On Guantanamero, the Poem

Interesting how other countries, such as Chile, celebrate their poets. Pablo Neruda was a brilliant poet who died more than 30 years ago yet he continues to be revered in Chile and around the world. (Apparently he died because of a broken heart during the military coup that brought U.S.-backed dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, into power. Note that Pinochet has recently been accused of murdering a former Leader of the Chilean Christian Democratic Party, Eduardo Frei Montalva, in 1982.) A film documenting Neruda's life and work, Pablo Neruda Presente!, is said to be a must-see for all poets.

I have to wonder if Cuban diplomat, poet, and visionary, José Julián Martí Pérez (José Martí), is rolling over in his grave these days given what's recently gone on at Guantanamera (Guatanamo) Bay. Martí died in 1895 and remains a national hero. As a teenager, Martí was imprisoned for speaking out against the Spanish government and was exiled from Cuba to Spain. (Cuba was, at that time, a colony of Spain). Despite ill health after his release, he continued writing and working to ensure Cuba's independence from Spain and the United States. He is commonly referred to as the apostle of Cuban independence, probably for writing the Manifesto of Montechristi.

An excerpt from his collection of poems, Versos Sencillos (Simple Verses), formed the basis for the Cuban folk song, Guantanamera. Adapted by Julián Orbón and set to music by José Fernández Díaz in 1928, the poem-song has been recorded by folk singers Pete Seeger, the Weavers, and Joan Baez, by Los Lobos, the Ventures, and Nana Mouskouri and by numerous others. Most recently, it was remixed by Haitian-born hip-hop artist, Nelust Wyclef Jean.

Verse Five of Simple Verses is the piece that forms the basis of the song, Guantanamera. Here, it is translated from the Spanish by Manuel A. Tellechea:

If You've Seen a Mount of Sea Foam (Verse V)

If you've seen a mount of sea foam,
It is my verse you have seen:
My verse a mountain has been
And a feathered fan become.

My verse is like a dagger
At whose hilt a flower grows:
My verse is a fount which flows
With a sparkling coral water.

My verse is a gentle green
And also a flaming red:
My verse is a deer wounded
Seeking forest cover unseen.

My verse is brief and sincere,
And to the brave will appeal:
With all the strength of the steel
With which the sword will appear.

– – José Julián Martí Pérez

Now, what is it that Chile, Cuba, Haiti, and Iraq have in common?


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