Poetry of a Truly Historic Exile

This excerpt is from “The Hymn of the Exile” or “Himno Del Desterrado” by José María Heredia, another notable Cuban poet. His most famous work is an ode to Niagra Falls, but I chose this one for obvious reasons. I once read that the Spanish word desterrado is much more poignant than the English exile, connoting as it does someone who has had the land stripped from beneath his feet. It is written in the 19th century Romantic Tradition in Spanish, making translation a tad challenging. I have tried to keep the ideas but have had to take liberties in the interest of comprehension.

Inspired by an exile’s sighting of the Cuban coast in the early 1800’s, it is about Spanish, not homegrown, tyranny. Yet except for the concluding two lines, it could echo the sentiments of more contemporary “desterrados.” You can read the original in its entirety here.

Cuba! al fin te verás libre y pura
Como el aire de luz que respiras,
Cual las ondas hirvientes que miras
De tus playas la arena besar.

Aunque viles traidores le sirvan,
Del tirano es inútil la saña,
Que no en vano entre Cuba y España
Tiende inmenso sus olas el mar

Cuba! In the end you will be free and pure
Like the light-filled air you breathe
As the roiling waves you look upon
From your beaches kiss the sand.

Though base traitors may serve him,
The tyrant’s cruelty will not bear fruit,
Not in vain between Cuba and Spain
Lie immense your waves, the ocean

1 thought on “Poetry of a Truly Historic Exile”

  1. I only chose that verriest snippet because our modern sensibilities are often thrown off by the flowery excesses of much Romantic poetry. What was interesting is that as I went to apply my meager talents to the translation, his use of archaic syntax became remarkably modern, forcing the reader to construct the sense of his words. So I chose to follow it as best I could, I suspect, at the expense of clarity.

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