Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Selection of Quotations by José Martí (Translated from the Spanish)

Today marks the 139th anniversary of the Grito de Yara (Battle Cry of Yara), the start of Cuba's Ten Years' War of Independence (1868-1878), which began with the symbolic act of freeing Cuba's slaves. José Martí was 15 at the outbreak of hostilities and was sentenced for his separatist ideas to two years at hard labor in a stone quarry. The banner raised by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes at Yara, on October 10, 1868, would pass to José Martí, who initiated Cuba's second and definitive War of Independence in 1895. Céspedes, Martí and a half-million other Cubans (out of a population of 3 million) died in the struggle to make Cuba a free and sovereign nation. Their legacy was repudiated in 1959 by their antithesis, who banished freedom and the Rule of Law from our country, reintroduced slavery and even transformed Cuba for a time into a Soviet colony, which it ceased to be in 1991 against the tyrant's most fervent wishes.

To honor the founders of our nationality whose work once seemed finished, but now, we realize, has only begun, we offer these translations from the thoughts of José Martí, the universal Cuban. Both Albert Schweitzer and Emil Ludwig observed, independently, that Martí's aphorisms, when collected and translated, would constitute an infallible guide to life for all the world's peoples.

It has been estimated that there are more than 30,000 aphorisms scattered in the 74 volumes of José Martí's Complete Works. I have endeavored to make this selection representative of his ideas and ideals while avoiding the well-know commonplaces so that even those acquainted with Martí's writings will find much here that is unfamiliar to them. Throughout the day, I will be adding hundreds of other aphorisms. — MAT].


The most beautiful and vehement expression of love of man is love of country.

God abides in patriotic martyrdom as in all good deeds and in every universal idea of spontaneous generosity.

Our country is something more than the oppression that besets it, something more than patches of land without life or liberty, something more than the right of possession by force. Our country is a community of interests, shared traditions and common ends, the sweet and consoling fusion of all our loves and all our hopes.

A nation is not a collection of active or indifferent men born by accident in a common land, or residing there for a period in order to accumulate in the shortest time the largest sum. It is that closest communion of souls, bound in far-extending ties through the kinship of peoples, through the penetrating annointing of common sorrows, through the exceedingly delicious wine of national glories, bound as the flesh to the bone through all the delicate and formidable ties of history, and through a national soul that is dispersed in the atmosphere, which we breath and is deposited in our entrails.

Our country is the altar on which we intend to leave our lives, not where we hope to find a living.

Every man who dies for his country is a hymn and every living being should be the temple where it is played.

No land feels more solid under a man's feet than that where he was born.

The only thing a man ever owns outright is a place in his country.

He has no roots in this world who has no country over which to extend them.

No man can long exist without a country, nor can any country exist for long without liberty.

We rise for our country, but not above her. To rise above her is to rise against her.

Our country is everyone's joy, everyone's sorrow and everyone's paradise. It is no man's fief or benefice.

Our country belongs to no one, but if it did, it would belong in spirit only, to the man who serves her with the greatest disinterest and intelligence.

Our country is not a heroic toy for epic redeemers to play with, but our very own entrails, which should not be tied to anyone's wagon or wrapped at the feet of anyone's statue. Our country should be bound to what is tenderest in our breasts and warmed to life there.

Some men go blindfolded through life without ever realizing, because they are so entertained by their own egoism, that their country is a stranger.

Our country is not a cabinet to be opened and closed as we see fit; nor is a republic a new means to provide for the proud and lazy who think that a coat-of-arms entitles them to good bed and board at their countrymen's expense, because they see themselves, by the light their own depraved egoism, as the rightful lords and natural burden of an inferior people.

By himself a man is nothing, and what he is, his people have made him.

In vain does Nature grant extraordinary gifts to certain of her sons who will not become one flesh with their people, but choose to be the dust in their eyes and the whips on their backs, when they might have been the voice and arms of their people, and through them seen themselves exalted, as those rare flowers that a mountain will allow to grow at its zenith.

Obscurity is good if in its shadow we can save our country. The best proof of heroism is to curb it. One can be a hero any day of the week: the true hero sacrifices for the good of his country even his heroic impulse.

The truly brave await to be in the right to conquer by the force of right.

A people which has had heroes in the past will have them again.

A people that honors its heroes affirms itself.

Several generations of slaves conclude in a generation of martyrs.

The man of reason must yield his place in times of action to the man of action. He will be spurned or despised, and at best used as an instrument or helper, unless when the time comes to ride, he mounts.

Suffering for one's country does not exempt a man from the worldwide duty of honoring it through the constant exercise of virtue.

In the service of his country a man will go forth naked that the winds may tear the flesh from his bones and wild beasts suck the marrow, until nothing remains of his voluntary sacrifice but a light to guide and embolden his assassins on the path to virtue.

