Painting by Frederick Howard Michael, Titania, 1897
”The Ruby” is a short story from the collection El Azul written by the Nicaraguan poet and writer Rubén Darío. An exquisite sample of Hispanic Modernism, ”The Ruby” narrates the story of how the titular gemstone was first birthed into the world.
The gnomes, labourers deep within the entrails of the earth to extract precious stones, find themselves in great turmoil when their leader, Puck, announces that a Parisian alchemist has constructed, through the means of sympathetic magic, a false ruby. Having travelled to Paris himself, Puck has snatched such a false stone from the golden chocker of a sleeping woman and has brought it as proof back to his fellow gromes who imprecate the alchemist as a blasphemous impostor.
Then, he proceeds to narrate the true tale regarding the events that led to the natural creation of the ruby. One day, the gnomes were in strike and they crawled out of the dark belly of the earth and into the sunlight. Puck came across a river into which a few stunning, mortal women were bathing. One of them catching his fancy, he grabbed her by force and took her to live with him back into the subterranean cave.
Puck adored the woman, toiling night and day to pluck out the gemstones so as to scatter them all around his bed where the woman passed her days in languid nakedness. The woman, though, didn’t reciprocate his feelings because she had promised her heart to another and they had found a unique way of communicating with each other. From the depths of the dark cave, she sent her sighs to her lover and they, penetrating through the crust of the earth, reached him. In return, her lover had taken to kissing the roses of a garden and every time he scattered his kisses, the woman moved her lips as if receiving them.
One day, Puck, having sweated to pull out a passel of diamonds, threw away his hammer recklessly, a gesture which smashed the diamonds into tiny pieces, and went to sleep. He woke up because of the pained sounds the woman made. The hammer having created a hole in the cave’s wall, the woman saw this as a chance to escape and unite with her lover. But in her haste, she didn’t pay attention to the diamond-littered ground, stepped on it and fell, cutting her feet and the rest of her body. From her flowing blood, the diamonds turned red, the woman ending up lifeless.
And that’s how the rubies came into the world.
Having heard the tale, the gnomes crush the false ruby and start dancing with joviality, surrounded by the glimmering beauty and light of the precious stones wedged into the cave’s walls.
In the end, Puck sings out a hymn to the Woman, his last phrase, ”¡Y tu, Mujer, eres – espiritu y carne – toda Amor! (And you, Woman, are – spirit and flesh – all Love!).
Upon the first reading, ”The Ruby” comes across as a typical child of the Hispanic Modernist movement: magnificent descriptions, evocation of the senses, references to mythological beings, tones of fantastic elements and a love story swimming in a sea of nostalgia and romanticism.
In fact, the lush descriptions and the beauty of the prose stand out to such a degree that an unsuspected reader unfamiliar with the movement might come to view this as nothing more than an enjoyable yarn that excites and awakens the imagination.
But ”The Ruby” is much more than a pretty fruit of an overactive mind. Rubén Darío had something meaningful and important to get across and he found a very clever and moving way of delivering his message.
”The Ruby”, through the embedded love story, takes the form of an allegory. Puck compares and contrasts most vividly the birth of the false and the true ruby. The false is created effortlessly, with cheap materials and quickly. On the other hand, the real one requires suffering, blood, disregard of danger and genuine passion.
In a nutshell, Darío concludes that imitation lacks lustre and substance while originality is full of life, an honest baring of the soul. In the battle between hocus pocus and love, the latter is crowned victor.
But Rubén Darío is not merely interested in the general idea of imitation and originality. One of the most significant themes of Hispanic Modernism is that of art itself. The Nicaraguan artist takes a definitive stance and declares that real art disdains pale tricks. Instead, it demands effort and pain and fervency and unquenchable longing.
True literature is a fruit of blood, passion and love. For, after all, as Puck remarks, ”Cuando el hombre ama de veras, su pasión lo penetra todo y es capaz de traspasar la tierra (When man truly loves, his passion penetrates everything and is capable of piercing through the earth).