Juana de Ibarbourou (1894-1979)

Poems and translations: Las olas, Atlántico, La estatua.

Juana de Ibarbourou, born Juana Fernández Morales in Uruguay, has been called a modernist, post-modernist, vanguardist, experimentalist, and surrealist at different stages of her long career as a writer (Anderson-Imbert 347-49). She was strongly influenced by Delmira Agustini, whom she referred to as her “elder sister,” and María Eugenia Vaz Ferreira.

Her early works include Las lenguas de diamante (1919), El cántaro fresco (1920), Raíz salvaje (1922), and La rosa de los vientos (1930). In 1929 she was awarded the honor of being crowned in the Montevideo capitol building in a state ceremony and was given the name “Juana de América” (Russell xlvi). She wrote and published under various pseudonyms including “Jeannette d’Ibar” (Aira 285). She was a popular poet with strong European recognition, publishing well into the 1970s.
Diaz-Diocaretz says of her work, “Juana de Ibarbourou is, perhaps, the most polemical and anti-traditional ‘female poet’. Her intertextual bonds are mostly transgressions against mythology, teleology and the canonical tropes of Western discourse” (99).

“Las olas” juxtaposes sea-waves, gulls, wings, and airplanes to carry Ibarbourou to a new land of the imagination. This poem read in conjunction with “Atlántico,” Vaz Ferreira’s poem “Las ondines,” and Borrero’s “Hijas de Ran” reveals a dense symbolist tangle that presents the ocean as the location of women’s freedom.

Ibarbourou’s early education was not formal, and, though she was well read, she reportedly did not know what a sonnet was until well after her first book was published. Her early work often lacks technical perfection in form because she was not aware of the structure of formal verse. “La estatua,” however, is a seguidilla de arte menor, with four-line stanzas and alternating lines of 7 and 5 syllables. Ibarbourou plays with paradox as the statue complains of its transformation from human to unfeeling gold and laments in song its inability to speak.

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