Famous poet and politician. His poetry falls mainly within the Puerto Rican criollista movement with influences from modernism and romanticism and centers on the themes of rural customs and traditions. Virgilio Dávila was also mayor of Bayamón.
He was born on January 28, 1869, in Toa Baja, the son of teachers. His early education was done under the tutelage of his father. He studied at the Jesuit School in Santurce and the Civil Institute of Secondary Education in Old San Juan. Later, he was certified as a teacher and he pursued that profession in Gurabo and later in Bayamón, where he established a school in 1890. In 1897, he left teaching to dedicate himself to managing the family farm.
His interest in poetry began when he was very young. He eventually published his verses in various periodicals, including El Buscapié, a weekly literary journal created by Manuel Fernández Juncos, El Carnaval, La Democracia, El Mundo and Rocinante. In 1909, he founded the weekly Chantecler along with composer Braulio Dueño Colón.
Virgilio Dávila’s poetry was part of the criollista movement that arose in the 19th century, which also included Manuel Alonso and, later, Luis Llorens Torres. The verses in his first book of poetry, titled Patria (1903), are typical of his early lyrical phase. The influences of romanticism can be seen in these poems, particularly in the vein of Víctor Hugo and the work of the Mexican pre-modernist poet Salvador Díaz Mirón. It was evident, however, that he preferred the classic forms, a style he continued to cultivate in the rest of his work.
His second book of poems, Viviendo y amando (1912), is one of transition. It presents criollista elements, without completely abandoning romanticism. His next books of poems also incorporate aspects of modernism such as the use of formal language and forms. Notable poems from this collection are La jibarita and Acuarela.
Aromas del terruño, published in 1916, follows modernist trends, particularly in the formal sense, influenced by Rubén Darío. It is an ode to the jíbaro, the folkloric figure of the rural Puerto Rican, as well as to Puerto Rican culture and traditions. Notable among the poems in this work are “No des tu tierra al extraño” and “Nostalgia”. In 1917, “Pueblito de antes” was published, which reflects the customs of the urban center.
In 1918, he tried his hand at lyric theater with an allegorical operetta, La génesis de un gran sol, with music composed by Braulio Dueño Colón. In 1928, Un libro para mis nietos was published, in which he collected children’s folk sayings. He also collaborated with Braulio Dueño Colón and Manuel Fernández Juncos on Canciones escolares (1912), which they wrote for use in the Puerto Rican elementary schools. Among the songs they wrote were “La tierruca” and “El mango”.
Virgilio Dávila was also active in politics. He was part of the Puerto Rican Republican Party, which was founded in 1899 and whose platform favored definitive annexation of Puerto Rico to the United States, initially as a territory and later as a state of the union. In 1904, he ran for mayor under his party’s banner. His campaigns were known for providing food, drink and music, and his popularity helped him win the election. He was mayor from 1905 to 1911, when the party split because of internal problems. Under his incumbency, he built the Council House (currently the Francisco Oller Museum). Later, he abandoned politics to dedicate himself completely to writing.
He died in his adopted town of Bayamón on August 22, 1943.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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