Salomé Ureña de Henríquez (1850-1897)

Poem and English translation: En defensa de la Sociedad

Salomé Ureña began publishing in 1866 under the name “Herminia.” She quickly gained recognition in the Dominican Republic for her patriotic and lyric verses. Her political essays established her as a strong nationalist and advocate of women’s rights, and she also started a women’s college in the Dominican Republic (Vallejo de Paredes iii).

Her poetry was considered “viril y llena de grandeza, aun cuando no le faltan ni la ternura ni el stintimentalismo hogareño y patriótico” ‘virile and full of grandeur, nevertheless not lacking either tenderness or patriotic, home-and-hearth sentimentalism’ (Sáinz de Roblez 1145). Short biographies often speak of her masculine language; for example, Joaquín Balaguer’s prologue to her Complete Poems mentions Ureña’s “acento poderosamente varonil” ‘extremely powerful masculine tone’ (11). Many other biographies of Ureña ignore the political aspect of her work, instead emphasizing her role as wife, mother of four children, and as mother-like educator of children and young women: “Madre, siempre madre . . .” ‘A mother, always a mother . . .’ (Vallejo de Paredes IV).

A recent biographer, Sherezada Vicioso, emphasizes that Ureña should not be read only for her best-known patriotic poems, but as “la mujer, la madre, la amante; La Salomé de sus horas de angustia triste . . . de los poemas eróticos . . .” ‘woman, mother, lover; the Salomé of moments of the sad anguish . . . of her erotic poems’ (10). Vicioso argues for a view of Ureña as expressing an “estetica femenina,” a feminine aesthetic–that celebrates women’s identity. Vicioso views Ureña through the filter of ecriture feminine, which she says demands “una revisión radical de las BASES CONCEPTUALES del estudio literario” ‘a radical revision of the CONCEPTUAL BASES of literary study’ (Vicioso 22). She argues against basing literary judgement on a hierarchical, authorititave mode with “sacred texts.”

Ureña is most often classified by critics as a Romanticist, but has also been called a post-romanticist or Parnassian. She was seen by other intellectuals of her day, such as Eugenio María de Hostos, John Stuart Mill, and José Martí, as a colleague in a literary and philosophical positivist project that set out to prove the rights and capacities of women in a rational society. Her poetry exalts progress, civilization, and human capacity to bring about utopia.

In the following poem, Ureña’s line “los pocos sabios que en el mundo fueron,” in italics to indicate it is a quotation, is perhaps a misquote from “Vida retirada” by Fray Luis de León (1527-1591):

¡Qué descansada vida
la del que huye el mundanal ruído
y sigue la escondida
senda por donde han ido
los pocos sabios que en el mundo han sido!

What a restful life,
the one that flees from worldly din
and follows the hidden
path on which have travelled
the few wise men who have been on this earth!

But it may also be from a similar poem on the theme of being an intellectual and religious hermit withdrawn from worldly life. In form, this long poem has Italianate lines varying between 11 and 7 syllables, with rhyme in no set pattern, with verses of varying lengths.
Ureña’s works include Poesías de Salomé Ureña de Henríquez (1880), Poesías (1920), and Poesías completas (1950) (Marcano).

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