Let no one say of us that because of vainglory, or any other interest, we contributed to our country's affliction precisely when we had an opportunity to save her.

We should love our country with an attachment that can only be compared to the roots of trees, because of how it holds when it takes root and what it overturns when it is uprooted.

The duty of a patriot who sees the truth is to help his countrymen, without pride or anger, to see it.

He is an apostle who, amid the general decay of moral and intellectual forces, finds within himself the wisdom that illuminates and expands, and raises it on high, reverently, for all to see, as the priest does the host.

He that raises his country raises himself.

The vain man looks after his own name while the patriot guards his country's.

To a man who has arrived through no merit of his own but by sheer luck to where ambition, not patriotism, has taken him, it is more important to be first than to save his country.

There are no men more vile than those who see in the needs of their country a means to satisfy their vanity or found a fortune.

When our country is honored, we are all honored; and when she is dishonored, so are we all.

To honor our country is one way to fight for her, just as to dishonor her is to make war on her.

Every man is obligated to honor his country with his private conduct no less than with his public.

Many there are who oppose virtue and triumph; but generally, in order for vice to prosper, it must masquerade as virtue.

Man so loves himself that he makes the very shortcomings of the land where he was born objects of pride and veneration.

It seems that the ordered and constant habit of liberty gives man a certain confidence in his own power which makes violence unnecessary.

A man who is allowed to exercise his will is not be as impatient or blind as one who has never tested his own strength.

A people that is well-formed and vigorous will regard with contempt, and as an imposition even, those whom history places in their way who are misshapen and hardship-prone. We must remain among the well-formed people and teach it to behave more humanely.

Sleepy peoples have backs that beckon to be sat upon and tempting flanks for spur and whip.

With all its shortcomings, there is something divine and moving, and even impalpably beautiful, in the silence of the voting booth.

In a foot soldier pillaging is to be expected, but every attempt against the public order, in one's country or abroad, is a crime in a thinking man.

In the eyes of fanatics, prudence is a crime.

Revolution is the violent product of ill-advised reason.

As the man who promotes a war that can be avoided is a criminal, so too is the man who opposes an inevitable war.

War is the most beautiful and respectable form of human sacrifice.

As a means of evolving and unifying the character of a nation and revealing its strengths and weaknesses, war may benefit a new and heterogenous people more than the partial and repairable disasters of war, the loss of wealth and position, can be said to harm it.

Suffering is the salt of glory.

As great as heroism in war is tolerance in peace.

When he opens a newspaper, the patriot who truly cares for his country will not turn first to the editorials, which show what men are thinking, but to the classifieds, which show what men are doing.

The time will come when the harshness of language will not express well the delicacy of the spirit.

Language is to thought what the brow is to health.

To do for others is the best way to speak to them.

War should never be craved for because of its horror and desolation. But the attentive observer cannot deny that war foments rather than preempts charity and justice among men, who, in the daily and sublime tasks of combat, acquire a knowledge of Nature and of how they may best be served by her, and are taught the practice of unity and the power of improvisation.

To win for the cause a single soul even in the shadows — a soul that cleanses and conquers itself, which has sinned and is determined not to sin again — is more pleasing and valuable to our country than practicing the goosestep or wasting powder in mock simulations of war.

If to have social equality it were necessary to consent, under a democratic system of laws, to the separation, unjust by any measure, of one race from another, and to renounce the beneficial usages of sympathy and convenience, then social justice would be unjust to those who endure it and shameful for those who impose it.

As a good horseman would never let go of his reins, so a freeman should never disdain his vote. For though it is true that it's easier to be guided than to guide, it is also more dangerous.

We live in a world where every man has to be his own father, where there are no certain inheritances, no houses built to last for centuries, and no means of being safe from social upheavals and financial catastrophies.

Since the world is not a university but a place full of hatreds and trials, should not a university teach men how to survive in the world rather than how to succeed at university?

In Latin America, some pursue as a science, and as the principal science even, the minute study of peoples with whom we differ in origins and customs, while remaining in blameworthy and systematic ignorance of the peculiar elements of their own country.

Tyrannies have purged republics of their ignorance of the true elements of their country.

Erudition, when it exceeds talent, diminishes rather than exalts.

Nations are not made with men who are what they ought to be, but with men such as they are.

No revolution would succeed or the lot of any people improve if men waited for human nature to change. We must work in concert with human nature but fight alongside or against men such as we find them.

The tree that grows the best fruit is that which grows on holy ground.

The longest years are those spent far from one's native land.

I have been an exile in my own country and found a country in my exile.

By removing all landmarks, exile affords the expatriate with an opportunity to test his own mettle. In exile men lose their moorings and find their bearings.

There is poetry forged in the mind that when flung at the soul wounds but does not penetrate it. The other kind is made in the heart. It goes from it and returns to it.

