Vaz Ferreira was a member of the “Generación del 1900” of Uruguayan intellectuals, which included José Enrique Rodó, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Ernestina Méndez Reissig de Narvaja, Florencio Sánchez, Samuel Blixen, Alberto Nin Frias, Horacio Quiroga, and Carlos Reyles (Verani 9). She began publishing in 1894. After her illness and death in 1924, her brother, who published her book, La isla de los cánticos, downplayed the friendship between María Eugenia and Delmira Agustini. In 1959, her unpublished poems were printed as La otra isla de los cánticos.
Biographical notes on Vaz Ferreira often paint her as a frail, waiflike young maiden with a posthumous “slim volume of poems” who had a tragic illness before her early death (Jacquez Wieser 8). Her illness is sometimes alluded to as mental: Sidonia Rosenbaum implies that Vaz Ferreira, embittered by Delmira Agustini’s fame, lost her mind because of jealousy and a combination of caprice and frustrated, “sterile” sexuality (50). However, other sources emphasize her positive, charismatic qualities as a rebel, speaking of her literary and intellectual influence, her fondness for wearing men’s clothes, her shocking bohemian manners, and her notorious love of practical jokes. She was the first woman in Uruguay to fly in an airplane, in 1914, at the Fiesta Aérea, a public event. Juan Carlos Legido describes her as one of the most cultured, sure of herself, famous, and popular women in Montevideo’s social circles (Legido 6). She was a literature professor at the Women’s University of Montevideo, along with Dr. Clotilde Luisi. Vaz Ferreira was also a dramatist, composer and pianist. Her works were often performed at the Teatro Solís (Rubenstein Moreira 12). Vaz Ferreira was especially fond of Heine and other German poets and philosophers.
The critic Alberto Zum Felde counted Vaz Fereirra among modernista writers, influenced by the Mexican writers Salvador Díaz Mirón and Manuel Gutiérrez Nájera (Rubenstein Moriera 46). Anderson-Imbert, in Spanish American Literature, refers to her as “the nucleus of Uruguayan poetry” and of modernismo; then he calls her “a solitary voice, solemnly religious, although capable of creating sharp images on a high level” and goes on to discuss Julio Herrera y Reissig, “not a great poet . . .” for several pages. (Andersen-Imbert 279). The general pattern is for literary historians to call Vaz Ferreira’s work brilliant, and then to pay more attention to the work of poets who are men.
With typical blunt condescension, María Monvel says of Vaz Ferreira:
Interesante “caso” de mujer, de letras, esta uruguayana, que a pesar de haber nacido en 1880, tiene en sus versos todo el acento libre de la mujer nacida en pleno siglo veinte. Gran poeta lírico, con algo de reflexivo y meditativo a la vez, esta mujer es uno de los más finos cantores que ha tenido América, y tal vez es su influencia la única perceptible en Delmira Agustini, que la superó en pasión y en arrebato lírico, pero no en cultura y sensibilidad. (Monvel 63)
Interesting “case” of a woman of letters, this Uruguayan, who despite the burden of being born in 1880, has in her verses all the free tone of a woman born right in the 20th century. A great lyric poet, with something of reflexivity and meditativeness at the same time, this woman is one of the finest poets that America has had, and perhaps her influence is the only one perceptible in Delmira Agustini, who surpasses her in passion and in going overboard with lyricism, but not does not surpass her in culture or sensitivity.
My translation of the title of “Vaso furtivo” was a difficult choice. The poem is toasting and drinking to impermancence, lightness, madness, surfaces and illusion. “Sly toast” does not work in English, and “Furtive glass” does not convey the meaning of a toast. The poem itself celebrates qualities that have traditionally been attributed to women. Considered in this light, it is a radical feminist aesthetic statement. “Las ondinas,” a poem about the beauty of ocean waves at dawn, emphasizes feminine beauty, impermanence, and dynamic movement; Vaz Ferreira’s poems often celebrate an ethereal world of ideal beauty, writing modernista aesthetics from the viewpoint of a powerful woman, as in her poem “Yo soy la Diosa de las azules, diáfanas calmas” ‘I am the Goddess of all blue, diaphanous calm” (Vaz Ferreira, Otra isla, 57-58).