María Bibiana Benítez is known as the first female Puerto Rican poet. Her work, of neoclassical style, shows clear influence from Spanish writers Garcilaso de la Vega, Fray Luis de León, and Pedro Calderón de la Barca, as well as other peninsular poets of the time. Her work was published in the island’s newspapers.
Benítez was born in Aguadilla on December 10, 1783. She was the daughter of Juana Bautista Constanza and José Benítez, a war lieutenant and government employee, who educated her at home. As an adult, she lived in Mayagüez and then in Luquillo, where she produced most of her literary work.
She later moved to San Juan, where she was in charge of her niece’s education —romantic poet Alejandrina Benítez— who would later give birth to poet José Gautier Benítez.
Publishing the ode titled “La ninfa de Puerto Rico”, which was inspired by the inauguration of the Real Audiencia Territorial del País, established her as the first Puerto Rican female poet. This poem was published in La Gaceta de Puerto Rico, the first newspaper published on the island (1806-1902).
Later, she published her poems in Boletín Instructivo y Mercantil de Puerto Rico, among which are “Romance histórico”, “Oda a la Justicia”, “Diálogo alegórico”, “Soneto”, and “A la vejez” . Her lyric shows grandiloquent expressions aside from including references to Greco-Latin mythology.
In 1882, she wrote a drama in three acts and in verse titled La cruz del Morro, which was based on the Dutch attack to the San Juan islet in 1625; it has classical as well as romantic characteristics. This play was first performed in 1897 at the Teatro Municipal de San Juan (today, Tapia Theater).
María Bibiana Benítez died in 1873 in San Juan.
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Del Rosario, Rubén. Breve Enciclopedia de la Cultura Puertorriqueña. Hato Rey: Ediciones Cordillera, 1976.
Vélez, Rigoberto. Puertorriqueños Ilustres de todos los tiempos. Ponce: Editorial Centro Pedagógico, 1986.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 15, 2014.
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