Wednesday, January 28, 2015

José Martí (1853-2015)

Today marks the 162nd anniversary of José Martí's birth. It is also the 57th time that we are obliged to commemorate this occasion outside of Cuba and with the knowledge that everything Martí lived and died for — liberty, justice, democracy and independence — is now but a distant memory for the most elderly Cubans and figures not at all in the life experiences of those born after 1959. It was our failure as a nation to heed and apply the lessons Martí taught us, and, above all, to profit by his example, which is the real cause of our national tragedy. Perhaps the lessons taught us with whips and chains by his antithesis will leave a more lasting impression on us. We have learned from Castro what we should avoid in the future. It was Martí who said that we must work with men as they are and not as we would wish them to be. In the past, we sought perfection in our leaders and condemned them for mirroring our own failings. Finally we elevated one to supreme power who was indifferent to our disapproval or disdain. Martí attributed to us virtues that we perhaps did not possess; but Castro despised, vilified and degraded us till we acclaimed his vices as virtues and embraced them ourselves. But evil, of course, has no more permanent a hold on men's affairs than does good. When this shameful chapter in our history is concluded, the Cuban people will  become acculturated to freedom at least as successfully as they did to tyranny. Martí's writings will be read, understood and put into practice; and the great work of national redemption which he began will at last be complete and his faith in us and hopes for us fulfilled. May we all live to see that long-awaited day.

A Sincere Man Am I (Verse I)

A sincere man am I
From the land where palm trees grow,
And I want before I die
My soul's verses to bestow.

I'm a traveller to all parts,
And a newcomer to none:
I am art among the arts,
With the mountains I am one.

I know how to name and class
All the strange flowers that grow;
I know every blade of grass,
Fatal lie and sublime woe.

I have seen through dead of night
Upon my head softly fall,
Rays formed of the purest light
From beauty celestial.

I have seen wings that were surging
From beautiful women's shoulders,
And seen butterflies emerging
From the refuse heap that moulders.

I have known a man to live
With a dagger at his side,
And never once the name give
Of she by whose hand he died.

Twice, for an instant, did I
My soul's reflection espy:
Twice: when my poor father died
And when she bade me good-bye.

I trembled once, when I flung
The vineyard gate, and to my dread,
The wicked hornet had stung
My little girl on the forehead.

I rejoiced once and felt lucky
The day that my jailer came
To read the death warrant to me
That bore his tears and my name.

I hear a sigh across the earth,
I hear a sigh over the deep:
It is no sign reaching my hearth,
But my son waking from sleep.

If they say I have obtained
The pick of the jeweller's trove,
A good friend is what I've gained
And I have put aside love.

I have seen across the skies
A wounded eagle still flying;
I know the cubby where lies
The snake of its venom dying.

I know that the world is weak
And must soon fall to the ground,
Then the gentle brook will speak
Above the quiet profound.

While trembling with joy and dread,
I have touched with hand so bold
A once-bright star that fell dead
From heaven at my threshold.

On my brave heart is engraved
The sorrow hidden from all eyes:
The son of a land enslaved,
Lives for it, suffers and dies.

All is beautiful and right,
All is as music and reason;
And all, like diamonds shining bright,
Was black as coal before its season.

I know when fools are laid to rest
Honor and tears will abound,
And that of all fruits, the best
Is left to rot in holy ground.

Without a word, the pompous muse
I've set aside, and understood:
From a withered branch, I choose
To hang my doctoral hood.

Yo soy un hombre sincero (Verso I)

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma,
Y antes de morirme quiero
Echar mis versos del alma.

Yo vengo de todas partes,
Y hacia todas partes voy:
Arte soy entre las artes,
En los montes, monte soy.

Yo sé los nombres extraños
De las yerbas y las flores,
Y de mortales engaños,
Y de sublimes dolores.

Yo he visto en la noche oscura
Llover sobre mi cabeza
Los rayos de lumbre pura
De la divina belleza.

Alas nacer vi en los hombros
De las mujeres hermosas:
Y salir de los escombros,
Volando las mariposas.

He visto vivir a un hombre
Con el puñal al costado,
Sin decir jamás el nombre
De aquella que lo ha matado.

Rápida, como un reflejo,
Dos veces vi el alma, dos:
Cuando murió el pobre viejo,
Cuando ella me dijo adiós.

Temblé una vez —en la reja,
A la entrada de la viña,—
Cuando la bárbara abeja
Picó en la frente a mi niña.

Gocé una vez, de tal suerte
Que gocé cual nunca:—cuando
La sentencia de mi muerte
Leyó el alcalde llorando.

Oigo un suspiro, a través
De las tierras y la mar,
Y no es un suspiro,—es
Que mi hijo va a despertar.

Si dicen que del joyero
Tome la joya mejor,
Tomo a un amigo sincero
Y pongo a un lado el amor.

Yo he visto al águila herida
Volar al azul sereno,
Y morir en su guarida
La vibora del veneno.

Yo sé bien que cuando el mundo
Cede, lívido, al descanso,
Sobre el silencio profundo
Murmura el arroyo manso.

Yo he puesto la mano osada,
De horror y júbilo yerta,
Sobre la estrella apagada
Que cayó frente a mi puerta.

Oculto en mi pecho bravo
La pena que me lo hiere:
El hijo de un pueblo esclavo
Vive por él, calla y muere.

Todo es hermoso y constante,
Todo es música y razón,
Y todo, como el diamante,
Antes que luz es carbón.

Yo sé que el necio se entierra
Con gran lujo y con gran llanto.
Y que no hay fruta en la tierra
Como la del camposanto.

Callo, y entiendo, y me quito
La pompa del rimador:
Cuelgo de un árbol marchito
Mi muceta de doctor.

From: José Martí, Versos sencillos/Simple Verses. Translated by Manuel A. Tellechea. Arte Público Press: Houston, TX. 1997. Revised 2011.


John said...

Thank you! I gave my copy of your book away a long time ago. It's nice to read your translation again.

Vana said...


You translated it beautifully, as I read it in English it was easy to see it in Spanish. Thank you my friend on the day of the Apostle's birthday, his versos sencillos are always moving to read.