Monday, December 22, 2014

Nobel Peace Prize for Obama (Again) and Raúl Castro

At the start of his first term, Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush (an award previously conferred on Al Gore for the same reason). Unfortunately, no individual has ever received the same Nobel Prize twice. Otherwise, the Norwegian Nobel Committee would surely have bestowed it yet again on Obama and Raúl Castro for the resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Perhaps it was to avoid that possibility that the news was announced a week after the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded. It would certainly have been Obama's just deserts to have had his name coupled forever with Raúl's as Henry Kissinger's is with Le Duc Tho's (even though Tho declined the prize). The only reason that Hitler and Neville Chamberlain were not awarded the Peace Prize in 1939 (though both were nominated) was that the ink was not yet dry on their pact before Hitler broke it. The irony of Castro being awarded the prize when no Cuban dissident ever was would also have been priceless and put into relief yet again the utter moral worthlessness of this political lotto with an 8.0 million kronor prize (about $1.5 million dollars).

Next year, however, the Norwegians can award their blodgeld [what else can you call money (geld) from the estate of the inventor of dynamite?]  to Pope Francis, who is credited by both Obama and Castro with this "diplomatic breakthrough" (i.e. moral breakdown). The Peace Prize was never awarded to Pope John Paul II (though Gorbachev got it). Awarding it to Francis would be a "historical reparation" as was the award to the Dalai Lama in 1989,which the then-chairman of the committee said was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi," who was never awarded the prize, either. Or perhaps the award can be bestowed on the Vatican as an organization, thereby honoring the previous three pontiffs, all of whom (including John Paul II) campaigned for the restoration of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and condemned the trade embargo, though not the tyrannical rule of the Castro dynasty.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Cuban Trade Embargo: On the Eve of Its Repeal

The following exchange took place at Cubanet over the ten days preceding President Barack Obama's announcement that he would re-establish diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba unilaterally and without prior conditions, exactly as the Castro regime has always demanded and as his predecessors from either party refused to do for 54 years. In contravention of U.S. law, Obama has announced that he will do everything within his power and outside his authority to nullify the trade embargo, and, in effect, make this country Castro's economic sponsor as it has been the guarantor of Communism in Cuba since the Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact (which itself has never been nullified). I had no idea when I had this exchange with "Ilumar" that we were discussing what was already a dead letter. I do not think that he was aware of what was in the offing either. Still, his indoctrination was so complete and his demeanor so  shameless, I suspected that he had some tie to the Cuban Interests Section. Whether naturally or by design, Ilumar was the perfect foil. Slavish to the point of caricature, but not smart enough to avoid entangling himself in his own arguments, Ilumar's type is now extinct because superfluous. There are no more arguments to be made against the embargo. Their side has prevailed because a president as ignorant and duplicitous as they come has decreed that 55 years of slavery is not enough for the Cuban people and that their masters should not be deprived of their human chattel, nor the U.S. of the opportunity to exploit them as well, which the embargo, if nothing else, preempted. No, the embargo did not topple Fidel Castro; but lifting the embargo will assure the continuation of Castroism — that is, of a corporate fascist state in Cuba — for the duration of its geological life. The Great Capitulator has seem to that.

MANUEL TELLECHEA If a man refuses to speak to you except with the understanding that nothing that he tells you can ever be repeated by you, then you are either in a papal conclave or in a meeting with Ernesto Londoño, The New York Times' reincarnated Herbert Matthews. How can such a one-sided exchange of opinions — with Castro's subjects openly expressing their views on the record and possibly to their peril while the editorial writer from the so-called "newspaper of record" decrees that nothing which he says can be on record, nor considered "fit to print" — how can such a meeting of unequals be said to have been held "in an atmosphere of mutual respect," as reported in your publication. What respect does a man have for you as a fellow professional, or, indeed, as a fellow human being, who would censor those who are already censored. And yet, you somehow feel honored to have been singled-out for his disdain, and believe that your words are safe in his keeping! His bogus apprehensions about you should be your real apprehensions about him. Your only defense against his proven malice and ill-will is to do what he has forbidden you to do. You have no moral or ethical obligation to abet his mischief with your silence. Speak. Isn't that what this is all about?

