Friday, May 18, 2007

May 19, 1895: Death of José Martí at Dos Ríos

There was no literary-political figure whom Martí admired more than Victor Hugo. Indeed, Hugo may have been the model for Martí's life, though the Cuban was to surpass him in becoming not only the inspiration but the architect of his country's redemption. As a student and political proscript in Europe, Martí met Hugo on a brief visit to France and was presented with a copy of his book Mes Fils (My Sons), a symbolic gesture if there ever was one (Martí reciprocated by translating the book). Like Martí, Hugo endured exile for 20 years because he would not accept the betrayal of the Republic and reimposition of a Bonapartist monarchy under Napoleon III, the emperor's nephew, whom Hugo dubbed "Napoléon le petit."

Unlike Martí, Hugo lived to see the fruits of his labors in a resurrected republic as well as to reap the tributes and honors that a grateful nation heaped on him. Perhaps it was Martí's hope, then, that his life might conclude like Hugo's with vindication and victory. But his fate was another, for just as Hugo had been the conscience of the world in life, Martí was destined to become the conscience of his people, of all Latin America, and, finally, of the world only after his martyrdom at Dos Ríos, Oriente province, on May 19, 1895.

We honor the anniversary of the passage into immortality of the "Universal Cuban" with the final stanzas of Victor Hugo's poem "Ultima Verba" (My Last Word), which can also be read as tribute to all who, like Hugo and Marti, refused to consort with or capitulate to a tyrant.

Ultima Verba (Ultima Palabra)

Acepto el duro exilio
aun siendo hasta la muerte
sin ponerme a pensar, si alguien
claudicó ante, quien creyó más fuerte
o si otros desertaron debiendo resistir.

Si sólo mil recogen tu negro desafío
Entre esos bravos nombres ,
también estará el mío.

Si estos se reducen
y sólo quedan cien,
para seguir luchando,
allí estaré también.

Si sólo diez se yerguen
para enfrentarse al mal,
proseguiré con ellos
luchando hasta el final.

Y si quiere el destino,
que todo lo forjó,
que sólo quede uno,
erguido y soberano:
¡Apréndelo tirano!
ese uno, soy yo.

Ultima Verba (My Last Word)

I accept this harsh exile unto the grave,
Without stopping to think or bothering to learn
Who deserted his post and should have stood firm,
Who gave up his country his own life to save.

If a thousand are left to meet that black challenge,
Among those brave names will also be mine;
And if to one hundred their number decline,
I will be with them all wrongs to avenge.

And if the hundred should dwindle to ten
Who are willing their country still to defend,
And would their lives give her misery to end,
I will be found among those ten men.

And should fate this honor to one man decree,
That he should alone remain to fulfill
His duty with faith and a sovereign will,
Know it now, tyrant, the last I will be.

By Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Translated by Manuel A. Tellechea

The complete version of this poem, in both French and English translation, can be found at:

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