Who was Jose Marti?


Jose Martí (1853-1895) was a Cuban poet who played an instrumental role in the movement for Cuba’s independence from Spain. In Cuba he is seen as the main promoter of the idea of Cuban independence and a symbol of the struggle for independence. He is often referred to in Cuba as the apostle or the national hero.

Born in Havana in 1853, Martí quickly showed artistic talent and enrolled in the Professional School for Painting and Sculpture of Havana as a teenager. Despite his skill, Martí did not find success as a painter, and as a result he turned to writing. In this field he fared much better and by the late 1860s his poetry was being published in local newspapers.

In 1868, the Ten Years’ War for Cuban independence began and the revolutionary spirit infected Martí just as it did for many young intellectuals on the island. Martí wrote poems calling for independence and also started to experiment with political writing. As a response, the Spanish colonial government of Cuba accused Martí of treason and arrested the young man. Martí’s parents intervened on his behalf but could not get him released from prison. Instead, Martí was repatriated in Spain, where he enrolled in law school and graduated with a degree in civil rights. After that, Martí travelled back to the the Americas, living for a time in Mexico and Guatemala. He was not, however, able to escape the pull of Cuban independence.

In 1878, Martí returned to Cuba with his wife, but once again was accused of trying to overthrow the government and was exiled to Spain. From Spain, Martí went to New York City. In New York, Martí worked as a foreign correspondent for a number of newspapers and also continued to write poetry. His collection of poetry from this time is often considered his best work. Martí renewed his call for Cuban independence and met regularly with Cuban exiles in New York City to find allies for a potential revolution. In 1892, Martí and his allies met in Key West and formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party. The party’s platform called for “absolute independence for the island of Cuba… by means of a war waged with republican methods and spirit.”

Martí continued to travel around the United States asking Cuban exiles for support in the revolution. In 1894, the revolution began as Martí and his colleagues landed in Cuba. The initial excursion failed, but a year later a more concerted independence effort began. Led by famous Cuban military figures including Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, José Martí’s rebellion plunged the island nation into war once again. Martí was never a fighter, however, and was killed in one of the war’s early battles. Despite his death, the rebellion continued. As the Spanish army increasingly resorted to atrocious acts of violence to put down the revolt, the United States was brought into the conflict, eventually leading to the Spanish-American War and Cuban independence, at least in name.

Martí, for his role in the independence movement and for his patriotic writing, became one of the most important figures in the Cuban historical pantheon. His legacy and spirit is celebrated in Cuba every 28 January (Marti’s birthday).

José Martí defined the ideas upon which the revolution was built. In speeches and writings, he called for education, land, and livelihood for workers and small farmers, for racial equality in Cuba, and for respect for Spanish soldiers—not hate. He famously proclaimed, “With all and for the good of all.”

“Con todos, y para el bien de todos” (With all and for the good of all)

In writings and speeches, Martí emphasized both moral and ethical values and cultural enlightenment. He was preparing Cubans for a new society. Indeed, for Martí, “Being cultured is the only way to be free”.

He explored Cubans’ cultural heritage as a way to enhance their awareness of what it means to be Cuban—“cubanidad.” Martí was introducing ideas of nationhood.

He is also known in Cuba for his children’s stories ‘La Edad de Oro’.


Marti’s most famous work is verse one of ‘Versos Sencillos’ (Simple Verses) – on which the famous Cuban anthem ‘Guantanamera’ is based.

Here is verse 1 translated into english:

A Sincere Man Am I (Verse I)

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.

This is the original in spanish:


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 alcalde 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 vibora 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 el 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.

From allpoetry.com

JoseMarti byRaul-Martinez
Marti by Cuban painter Raul Martinez 1971

Cuban website josemarti.cu contains lots of resources about the man and his legacy and work in Cuba.