Delmira Agustini’s biography, philosophy and poetry than I can possibly cover in this article. I’m grateful that you stopped by and hope that what I have shared will inspire you to research this famous Spanish American poet in more depth.
English translations by Valerie Martinez