|José Martí - Poet and Cuban Freedom Fighter
Patricia L. Cummings
Quilt block tribute made by Patricia L. Cummings
José Martí (1853-1895) is best remembered as a Cuban exile who spoke out against the injustices of government. Martí, an
activist, was far-sighted in that he looked at the "big picture." He seems to have taken nothing for granted, even his own
prominence as a writer. He was once asked to provide his autograph but instead wrote on a small card:
"El único autógrapho digno de un hombre es el que deja escrito con sus obras."
"The only appropriate autograph of a man is that which he leaves written with his works."
The verses of Martí and his extant speech titled, "Los Pinos Nuevos," show him to be a man who passionately believed in social
justice, in the wake of having personally witnessed the opposite, and having sought exile in various other countries only to find
oppression there, at times.
Perhaps his most famous work is called, "Versos Sencillos," reportedly written in the mountains of New York, in 1891, during a
period of poor health. Those lines were first published posthumously in 1913.
We think of Martí as a young man because he perished at such an early age (42) when he was shot three times during a Cuban
insurrection in 1895. His words are a lasting legacy that share universal truth and have depth of meaning.
Verses Set to Music
There seems to be conflicting information about who first wrote the music to the song, "Guantanamera," and issues of
copyright. Various artists have recorded the tune over the years, two of whom were Pete Seeger, and The Sandpipers.
The first verse of "Versos Sencillos" is the first verse of the song, "Guantanamera."
Yo soy un hombre sincero
de donde crece la palma
y antes de morirme quiero
echar mis versos del alma.
For the student of Spanish, I will add a few more of the other verses in Part I of "Versos Sencillos," so that you might see for
yourself some of the content.
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 las 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,
se volando, las mariposas.
There are at least 13 more stanzas to Part I alone, followed by Parts II through XXXIX. The reference book I am using is my old
college textbook titled, An Anthology of Spanish American Literature, Vol..2. That book does not contain a complete selection
of the verses.
Other Internet sources claim that the (two) verses in Part XXXIX, that I share below, are part of the song, "Guantanamera."
That does not seem likely, as it would be difficult to sing the words to the tune of the song. Also, they have never appeared in
any print version of the song to the best of my knowledge.
THESE WORDS DO NOT APPEAR IN THE 1960s VERSION OF THE SONG," GUANTANAMERA":
Cultivo una rosa blanca,
en julio como en enero,
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.
Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazón con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo:
cultivo la rosa blanca.
Verses Inspire Quilt Block
Ever since reading those two verses in a college textbook, many years ago, I have loved them. To me they summarize the
essence of the poet, that of a forgiving man in the face of cruelty. I liked these verses so much, I added the first one to a Crazy
Quilt block, by writing it in Calligraphy. A close-up view of the block appears below.
Crazy Quilt block, made by Patricia Cummings, created with a packet of fabric sent by Marcus Brothers for having provided a
quilting tip that was published on their website in 2002. photo by James Cummings
The Other Two Verses of "Guantanamer"a
I have not read all of the "Versos Sencillos." As you can see, it is a large body of work. Therefore, I do not know, for sure, if the
last two verses of the song, "Guantanamera," were also written by Martí or not. Personally, I have not yet encountered them,
which does not mean that I will not look for them at a future time. Sheet music in my collection, from 1966, attributes all of the
Spanish words to José Martí, so I fully expect to find them.
Other speculations about the origins of the some of the words in the song, found online, appear to be highly suspect. A story
seems to have grown exponentially into a kind of urban legend! I am sure that this matter is something to further investigate.
Do not believe everything you read! Seek other sources until you can collate information and begin to reach your own
conclusions. This is an ongoing and lifelong process for some of us, including me!
©Copyright 2007. Quilter's Muse Publications, Concord, NH.