Born July 10, 1902, Camagüey, Cuba

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títuloBorn July 10, 1902, Camagüey, Cuba
fecha de publicación28.07.2016
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Nicolás Guillén

born July 10, 1902, Camagüey, Cuba
died July 16, 1989, Havana

Cuban poet of social protest and a leader of the Afro-Cuban movement in the late 1920s and '30s. His commitment to social justice and membership in the Communist Party made him the national poet of revolutionary Cuba.

Guillén read widely during his youth and abandoned law studies at the University of Havana in 1921 to concentrate on writing poetry. Of mixed African and Spanish descent, he combined a knowledge of traditional literary form with firsthand experience of the speech, legends, songs, and sones (popular dances) of the Afro-Cubans in his first volume of poetry, Motivos de son (1930; “Motifs of Son”), which was soon hailed as a masterpiece and widely imitated.

During the following years Guillén became more outspoken politically. No longer satisfied with mere picturesque portrayal of the daily life of the poor, he began to decry their oppression in the volumes Sóngoro cosongo (1931) and West Indies Ltd. (1934). The poems of Cantos para soldados y sones para turistas (1937; “Songs for Soldiers and Sones for Tourists”) reflect his growing commitment; that year Guillén went to Spain to fight with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. From this experience came the poems collected in España (1937; “Spain”).

Guillén returned to Cuba after the defeat of the Spanish Republic, joined the Communist Party, and continued to speak out for social and political reform. He became recognized by many critics as the most influential of those Latin American poets who dealt with African themes and re-created African song and dance rhythms in literary form. He was arrested several times and was exiled from Cuba during the regime of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, and he was an ardent supporter of Fidel Castro's revolution in 1959. Guillén subsequently served as the longtime director of Cuba's Union of Writers and Artists and was a member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. He continued to treat themes of revolution and social protest in such later volumes of poetry as La paloma de vuelo popular: Elegías (1958; “The Dove of Popular Flight: Elegies”) and Tengo (1964; “I Have”). A bilingual edition of his selected poems, Man-making Words: Selected Poems of Nicolas Guillén, was published in 1975. In 1994 another bilingual edition appeared: Nueva poesia de amor: En algun sitio de la primavera, or New Love Poetry: In Some Springtime Place.

Tengo (I Have)

A Poem by Nicolás Guillén©Nicolás Guillén 1964

Cuando me veo y toco
yo, Juan sin Nada no más ayer,
y hoy Juan con Todo,
y hoy con todo,
vuelvo los ojos, miro,
me veo y toco
y me pregunto cómo ha podido ser.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
tengo el gusto de andar por mi país,
dueño de cuanto hay en él,
mirando bien de cerca lo que antes
no tuve ni podía tener.

Zafra puedo decir,
monte puedo decir,
ciudad puedo decir,
ejército decir,
ya míos para siempre y tuyos, nuestros,
y un ancho resplandor
de rayo, estrella, flor.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
tengo el gusto de ir
yo, campesino, obrero, gente simple,
tengo el gusto de ir
(es un ejemplo)
a un banco y hablar con el administrador,
no en inglés,
no en señor,
sino decirle compañero como se dice en español.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que siendo un negro
nadie me puede detener
a la puerta de un dancing o de un bar.
O bien en la carpeta de un hotel
gritarme que no hay pieza,
una mínima pieza y no una pieza colosal,
una pequeña pieza donde yo pueda descansar.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que no hay guardia rural
que me agarre y me encierre en un cuartel,
ni me arranque y me arroje de mi tierra
al medio del camino real.

Tengo que como tengo la tierra tengo el mar,
no country,
no jailáif,
no tennis y no yatch,
sino de playa en playa y ola en ola,
gigante azul abierto democrático:
en fin, el mar.

Tengo, vamos a ver,
que ya aprendí a leer,
a contar,
tengo que ya aprendí a escribir
y a pensar
y a reír.
Tengo que ya tengo
donde trabajar
y ganar
lo que me tengo que comer.
Tengo, vamos a ver,
tengo lo que tenía que tener.

English translation

I Have

When I see and touch myself;
I, Juan with Nothing only yesterday,
and Juan with Everything today,
and today with everything,
I turn my eyes and look,
I see and touch myself,
and ask myself how this could have been.

I have, lets see,
I have the pleasure of going about my country,
owner of all there is in it,
looking closely at what
I did not or could not have before.
I can say cane, I can say mountain,
I can say city,
say army,
now forever mine and yours, ours,
and the vast splendor of
the sunbeam, star, flower.

I have, let's see,
I have the pleasure of going,
me, a farmer, a worker, a simple man,
I have the pleasure of going
(just an example)
to a bank and speak to the manager,
not in English, not in 'Sir,'
But in companero as we say in Spanish.

I have, let's see,
that being Black
no one can stop me at the door of a dance hail or bar.
Or even on the rug of a hotel
scream at me that there are no rooms,
a small room and not a colossal one,
a tiny room where I can rest.

I have, let's see,
that there are no rural police
to seie me and lock me in a precinct jail,
or tear me from my land and cast me
in the middle of the highway.

I have that having the land I have the sea,
no country clubs,
no high life,
no tennis and no yachts,
but, from beach to beach and wave on wave,
gigantic blue open democratic: in short, the sea.

I have, let's see,
that I have learned to read,
to count,
I have that I have learned to write,
and to think,
and to laugh.
I have . . . that now I have
a place to work
and earn
what I have to eat.
I have, let's see,
I have what I had to have.

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