Biography of Alfonsina Storni , argentine poet and writer of modernism. Her work is prolific, vigorous and original.
She was an excellent poet of love. In her verses, the romantic accent, lyrical depth and simplicity predominate.
The Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral met her in the 1920s and said that she was in awe of her: “for her simplicity, for her sobriety, for her little expression of emotion, for her depth without transcendentalism”.
“And above all for her information, typical of a woman from a big city, who has spent touching everything and incorporating it.”
And Gabriela continued: “The head is extraordinary, but not for ungrateful features, but for entirely silver hair, which makes the frame of a twenty-five-year-old face.
Her hair, more beautiful I have not seen; it’s strange, like the moonlight at noon. It was golden, and some blond sweetness still lingered in the white segments.
The blue eye, the steep French nose, very funny, and the pink skin, give her something childish that belies the shrewd conversation and of a mature woman“.
Family and early years of Alfonsina Storni
Alfonsina Storni was born in Capriasca, Switzerland, on October 25, 1892.
Her parents, Alfonso Storni and Paulina Martignoni, had emigrated to the province of San Juan, Argentina, in 1880.
They founded a small family business; Years later, the beer bottles labeled “Cerveza Los Alpes, from Storni y Cía”, were famous throughout the region.
At the end of 1891, Alfonso and his wife traveled to Switzerland; they left the two oldest children, María and Romero, in San Juan.
On May 22, 1892, Alfonsina was born, the third daughter of the Storni-Martignoni couple. When Alfonsina was 4 years old, the three of them returned to Argentina, to San Juan.
The studies of Alfonsina Storni
In 1900, Alberto, Alfonsina’s last brother, was born. The following year, the whole family moved to the city of Rosario, in the province of Santa Fe. In that city, Paulina opened a small school.
The students paid a peso with fifty each and they became fifty boys; those small incomes did not allow a comfortable life.
At 8 years old, little Alfonsina had an overflowing imagination. Her mother had difficulty teaching her to tell the truth.
She invented fires, robberies, crimes that had never happened. She got her family in trouble; like when she invited her teachers to spend their vacations in an imaginary fifth, on the outskirts of Rosario.
In 1902, Alfonso Storni, her father, set up a Swiss Café near the Central Station of the Provincial Railroad.
The difficult youth of Alfonsina Storni
Alfonsina stopped going to school and helped him by washing dishes and waiting tables.
The coffee business did not go well. This was because Alfonso would sit at a table to drink until his wife, helped by one of their children, dragged him home.
Two years later, they had to close the Café and move house. María, Alfonsina’s older sister, married.
One of those days, Alfonsina Storni wrote her first poem, in which she spoke of cemeteries and her own death. She put it next to her mother’s pillow. The result was unexpectedly painful, because the next morning, instead of praise, she got a couple of bumps.
To help the family economy, Alfonsina looked for work in a hat factory. But privately, she did not stop writing poetry and some plays.
Alfonsina’s first works and studies
In Holy Week 1907, a theatrical company arrived in Rosario. Paulina, Alfonsina’s mother, made contact with the company and was assigned the role of Maria Magdalena.
Two days before the premiere the actress who played Saint John the Evangelist fell ill. Alfonsina had attended the rehearsals and knew all the papers by heart. She played San Juan, with glowing comments from the press.
Soon after, a representative of José Tallavi’s theater company went to Rosario to interview Alfonsina. She showed that she could recite and memorize long verses. She was offered work for a year on tour.
In this way, she toured Santa Fe, Córdoba, Mendoza, Santiago del Estero and Tucumán representing works by Ibsen, Benito Pérez Galdós and Florencio Sánchez.
Upon her return, at the end of the tour, she wrote her first play: “Un corazón valiente” (A brave heart).
Her mother had married Juan Perelli, a bookkeeper. Both had moved to the town of Bustinza, 65 km from Rosario.
On August 24, 1908, Alfonsina went to live with her mother, in Bustinza, in the rented house in front of the town square.
At her mother’s school, Alfonsina taught recitation and good manners classes.
A student of hers defined her as a very fine person in her bearing, in her dancing and in her mimicry. She was known as a delicate and loving person.