One season of piety often suffices to excuse an epoch of crime.

To suffer is more than to savor life: it is truly to live.

The brotherhood of the misfortunate binds men quickly.

Despots are not aware that the people, the long-suffering people, are the true leaders of their revolutions.

It is the demagogue's business to accuse and the patriot's to forewarn.

Liberty is very dear, and we must decide whether we are to live without her in resignation or resign everything in order to have her.

A revolution is just another means of evolution, indispensable in the hour of necessary hostility, for the purification and accommodation of the opposing elements that must coalesce into definitive conditions of life.

Repentance is the back door of virtue.

In the practical world of ideas, authority signifies simply a respect for all manifestations of justice, and a firm resolve against all counsels of cruelty or pride.

If the license of tyranny is monstrous, the tyranny of license is more frightening and disgusting.

He is a coward whom fear would deter from satisfying the cravings of his conscience.

He need have no fear of rulers who teaches them to rule well.

The spectacle of wealth is a stimulus to human effort.

Whenever a profound thought takes root in man, a firm initiative or a noble and legitimate aspiration, even the contours of his body are lost in the vast confines of the idea.

Rights are to be wrested, not requested; seized, not beseeched.

Christianity is beautiful because it allowed man to define in human terms the ideal of god, and for creating, from perhaps the least imposing of deities, the greatest of men.

What is the arrogant man but a herald of the unknown, an echo of the supernatural, a mirror of the eternal, and a copy more or less complete of the world he inhabits?

The first work of man is to reconquer himself.

The inability of human language to express adequately the opinions, affections and designs of man is perfect and absolute proof of the necessity of an afterlife.

The grave is a way and not an end.

Human existence would be a repugnant and barbarous invention were it limited to life on earth.

The mind would not conceive of something it was unable to create.

He that would triumph on earth should not live too close to the stars.

No one ultimately triumphs by inspiring fear because nothing can prevail against the instinct of self-preservation.

To view a crime calmly is to commit it.

Everything that can be said has already been said, but things always sound new when sincerely expressed.

The history of a people is not to be found in aeons of barren submission, but in its hour of rebellion.

A despot will yield to anyone who faces him down, and in the only way he knows how to — by disappearing. But to those on bended knee, never.

Tell the truth that you feel with as much art as you can.

The very selfishness that extolls a people brings it down.

Let him first mould men who would a nation make.

When one hasn't a country, money in the end becomes one's country.

To know a people you must study both its apostles and its bandits.

All religions were born of the same roots, have adored the same idols, prospered by the same virtues and succumbed to the same vices.

Religion, which by the light of reason is always false as dogma, is eternally true as poetry.

Men are the pencils God writes with.

Those who don't believe in immortality believe in history.

The people, quick to anger, undiscerning in their appetites and credulous in their moments of want, are infallible in the long run.

Men do not make nations, but nations, in their hour of genesis, may place themselves, vibrant and triumphant, in one man. Sometimes the man is ready but not the nation. Sometimes the nation is ready but the man does not appear.

We should only point out those defects that can be corrected.

Men never forgive those who are recognizably their betters.

Institutions are the bylaws of Nature.

When all noble qualities are obscured in man, he still remains capable of loyalty to a friend. As if to prove that he is not entirely vile his humanity becomes incarnate in this particular virtue.

Fear of a future reckoning will never prevent men from yielding to a current appetite.

Every man is born a king; the problem lies in finding within himself the implements with which a throne is made.

For a man to be preoccupied constantly with himself, even in his greatest acts of daring and self-denial, for him to think of reconciling his personal interests with the public good, serving the former in a way that will favor the latter or not damage it too excessively, is both natural and human.

Once they've begun to decay, social bodies rarely heal completely.

Evil can triumph only when good men are indifferent. [There is no proof that Burke ever said this; but it is documented that Martí did].

Justice first and art later. He is not a man who in these indecorous times entertains himself with the fineries of the imagination and the luxuries of the mind. When one does not enjoy the exercise of liberty, the only case for art, its only reason for being, is at the service of liberty. Everything into the fire, even art, to feed the blaze!

Liberty must be a constant practice or else it will degenerate into a banal formula.

Every man has a little of the lion in him and wants for himself the lion's share in life.

At certain times and among certain people there is nothing like being minor to be considered great.

A nation that is not careful to ennoble its masses is reared for the jackels.

No one is more repulsive than the rich man who becomes obsessed with his wealth. He is undoubtedly a criminal: a criminal by omission. There is only one being as repulsive: the systematic denouncer of all who possess wealth.

Even when they deserve our unrestrained commendation, the powerful should be praised with great discretion, lest simple justice seem solicitation.

Even when the bones of a nation's dead lie exposed on the ground, and its bronze and marble monuments are sheathed in earthen mantles, a nation may yet be saved from obscurity by its arts and sciences.