ILUMAR Someone in an investigative mission collects information, does not provide opinions. It is perfectly OK for Mr. Londoño to stipulate that any statement by him be off the record. Although he would avoid expressing opinions, it is to be expected that in discussing subjects and trying to clarify an issue, Mr. Londoño would make statements that he doesn't want published, not necessarily because he tries to hide his views, but because it is not his intent to be quoted. Further, he has to mind the distinct possibility that he will be quoted out of context, distorting the meaning of his words, making him a protagonist in the news story. I am not a newspaperman, but I have gathered that knowledge by simple observation and a bit of logical thinking.

MANUEL TELLECHEA Mr. Londoño is not an investigative reporter but an expounder of opinions (i.e. editorial writer), and his opinions are very privileged indeed if they must be confined to the pages of his paper. Mr. Londoño is also, apparently, a believer that a picture is worth a thousand of his words, because he also refused to be photographed with the independent Cuban journalists. He had no compunction, however, about being interviewed by or photographed with the staff of the regime organ Granma. In fact, Londoño himself posted those photographs on Facebook. Anyone who has ever talked to The New York Times or any other media on the record has risked the possibility that he would be "quoted out of context, distorting the meaning of his words." Nowadays, however, most interviews are recorded, and this interview certainly was, if not by the participants then by Cuban State Security, which no doubt has compiled an interesting dossier on Mr. Londoño during his two weeks on the island. But it is not Castro's henchmen whom Londoño fears, only his victims.

ILUMAR I think that the issue I addressed was whether or not Mr. Londoño was correct in demanding that he not be quoted. He does not have to be technically an investigative reporter to be in a fact-gathering mission. As an editorialist of the NY Times, he is part of a committee and can’t go around spreading opinions on delicate or controversial issues while representing the paper. If I were him you would not catch me dead making public statements of my personal views. Therefore, I stick to my thinking that Mr. Londoño’s requiring that he not be quoted makes a lot of sense.

 You go into other issues which are your take of the situation, and certainly not mine. Londoño refused to be quoted by the “independent journalists” while giving a collective interview published by, well, it was his prerogative to do so. Let’s face it, he knows who are the people positively receptive to his views and who are the people who would try to trip him, misquote him and harm his position. In any case, an interview is quite different from a private discussion, which is what he had with the Cubanet people. In the published interview he spoke of facts, such as seeing more openness for opinions in Cuba, but did not make editorial comments that he cannot make.

And there you go assuming, but stating as a fact, that every word of Mr. Londoño during his visits was secretly recorded by the Cuban government. I guess that you give your opinions even if you do not have hard proof on hand, and so can I. I think that those “independent journalists” respond to American government agencies, and are paid by them. I have heard of hard proof of this but I am not researching it now. Needless to say, I agree 99% with every one of the NYT editorials in which Mr. Londoño is involved. And it looks that the majority of Cubans residents of the USA do too, although they are not represented in Cubanet. Check this out:

MANUEL TELLECHEA Your premise that a newspaperman cannot voice a private opinion because it might be at variance with his public opinion presupposes a level of hypocrisy in journalism that would surpass even that in politics. In Londoño's case, I believe that you do him a great injustice. He is undoubtedly an apologist for the Castro regime whether he's on the job or not. And, of course, he felt more at home among "people positively receptive to his views," that is, among Castro's minions at Granma whose opinions he parrots and whose discretion he can rely upon. I don't think that he was afraid that Cuba's independent journalists "would try to trip him," but, rather, that he would trip himself and expose his monumental ignorance about Cuba. Under such circumstances, perhaps silence is best (for him).

