Modernism literature was a literary movement that developed in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth. It was characterized by its precious aesthetics, the exaltation and refinement of the senses and by the use of exotic images and places. Literary modernism characteristics themes
In addition, the modernist movement stood out for avoiding political and social themes in its works, focusing mainly on the perfection of language and the creation of magical and distant worlds. Likewise, human feelings and passions were also a topic of interest to the writers of this literary phenomenon.
Some authors consider that modernism was born with the publication of the collection of poems Azul (1888) by the author Rubén Darío. This work was chosen because of the impact it caused in its time; the collection of poems served as inspiration for other great authors of the moment such as Amado Nervo and Manuel Díaz Rodríguez.
Literary modernism was born as a consequence of the dominant positivism of the time, a way of thinking whose scientific and commercial approach rejected subjective manifestations. That is to say, modernist literature emerged as a rejection of this philosophical trend because artists felt asphyxiated by the industrial processes and excessive pragmatism of the time.
In general terms, modernism meant a change in the way of perceiving language, beauty and meter. It was an aesthetic renovation that notably permeated Ibero-American culture.
This literary trend was so important in the history of literature that many critics still study and analyze it. In addition, it constitutes a fundamental part of the subjects taught on literature in schools and universities.
Historical context of literary modernism
According to renowned writers such as Octavio Paz, the modernist style was born as a response to positivism; The latter consisted of a philosophical stance that defended scientific, useful and verifiable knowledge above any other method or discipline. Literary modernism characteristics themes
Faced with this rigor, several artists decided to create a style that would recover the sensitive and subjective manifestations of man; the aim of modernism was simply to create beauty and shock the reader through words, eliminating any utilitarian sense.
The evasion of reality as part of the modernist consciousness
Modernism arose at a historical moment where the Spanish-American nations were building their identity. However, contrary to the other aesthetic currents, the modernist style detached itself from the political and social focus to dedicate itself to the creation of a magical, sensitive and bucolic atmosphere (that is, related to nature and the countryside).
In addition, this current was inspired by the French style to develop its own; This turned modernism into a strange phenomenon within the Spanish language, since the usual thing at the time was for literature in Spanish to be dedicated to representing the realities of the Americas or the Iberian Peninsula.
For example, from a similar time was the famous Generation of ’98, made up of a group of writers and essayists who were characterized mainly by their concern for the Spanish social and political reality.
For this reason, it is affirmed that modernism was a strange movement that, instead of representing social and political crises in its works, preferred evasion as an ideological approach.
Modernist writers, disillusioned with their reality, chose to create a space full of distant places and exotic nature. In addition, in his texts there is also a search for preciousness (a literary trend that seeks to refine and beautify expressions) and human feelings accompanied by certain erotic nuances.
Why the term “modernism”?
It was Rubén Darío who coined the term “modernism” in the current during his training. When the poet referred to this trend, he said that it was “the new spirit of letters.”
The term “modernism” is alluded to to highlight that what is written under this literary style is in accordance with what is lived in the historical moment. To strengthen the roots of literary modernism, something tangible was necessary, to go beyond the words on the air.
Having understood this reality, Rubén Darío published his book Azul in 1888. Not satisfied with this, in 1896 the Nicaraguan poet consolidated the modernist movement with his book Prosas Profanas.
Characteristics of literary modernism Literary modernism characteristics themes
Literary modernism was characterized by the following:
– Breaking of previous rules
Literary modernism came to break with the stereotypes of rhyme and meter that had prevailed for so long after the Spanish colonization. Literary modernism characteristics themes
This gives an air of freedom and emancipation to the letters, allowing greater expressiveness and giving rise to what would later become known as “antipoetry.”
– Opposes the centralization of thought Literary modernism characteristics themes
It opens up to the world, openly opposing regionalism. He considers the poet a “citizen of the world”, therefore every subject has a place, every culture, there is no tie to a particular custom.
This characteristic earned him the disgrace of many conservatives of the time.
– Advocates for the poetic independence of the individual
Each poet has his unique style, as it is a language of the human soul. Each individual has his appropriate sound, his appropriate letter.
If there is something that unites the representatives of this literary movement, it is the passion with which they approach their themes: either they are very pessimistic (the clear case of Rubén Darío), or they are very happy (like Martí), and so on. There are no middle terms, but a resounding surrender to feel.
– Reject reality Literary modernism characteristics themes
As mentioned earlier, modernist writers preferred to evade the social and political events of their time. Consequently, their poems or writings generally made no reference to the historical context or the reality they were facing.
– Use a precious style
The modernists were inspired by French preciousness to develop their style; This current was focused on the search for beauty and the refinement of forms and images. This is seen in the following example:
“(…) He no longer wants the palace, nor the silver spinning wheel,
Neither the enchanted hawk nor the scarlet jester,
Not the unanimous swans on the azure lake (…) ”( Sonatina , Rubén Darío).
– Introduce musicality in poems and other writings
The modernist aesthetic was characterized by its musical phrases; the writers achieved this effect from very marked rhythms and other resources such as alliteration (repetition of sounds) and synesthesia (joining two sensations or images from very different meanings. For example: “Sonora solitude”).
