Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Ode to the Cuban Flag" by Bonifacio Byrne (1898)


(A necessary lesson in patriotism for all who believe that Cuba's freedom can only be obtained with the permission and by the gracious concession of the United States, Bonifacio Byrne's "Ode to the Cuban Flag" was written by the poet when, upon returning to Cuba after the Spanish-American War, he saw from the deck of his ship the Cuban and U.S. flags flying together over Morro Castle, a sight which every Cuban patriot would regard then or now with sadness and indignation).


Upon returning from a distant shore,
Weary of heart and somber,
I searched for my flag anxiously
And saw another flying beside her.

This morning I looked for my flag,
The most beautiful flag in the world;
From the ship's deck, I surveyed the skies
And have never seen anything sadder.

With the faith of an austere soul,
In this conviction I have grown
That two flags should not be flown
When one is enough: my own!

In fields that have been turned to boneyards,
She saw the struggles of the brave,
And she has been the winding-sheet
Of warriors who lie in the grave.

She proudly held her own in battle,
Without puerile or romantic praise:
The Cuban who doesn't believe in her
Should be branded a coward always!

From the depths of the darkest prison,
She heard not a word of woe;
In other lands she was the beacon
That led our footsteps in the snow...

Don't you see her? My flag is the one
That never has mercenary flown,
In whose field there shines a star
All more brightly for being alone!

I've brought her in my soul from exile
Amongst my memories of home,
And I have rendered her homage
By raising her aloft in my poem.

Though listless now and sadly drooping,
I hope some day the sun's pure light
Will shine on her — on her alone! —
On land and sea and mountain height.

If my flag were torn to pieces
Those who died to make her free
Would raise their arms together
And fight eternally!...


BONIFACIO BYRNE (1861-1936)
Translated by Manuel A. Tellechea
From Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States (Oxford University Press, 2002).

26 comments:

A Thought.... said...

While I appreciate the beauty and the sentiment of such verse, I come from a generation that grew up seeing the Cuban flag flown in Miami alongside the American flag. I never thought it was disrespectful; on the contrary, I was proud that we flew both flags together. How many cars, homes, businesses, etc. do you see in Miami that feature flags from other countries? Would these people return to their countries of origin (after making their money here) and fly the American flag? Of course not! American in general and Miami specifically have become a sort of hotel for the rest of the world: they come, make a mess, take what they want and then depart, leaving those of us who live here to clean up after them. I can understand wanting the Cuban flag (and ONLY the Cuban flag) flown in Cuba, but if you dare state that the only flag that should be flown in the U.S. is the American one, you are labeled a racist, a bigot and worse. Ironic that we allow other countries to fly their flags here, but when we wish to fly ours, we are called rednecks.

Manuel, continue with this outstanding blog! I am thoroughly enjoying the comments and your posts.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

A Thought:

A large country like the United States can afford to fly many flags over its skies; a small country like Cuba cannot and should not. Put into a historical context, the U.S. flag was flying over Morro Castle because Americans had invaded and occupied our country in the concluding days of our War of Independence when the Cuban Republic-in-Arms was already in control of most of the national territory. That intervention and subsequent occupation was the culmination of 75 years of American foreign policy towards Cuba, first articulated by Thomas Jefferson, who said that all the U.S. would have to do is wait for the Cuban "apple" to ripen and fall into its lap. And the U.S. did wait and waited well while Cubans fought 75 years for their independence, denying the rebels any assistance and indeed enforcing "Neutrality Laws" that were intended to prevent Cubans from gaining control of their country from Spain before the U.S. did. That was the reason for Byrne's indignation at seeing the U.S. flag flying alongside Cuba's over Morro Castle. May God grant that no Cuban ever sees that sight again! There is room enough in the United States to wave all the flags it wants: the only place in a free Cuba where the American flag should ever be flown is over the American embassy.

I am sorry to welcome you on a note of disagreement, so uncharacteristic of our past exchanges; but on this issue, there is and can be only one position. While I respect your love for this country and acknowledge that you have many reasons to love it, still the one thing that I want most in this world, after our country regains her freedom, is to see the American flag banished from every square inch of Cuba, particularly Guantánamo Naval Base. Not until then will our country be fully independent and the horrible legacy of 1898 be buried forever.

LittleGator said...

Manuel,

Beautiful poem. Pero la prefiero en Espanol:

"Si desecha en menudos pedazos,
llega a ser mi bandera algun dia. . ."

This is one of my mother's favorite poems. I did not know the context in which it was written until now. She always got a little sentimental when reciting its stanzas--particularly the last one.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Little Gator:

This poem has always made Cubans cry. I myself, as I was typing it, shed a few tears and I must have read it a thousand times in my life. The reason for this response is that the wounds of 1898 have never healed and will never heal until Cuba is a free and sovereign nation, that is, until Martí's dream is realized in all its magnitude.

Remember that more than a half-million Cubans died in Cuba's wars of independence in the 19th century out of a population that peaked at 2.5 million. I do not think that any people in history have shed so copious amounts of blood to be free only to end up as one of the world's least free countries. If this is not a reason to cry, then nothing is.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

The animated graphic accompanying the poem depicts the Monument to the Cuban Flag, in Cárdenas, Cuba, where our flag was first raised on Cuban soil by General Narciso López on May 19th 1850 (45 years later Martí would be martyred on that day, as was López). There was once also a statue of Narciso López in Cárdenas but the Communists toppled it and plunged it into the ocean along with other monuments to our epic struggles to be free since it was (and is) their conceit that it was Castro's Revolution which endowed us with freedom.

