Aleksa Šantić was born into a Herzegovinian Serb family in 1868 in Mostar in the Ottoman Empire. His father Risto was a merchant, and his mother Mara was a housewife. He had three siblings: brothers Jeftan and Jakov and sister Radojka known as Persa; another sister Zorica died in infancy. The family didn't demonstrate much understanding for Aleksa's lyrical talents.
Just as young Aleksa turned 10 years of age, Bosnia Vilayet (including Mostar) was occupied by Austria-Hungary as per decision made by European Great Powers at the Congress of Berlin during summer of 1878.
Aleksa's father Risto died, which is when his brother Miho known as Adža (Aleksa's uncle) got custody of Aleksa and his siblings. After attending schools in Trieste and Ljubljana, Aleksa came back to his native Mostar where he became the editor-in-chief of the review "Zora" (Dawn; 1896–1901). He presided over the Bosnian music association called "Gusle". In this capacity he came into the focus of the life of this region which, by its cultural and national consciousness, showed a stubborn opposition to the German Kulturträger. The product of his patriotic inspiration during the liberating Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 is the book "Na starim ognjištima" (On the Old Hearths; 1913). During World War I he was taken by the Austrians as hostage, but he, unlike Svetozar Ćorović, his brother-in-law, survived the war and saw the realization of his dream—the union of the South Slavs.
Šantić was a prolific poet and writer. He wrote almost 800 poems, seven theatrical plays and some prose. Many of the writings were of high quality and aimed to criticize the Establishment or advocate diverse social and cultural issues. He was strongly influenced by Heinrich Heine, whose works he translated. His friends and peers in the field of culture were Svetozar Ćorović, Jovan Dučić and Milan Rakić. One of his sisters, Radojka (Persa) married Svetozar Ćorović.
The oeuvre of Aleksa Šantić, widely accessible yet acutely personal, is a blend of fine-tuned emotional sensibility and clear-eyed historical awareness, steeped in the specifics of local culture. He worked at the crossroads of two centuries and more than other poets of his generation, combined theoretical and poetic suffering nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the same time, Šantić writes about his personal troubles – the loss of close and dear people (his mother, brothers Jeftan and Jacob, and brother-in-law Svetozar Ćorović), the health that was a lifetime problem and loneliness that accompanied him to the end. Drawing themes and imagery from his hometown Mostar, the atmospheric capital of Mediterranean Herzegovina, and its surroundings, his poetry is marked in equal part by the late-Ottoman urban culture in the region, its social distinctions, subdued passions and melancholy, as well as the South Slavic national awareness that was growing all over and flourished under the Communists of Yugoslavia and Tito.
As a Serb who embraced the form and the sentiment of the traditional Bosnian love ballad sevdalinka, developed under a strong influence of Muslim love songs, he was a pioneer in attempting to bridge the national and cultural divides, and in his lamentation of the erosion of population through emigration, that was the result of Austrian-Hungarian occupation. Work on the translation of poems by Svatopluk Čech, tiring and exhausting, coincided with his first serious health problems, but the rebellious lyrics of this Czech poet, sung against the Austrian occupation, gave Šantić the strength to persevere: every verse of Svatopluk Čech, that he converted into a harmonious rhyme in our language, expressed his thoughts and his feelings. This combination of locally rooted, transcultural sensibility and a dedicated pan-Slavic vision has earned him a special place in the pantheon of Serbian poetry. Šantić agreed with the idea that the Ekavian pronunciation of Serbo-Croatian should be adopted by a unified literature of Serbs and Croats, although Šantić himself wrote in his native Ijekavian pronunciation of the language.
He was influenced mostly by the poets Jovan Jovanović Zmaj, Vojislav Ilić and Heinrich Heine, whom he was translating. He is said to have reached his greatest poetic maturity between 1905 and 1910, when he wrote his best songs. Šantić's poetry is full of emotion, sadness and pain of love and defiance of social and national disempowered people whom he himself belonged. His muse is at the crossroads of love and patriotism, beloved ideal, and suffering people. The topics and images of his poems ranged from strong emotions for social injustices of his time to nostalgic love. His poems about Mostar and the Neretva river are considered particularly beautiful. Šantić wrote a number of love songs in the style of the Bosnian love songs, sevdalinkas. His most well known poem-turned-sevdalinka is Emina, to which music was composed and it is often sung at restaurants (kafanas). The ambiance of his love poems include the neighborhood gardens, flowers, baths, fountains, and girls who appear in them are decorated with a necklace, the challenging but the hidden beauty. This is right about the song "Emina." The spirit of this song is so striking that became the nation' favorite and sings as sevdalinka. In love songs the most common motive is the desire. The poet watches his beloved from afar and longing often turns into sadness because of unrequited love and the failure of life. His patriotic poetry is poetry about motherland and her citizens ("My homeland"). In some of his most moving poems Šantić sings about suffering of those who leave the country forever and go into unknown and alien world ("Stay here", "Bread"). Šantić emphasizes suffering and martyrdom as the most important moments in the historical destiny of the people ("We know destiny").
During his life he wrote six volumes of poetry (1891, 1895, 1900, 1908, 1911, 1913), as well as some dramatizations in verse, the best of which are Pod maglom (In the Fog; 1907) and Hasan-Aginica (1911). He also translated Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo (1897–1898), prepared an anthology of translated German poets, Iz nemacke lirike (From German Lyrics; 1910), made Bosnian renderings of Schiller's Wilhelm Tell (1922) and translated Pjesme roba (Poems of a Slave; 1919) from the Czech writer Svatopluk Čech. He also translated successfully from German. Šantić was one of the founders of the cultural newspaper "Dawn" as the president of the Bosnian Singing Society "Gusle". There he met and socialized with famous poets of that era: Svetozar Ćorović, Jovan Dučić, Osman Đikić, Milan Rakić. The famous poet died on 2 February 1924 in his hometown of Mostar, then an incurable disease, tuberculosis. The funeral was attended by all the citizens of Mostar irrespective of their religions.
Aleksa Šantić is a village in Serbia named after this poet. He is also pictured on 10 Bosnia and Herzegovina convertible marks bill. In the 1980s a movie called Moj brat Aleksa (My Brother Aleksa) was produced in his memory.