contents | II

José Martí (1853-1895)
translated from the Spanish by me - 7/01-8/01

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 alcaide 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 víbora 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 al 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.


I am a sincere man
From where the palm trees grow,
And before I die I want
To pour my verses from the soul.

I come from everywhere
And to everywhere I go;
I am art among the arts,
In the mountains, I am mountain.

I know the strange names
Of the grasses and the flowers,
And of mortal delusions,
And of sublime sorrows.

In the dark night, I have seen
Rain upon my head
Rays of pure brilliance
From divine beauty.

I saw wings sprout from the shoulders
Of beautiful women,
And butterflies flying
From the garbage.

I have seen a man live
With a dagger at his side,
Never uttering the name
Of she who has killed him.

Like the glimpse of a reflection,
Twice I saw the soul, twice:
When the poor old man died,
When she said goodbye.

Once I trembled - in the iron gate
At the entrance to the vineyard -
When the cruel bee
Stung my little girl’s forehead.

Once I enjoyed such fortune
As I had never enjoyed, when
The warden, weeping,
Read my death sentence.

I hear a sigh, across
The earth and the sea,
And it is not a sigh - it is
My son about to wake.

If they say I take
The jeweler’s finest gem,
I take an honest friend
And put aside love.

I have seen a wounded eagle
Fly to the blue silence,
And a viper in its den
Die of poison.

I know well that when the world
Yields, pallid, to its rest,
Above the deep silence
Murmurs the gentle stream.

I have placed a bold hand,
Stiff with horror and joy,
On an extinguished star
That fell on my doorstep.

I hide in my brave heart
The sorrow that pains it:
The son of an enslaved nation
Lives for it, keeps silent, and dies.

All is beautiful and steadfast,
All is music and reason,
And all, like the diamond,
Before it’s light is coal.

I know that the fool is buried
With great fanfare and tears,
And that there is no fruit in the earth
Like that from the cemetery.

Silently, I understand, and I remove
The pomp of the rhymer;
I hang from a withered tree
My doctoral robes.


Disclaimer: Martí wrote his Versos sencillos (“simple verses”) as rhymed verse, but I’ve translated them here as free verse. This may be rather presumptuous of me, but I’m not skilled enough of a translator to preserver both the content and the rhyme scheme of Martí’s verse. Rhyming translations I’ve seen in English have a sticky sweet sing-song rhythm to them which I find distasteful and many of his distinctive phrases must be sacrificed for the sake of the rhyme. I’ve aimed for something which is more accurate and more faithful to the surreal spirit of his work, which is far from simple, despite the title. This is a labor intensive project, but you will see more poems in the future, plus a writeup on the whole book, so please be patient.

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