El poeta de la democracia / José Antonio Ramos Sucre

The Poet of Democracy

     If one keeps in mind that the clarity of the phrase reflects that of the thought it expresses, quite indistinct must have been those of the Anglo-American writer who fatigues us with a parade of ideas and images for whose expression were convened the strangest English words alongside Indian voices as though they had been left behind during the escape from Yankee expansion. The distinction between poetry and prose was considered indecisive by this strange poet who had his own concept of art and who must have produced the same alarm caused by Rubén Darío in the Spanish-speaking countries, from whom he differs in having been the singer of the present and of democracy. A writer from the culteranismo movement would have called him the antipode of the Central American poet, whose verse had sung of dead and aristocratic greatness.
     An aspiration for science or glory were not the cause of the wrinkles that lined his face despite the joy of living and the satisfaction of the present, derived from his firm organism inherited from Dutch ancestors. Since childhood he identified with nature, for whose spectacles he had the attention of an adolescent Byron, the sacred terror of barbarous peoples. To the sea, in a loud voice, as if wanting to renew the prodigies of Orpheus, he would read the verse of inspired and rude poets, of whom he was such a faithful disciple that he always suffered the absence of preparatory knowledge, the most elemental rules of punctuation being foreign to him.
     Each one of us conceives a perfect and normal man whose qualities we try to approximate. Such a model for Walt Whitman must be the village blacksmith described by Longfellow, and whose life was divided into daily work, punctual attendance of religious services and continuous meditation on the Bible. These occupations, a traveler assures us, filled the existence of the Americans when the poet was born; a Puritan gravity reigned in social diversions: in the center, forming a circle, were the ladies seated in chairs, behind whose rigid backs stood the haughty and mournful gentlemen.
     He did not have the reverence of the great men, proclaimed by the positivists, perhaps because his modest nature was scandalized by exceptional intelligence and character. In his mind no praise would have extolled more than the “This was a man,” paid to the Shakespearean character. Due to his affection for democracy without selection whose triumph would have been that of mediocrity, he was adverse to Renan, justly alarmed by the insolent ascension of the crowd.
     Despite being from New England, called the Greece of the United States because of the production of a scarce number of talented men, he made no effort so that his disinterested ideals might seduce the spirit of the modern Carthaginians and satisfy the aspiration of Herbert Spencer, who accused them of being infertile because they only proposed for themselves material well-being. He seemed authorized to signal that new path by the style and aspect of a poet: the rude and venerable face, the beard and hair as if they had been disordered by one of those sacred winds that carrying in their core the warm breaths of the desert and rumors of oases, animated the dead waters of Hebrew lakes.

Originally published in the newspaper El Tiempo in Caracas, 22 January 1913.

{ José Antonio Ramos Sucre, Obra completa, Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989 }

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