Date of Degree
Maria Teresa Babin
The main purpose of the study is to trace the beginnings of the "prose poem" in the works of the first generation of modernist writers in Latin American letters. The origins of the new literary genre, conceived as such by its authors, go back to the nineteenth century in France, where several writers experimented with a kind of "poetic prose" that was to culminate around the middle of the century in the works of Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire.
It became necessary, therefore, to dedicate the entire first chapter to examine the more influential French authors of the period, as well as the aesthetic movements (parnasianism, impressionism, symbolism) which provided the ideological atmosphere where the prose poem was able to flourish. After the publication in 1862, of Petits poèmes en prose (Le Spleen de Paris), an increasing number of writers, both in French and in other languages, began to experiment with a kind of composition that offered the relative freedom of prose, while having the internal qualities of poetry. In France, Stéphane Mallarmé, Catulle Mendès, Arthur Rimbaud and Lautreamont are among the principal contributors to the dissemination of the prose poem.
The second chapter is an attempt to provide some points of comparison between the peninsular and the Latin American writers of the period immediately preceding the first manifestations of what has come to be known as the "modernist prose" in Hispanic literature. This prose, especially that of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer in Spain, and Juan Montalvo, Justo Sierra, Ricardo Palma, Manuel González Prada and others in Latin America, demonstrates the efforts that many writers were making in order to break down the boundaries that traditionally kept "prose" and "poetry" apart as incompatible modes of expression. Their efforts came to be fully realized, however, in the next generation of writers: Gutiérrez Nájera, José Martí, Julián del Casal, José Asunción Silva and Ruben Darío.
Although Julián del Casal and Ruben Darío were in fact the only two in the group who cultivated the prose poem, as such, the others experimented from the very beginning of their literary career with a type of lyric prose that represented a dramatic departure from the poetic molds of the classical period.
Chapter III summarizes the more significant aesthetic principles, as well as the rules of composition that determine the prose poem, as defined by several critics consulted for the preparation of this investigation. An attempt is also made to ascertain whether sufficient agreement exists among critics and creators themselves, about the artistic laws that govern the prose poem, to merit its being classified as a new and independent literary form.
The last five chapters of the study deal with the individual works of each of the five recognized "iniciadores" of the modernist movement. The extent of their participation in the process of developing the prose poem as we know it today is explored in detail. The two authors that best accomplished this category of writing, as was pointed out above, were Julián del Casal and Ruben Darío. Between 1887 and 1890 Casal translated no less than 15 of Baudelaire's Petit poèmes en prose and several more by Catulle Mendès. That this exercise influenced his own style of writing can be easily documented by several original prose poems he wrote at about the same time he was translating from the French models.
Darío, by his own account, produced his first prose poems under the direct infleunce of Catulle Mendès. Although, by referring to them as "pequenos poemas en prosa" he undoubtedly had in mind Baudelaire's famous book. Some of his later compositions in this literary form, however, point to a more "modern", almost contemporary attitude towards language and expression.
In conclusion, while it can not be said that all five authors achieved the prose poem in their works, there can be no doubt that Casal and Darío were notable exceptions, and that the others approached a type of composition in prose that was dominated by a preoccupation for rhythm, suggestion and emotion similar to that found in poetry written in the traditional manner.
Fernández, Jesse, "The Prose Poem at the Outset of the Modernist Period in Latin America" (1977). CUNY Academic Works.