ILUMAR A member of the Times' Editorial Board does not go around shooting his mouth up in front of terribly biased and antagonistic people. Mr. Londoño probably doesn't want to disclose a position not yet discussed in a meeting of the Board to which he belongs. I do not think that in his interview at the he went out of his way to express subjective opinions. What I find is that the mere fact that he did not take the opportunity at either meeting to verbally trash the Cuban government is taken by you and the Cubans like you, not a majority, as proof that he is a Castro apologist and that he is ignorant about Cuba. What else is new? That routine has been playing for so long.

 Mr. Londoño's opinions so far are very close to mine, and I am a Cuban immigrant who happens to be in the majority of Cubans on this issue, not even counting the wonderful people currently residing in Cuba who are my primary concern. To us, for example, the embargo and the provisions that make it a "bloqueo" is an absolute disgrace. 188 to 2 was the vote at the UN, remember? It is clear that that terrible policy has politically helped the Cuban government, but the compelling point against it is that it has been profoundly detrimental to the well-being of your compatriots as the policy unabashedly set out to be. On the issue of exchanging the three remaining Cubans in American prisons (unjustly convicted of espionage) for the American operative, Mr. Alan Gross (too harshly sentenced), I also agree with the Times editorials. Right wingers, on the other hand, don't see the humanitarian aspect of that exchange, or don't seem to care.

 There is no need to continue this discussion between us as our positions are clear, opposite, and without much chance for agreement, as it has always been.

MANUEL TELLECHEA You are right in one respect: our positions are clear, opposite and irreconcilable. Mine, of course, is the majority position among both Cubans on the island and in exile. The fact that the Castro dynasty has ruled Cuba for 55 years without the benefit of free elections proves not only that it is an illegitimate government, but also that it knows that it does not have the support of its people. The fact that no Cuban has ever been elected to the U.S. Congress, at any time, who supported the end of the embargo or the restoration of diplomatic ties with the regime proves that Cubans in the United States today are as opposed to Castro's dictatorship as any previous generation. My side has to wait for the deaths of two octogenarians for democracy to prevail in Cuba. Your side must await the annihilation of 12 million Cubans on the island and two million in exile for there to exist a consensus for the continuation of their legacy.

ILUMAR I must say something: in what the heck world do you live? To say that the majority of Cubans anywhere support the embargo, (to reduce this to one issue) is basically saying that Cubans want to starve themselves to see if in that manner they gather the fortitude to take action against the government (which is the premise of the embargo), and that presumes that they are cruel and stupid, which conditions only apply to a small part of the US Cubans, the ones who vote detestable politicians to US congress. I suppose you don't believe in surveys, and, more surprisingly, you don't believe in common sense or evidence. You are outrageous, sir.

MANUEL TELLECHEA So you are in fact admitting that for 55 years the Castro regime has starved the Cuban people rather than recognize their civil and human rights, which is all that would have been required for the embargo to end. The embargo, however, never forbade the exportation of food and medicine to the island. If starving the Cuban people into embracing freedom and democracy were its object, it certainly left some big loopholes which have only grown as the embargo has been relaxed through the years. At present, Communist Cuba can purchase anything it wants from the U.S. except armaments. Of course, it must pay for what it buys upfront and is not eligible for government-backed credit. Having exhausted its credit with every other country in the world — and stiffed every other country in the world — the Castro regime desperately wants the U.S. to extend a line of credit so that it can continue its parasitic existence for a while longer. This is what "lifting the embargo" signifies for Communist Cuba today: being financially underwritten by and dependent upon the "yanquis."

 We are agreed that Cubans do not want to starve, but they do not blame the U.S. embargo for their plight but the catastrophic economic model which Castro imposed at the start of the Revolution, which reduced a country with the third-highest GNP in the Western Hemisphere to a mendicant state whose largest export and source of income is slave labor (before 1991 it was cannon fodder).

No, Cubans do not want to starve, nor do their exiled relatives in the U.S. want them to starve (the largest source of revenue for Cubans are cash remittances from abroad). The only one with an interest in starving the Cuban people is Castro himself, who has always used food as an instrument of state control.