In 1909, she left the maternal home to finish her studies in Coronda, a city located 122 km from Rosario. Alfonsina was 17 years old and wanted to do a Rural Teacher career.
However, she lacked a primary school certificate and did not pass the entrance exam.
But her enthusiasm and determination earned her the teachers to admit her. In addition, she accepted the position of caretaker, in exchange for a salary that allowed her to pay the price of the pension where she was staying.
Alfonsina’s first steps as a poet
Her Spanish teacher detected in her conditions as a writer, and encouraged her to write.
Her mother attended the delivery of diplomas for teachers. The program for the event featured three poems by Alfonsina; one of them, entitled “A trip to the Moon,” was recited by kindergarten students.
During the event, Alfonsina sang “Let’s drink in happy glasses”, the toast of La Traviata by Verdi; then she dedicated a poem to the director María Margarita Gervasoni called “The teacher“, to which she added the phrase “to my intelligent and noble director.”
Her beginnings in Buenos Aires: 1911-1915
In 1911, Alfonsina Storni moved to Buenos Aires; she stayed in a pension until the following year.
On April 21, 1912, their son Alejandro was born, without a known father, then she moved to a house shared with a married couple.
Little by little, Alfonsina became known as a poet.
In the magazine “Monos y Monadas“, which was published in the city, on January 8, 1912 they published a beautiful poem of her, entitled “Anhelos”, inspired by the legendary ombú, the gigantic arborescent plant native to northeastern Argentina.
Alfonsina rested for a few months and in 1913 she got a job as a cashier in a pharmacy; and later, in a store.
At the same time, she made some collaborations in the magazine “Caras y Caretas“, with a remuneration of twenty-five pesos.
In the magazine she got involved with José Enrique Rodó, Amado Nervo, José Ingenieros and Manuel Baldomero; with the last two their friendship was deeper.
Her economic situation improved when she was hired by the company “Freixas Hermanos“, which was dedicated to importing oil.
She had been the only woman out of a hundred applicants. Being a woman, her salary was 200 pesos; The previous employee was paid 400 pesos.
With this job she was able to make frequent trips to Montevideo, where she met the Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou and who would become her great friend, the writer Horacio Quiroga.
Alfonsina’s activities between 1916 and 1920
In 1916 she began to publish poems and prose stories in the literary magazine “La Nota“.
Between March 28 and November 21, 1919, she was in charge of a permanent section in this magazine. There she published the poems “Convalecer” and “Golondrinas”.
“La inquietud del rosal”, a book of poetry where she expressed her wishes as a woman and described her condition as a single mother without any complex, was published in 1916.
Alfonsina Storni never managed to pay the printer Miguel Calvello, who had agreed to print the book in exchange for 500 pesos for 500 copies.
The book was not well received. The magazine “Nosotros” dedicated half a page to it in which it said: “a book by a young poet who has not yet achieved the integrity of her qualities, but which in the future will give us more than one valuable literary production”.
Alfonsina brought Rosario 100 copies and told her mother that she had sold so few copies because they considered her an immoral writer.
However, the publication of “La inquietud del rosal” allowed her to be the first woman to be accepted into the writers’ circles.
She attended meetings with her book as a cover letter. The first meeting she attended was a meal in homage to Manuel Gálvez, who was celebrating the success of his work “El mal metafísico“.
On this occasion, Alfonsina recited some of her verses and others by Arturo Capdevilla.
As a result of some criticism from her bosses at the “Nota” magazine, who did not see it well that the writer of a book that bordered on immorality worked there, she had to resign from her position in the Permanent Section of the magazine.
At that time, she wrote for free for the newspaper “La Acción” and for the magazine “Proteo”.
It was a time of economic crisis and poetry did not give her a living. So she looked for a more profitable job and got the position of principal at the “Marcos Paz” school.
Shortly after getting this job, she moved with her sister María to a house on 2161 Acevedo Street, which was closer to the school.
In 1918 she published “The sweet damage.” On April 18 of that year she was offered a meal at the Genova restaurant, to celebrate the publication of the book. The speakers were Roberto Giusti and José Ingenieros, her great friend and protector.
