Educator, jurist, poet and Puerto Rican civic leader. His poetry falls within the Hispanic American modernistgenre. His work as a writer covered various fields, particularly judicial and literary.
Vicente Rodríguez Rivera, according to his certificate of baptism, was born April 17, 1880, in the municipality of Cayey. A previous error had given the year of his birth as 1884. His parents were Vicente Rodríguez Vázquez, the mayor of Cayey in 1897, and Carmen Rivera Ortiz. He studied in the public schools in Cayey. After completing high school, he became a rural school teacher and worked in 1901 and 1902 in the Cercadillo sector of Cayey. He continued his studies and then worked as a licensed teacher in the municipality of Guayanilla in 1902 and 1903.
In 1904, he studied English at a special program at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Later, in 1905 and 1906, he studied at the Onondaga Academy in New York. He remained in New York while he finished his law studies at Syracuse University in 1909. Upon his return to Puerto Rico the following year, he passed the bar exam and was admitted to law practice by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. He also worked as a notary and the Department of Public Education gave him a teaching license.
In 1911, he was named municipal judge for the municipality of Yauco, where he moved shortly after marrying María Antongiorgi Boagna, the daughter of a notable sugar mill owner. As a municipal judge, he was the first to issue an opinion on the reach of the minimum wage law’s application to women.
He returned to his home town from 1919 to 1928, where he continued to work as a municipal judge. During this time, his name was mentioned as a candidate for district judge, but he was not selected. His political ideals led him to support the Republican Party in its beginnings, then later move to the Union Party, and finally leaning toward independence for the island. He was never very active in any political party.
Vicente Rodríguez also distinguished himself as a poet. His first published poem, “Salmo de amor,” dates to his adolescence (1895). It is included in a personal collection (Libro de recortes) by the author. Libro de recortes is a scrapbook that belongs to the poet’s family and includes clippings from newspapers and magazines that were published during his life. Rodríguez Rivera called the collection Musa gallante – Versos de Postales. Unfortunately, many of the clippings lack a date or a heading that would identify the medium in which they were originally published. This has made it difficult to establish the chronological order of the publications and where they were published.
The poems “Homenaje” and “Amores” appear to have been published in 1896 or later. The former reappears later in the San Juan magazine Carnaval in 1904. The latter was reproduced in the literary section of the Gaceta de Guadalajara in Mexico, along with other works by internationally recognized poets. The poem “Al héroe Cascorro,” also from 1896, dedicated to the Spanish soldier Eloy Gonzalo García, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Cascorro, Camagüey, Cuba, came out the same year and apparently was published as a book. However, there is no existing copy to corroborate the information in Libro de recortes.
Between 1897 and the early 20th century, various poems appeared in his Libro: “Ocaso,” “Consumatum est,” “En la brecha,” whose title is the same as that of a poem by Puerto Rican poet José de Diego; “Soledad” and “Tu nombre,” which were later included in his first book of poetry, Poemas Vesperales (1919).
Other poems in Libro de recortes that were published early in the new century were: “A Caracas,” “Rebeldía,” and “Año nuevo” from 1902; “Betances: en el quinto aniversario de su muerte;” “Catilinaria,” a poem written in an ironic tone; “Escéptico,” dedicated to Joaquín E. Barreiro, who was the editor of the San Juan magazine Carnaval from 1901 to 1916. From 1905 is “Nuestro idioma,” dedicated to Vicente Palés Matos.
Along with the poems that are only found in the Libro de recortes are others that came out in well known anthologies and periodicals. Among these are: “La maestra rural,” published in Poesía Puertorriqueña by Carmen Gómez Tejera; “últimas páginas” and “Una limosna” in the magazine Carnaval (1904); “Pensamiento” and “La bandera de Puerto Rico” in Carnaval (1911); “Graziela” and “Visión” in the magazine Gráfico (1911). The latter appeared again in the newspaper La voz de Cayey in 1922.
Other publications include: “Estudia,” a poem that won first prize from the magazine Revista de las Antillas of New York (1911); “Parque otoñal,” in Gráfico (1912); “Desde lejos,” “Azul” and “Pensando en ti” in Puerto Rico Ilustrado (1912); “Salmo de vida,” once again, in Revista de las Antillas (1913); “La voz de Puerto Rico,” verses in honor of the Great War (World War I), which won an award in the Red Cross contest (1917); “Abril,” “De un poema” and “Brindis extraño” in La voz de Cayey (1922); and “Piedad,” published along with many others in his third book of poetry, Tierra adentro (1964), as his second book of poetry, Por los jardines de ensueño, was mentioned as lost while in the custody of Spanish poet Francisco Villaespesa.
His first book of poetry, Tierra adentro, won a prize from the Puerto Rican Athenaeum in 1929. The book is divided into seven parts, which consist of poems inspired by landscapes, patriots, women, and Puerto Rican verses called décimas. The poem “Tierra adentro” was also published in the book Selección Poética by Felipe Janer.
Among Vicente Rodríguez Rivera’s work is an unpublished novel titled Alma, that was originally called Toda una juventud. Some chapters of it were published, in serial form, in Plumas amigas, third edition, 1912, and the magazine Mercurio, New Orleans, vol. XIII, in 1917.
He also served as a translator and spoke English, French and Italian. He translated “Serenata” by the French poet Cartulle Mendes, which was published in Puerto Rico Ilustrado (1911), as was “Sueño de un sueño,” a translation from English of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. His translations of love sonnets by English poet Elizabeth Barrett were published in Carnaval (1910).
Vicente Rodríguez was a member of the Puerto Rico Society of Writers and Artists, a member of the Puerto Rico Anti-Tuberculosis League and Chairman of the Cayey Committee of the American Red Cross (1918). A lover of books, his collection reached 1,600 volumes, which he donated to the Puerto Rican Collection at the University of Puerto Rico in 1932.
Death took him by surprise – the victim of a deadly malaria outbreak – on September 30, 1939, in Guánica, where he worked in his private law practice. Among his works left unpublished were: Ensayos, a collection of essays on various topics of literary criticism, sociology and judicial work; En la plenitud de los éxtasis, erotic poems; and Melodías exóticas.
Paz Sánchez, Aida. Vida y obra de Vicente Rodríguez Rivera (poeta puertorriqueño). San Juan: Editorial Cordillera, 1964.
Rivera de Alvarez, Josefina. Literatura puertorriqueña y su proceso en el tiempo. Madrid: Ediciones Panteón, 1983.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 16, 2014.
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