Tuesday, October 2, 2012

  • January 28, 1853 - May 19, 1895
  • Influential political figure
  • Focused on liberating Cuba from Spanish rule 
  • Born in Havana to poor Spanish parents 
  • Mentored by Rafael María de Mendive, a poet
    • Sent to Institute of Havana for education
  • Created The Free Fatherland, a political newspaper, at the early age of 15
    • Spanish authorities were not pleased
      • Put Martí in prison where he spent six months
  • Soon after he was exiled to Spain where he finished schooling and attained a law degree 
  • Published a pamphlet on The Political Prisons in Cuba 
  • He hoped and failed to involve the new authorities of the first Spanish Republic in freeing his country
  • Returned to Cuba, only to be exiled to New York
  • While in New York, he continued to work towards Cuban independence
    • Wrote for large South American newspapers
    • Represented several Latin American countries
    • Lectured 
    • Deemed chief organizer of new revolution 
  • During this time, he wrote some of his best and most experimental works, including Simple Lyrics
  • In 1892, titled leader of the Cuban Revolutionary party
    • Directly involved in the fighting in Cuba
    • Killed later that year in Dos Ríos
  • Recognized as martyr of independence, a true Cuban hero and famous poet still to this day


José Martí's work can be difficult to categorize. It is certainly a departure from romanticism, but would be limited if categorized as simply modernismo. The conventional definition of modernismo comes from the work of Rubén Darío. While Martí’s work follows many of the ideals of Darío's modernismo, he maintains a certain distance from the fully-fledged definition. In his poetry, Martí continued to use rhyme schemes that were characteristic of Spanish poetry, such as ABBA or ABAB- demonstrated in our excerpt. The conventional modernista poet, on the other hand, experimented with polímeter or multi-meter rhyme schemes.

In addition, Martí employed symbolism, like other modernistas. However, unlike other modernista authors, Martí did not overwhelm his writing with the more, perhaps, fluffier aspects of modernismo, such as flowery language and the concept of arte por arte. Rather, his works were grounded in his fight for Cuban independence and the discovery of an ideal world order.

He shared with the modernismo movement reassessment of value. In essence, he was not afraid to ask the big questions. Modernismo finds value in beauty, believing that with aesthetic order also comes goodness and truth. While Martí’s work differs structurally and stylistically from Darío’s modernismo, he joins other modernistas in the quest for the ideal values man should hold. 

Besides modernismo, what other movements appear to be at work in Simple Verses?
What do you think modernismo was a reaction to in terms of politics, literature and/or philosophy?
Based on our readings from Darío, how does he compare with Martí?


One can easily discern a tone of nationalism in the works of José Martí. Martí admittedly described himself as an activist and nationalist for his homeland of Cuba. Verses such as the ones below demonstrate Cuban influences.

“I am a sincere man
from where the palm trees grows;” 
(Martí, Simple Lyrics I, Stanza 1, Line 1&2)

A reference made to Cuba.

“Don’t put me in the dark to die
to die like a traitor:
I am good, and like a good man
I shall die facing the Sun!”
(Martí Simple Lyrics XXIII, Stanza 2)

Martí does not feel like a traitor to Spain, but rather believes his cause is just.

In the excerpts from Simple Lyrics, Martí chiefly describes his wants or thoughts concerning the nation of Cuba. However, he also writes of Aragon, Spain. From 1836-1872, the Carlist Wars took place in Spain as a large group of Carlist supporters came from Aragon in a revolt against the Spanish crown. The combination of this and his exile in Spain inspired Martí. He wrote about Aragon because it was in a similar situation to that of Cuba.

"I honor him if he is Aragonese.” 
(Martí Simple Lyrics VII, Stanza 6, Line 4)

This demonstrates that while Martí felt deep pride in his own country, he could also recognize the cause of Aragon and felt the same type of pride in what the Aragonese were attempting to accomplish.

After reading these poems by Martí, do you think that his sense of nationalism is based on a want of Cuban independence, distaste for the Spanish crown or a combination of both?

The writing of José Martí emanates with political passion. Having been recognized as one of the greatest Latin American writers, Martí wrote of many things. “Chiefly, however, he wrote about “Our America,” as he called Latin America” (342). He used his writing to express his political ideals of anti-imperialism, early-socialism and liberation from Spanish colonization. It was a writing style (including styles of Parnassian, symbolism and modernismo) that gave a voice to the independence movement in Cuba, the country he so dearly loved.

