The time to fly draws near.
This coming Saturday I will board a charter jet in Tampa for a short flight to Cuba. Our travel group, organized by The Nation magazine, will land at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, a facility named for Cuba's best known poet - a man who became an inspiration for freedom on the island of his birth. Today's poetry selection, "A Sincere Man I Am," comes from the pen of that nineteenth century Cuban poet, Jose Marti.
"Guantanamera," is a Cuban patriotic song that is familiar to many of us here in the United States. It is a composition with several fathers. The tune was most likely written by Cuban radio personality Joseito Fernandez in the late 1920's, but another Cuban, Herminio "El Diablo" Garcia Wilson also claimed to have been the composer. And although a Cuban court finally awarded the songwriting credit to Fernandez, controversy lingers.
In 1963 folksinger Pete Seeger took the song and reworked it using lines from some of the poems of Jose Marti (lines from the collection known as "Versus Sencillos" or "Simple Verses") as the lyrics. Seeger wanted the song to be used by Americans and Cubans as a peaceful protest to the Cuban Missile Crisis. It became a hit after being recorded by a group called "The Sandpipers." Other artists who have recorded "Guantanamera" include Joan Baez, Tito Puente, Bobby Darin, Jimmy Buffett, and Trini Lopez.
My favorite memory of this song is from a night several years ago when my friend, Millie Crossland, and I were riding a city bus in Cancun, Mexico. A young boy, around the age of twelve or so, boarded the bus and proceeded to sing "Guantanamera" in a clear and pleasing voice. He was rewarded well with tourist pocket-change for his most welcome musical interlude.
The first line of "Guantanamera" is "Yo soy un hombre sincero," or "A sincere man I am." Please enjoy this classic by Jose Marti.
A Sincere Man I Am
by Jose Marti
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, is light
That was 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.