Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Another Unknown José Martí Poem (and Why)

It is not every day that I can offer my readers a new poem by José Martí. There are, of course, hundreds of "new poems" by Martí -- every poem that one has not read by him, which, in the case of most people, means all his poems except four or five from Versos sencillos -- is, in effect, a "new poem" and discovery. But I don't mean "new" in that sense. By "new" I mean a poem which no one has laid eyes upon since Martí first wrote or published it, a fruit left unpicked in the well-travelled selva (forest) from which Martí admonished Gonzalo de Quesada not to bear away any branch that was not pendulous with fruit.

I was fortunate to discover and I am more fortunate still to own just such a treasure, an hitherto unknown poem dedicated by Martí to his mother on her birthday or Saint's Day, which I presented to my readers as a Mother's Day gift in 2007. Little did I imagine then that I would subsequently locate another new poem by José Martí:


Triste y árido, el invierno
embozado en nubes vuelve
y la luz entre las sombras
va moriéndose, moriéndose.

Como yertos esqueletos
troncos y ramas se yerguen,
y sin rumores y helada
detiene el curso la fuente.

¡Adiós, juguetones trinos!
¡Adiós, cantares alegres!
Caen los nidos desiertos
del techo que les guarece.

Como un enjambre de blancos
insectos, puros, solemnes,
caen á inundar la tierra,
caen los copos de nieve.

Y entre el profundo silencio
y el misterio que entristece,
se agita por todas partes
el aliento de la muerte.

¿Dónde van esos ancianos
con paso trémulo y breve,
fija en tierra la mirada
tristemente, tristemente?

Se apoya el uno en el otro
y así apenas se sostienen,
que la vejez les abate
con el peso de su nieve.

¡Nieve¡ ¡Nieve en todas partes!
El frío les entumece
y hasta a correr por sus miembros
la sangre apenas se atreve;

Como entre los rudos témpanos
con lentitud deteniéndose,
apenas el agua corre
por el cauce de la fuente.

¿Pero adónde van? ¿Adónde
con paso trémulo y breve?
Van al eterno silencio,
al misterio de la muerte.

¡Oh, madre naturaleza,
cómo tu invierno se aviene
con el tristísimo invierno
que la vida nos ofrece!

En ambos, ¡adiós, cantares!
¡adiós, risas y placeres!
¡adiós, rica exuberancia
de la juventud ardiente!

Pero, ¡qué fin tan distinto
el tuyo y el nuestro tienen!
¡Dos inviernos tan iguales
y después tan diferentes!

¡Oh, madre naturaleza,
tú, tras el frío y la nieve,
a lá pompa y a la gala
de la primavera vuelves!

Pero nosotros, ¡oh, tristes!
tras la vejez que nos hiere,
tras el invierno encontramos
el silencio de la muerte.

We must admit that Shakespeare did his comparison of the seasons in Nature to the seasons of man's life rather more memorably; but this is by no means a discreditable performance. The tone is lofty and suitable to its subject. Great care has been taken in the choice of language, and if the thought is not quite on a par with the mechanics of the poem, the armature sustains and exhibits it to the best advantage. This poem is undoubtedly by José Martí and its attribution cannot be challenged. However, the José Martí who wrote it was not our José Martí. The author is another 19th century poet named José Martí. In Our Martí's lifetime, this other Martí was the more famous poet. In the 20th century, however, Our Martí quite overshadowed the other Martí, and today when one says "José Martí" there is no confusion: there is only one José Martí and he belongs not only to us but to humanity.

The proof that José Martí Folguera (1850-1929), the Catalan poet, dramatist and translator, was more famous at the time than his Cuban counterpart is borne out by the fact that it is Our Martí who alludes to him and was acquainted with his work, not the other way around.

When the 22-year old Martí lived in Mexico, enjoying his first and only success as a playwright, a rumor circulated around the city that he was going to take to the stage himself. Martí ended such speculation in a humorous article in the Revista Universal (October 30, 1875). Humor, of course, was not Martí's forte: we can count on one hand how many times he even attempted it in his writings. Gravitas is a prerequisite for great men and only Lincoln dared to be his own jester. But this note shows that the young Martí could laugh at himself and did when the occasion presented itself. Later in life, there would be few such occasions. Savor, then, the rarest vintage in Martí's well-appointed rhetorical cellar:


De ninguna manera: aunque no es necesario advertirlo, el José Martí que va a trabajar en el teatro de la zarzuela no es nuestro compañero de redacción.

Ya había un José Martí poeta, catalán, más medidor de versos que inspirado, y muy amigo de Ramón [de] Campoamor. Hay otro pintor [José Martí y Monsó], valleisoletano a quien en la Exposición de 1871 le premiaron un hermoso cuadro sobre el derecho de pernada. Otro hay alpargatero, orador de club en Valencia que perdió un brazo en una asonada republicana, y que es, según cuentan, la mismísima piel del demonio. Y todavía hay otro, loco en el Manicomio de Zaragoza, con quien el de aquí se está encontrando alguna que otra afinidad. Pero aún no había un José Martí actor.

Ventajas de tener nombres ilustres, derivados en línea recta de muy plebeyos escuderos.


Although it is hardly necessary to point this out, under no circumstances is the José Martí who is going to be working at the zarzuela theatre our fellow editorial writer of the same name.

There is already a José Martí who is a poet, a Catalan, more a scanner of verse than one inspired, who is a follower of Ramón de Campoamor. There is another, from Valladolid, an artist [José Martí Mansó] whose beautiful painting "Droit du Seigneur" was awarded a prize at the 1871 Exposition. And still another, a sandal-maker and orator at a club in Valencia, who lost an arm in a republican uprising, whom they say is the Devil's own. And finally there is a lunatic at the Zaragoza Madhouse, also named José Martí, with whom the José Martí here is beginning to find one or two affinities. (Was this the same "madman of Zaragoza," elsewhere mentioned by Martí, who thought that his own nose was a sausage with attendant complications?)

Such are the advantages of having an illustrious name derived in a strict line of descent from very plebeian custrels (pages who carry a knight's armor and shield when not in battle)].

Whether he deserves his fate or not, Martí Folguera is not completely forgotten. We were able to locate him even if the editors of the Critical Edition of Martí's Obras Completas could not. There is a street named for him in his native Reus, Catalonia, and his portrait hangs in the Town Hall, alongside other illustrious sons of that municipality, including the general and politician Juan Prim y Prats, the painter Mariano Fortuny and the architect Antonio Gaudí. José Martí Folguera's fame, unlike that of the others, however, is pretty much confined to the petite patrie because he does not own his name.

Recently, Martí Folguera's reputation got an unexpected boost from, of all places, India; and, unbeknownst to me, I had a small part in the revival (so to speak). My English translation of the Versos sencillos, issued in 1997, was pirated by an Indian publisher and used to create a Hindi version. Apparently the Simple Verses was popular there and the publisher decided to reprint other books by Martí. One of the books selected was Versos Castellanos (1893), which had been out of print for 100 years. I don't have to say who is the real author. By now, I suppose the Indian publisher knows too.

In one of five quotes on the internet, Martí Folguera advises: "No te fijes de lo que pasa, fíjate de lo que permanece, lo eterno. La vida pasa, la muerte permanece. Lo uno es lo accidental lo otro es lo esencial." [Don't pay attention to what passes, heed what remains -- the eternal. Life passes, death remains. One is accidental and the other essential.] Well, not always. Sometimes life persists after death and sometimes a mere accident can bring new life.