Juana de Ibarbourou was a major Uruguayan poet of the early twentieth century. Born Juana Fernandez Morales in Melo, Uruguay, in 1895, she married Lucas Ibarbourou at the age of twenty, and her married name was the one under which she published her major works. In 1947 she was elected to the prestigious Academia uruguaya, and in 1959 she received the national literature prize of Uruguay. She died in Montevideo in July of 1979.

Her major works include her first book of poetry, Las lenguas de diamante (approximate translation: Tongues of Diamond), published in 1919; Raiz salvaje (Savage Root, pub.1921); La rosa de los vientos (The Rose of the Winds, pub. 1930); and the later work Oro y tormenta (Gold and Torment, pub. 1956).

Though as a hispanic literary figure she is perhaps as important as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Federico Garcia Lorca, Ibarbourou remains fairly unknown outside the Spanish-speaking world. (A likely cause of this is that poetry in general, unlike the prose fiction of Marquez and Borges or the plays of Lorca, is difficult to effectively translate.) Despite her relative obscurity, her poetry undoubtedly left a mark on hispanic literature.

She is unique among hispanic poets of her time period, with her optimistic, celebratory tone and her use of life and living things as recurring themes in her work. Her poetry is resplendent with natural imagery, particularly images involving the lush vegetation and vibrant animal life of the South American rain forest. These images are often used in her poems as symbols of sensuality and/or sexuality, which she treated with a frank honesty that was still considered revolutionary at the beginning of the 20th century. This unique style and viewpoint earned her the nickname "Juana de America." Her later works, however, lost some of the fresh optimism present in her early poetry, as she became simultaneously more serene and more preoccupied with death and mortality.

Speaking as a layperson rather than an expert on poetry, I would have to say that Ibarbourou reminds me most of Edna St. Vincent Millay, both stylistically and in the topics she deals with. I would recommend her poetry to anyone who has a working knowledge of Spanish -- it's not terribly difficult to comprehend, especially the earlier poems. (Easier, in my opinion, than, say, Don Quixote.)

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