ILUMAR No, I did not admit what you say I admitted, period. I said, to put it differently, that Cubans that want the embargo to stay, cruelly and stupidly act against their own interests, because the intent of the embargo (not that of the Cuban government) is that the people of Cuba starve and no good Cuban would wish them to starve. The ultimate purpose at its inception was of course that the "starvation" leads them to rebel and depose the government just to effect a change that would cause the US to stop the embargo, and they would rebel not necessarily because they blame the government for their vicissitudes, although many would blame it because of confusion. That rebellion has not occurred and every day it is farther from ever occurring.

The embargo can be called an extortion. It reminds me of an election in Nicaragua where the premise was: if the anti-Sandinista wins the election, the war, the aggression ends. Otherwise, the war continues. Talk about influencing democratic elections! Democratic institutions do not develop or work well in a state of war. Stop all aggression against Cuba to increase the possibility of an improvement of civil liberties on the island.

 I do not at all share your opinion that the US embargo is now significantly relaxed, that food, medicine and medical equipment flow to Cuba unharmed by the embargo, that the main problem with Cuban commerce is its bad credit, and other fallacies. You seem to forget that the "embargo" is in fact an economic blockade that punishes foreign companies. The main question remains for those who use your arguments: If the embargo is so benign, why not lift it altogether and thus shut up its detractors: those 188 countries, the pope and virtually everyone else, including (it is crazy to deny it) the great majority of Cubans everywhere? Why not gain the political upper hand and then brag: "see, they keep on sinking, told you so"? My answer is - they don't lift it because Cuba would rise and certain American political circles would be damaged when that is exposed.

 Although poor in terms of material riches, Cuba is a country of high standards in many areas of human rights, the most important being those human rights that lead to long and healthy lives. Imagine what Cuba could be if it is just simply allowed to exercise unfettered the human right of international commerce.

 Only if you misinterpret something material that I said, would I reply to you again on this issue. I hope it is not necessary.

MANUEL TELLECHEA Now you have admitted that an improvement in civil liberties is necessary on the island and that such an improvement will not come until the U.S. agrees to underwrite financially the Castro regime (i.e. lift the embargo without prior conditions).

 There is no "human right of international commerce," as you put it, but if there were such a right, Communist Cuba, which has trade relations with over 200 countries, exercises that "right" fully and without constraint. If a U.S. blockade of the island were in fact in place, Cuba would not be able to trade with any country.

 The U.S. has no obligation under international law to trade with Cuba or with any other country, and if 188 nations think that it does or should, then 188 nations are wrong. All of these countries as well as the Vatican supported economic sanctions on South Africa, and it was their united front that brought down apartheid there. If Cubans had received as much solidarity from the world community, apartheid on the island would also have been long ago extinguished. But the craven institution that is the United Nations reserves its solidarity for leftist tyrants and not their beleaguered subjects.

ILUMAR You and the "admissions" of mine, LOL. Well, yes, civil liberties can be improved if the aggression ends, for there would be no need to keep paid foreign operatives tightly in check. Yes, the US has no obligation to trade with Cuba but has no right to interfere with Cuba's trading with other nations, foreign companies, foreign financial institutions, and that the US does. Hell, Cuba can't get a bank in Washington DC to handle its Interest Section financial affairs!

 You have a funny way to portray what is the meaning of ending the embargo. I will not dispute your view, but add that to me ending the embargo means (1) not interfering with Cuba's right to trade with other nations in order to sustain its economy and improve the livelihood of its people; (2) at least continue trading with Cuba under the present terms, no financing required. (3) Let the Americans visit Cuba as tourists without limitation (it is their right to visit a friendly and safe country!).

I think that further improvement in the US trade with Cuba will occur upon realization that the US companies are missing out on profits. It has been a pleasure talking with you.