Also in that year, Alfonsina Storni received a medal from the “Argentine Committee for the Home of the Belgian Orphans” for having appeared as a participant in an act in defense of Belgium, on the occasion of the German occupation.
The following year, in 1919, the poet Amado Nervo arrived in Argentina as Mexico’s ambassador, and frequented the same circles as Alfonsina. She dedicated a copy of “La inquietud del rosal” to him, and in her dedication she called him “divine poet.”
In gratitude, Amado Nervo, champion of modernism together with Rubén Darío, published Alfonsina’s poems in “Mundo Argentino”. For her, who was still an unknown writer, it was very gratifying.
Her book “Languidez” won the First Municipal Prize for Poetry and the Second National Prize for Literature. A group of the most distinguished of society and intellectual people surrounded her. At that moment, Alfonsina Storni could feel like a queen.
In 1920 she traveled to Montevideo in order to read her poetry and that of Delfina Bunge, wife of the novelist Manuel Gálvez. The book Poems that Delfina Bunge had written was translated from French by Alfonsina Storni.
While in Montevideo, she visited the “Cementerio del Buceo” and wrote her poem “A cemetery that looks to the sea” centered on a dialogue with the dead.
During this time, she devoted herself to a wide variety of activities: publishing two new books, moving to a new house, participating in the Anaconda group, and writing a book that she would call “Ocre.”
Activities in Buenos Aires between 1921 and 1927
In April 1921, she was hired as a teacher at the “School for Weak Children“, an institution that housed poorly nourished or stunted children.
In 1925 she published “Ocre”, an 80-page book, which marked a decisive change in her poetry. For two years she had been a reading and declamation teacher at the “Escuela Normal de Lenguas Vivas”.
Her poetry, mainly love themes, was also linked to feminist themes and she tried to look more at the real world.
The excess of activities, loneliness and marginalization took a toll on her health. She suffered from neurosis, fatigue and depression. She had to leave her classes and traveled to Mar del Plata and Córdoba, to rest.
During this period, Gabriela Mistral visited her.
In 1926, she wrote “Poems of love” and was appointed holder of a chair at the “Conservatory of Music and Declamation.”
She was also a Spanish and Arithmetic teacher at a school. She was also appointed director of the Municipal Children’s Theater.
On March 20, 1927, her play “The Master of the World” was premiered, which had aroused the expectations of the public and critics.
The day of the premiere was attended by the President of the Republic accompanied by her wife. The work developed theories about the relationship between men and women. After three days she had to withdraw from the cartel, to the great indignation of Alfonsina, who saw all the criticism as the result of a conspiracy.
The harshest and most offensive criticism was made by Edmundo Guibourg, who affirmed that Alfonsina denigrated the man; to which she replied that she had written 300 poems dedicated to the “reasoning animal.”
After this failure, Alfonsina decided to publish stories; sometimes with autobiographical features, where the ideas did not belong to poetry or to the news report.
The newspaper “Crítica” published some of these stories; one of them entitled “Psychology for two cents” tells the story of a woman who tells her friend by letter the details of her recent divorce.
Alfonsina’s activities between 1928 – 1935
In 1928, Alfonsina went to live in the city of Rosario. There were manias of persecution. She was believed to be watched by the waiters of the cafes, the guards of the trams, and by almost every normal citizen who came across her.
To try to distract her, a colleague from the Conservatory of Music convinced her that year 1928 to travel to Europe.
In Madrid she visited the “Residence for Young Ladies” run by María de Maetzu. There she gave lectures and courses.
The Madrid Book Chamber organized a dinner in her honor. Among other writers, Carlos Soldevilla and José María de Segarra attended. The latter wrote a chronicle in her honor and compared her to Rubén Darío.
During that trip she visited Toledo, Ávila, El Escorial, Andalusia, Seville, Córdoba and Granada. She also went to Paris and her hometown in Switzerland.
In 1931, she repeated the trip, in the company of her son Alejandro, who was already 20 years old. They also visited the ruins of Pompeii and the city of Geneva.
Upon returning from this second trip, they settled again in Buenos Aires, in a boarding house on Rivadavia Street, very close to the Café Tortoni.
