Analysis of Rubén Darío’s To Roosevelt

Poem Text

It is with the voice of the Bible, or verse of Walt Whitman,
that we should reach you, Hunter!
Primitive and modern, simple and complicated,
with a bit of Washington and a bit of Nimrod.
You are the United States,
You are the future invader
the naive America who has Indian blood,
that still prays to Jesus Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are a proud and strong exemplar of your race;
you are cultured, you are clever, you oppose Tolstoy.
And breaking horses, or murdering tigers,
you are an Alejandro Nebuchadnezzar.
(You’re a professor of energy,
as today’s madmen say.)
You think life is fire,
that progress is eruption;
where you put your bullet
you put the future.


The United States is strong and big.
When it shakes there is a deep tremor
through the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.
If you clamor, you hear the roar of the lion.
Hugo said to Grant: “The stars are yours.”
(Just shining, rising, Argentine sun
and the Chilean star rises …) You’re rich.
Join Hercules’ cult to Mammon’s;
and lighting the path to easy conquest,
Liberty raises her torch in New York.

But our America, which had poets
from the old days of Netzahualcoyotl,
you have saved in the footsteps of the great feet of Bacchus
panic in the alphabet learned a while;
who consulted the stars, that knew Atlantis,
whose name comes to resonate in Plato
Since the ancient times of your life
living light, fire, perfume, love,
America’s great Montezuma, from the Inca,
redolent of America by Christopher Columbus
Catholic American, Spanish American,
The America where noble Cuahtemoc said:
“I’m not a bed of roses” that America
trembles in hurricanes and lives in Love,
men of Saxon eyes and barbarous soul lives.
And dreams. And loves, and vibrates, and is the daughter of the Sun
Be careful. Live the American Spanish!
There are thousand of puppies loose Leon Spanish.
Be required, Roosevelt, being God himself,
Rifleman the terrible and strong Hunter,
order to keep us in your tight grip.

And, You may count it all, missing one thing: God!

This poem by Darío explores the many facets of the struggles facing Spanish America, particularly after the Spanish-American War of 1898. The signing of the Treaty of Paris that ended the war between Spain and the United States culminated in the ceding of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the North American nation. Many Spanish Americans started to see the threat inherent in the “magnanimous giant” to the north—a threat that began to plague scholars and literary artists, among them Rubén Darío.

In 1904 Darío addressed issues raised by the Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó in his essay Ariel (1900), a response to the motives behind the U.S. interference in Spanish-American affairs. As Rodó had expressed his fear of an imperialist influence in Spanish America, Darío also portrayed that very concern since the United States had previously been involved in the shaping of various Spanish-American nations. While Rodó’s essay hoped to foster an understanding of the role of the Spanish-American intellectual in contrast to the United States and its “authority” in the region, others, like Darío, voiced their strong opposition to the overwhelming presence felt because of the evident U.S. expansionist ideology. Darío reflects this idea in “To Roosevelt.”

Darío’s poem marked another response to the U.S. threat. According to Keith Ellis, this poem was a “literary manifestation of a great socio-political problem that was rooted in the relations between the United States and Spanish America” (1974, 96). Darío’s goal was to address the imperialist motives of the United States and make it clear that the U.S. desire to “colonize” the region would not be as simple as creating a corollary to the already established Monroe Doctrine. Here the modernist poet addresses President Theodore Roosevelt, whom he considers a hunter, a direct threat to Spanish-American autonomy: “You’re the United States, / you’re the future invader / of the guileless America of indigenous blood / that still prays to Jesus Christ and still speaks in Spanish” (Acereda and Derecha 2001, 167–169). While the United States possessed qualities that various Spanish-American nations admired, Darío, as well as others like Rodó and the Cuban poet José Martí, recognized that their neighbor threatened their nations’ ideals and aspirations. Darío attributes certain positive qualities to the United States by referring to “something of Washington” in the North American region and in Roosevelt in particular. The American Revolution inspired the Spanish colonies in the New World to fight for their independence from Spain. According to John T. Reid, “Some of the more enthusiastic Spanish American patriots held the United States as a perfect example to imitate, first as a people who had broken away from European domination, and later as a political model to follow as closely as possible” (1977, 18). However, the visionary poet now applies the qualities of the hunter and tyrannical Nimrod to that predatory nation. In this poem the SpanishAmerican nations are those that represent the America that has remained loyal to its faith and emancipatory language, while the very revolutionary characteristics at first admired to the north are now being threatened by the primitive/modern, simple/complicated hunter, the United States.

While the last two verses of the first stanza describe characteristics attributed to Spanish America, the second stanza details further North American qualities: “You’re a strong and splendid specimen of your kind; / you’re cultured, you’re skillful; you’re the opposite of Tolstoy. / And breaking horses or slaying tigers, you’re an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar” (Acereda and Derucha 169). Whereas Spanish America is “naïve,” the United States appears as strong and able—fostering the belief that it is invincible, that it reserves the right to interfere in the affairs of others when it so desires. Ellis states, “By rejecting Tolstoy [, Roosevelt] reveals his opposition to what is simple and peaceful” (97). Roosevelt saw the United States as the protector of the nations in its backyard, reflected in the third stanza: “You think that life is a conflagration, / that progress is an eruption, / that where you put your bullet / you set the future” (169). The importance of this stanza is directly connected to Darío’s response that the United States has been wrong in depending on its “prowess” and influence: “The United States is powerful and big. / When it shudders, a deep earthquake / runs down the enormous vertebrae of the Andes. / If you cry out, it’s heard like the roaring of a lion” (169). The poet, however, recognizes, as did José Enrique Rodó, the power this young nation possesses—a power that threatens the Spanish-American republics since, as he states, when crisis arises in the north, it is felt everywhere. Three characteristics attributed to the United States in the poem characterize it in the eyes of Spanish Americans: physical prowess, greed, and “cynical propaganda.” These combined characteristics reflect the hostility of the North toward the South.

The remaining stanzas emphasize the cultural and ideological differences between the United States and Spanish America. The poem draws particular attention to the fact that the Spanish-American region predates North American power, and it focuses on the south’s venerable knowledge of the world (and the universe) long before the young nation (the United States) was founded. Rubén Darío then abandons previously deployed characteristics of the modernist literary movement (e.g., his elaborate use of symbol and imagery) to embrace other perspectives that contradict his earlier, fastidious aesthetic. The religious influence that permeates all Spanish-American culture closes the circle created by Darío in this poem. Through an expression of strong religious belief, Darío warns Roosevelt (and the country he represents) that God protects his “nations” and is the only power that could capture and colonize the Spanish-American republics.

Acereda, Alberto and Will Derusha. Selected Poems of Rubén Darío: A Bilingual Anthology. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2001.
Ellis, Keith. Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974.
Reid, John T. Spanish American Images of the United States, 1790–1960. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1977.

Categories: European Literature, Literature

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