Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (1): Rubén Darío, 'To Roosevelt'

Translation & endnote by Gabriel Gudding

[As I enter my eighty-third year the work that still lies ahead begins to focus on the possibility of a new poetry & poetics of the Americas.  The idea, like most ideas (good & bad) is by no means new but it stirs up, again, a sense of unkept promises & of a discontent with the idea of America as the domain of the United States alone, the way we speak of it again & again in our works & in our daily lives.  The upshot of this is that I’ve recently begun to discuss with Heriberto Yépez the possibility of constructing an American assemblage/anthology along these lines – as a kind of experiment, the results of which we can’t as yet anticipate, except that the juxtapositions that such a work demands are truly enough for now to move us forward.  In the process, as with the previous romanticism volume of Poems for the Millennium & the outside & subterranean anthology, still in the works, I will be posting some of the preliminary materials (Spanish, English, Portugese, French, Indigenous) on Poems and Poetics, so as again to be working or composing in-the-open.  That a gathering of this kind seems never to have been made both surprises me & serves as a further inducement for the work ahead.  For which the following poem by Rubén Darío, which I first published in Poems for the Millennium, volume 3, can function as an opening move in that direction, north and south. Its relation to the present is too obvious to dwell on further. (J.R.)]


To Roosevelt


It is with the voice of the Bible, or the verse of Walt Whitman
that I advance upon you now, Hunter!
You are primitive and modern, sensible and complicated,
with something of Washington and a dash of Nimrod.
You are the United States,
you are the future invader
of all that’s innocent in America and its Indian blood,
blood that still says Jesus Christ and speaks in Spanish.

You are a superb and strapping specimen of your people;
you are cultured and capable; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are a horse-whisperer, an assassinator of tigers,
you are Alexander-Nebuchadnezzer.
(You are a Professor of Energy
as the whackjobs among us now say.)

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is eruption
and into whatever bones you shoot,
you hit the future.


The United States is powerful and huge.
And when it shakes itself a deep temblor
runs down the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.
If it yells, its voice is like the ripping boom of the lion.
It is just as Hugo said to Grant: “The stars are yours.”
(Glinting wanly, it raises itself, the Argentine sun,
and the star of Chile rises too…) You are rich --
you join the cult of Hercules with the cult of Mammon;
and illuminating the way of easy conquest,
“Freedom” has found its torch in New York.

But our America, which has had poets
from the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl,
which has kept walking in the footprints of the great Bacchus
(who had learned the Panic alphabet at one glance);
which has consulted the stars, which has known Atlantis,
(whose name comes down drumming to us in Plato),
which has lived since the old times on the very light of this world,
on the life of its fire, its perfume, its love,
the America of the great Moctezuma, of the Inca,
our America smelling of Christopher Columbus,
our Catholic America, our Spanish America,
the America in which the noble Cuauhtemoc said:
“I am in no bed of roses”: that same America
which tumbles in the hurricanes and lives for Love,
it lives, you men of Saxon eyes and Barbarian souls.
And it dreams. And it loves, and it vibrates; and she is the daughter of the Sun!
Be very careful. Long live this Spanish America!
The Spanish Lion has loosed a thousand cubs today: they are at large, Roosevelt,
and if you are to snag us, outlunged and awed,
in your claws of iron, you must become God himself,
the alarming Rifleman and the hardened Hunter.

And though you count on everything, you lack the one thing needed:


[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. The great Nicaraguan poet, Félix Rubén García Sarmiento (1867-1916), who called himself Rubén Darío, was born in Metapa, Nicaragua, in a city that now bears the name Darío. Considered one of the leaders and proponents of the Modernismo movement, Darío completely changed the landscape of Spanish-language poetry. A journalist and diplomat, he is now one of the most widely read of Spanish-language poets. This poem, “A Roosevelt,” was written in response to US President Theodore Roosevelt’s invasion of Panama in 1903 after Roosevelt fomented a coup in Panama City so that he could annex the Panamanian isthmus for the purposes of building the canal. Roosevelt’s coup and the invasion of Panama was excoriated around the world and at home. Richard Olney, in 1903, former US Attorney General and Secretary of State, said of Roosevelt’s act, “For the first time in my life I have had to confess I am ashamed of my country.”]