José Martí
Versos sencillos, 1891


¿Qué importa que tu puñal
se me clave en el riñón?
¡Tengo mis versos, que son
más fuertes que tu puñal!

¿Qué importa que este dolor
seque el mar, y nuble el cielo?
El verso, dulce consuelo,
nace alado del dolor.

Martí, José. “XXXV”. Versos. Editorial Tr’opico, 1942, pp. 93.


What does it matter that your dagger
stabs me in the kidney?
I have my verses, which are
stronger than your dagger!

What does it matter that this pain
dries the sea and clouds the sky?
The verse, sweet consolation,
is born winged from pain.

Cuban poet José Martí (1853-1895) was one of Latin America’s most notable figures throughout the nineteenth century. A writer, translator and political figure, he became involved in the revolutionary impulses of his country and has now become a symbol of Cuban independence. Versos sencillos is the last collection of poetry published before Martí’s death. Composed while he was in the US, Martí’s poems center around themes of freedom, specifically as they relate to the composition of poetic verse, which is affirmed in the collection’s prologue where Martí proclaims that his verses are born from his heart.

This poem is perhaps an unconventional choice for our edition on fear as it does not speak directly of fear itself. The poetic voice proclaims the power of the pen against the sword, affirming the power of verse to fight and stand again violence. Here, poetic forces combat, and perhaps defend, the poet from bodily violence. Written in the years preceding Cuba’s independence from colonial Spanish forces, Martí’s poem can be understood as a cry to arms, a proclamation of action in the face of opposition. Though circumstances might be dangerous, and while the creating of poetic verse may be painful, the prospect of suffering does not impede the poet from his work. The poet does not surrender in the face of fear.

Prepared by Mai Hunt

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