Isn't it a pity that a newspaper's quest for news often frustrates a government's quest for peace?

National holidays should not go unobserved, for they contain the spirit of a nation, forbode its victories, and are ocassions to display its arts and sciences.

All free countries share a common destiny.

Genius is simply anticipation: the ability to see clearly in outline what others do not perceive even in full lineaments.

Kings bestow titles, but when it comes to ennobling the soul, there is no peerage like that conferred on us by books.

To read one good magazine is like reading dozens of good books.

Poetry can be improvised but not prose; it must come with age.

The bold forget. But those who were least heroic in war, or fought without justice and in fear of victory, never forget.

There is nothing in a nation more real than its government.

A nation may be accounted rich which has many small property owners.

To know how to read is to know your way. To know how to write is to know how to ascend.

Philantrophy is a narcotic, not an effective medicine. It dries the tears on the countenance but does not cure the source of pain.

A man without a country is as a tree in the sea.

There is something of a boat in every exile's house.

The greater the agony in a foreign land, the more we will work to re-claim, quickly, our own.

Fame is a useful myth.

He who suffers has the greatest right to silence.

The state should not propagate the Catholic religion in public schools, nor anti-Catholic religion.

Humanity cannot redeem itself except by a predetermined quantity of suffering, and since some men evade their share, it is necessary that others should accumulate more than their due that we may all be saved.

Only soldiers commit crimes without the loss of honor.

A man capable of doing something worthwhile who dies before his hour, may died contentedly, because in some other place his hour will come. And even if it does not, it is just as well: he is sufficiently great who has the potential to be so.
Unless one is an aristocrat of the intellect, it is impossible to be a perfect democrat.

If the future of nations is to depend on the education of men, then the education of women will guarantee and announce the kind of man we can expect.

When a people divide in two, they die as one.

The archeologist who unearths a lost city is worthier of praise than he who buried it.

There is in sin a certain spirit of independence which makes it ingratiating when not excessive.

One almost always has to crawl one's way to power. But those who get there on their feet — not on their kneees — have the best claim to it.

Books should always be read with pen in hand.

An honest man can render an account of his acts at any moment and should always be ready to do so.

When one writes with the point of a sword on history's page, there is no time or desire to write with pen on paper.

Every generation creates a national holiday that represents and reflects its ideas.

In tyranny men learn the worth of liberty from the want of it.

Men love dangerous truths in secret. Their reluctance to champion these truths before they have been accepted is equalled only by the tenacity and verve with which they will support them when there is no risk involved in their defense.

To waste one's time in barren pursuits when one might do something useful, to opt for the easy task when one has the spirit to attempt the difficult, is to rob talent of its dignity.

The surest way to win the love of your troops is not to risk their lives unnecessarily and always to fight at their head.

He is a coward who fears to satisfy the cravings of his own conscience.

Property should be tended at its roots, which is the security and prestige of the nation where it is found.

Apostles of new ideas in time become slaves to them.

What honor is there in reviling as criminals those we would have acclaimed as heroes but for their defeat?

I am not sufficiently versed in all the world's religions to be able to say that I belong to any of them.

Americans place utility before sentiment. Latins sentiment before utility.

There are many things that one could do in this life! But we have a stomach and that other stomach that hangs, which is wont to have terrible appetites.

Like benevolent angels, sorrows lift the veils of life.

Love has not, to my recollection, given me any supreme moment. Friendship has.

The noise of my words awakens my thoughts.

There is no dessert richer than a slice of bread made with good flour and toasted just right.

We live in feudal times, when a bandit in rebellion against an unjust and odious ruler, can be hailed by a stupid people as a champion of liberty.

There is no such thing as providence. Providence is no more than the logical and precise result of our actions, helped or hindered by the actions of others.

If our tormented homeland could see the care with which her absent children make ready to serve her, if she could see the work which they are doing to redeem her, if she could see the tenderness with which she is loved by them, or could know of their joyous faith in her, she would draw from pride the strength to break once and for all her chains.

Publish, publish. Thread the theme of Cuba through each and every needle. Wars proceed over roads of paper.


joep said...

Thanks for publishing these quotes. Viva Cuba libre, y abajo Fidel.

Vana said...


Thank you for translating for us, the words of the Apostle, on a date such as today, 10 de Octubre.

You moved me to tears, so many of his words apply to us today, he lived in exile most of his life, such as us, we understand his love of country, the words he left behind are so wise, men would be better men, if they abided by them, and our Cuba would be free!

Cari said...


Thank You.

Daniel @ Garanhuns Blog said...

So much better than the in-fighting. More of this, less of the he said/ she said.

Manuel A.Tellechea said...


Yes, Daniel, a great many people would rejoice if I would do nothing but quote Martí. I prefer, however, to chastise those who have strayed from his path in whatever direction.