Alfonsina participated in the Peña del Tortoni, called Signs. The writer Federico García Lorca did not miss a single night when he visited Buenos Aires between October 1933 and February 1934. Alfonsina dedicated the poem “Portrait of García Lorca” to him.
In 1932, Alfonsina Storni collaborated in the newspapers Crítica and La Nación. In addition, she continued to teach theater classes, every day.
Also at that time she became friends with the poet Haydée Ghío, with whom she met at the Castelar hotel, where Alfonsina sang some tangos from table to table, accompanied by the piano.
She had an intense participation in the literary unionism and took part in the creation of the “Argentine Society of Writers“.
In July 1934, she was invited in Montevideo to the meetings organized by María Muller, founder of the Art and Culture association.
The meetings were held in the Paraninfo of the University. Alfonsina recited two of her poems: “Polixema” and “La cocinerita”.
During 1934 she published a new book called “World of seven wells“, a collection of poems that she dedicated to her son Alejandro.
When Gabriela Mistral read the book, she commented that “poets like her are born every hundred years.”
Activities of the poetess between 1936 – 1938
On May 23, 1936, at the inauguration ceremony of the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, she gave a conference that was broadcast by radio. In it she said “the city has neither its poet, nor its novelist, nor its playwright, but it does have its tango singer.” And she said that the South neighborhood was the bastion of Buenos Aires tango.
A few days later in another conference in Buenos Aires, she pointed out the similarities of the lyrics of her poems, with that of Santa Teresa de Jesús; and described the characteristics of female creativity.
In 1937 she dedicated herself to writing what would be her last book; She called it “Mask and Shamrock.” She composed it during the nights in Bariloche, and tried to develop a new way of thinking about poetry; and, consequently, a new way of thinking about the world.
She wrote it trying to overcome the recent death of her great friend Horacio Quiroga, Uruguayan playwright and poet, 14 years older than her. Alfonsina Storni had maintained a close friendship with him.
On January 26, 1938, Alfonsina received an invitation from the Uruguayan Ministry of Public Instruction. They wanted to bring together the three great poets of the moment: Juana de Ibarbourou, Gabriela Mistral and Alfonsina Storni. They asked them to make public their form and way of creating
The Act was held at the Vázquez Acevedo Institute. That invitation came a day before the meeting. Alfonsina went by car with her son; and during the trip she wrote her lecture.
The result of the meeting was successful and the audience applauded her frequently, interrupting her talk.
Before returning to Buenos Aires, she stayed at the house of her friend Fifi; One afternoon when they went for a walk and came across a snake, she exclaimed: “If I ever knew that I had an incurable disease, it would kill me. Alejandro can defend himself and my mother doesn’t need me ”.
Upon returning to Buenos Aires, she learned of the suicide of Leopoldo Lugones; and also of the daughter of Horacio Quiroga; the girl was only twenty-six years old.
Poet Alfonsina Storni’s illness
One day, when she was bathing in the sea, she discovered a lump on her chest that until now was not noticeable, but that at that time could be touched with the hand.
She and her friends tried to downplay it, but advised her to see a doctor.
The person in charge of accompanying her to the consultation was the painter Benito Quinquela Martín, to whom she commented that her condition was serious and that her son was too young to have to face the situation.
On May 20, 1935, Alfonsina was operated on for breast cancer at the Arenales sanatorium.
It was thought to be a benign tumor, but it actually had ramifications, leaving large physical and emotional scars.
After twenty days of rest, at the home of the Botana family, in the north of Buenos Aires, she decided to return to her house at 1123 Suipacha Street. There she lived until 1937, when she moved to the Bouchard House building opposite Luna Park.
For a long time, she suffered from depression, paranoia and nervous breakdowns, but now the symptoms of mental illness have worsened.
Alfonsina Storni became a recluse and avoided meeting her friends.
She wanted to live but did not accept the treatments imposed by the doctors. She only attended one ray session that left her exhausted and could not bear the treatment.
She did not allow her son to kiss her and washed her hands with alcohol before approaching him.
The end of Alfonsina’s life
In mid-1938 her book “Mask and Clover” was published; and a “Poetic Anthology” with her favorite poems.