MANUEL TELLECHEA The trade embargo is not a policy that can be altered by presidential fiat. According to U.S. law, the trade embargo cannot be lifted until certain preconditions have been met, in particular, the formation of a Cuban government which is the product of free elections and is not headed by either Fidel or Raúl Castro.

What a moral victory could be achieved by anti-embargo proponents like yourself if you could only convince these superannuated tyrants to do what Pinochet did and retire! But they are determined to do what no Cuban dictator has ever done in history — die in his own bed. And if the Cuban people must endure another decade of slavery and starvation to make this possible, so be it. José Martí wrote that "No man is worth more than an entire people." Fidel and Raúl beg to differ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Barack Obama Fulfills At Last Our Worst Expectations


Barack Obama: The End of Hope for Cuba

I have received many e-mails from readers, both known and unknown to me, asking me to re-consider my decision to close this blog [Review of Cuban-American Blogs] on January 20th [2009]. At the same time, my own determination to do so was strengthened daily by the events leading up to Inauguration Day. Bush may not have listened to Cubans, but Obama listens to the wrong Cubans. As soon as it is possible for him to do so, and sooner even than most of us expect, the juggernaut of normalization will roll over every Cuban on the island, leaving them parallel with their surroundings. There is nothing that can be done to stop him and much that we must do to prepare ourselves, as best as we can, for the greatest defeat we have ever sustained in our struggle against tyranny in our country.

In 1959, the United States installed Castro in power and it has been the guarantor of Communism in Cuba since 1962. What it has not done, however, is to underwrite the enterprise. That was a task left to America's enemies. This is going to change now. Cuba will remain the only Communist state under U.S. military protection but now it will also enjoy all the benefits of commerce with this nation, or leastwise its oppressors will. After defaulting on every foreign creditor and exhausting every line of credit while amassing the largest per 
Since there can be no resumption of diplomatic relations with Communist Cuba until it settles U.S. claims against it, Obama will float the regime a loan so that it can pay pennies on the dollar for the properties it confiscated and nationalized before Obama was born, receiving in return clear title to them, which will enable it to sell those same properties at market value to a new generation of greedy and ignorant American investors, who will pour billions into the island with the assurance that the U.S. government will bail them out when the regime decides again that seizing American assets is more beneficial than trading with the enemy.

The biggest losers in this arrangement will be the Cuban people, who will not regain their liberty, but become subject to the exploitation of even more foreigners. Their masters will multiply but the quality of their lives will not improve. A prosperous tyranny is always to be more feared than one on the verge of economic collapse. The means of repression will expand and be fortified with the profits that the regime will reap from trade with the U.S. There will be no sharing of the wealth, however, because economic rights always anticipate political rights, and a regime that has always regarded both as anathema will not open the door to one knowing that it leads to the other.

The result of "normalization" (what a quaint word as if any relationship with a regime like Castro's could ever be anything but abnormal!) will prove detrimental to all parties except Castro and his henchmen. Those who espouse rapprochement do so because they hope to profit from the suffering of the Cuban people. Obama, besides acting on his ideological affinities with Castro, hopes to score a cheap coup de theatre by renewing relations with Communist Cuba, which the media are sure to represent as the greatest diplomatic feat in history, surpassing the opening of Japan by Perry or of China by either Marco Polo or Nixon. American businessmen, industrialists and agronomists, who have spent 8 years drooling about the prospects of trade with Cuba as Bush dangled that putrid carrot before them, will trample one another like elephants even before they reach the cliff.

To do business with Cuba will become more important than to do justice to Cubans. Human rights there will become as irrelevant as human rights in China without the Cuban people ever being compensated with an extra bowl of porridge for surrendering to the stomach what rightly belongs to the spirit.

This is what the election of Barack Obama means to Cubans and why tomorrow will always be a day of mourning for our country.

