Category Archives: Rubén Darío

Modernista Vocabulary

Anyone who has studied modernista poetry has an image of what modernista language looks like. There are certain words that one automatically associates with this movement:  “cisnes,” “princesas,” “estatuas”, “céfiro” and so on. But how many of the so-called “modernista” words are also the most frequent words (MFW) employed by Darío and his followers? For example, I do not know why I always think of “nácar” as one of the quintessential modernista words. For me, it was surprising to discover that Darío does not use it in any of his poems in my database (don’t know if he uses it in his prose work).

The following is a list of twenty of Darío’s MFWs (excluding articles, prepositions and common verbs):

oh           0.2890521
vida         0.2870448
luz          0.2609499
oro          0.2288330
amor         0.2268256
alma         0.1987234
sol          0.1906941
azul         0.1666064
esperanza    0.1605845
canto        0.1565699
tierra       0.1505480
rosa         0.1485407
día          0.1465334
dios         0.1445261
gloria       0.1445261
rosas        0.1445261
sangre       0.1425188
ojos         0.1364968

And then there are those two words one usually associates with Darío’s poetry. They appear much less frequently in his texts:

cisne        0.05821189 
princesa     0.04616805

The gap between these two classical modernista words and the MFWs in Darío’s poetry is clearly shown in the following image.

I know it is not right for me take Darío’s vocabulary as representative of modernista poetry in general, but I am not sure that adding corpuses from other writers and compiling a list of their shared MFRWs would solve the problem. And, is this “gap” simply a problem between perception and reality?

I suppose that in order to contrast the public perception of modernista vocabulary with the actual MFWs in their texts, one needs to find a way to compile a list of modernista words as understood by readers and critics.