Emilia Bernal de Agüero was born in Cuba, and lived in Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile, and New York. She was married young and had four children before 1908. She taught college literature. In 1909 she separated from her husband, and began publishing in 1910. After her divorce, she joined the Cuban diplomatic staff. She was known as a rebel, non-conformist, and political writer (Vega Ceballos). She wrote for La Nación, Bohemia, Social, and El Fígaro (Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes).
The Mallorcan writer Llorenç Villalonga, author of Silvia Ocampo (1935), wrote the novel Fedre and the first part of Madame Dillon based on his relationship with Bernal (Pomar).
Henríquez Ureña mentions Bernal as a modernist and follower of Martí in his history of modernismo. Emilia Bernal translated from Catalan, Portuguese, and other languages into Spanish; her translation work includes a book of poems by Rosalia del Castro.
Her publications include: Alma Errante, poems (1916); Cómo los pájaros! poems and translations (1923); Layka Froyka, autobiography (1925); Los nuevos motivos, 1925; Exaltación (1934); Poetas catalanes de hoy, translations (1927); Cuestiones cubanas para América, political essays, (1928); and Negro (1938).
Though her work is often spoken of as personal, modernista, or lyrical, Bernal was engaged in politics for much of her life and read a series of lectures in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere on Cuban and United States politics (Davies 22). Along with many other feminists such as María Luisa Milanés, she allied herself with anti-racist movements and described herself as a sister-in-arms of enslaved people–going so far as to declare that all women were slaves because of the lack of female suffrage and other factors (Davies 57).
Anderson-Imbert said of her: “Tender, ardent, intuitive, was capable of denying these qualities in herself in order to complicate sounds which brought her close to a poetry which, under the heading ‘abnormality’ will be studied in the second part of this panorama. Those who remain, then, are Cubans of the ‘abnormality’ – Mariano Brull, Navarro Luna, and others . . .” (337). What Anderson-Imbert calls “the abnormality” is the “vanguardist subversion” against modernismo.
Bernal is noticably absent from many biographical dictionaries of Latin American writers.
“Pedrería” plays with modernista color symbolism; the gems represent ideals of perfect beauty. Rather than setting a scene of fantasy to which the soul of the poet is transported, or a situation of transmutation to a plane of ideals, Bernal engages sensually and physically with the perfect beauty of the gems. “A una rosa” (1916) is a poem in sexta rima with a scandalous subtext: the rose and its stalk are limp and drooping, while the poet wishes and imagines that her efforts will make it stand erect again. “Hierro” is from the México chapter of Bernal’s 1937 book América. There is an earlier version of the poem from 1925, but I have not yet found it. In “Hierro,” Bernal ventures into the realm of free verse and presents a vision of industrialization, and Mexico, as boldly but perturbingly masculine.