For my part, I prefer to mourn in private, which is the reason that I have decided to close the Review of Cuban-Americans Blogs tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chinese Translation of "Yo soy un hombre sincero"


Last month, I offered a very conventional Chinese translation of José Martí's "Cultivo una rosa blanca." "Conventional" is here used as the highest praise that can be bestowed on such an exercise. There is nothing in the least jarring about that translation; it does not depart an iota from the sense of the original and preserves all the external components of the poem that can be preserved; it is, in short, faithful. Martí's poem makes its journey to Cathay in a Chinese junk, but it arrives intact and even unrumpled. It is a very different experience from what awaited "Yo soy un hombre sincero" on its own journey to the Mystical Kingdom. This translation is still recognizable; but it is not fully comprehensible. It is imbued with a certain character of its own which even in the literal English translation sounds distinctly Oriental, or mock Oriental, anyway. I am wary to point out its idiosyncrasies lest I deprive the reader of the pleasure of discovering them for himself. Let me say on my word that I have added nothing to the original translation and that I am as astonished as you will be by the layers of meaning and unmeaning which the anonymous translator has uncovered. More than once I have had to pause to consider the viability of these alternative readings. Can someone from a different culture (or a different planet, for that matter) interpret a poem in new and original ways because his perspective differs from ours and most importantly from the author's? And are these insights to be ignored or discounted because they are drawn from a different well of experience? One might as well assert that Americans should not write haiku or Japanese violinists play Beethoven. Cultural imperialism cannot be allowed to replace political imperialism. Certainly, Martí of all people should be the last hostage to be taken in that archaic conflict. So I ask the reader to consider the following translation with an open mind, out of respect for the translator and in tribute to Martí. [Upon further research I have found other Chinese translations of this poem, and include in brackets an interesting variant on the second verse, which manages to be quite conventional until the very last word].

I am an honest man,
home from coconut,
whenever I am in the world,
put the heart of the song children sing.

I had to get involved in many,
the future will wander,
one thousand is a song I,
I was one among Wanfeng hill.

[I will once step in all over the country,
from now on also wander the four directions,
in thousand songs I will be a tune,
in ten thousand peaks I was a hump.]

Whether or exquisite Yi Cao,
I know it's a strange name,
regardless fooled or deceived,
I know it's all pain.

I have seen the beauty
of the holy darkness,
pure light gently sprinkler
on my forehead.

I have seen the growth
of a beautiful woman
on the shoulders of fly wings,
also on the rubble butterfly flying:

I have seen a man living lonely,
a dagger inseparable.
Beauty made him frustrated,
never mention her name.

Generally light show swift soul,
I see it's the bottom line twice:
once poor father dying,
and once she say good-bye, off I go.

I was shaking the fence door
is the door of the vineyard,
as hateful bees stings
my daughter's head.

I have tasted a pleasure,
never had time to enjoy it
while weeping when the judge
sentenced me at the right time.

Across the ocean, across the earth,
I heard someone sigh,
no, that's not a sigh,
I want to wake up the children restless breath.

If someone said to me:
"Go, take the world's best baby!"
I will choose a sincere friend,
and not to be ignored to love.

I have seen the injured eagle,
flying in clear blue skies;
see spray poisonous snakes
have also scorpion died own lair.

I know that even the world's buried,
a dark, quiet
when things will hear
the gentle gurgling brook.

Lost glory of the stars of heaven,
as it happens in my house fall
Jing Fei; my surprise Cross, overwhelmed,
actually with stiff hands stroked it.

In my anger chest,
tingling hidden grief.
Son of enslaved peoples living the only way:
either silence or death.

All are beautiful and long long,
everything is harmonious and comfortable,
all, are exactly like that of King Kong,
the original charcoal, if the loss of the light.

I know a grand funeral foolish generation,
and a touch of luxury, dirge everywhere;
also know the cemetery to fruition,
it will go beyond the general land.

I was silent, and think clearly,
no longer let the rhythm of motor rumble.
I will take off Dr. clothes,
hang it on a withered tree.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chinese Translation of "Cultivo una rosa blanca"



原作者:José Martí
译者:yuyuliuxiahui (translator)

Literal translation of the Chinese version:

I planted a white rose
In the heat of July
And in the cold of January,
And I put it in the hand
Of my true friend.

