José Martí: Two Countries (From Spanish)

Two Countries
By José Martí
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Spanish

I have two countries: Cuba and the night. 
Or are they one? No sooner does the sun 
withdraw its majesty than, dressed in long  
veils with a carnation in her hand, 
Cuba appears to me a silent widow.  
I know what that bloodstained carnation is 
atremble in her hand. My breast is empty. 
Sundered it is, and empty where the heart 
once was. The hour is already come 
to begin dying. Night is a good time 
to say goodbye. Light is impediment 
as is the human word. The universe  
speaks better than man.  
          Like a flag that calls
to battle on the field, the candle's flame 
flutters ablaze in red. I open windows 
feeling such tightness. Crushing the carnation's 
petals in silence, like a cloud befogging 
the heavens, widow Cuba passes by. 




Random notes on the Spanish:

Un clavel en la mano — echoes the phrase un clavo en la mano "a nail in the hand" and has a slightly ghastly feel to it.  The terms clavel and clavo are in fact related (see here.)

La llama roja / de la vela flamea — a masterful bit of wordplay. vela means three things: "wakefulness," "candle" and "sail." Flamear means both "flare, blaze (of a candle)" and "flutter (of a sail)." Note also that vela is one gender and one vowel away from the velos (veils) in which Cuba is garbed.

The words Cuba, muda, viuda, nube are sonically linked by having the deep /u/ vowel followed by a fricative.

The Original:

Dos Patrias

Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche. 
¿O son una las dos? No bien retira 
su majestad el sol, con largos velos 
y un clavel en la mano, silenciosa 
Cuba cual viuda triste me aparece. 
¡Yo sé cuál es ese clavel sangriento 
que en la mano le tiembla! Está vacío 
mi pecho, destrozado está y vacío 
en donde estaba el corazón. Ya es hora 
de empezar a morir. La noche es buena 
para decir adiós. La luz estorba 
y la palabra humana. El universo 
habla mejor que el hombre. 
             Cual bandera
que invita a batallar, la llama roja 
de la vela flamea. Las ventanas 
abro, ya estrecho en mí. Muda, rompiendo 
las hojas del clavel, como una nube 
que enturbia el cielo, Cuba, viuda, pasa... 

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