On Sunday, October 16, he met the poet Abella Caprile. This one made her comments about her poem “Romancillo cantable” published in La Nación «; Alfonsina told him that it could be her last poem; and she confessed that neurasthenia made her think about committing suicide.
On October 18, 1938, she traveled to Mar del Plata. She went to the Constitución station accompanied by her son Alejandro, who was already 26 years old. When the train left, she told her son to write to her that she would need it.
Alfonsina wrote two letters of ambiguous content to her son, on October 19 and 22; in them she seemed to be fighting the decision to end her life.
On Thursday the 20th she wrote all day at the hotel, warm with a Catamarca poncho, even though it was spring. On Saturday the 22nd, she posted a letter in the mailbox. It contained her poem “I’m going to sleep,” the last she wrote.
On Sunday she had to call Dr. Serebrinsky because she could no longer bear the pain. On Monday she asked the maid to write a letter for Alejandro for her. And at eleven thirty she went to bed to sleep.
She sent 3 letters: one to her son, Alejandro; another to Gálvez, to ensure that her son did not lack anything; and a farewell poem to the newspaper La Nación:
Flower teeth, dew cap,
Herb hands, you fine nurse,
keep the earthy sheets on me
and the weed moss quilt.
I’m going to sleep, my nurse, put me to bed.
Put a lamp at the bedside
a constellation, the one you like,
they’re all good; lower it a little.
Leave me alone: you hear the buds break,
a celestial foot cradles you from above
and a bird draws you a few bars
so you forget. Thank you … Ah, a commission,
if he calls again on the phone
You tell him not to insist, that I have left …
Around one o’clock in the morning on Tuesday, October 25, 1938, Alfonsina Storni left her room and went to La Perla beach.
That morning, the maid Celinda had knocked on the bedroom door to give her breakfast and she got no response and she thought it best to let her rest and that was what she told the owner.
But when two workers discovered the body on the beach, the news spread; her son found out by radio and the hotel’s caretaker, José Porto, confirmed it to him by phone.
There are two versions of the suicide of Alfonsina Storni: one of romantic overtones, which says that she went slowly into the sea, and another, the one most supported by researchers and biographers, which states that she jumped into the waters from a breakwater.
In the afternoon, the newspapers titled their editions with the news: “Alfonsina Storni, great American poet, has died tragically.”
That same afternoon, at the National School of Mar del Plata a tribute was organized, attended by authorities, students and journalists.
The coffin was transferred to the North railway station to take it to Buenos Aires. People threw flowers at her during the move. The train with the remains of Alfonsina Storni arrived at Plaza Constitución the next day.
The procession took an hour to reach the final destination, where the national authorities were waiting.
The remains of Alfonsina Storni were deposited in the Recoleta Cemetery.
In 1963 the coffin was moved to the “Recinto de los Personalidades”, in the Chacarita Cemetery, where they currently rest, inside a sculpture made by Julio César Vergottini.
Critics’ opinions about her poetry
Alfonsina Storni was a feminist and always sought equality between men and women.
But there is no irony in the verses she wrote in favor of this equality. She had the courage to oppose the rule that required female virginity but not male.
It cannot be located in radical feminism. Alfonsina Storni was a woman tormented by love and by the social limitations that were imposed on the woman of her time.
Her work is prolific, vigorous and original. In it emotion, feeling and reflection are mixed. Her poetry is erotic, she seeks love. She was an excellent poet of love. In her verses, the romantic accent, lyrical depth and simplicity predominate. With each of her publications her literary importance increased and critics showed more interest in her.
About her book “Poems of love”, she said: “they are phrases of the state of love written in a few days and some time ago. It is not a work of literature, but a tear of the many tears of human eyes ”.
On November 18, 1938, a tribute was held at the University of Montevideo, organized by the Popular Art and Culture Society.
On November 21, 1938, the Senate of the Nation paid tribute to her with a speech by Senator Alfredo Palacios.
Monuments from all over Argentina have been erected in various public places in her memory. There are numerous streets in various Argentine cities that bear his name.
Her suicide inspired the song “Alfonsina y el mar“, by Ariel Ramírez and Félix Luna, which has been performed by countless Spanish-language musicians, the most notable being the version by Mercedes Sosa and the version by Chabuca Granda.