And for my enemy,
Who cruelly tears my living heart,
I place in his hand
Neither thorns nor nettles:
For him, also, I planted a white rose.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Translation of José Martí's First Great Poem: "A Emma"

In José Martí's lifetime, this beautiful poem, written in a deaf girl's album, was invariably cited in every biographical sketch that made any allusion to his poetry as his best known work. It is indeed a perfect poem of matchless sensibility, worthy of Spain's Golden Age and even of classical antiquity. It has that quality of always having existed which is the essence of immortality. Is this Martí's greatest poem? It is certainly his first great poem. Ismaelillo fulfilled its promise and Versos sencillos elevated Spanish poetry to the greatest height it had reached in more than two centuries. The recognition of that fact would come after Martí's death. In his day, it was "A Emma" that won him whatever renown he enjoyed as a poet. For that reason, this poem was especially dear to him and should be dear to us, too. I have been trying to translate it for decades. In my translation of the Versos sencillos, I had to make many unavoidable compromises which the retention of the original rhyme scheme decreed. Notwithstanding that fact, at least half of the 46 translations are as perfect as I (or anybody) could make them. In translating "To Emma," however, I was not disposed to accept any compromise. In an extended work such as the Versos sencillos, the scope and sweep of the symphony drowns out the occasional discordant note produced by the clash of languages. In a precious little gem like "A Emma" there can be no occlusions. It must be perfect in every respect since perfection is what defines it. And so I think its translation will always remain a work in progress. This version in blank verse is so far the most satisfying to me. My object, of course, is to cast it in rhyme while preserving every other element of the original. Is this possible? I believe it is, though that certainty necessarily entails accepting the premise that two languages can be interchangeable (which evidently is not the case). Still, I persist because, contrary to common belief, lightning can and has struck the same person twice (and more than twice). Until then, I offer this version because there has to be one English translation of this important poem available somewhere after 140 years.

Written during his first exile in Spain, when he was 19, this poem was inspired by and dedicated to Emma Goróstegui y Campuzano, wrongly identified in all anthologies by only her maternal surname. "A Emma" appears in numerous sites on the internet, where invariably the wrong date of its composition is given ("1883" instead of 1872) and the last line is transcribed incorrectly (substituting "mujeres" for palabras) with very unhappy results.

A Emma

No sientas que te falte
el don de hablar que te arrebata el cielo,
no necesita tu belleza esmalte
ni tu alma pura más extenso vuelo.
No mires, niña mía,
en tu mutismo fuente de dolores,
ni llores las palabras que te digan
ni las palabras que te faltan llores.
Si brillan en tu faz tan dulces ojos
que el alma enamorada se va en ellos,
no los nublen jamás tristes enojos,
que todas las palabras de mis labios,
no son una mirada de tus ojos...

Madrid, 10 de julio de 1872

To Emma

Do not feel sad, dear child, because you lack
The gift of speech which heaven has denied you:
Your beauty and pure soul do not require,
Nor are there, words that can soar any higher.
Let not your deafness be a source of sorrow,
Nor cry because of words you cannot hear,
Nor cry because of words you cannot say;
For such sweet eyes light up your countenance,
A loving heart but sees and is lost in them.
Never allow your tears to dim their brightness;
For all the words that ever crossed my lips
Ne'er said as much as one look from your eyes.

Madrid, July 10, 1872.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"La Patria"

Queriendo yo un dia
Saber qué es la Patria,
Me dijo un anciano
Que mucho la amaba:

«La Patria se siente;
No tienen palabras
Que claro la expliquen
Las lenguas humanas.