The musicality can be appreciated in the following verses by Rubén Darío:
“Youth, divine treasure,
You left never to return!
when I want to cry, I do not cry
and sometimes I cry without meaning to. “
– Use exotic places and images Literary modernism characteristics themes
Modernist texts are mainly inspired by exotic places and ancient cultures; For this reason it is common to find landscapes that describe regions of the East (such as India), jungles full of exuberant nature, mythological places, among others.
– Compete with Romanticism
The representatives of modernism manifested a continuous competition with Romanticism. They considered romantic poetry as a manifestation overloaded with logic and reason, aspects that imprisoned the imagination and the poet himself. Literary modernism characteristics themes
Romanticism was considered a tie for the true feeling of the poet.
– Religious syncretization Literary modernism characteristics themes
The modernist poets took what they considered the best of every religion in the world: Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, and put it together in a kind of perfect treatise on the coexistence of beings.
Literary modernism sought to bring men together through letters, it focused on those common and related things. He intended to unify the criteria and give rise to true coexistence.
Themes of literary modernism Literary modernism characteristics themes
The most recurrent themes within modernist aesthetics were the following:
– Loneliness and melancholy
The search for beauty and escape did not prevent modernist writers from adding a sad, melancholic and lonely hue to their works. This demonstrated the disappointment of these artists in the face of reality and the society of their time. Literary modernism characteristics themes
This is seen in the following poem by Amado Nervo:
“Look at the moon: tearing the veil
from the darkness, to shine begins.
So it rose above my sky
the funeral star of sadness. ” ( Black pearls V )
– Mythological stories
Modernism was characterized by implementing references to stories and mythological narratives. For this reason, it is common to find characters drawn from Greco-Latin culture. This is seen in the poem Venus by Rubén Darío, which refers to the goddess of love. Literary modernism characteristics themes
– Love and eroticism Literary modernism characteristics themes
Love and eroticism were recurring themes in modernist texts. These elements were generally manifested through the image of women.
These elements can be found, for example, in the previously mentioned poem: Venus, by Rubén Darío. They are also found in the poem Soñé que tú me leading , by Antonio Machado.
– Exotic and far away places
Nature and strange places were also recurring elements for modernist writers. Therefore, it is usual to find references to oriental civilizations, luxurious palaces, princesses, sultans, among others.
– Exuberant nature and indigenous themes
In general, the images of nature were inspired by American fauna and flora. This can be seen, for example, in the poem Estival by Rubén Darío.
Likewise, although the modernist current was influenced by the French style, modernism writers had a preference for local landscapes and pre-Hispanic civilizations. In fact, on many occasions they defended and vindicated the figure of the native indigenous of America. Literary modernism characteristics themes
Authors and representative works Literary modernism characteristics themes
The modernist style was used by many writers throughout history. However, some of the most prominent were Literary modernism characteristics themes
– Rubén Darío (1867-1916)
Considered by critics as the father of modernism. In addition to his emblematic work Azul (where there are not only poems, but also short stories), the Nicaraguan writer was also acclaimed for his poetry book Cantos de vida y esperanza, los cinemas y otros poemas (1905) and for his book Los raros (1896). ), where he made a compilation of his favorite authors.
– Amado Nervo (1870-1919)
The Mexican Amado Nervo was one of the most important modernist representatives. Nervo didn’t just write poetry; he also made novels and essays. Among his most famous works, Los Jardines Interior (1905) stands out, where the author uses a precious language and many elements related to nature.
– Manuel Díaz Rodríguez (1871-1927)
He was a Venezuelan writer, who was notoriously sympathetic to the modernist style. This can be seen in his work Broken Idols (1901) where the author raises the problem faced by intellectuals and artists of the time in an increasingly capitalist and superficial society. Literary modernism characteristics themes
– José Asunción Silva (1865-1896)
He was a Colombian poet, remembered for having been a forerunner of the modernist movement. In fact, he was part of the first generation of poets who dedicated themselves to this literary trend. His most famous text is The Book of Verses , of a precious but melancholic and gloomy character. This is seen in the verses:
“In a narrow cold grave,
Far from the world and the crazy life,
In a black four-plate coffin
With a lot of dirt in his mouth “
– Antonio Machado (1875-1939)
In reality, the Spanish poet Antonio Machado was a member of the Generation of 98, so many of his poems were related to the Spanish reality. Literary modernism characteristics themes
However, some of his texts were influenced by the modernist style; this can be seen in his collection of poems Soledades (1903), a work imbued with serenity and nostalgia.
– José Martí (1853-1895)
He was a Cuban journalist, poet and thinker, also considered by critics as one of the precursors of modernism. One of his most acclaimed texts is the essay titled Our America (1891), in which the author reflects on the problems of the continent.
Although Martí did not practice evasion from reality in this essay, the way in which he used language and images has a modernist nuance. Literary modernism characteristics themes
– Julián del Casal (1863-1893)
He was a poet of Cuban nationality, remembered for being one of the most emblematic figures of modernism. In fact, he maintained a close friendship with Rubén Darío. One of his most outstanding works was the poetry book Leaves in the Wind (1890), where the poet makes reference to love, melancholy and exotic places.