Political Aspect:
Simple Lyrics is full of examples that demonstrate Martí’s political stance concerning Cuban and Spanish relations.

"I hide it in my wild breast
the sorrow that wounds it:
the son of an enslaved people"
(Martí Simple Lyrics I, Stanza 15

Martí recognizes that his people are enslaved. The first verse can be interpreted as him referring to his son and how it pains him to know that he was born into a time period of enslavement. For this, he despises Spanish control.

"I have in my heart
a place all Aragon,
frank, fierce, faithful, without cruelty."
(Martí Simple Lyrics VII, Stanza I)

This verse is interesting because it recognizes that Martí has a place in his heart for Aragon, a region of Spain. Martí was of Spanish decent, so undoubtedly it played a role in his life. Still, he was a man dedicated to a cause. As discussed earlier, a portion of Aragon was dedicated to a similar cause. The two areas were united under the same dissatisfaction with Spanish rule, and, for that reason, the writer had a place in his heart for those of Aragon.

"to defend what they think
people gamble their lives."
(Martí Simple Lyrics VII, Stanza 3, Line 3&4)

This verse shows the faith that Martí has in the Cuban people concerning their independence. He knew his people would fight for Cuba to be freed from Spanish rule. Clearly, he believed it a cause worth risking his life for. Ironically, it was a cause that took him to the grave.

"I honor him who with a blow
casts a tyrant to the ground;
I honor him if he is Cuban"
(Martí Simple Lyrics VII, Stanza 6)

This verse is a demonstration of Martí's anti-imperialist, anti-Spanish stance. He, in essence, states that he respects those who fight against the tyranny and expansion of Spain and that his ideals are deeply rooted in Cuban pride.

"I want, when I die,
without country, but without master,
to have on my gravestone a bouquet
of flowers – and a flag!"
(Martí Simple Lyrics XXV, Stanza 2)

Martí demonstrates his loyalty to his country. This can be interpreted as the writer's desire for Cuba to have a flag, a recognition of its independence, before he dies. Simply put, it is his dying wish that his country finds its freedom. 

Symbolism and Imagery:
Simple Lyrics is also full of simplicity, elegance, symbolism, simile and personification.

"I am art among the arts;
in the hills, I am a hill."
(Martí Simple Lyrics I, Stanza 2, Line 3&4)

"All is beautiful and constant,
all is music and reason,
and all, like the diamond,
before it is light is coal."
(Martí Simple Lyrics I, Stanza 16)

In verses such as these, Martí uses creativity to emphasis his purpose (creator of art) and his hope that one day Cuba will be independent (a move from the darkness of tyranny to the light of independence).

Parnassian Style
Admired by Martí

"and before I die I want
to loose my verses from my heart"
(Martí Simple Lyrics I, Stanza, Line 3&4)

This verse shows that Martí simply wants to express his ideas before time runs short. In essence, he is creating art for art’s sake. This is a major feature of modernismo. 

      Where can you find evidence of Martís life experiences in Simple Lyrics?
      In what ways does Martí exhibit a modernismo style in this poem?
      How do you think that Martí's exile in Spain influenced his writing, especially in Simple Verses?  
Why does Martí use a hyphen in the last line of XXV? "...a bouquet of flowers - and a flag!"     


        In conclusion, we thought it would be beneficial to present this song, Guantanamera performed by Celia Cruz, which is based on the poem Versos sencillos by José Martí. In fact, it includes verses directly from the poem. 

        What do you think this video says about the influence of Martí on Latin American culture? 

Group 6: Kyle Gibson, Hannah Moats, Stephanie Merritt, Megan McNulty

        Works Cited 
        "Carlist Civil Wars." Heritage History. Heritage-History, 2012. Web. 3 Oct 2012. 
"First Carlist War." The Spanish War History. Spanish Wars, 2012. Web. 3 Oct 2012.
oster, David W. Handbook of Latin American Literature. New York: Garland Pub, 1992. Print.         
        Smith, Verity. Encyclopedia of Latin American Literature. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997. Print.
*Jose Martí reading from class was the basis for our background information