Allí, donde todas
Las cosas nos hablan
Con voz que hasta el fondo
Penetra del alma;

Allí, donde empieza
La breve jornada
Que al hombre en el mundo
Los cielos señalan;

Allí, donde el canto
Materno arrullaba
La cuna que el Ángel
Veló de la guarda;

Allí, donde en tierra
Bendita y sagrada
De abuelos y padres
Los restos descansan;

Allí, donde eleva
Su techo la casa
De nuestros mayores...
Allí está la Patria.


El valle profundo,
La ruda montaña
Que vieron alegre
Correr nuestra infancia;

Las viejas ruïnas
De tumbas y de aras
Que mantos hoy visten
De hiedra y de zarza;

El árbol que frutos
Y sombra nos daba
Al son armonioso
Del ave y del aura;

Recuerdos, amores,
Tristeza, esperanzas,
Que fuentes han sido
De gozos y lágrimas;

La imágen del templo,
La roca y la playa
Que ni años ni ausencias
Del ánimo arrancan;

La voz conocida,
La jóven que pasa,
La flor que has regado,
Y el campo que labras;

Ya en dulce concierto,
Ya en notas aisladas,
Oirás que te dicen:
Aquí está la Patria.


El suelo que pisas
Y ostenta las galas
Del arte y la industria
De toda tu raza,

No es obra de un dia
Que el viento quebranta;
Labor es de siglos
De penas y hazañas.

En él tuvo orígen
La fe que te inflama;
En él tus afectos
Más nobles se arraigan:

En él han escrito
Arados y espadas,
Pinceles y plumas,
Buriles y hazañas,

Anales sombríos,
Historias que encantan
Y en rasgos eternos
Tu pueblo retratan.

Y tanto a su vida
La tuya se enlaza,
Cual se une en un árbol
Al tronco la rama.

Por eso presente
O en zonas lejanas,
Doquiera contigo
Va siempre la Patria.


No importa que al hombre,
Su tierra sea ingrata,
Que el hambre la aflija,
Que pestes la invadan;

Que viles verdugos
La postren esclava,
Rompiendo las leyes
Más justas y santas;

Que noches eternas
Las brumas le traigan,
Y nunca los astros
Su luz deseada;

Pregunta al proscrito,
Pregunta al que vaga
Por ella sin techo,
Sin paz y sin calma;

¡Pregunta si pueden
Jamas olvidarla,
Si en sueño y vigilia
Por ella no claman!

No existe, a sus ojos,
Más bella morada,
Ni en campo ni en cielo
Ninguna le iguala.

Quizá unidos todos
Se digan mañana:
¡Mi Dios es el tuyo,
Mi Patria, tu Patria!»

Ventura Ruiz Aguilera (1820-1881)

There are poems that rob us of our voice and even of the air we breathe. We think that if we can recite such a poem through once, however haltingly and imperfectly, the next time it will be easier. But it isn't. The knot in our throats is not loosened by exercising our vocal chords. The emotion it provokes cannot be wrung out of it. We are as susceptible to its power at the last reading as we were at the first. It moves us when we will not be moved. We don't master it; it is master of us. This is such a poem. The greatest poets, like the greatest opera singers, can reach the highest notes at will. The accomplishment of such a feat by one whose range is more limited is astonishing because it is unexpected and shines all the more distinctively because it shines alone. Martí is the author of many great poems; Ventura Ruiz Aguilera of just one. The two poets were contemporaries, though Ruiz Aguilera's literary career ended at exactly the time that Martí's was beginning. He was immensely popular as a poet in his day, which Martí never was. In his "Modern Spanish Poets," published in English in New York's The Sun, in 1880, Martí writes almost as an afterthought "Then there is Ruiz Aguilera, a sort of Berénger" (the renowned French songwriter). This judgment has since been echoed by all critics. If Ruiz Aguilera had written nothing but "La Patria," he might today be known as a greater poet. But perhaps all the ephemeral poems that preceded it were an apprenticeship which had to be served in order for him to produce this one glorious poem, which we are quite sure Martí never read or else he would have been far more fulsome in his praise of its author. Ruiz Aguilera was a physician, archaeologist and museum director; and in this one poem, a great poet.