Agustin Farinas said...

Manuel,
I will like to request a favor from you. Would it be possible to post that poem of Bonifico Byrne in Spanish in your blog? My wife does not speak English and when she saw me reading it, And my eyes were teary, she said: why doesn't your friend post it in Spanish? Naturally I explained that the blog was written in English, but she still insisted that I write a comment and make the request. So I did. Thanks,
Agustin

Agustin Farinas said...

Manuel,
sorry I meant to write Bonifacio Byrne in my previous comment. My apologies.
Agustin

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

MI BANDERA

Al volver de distante ribera
con el alma enlutada y sombría
afanoso busqué mi bandera
¡y otra he visto además de la mía!

¿Dónde está mi bandera cubana,
la bandera más linda que existe?
¡Desde el buque la vi esta mañana
y no he visto una cosa más triste...!

Con la fe las almas austeras
hoy sostengo con honda energía
que no deben flotar dos banderas
donde basta con una: ¡la mía...!

En los campos que hoy son un osario
vio a los bravos batiéndose juntos,
y ella ha sido el honroso sudario
de los pobres guerreros difuntos.

Orgullosa lució en la pelea
sin pueril ni romántico alarde:
¡al cubano que en ella no crea
se le debe azotar con cobarde...!

En el fondo de oscuras prisiones
no escucho ni la queja más leve,
y sus huellas en otras regiones
son letreros de luz en la nieve...

¿No la veis? Mi bandera es aquella
que no ha sido jamás mercenaria
y en la cual resplandece una estrella
con más luz, cuanto más solitaria...

Del destierro en el alma la traje
entre tantos recuerdos dispersos
y he sabido rendirle homenaje
al hacerla flotar en mis versos.

Aunque lánguida y triste tremola
mi ambición es que el sol con su lumbre
la ilumine a ella sola ¡a ella sola!
en el llano, en el mar y en la cumbre.

Si deshecha en menudos pedazos
llega a ser mi bandera algún día...
¡nuestros muertos alzando los brazos
la sabrán defender todavía...!

Bonifacio Byrne

Agustin Farinas said...

Manuel,
I will like to convey my wife's thanks for the posting of the poem. I have printed it in very a nice elegant font for her and will frame it to hang in our home next to our map of the island, our flag,our "escudo" and our Virgen de la Caridad in a place of our home I call our Cuban corner.
Again, my profound thanks.
Agustin

Alex said...

Manuel, not to point out typos this time, honest... just because Agustin printed out the poem and wants to display it. There are a couple errors:

"Con la fe las almas austeras"

should be

"Con la fe de las almas austeras"

and

"se le debe azotar con cobarde...!"

should be

"se le debe azotar por cobarde...!"

This should be required reading for everybody who calls himself Cuban, hyphen or not.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Alex:

This poem is widely reproduced on the internet. I avoided copying and pasting the many versions on the Castroite sites, thinking it somehow indecorous. Instead, I copied the version posted by an exile organization, and, naturally — and I should have assumed so — it had typos, because here we are casual and superficial even with the few sacred things that remain to us of our country. My apologies to Agustín and thanks to you for pointing out the typos.

Agustin Farinas said...

Manuel and Alex,
Thanks for pointing out the "fe de errata"; however my beloved wife had already pointed that to me since she recited it in her history class many years ago and still remembered some parts of this beautiful poem.
I may need to tell you that she suffers from lapses of memory caused by the absence of meat from her diet during the 1990's in Cuba during the so called special period, and this deficiency causes her to suffer from "neuropatia". Is a sad story but she forgets things from one day to the other. She was very happy when I read her the poem and inmediately pointed the typos to me. Thank you both for pointing them to me. I corrected the words and then had it printed for her. Again I want to thank Manuel for his nice gesture of posting it.
Agustin

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Agustín:

What you say reminds me of a report issued 25 years ago on the health of the Mariel refugees. Never before had it been possible to study such a large sampling of the beneficiaries of Castro's public health system. As I remember, more than 80% had intestinal parasites. Their average height fell beneath pre-revolutionary norms, a certain sign of sustained generational malnutrition.

When Cuba is finally free, the first question that must be addressed is the public health catastrophe that Castro's Revolution has inflicted on our hapless people. And yet, even this, is not as acute as the mental health crises.

Indeed, in addition to fluoride, it may be necessary to add lithium salts to the water supply in Cuba.

A Thought.... said...

Manuel, there is no discord between us. I appreciate a blog that allows all views, not just the views of the blogmaster.

By the way, your views of Cuba Nostalgia, please? At Oscar's blog, everyone there seems to think it's some sort of white Cuban supremacist get-together. I see it as a celebration of the Cuba I will never know that belonged to my grandparents.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...

A.T.:

I thoroughly approve of Cuba Nostalgia and encourage you if you are in Miami to attend. For certain unregenerate fidelistas, who are not content to have stolen from us our country but desire also to rob us of our past, everything that celebrates that golden era before Castro will be viewed with disgust and unrelenting hostility. So long as the memory of the past lingers they feel threatened in the possession of the present and fearful that they will lose the future.

For us, as my mother used to say: "Recordar es innato en el hombre; recordar es volver a vivir."

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