follow us on Facebook

Keep your face to the sunshine
and shadows will fall behind you. -- Walt Whitman

Tongues of Fire: Puerto Rican Poets between Empires by Stephen Zelnick

Puerto Rico, smallest of the Taino Caribbean islands, was claimed by Spain in the late 15th C. and since 1898 has been a colony of the United States. Cuba, the largest, emerged from subjugation in the Castro revolution of 1959. Dominica (Dominican Republic and Haiti) are independent, but crippled by poverty and politics. Despite cosmetic efforts, Puerto Rico is a colony, without control of its trade and shipping, and without rights other than those the US grants.

In 1898 - 1917, the period of transition from Spanish to US dominance, three Puerto Rican poet/statesmen documented the flow of thought and emotion as one empire collapsed and another tightened its grip. They were fine poets, but also political leaders, founding political parties, publishing essays sounding the patriotic alarm, and expressing the growing anger of a people robbed of its sovereignty, economic viability, culture, and dignity.

Jose de Diego (1866 - 1918) was born and educated on the island. Like many privileged young men, he went to Spain for advanced education and there began his career as a poet. Spain was divided between monarchists and liberals urging Spain to join in the democratic waves sweeping Europe. His early poetry, politically radical and anti-religious, earned him prison time in Madrid.

De Diego’s “Laura" (1889) and several lyrical poems are well known. In 1916 he published Cantos de Ribeldia, a book-length meditation on Caribbean history. De Diego is a race poet, celebrating his people and their culture, just as their Spanish masters passed them on to strangers. De Diego was raised in the traditions of Catholic Spain. Spanish was his language, and Spanish writers formed him. Until 1898, he was a Spanish citizen, working to secure greater freedoms within the declining Empire. In Cantos de Rebeldia, he identifies the destiny of Puerto Rico with the rebirth of Spanish grandeur.

«Tierra !»

En el pecho clamoroso del profundo bombardino
In the clamorous chest of tdeep tuba, there
hay acentos modulados de la lengua castellana
are modulated accents of the Castillian tongue;
y en la flauta y en la lira vibradora y en el trino
It vibrates in the flute and lyre and in the trill
y en el bronce palpitante de la cóncava campana.
and pulsing bronze of the concave bell.

Y el idioma en que Teresa adoró al Verbo Divino,
The idiom in which Teresa adored the divine Word,
en que oyeron los espacios las estrofas de Quintana;
in which they heard Quintana’s strophes; the
la mirifica palabra que a los cielos dio el Marino,
marvelous word that Mariner spoke to the heavens
anunciando el nacimiento de la tierra americana...
announcing the birth of the American land…

Esta lengua que los Siglos y la Musa de la Historia,
This tongue of the centuries and History’s muse,
resonante on epopeyas, han cumiado y han escrito,
resonating in epics, they gathered and wrote,
con eternas harmonias, en la cumbre de la gloria...
with eternal harmonies, at glory’s height…

Morir puede sobre el suelo de la madre raza iberica,
The Iberian mother-race can die, but not in the
pero no en el Nuevo Mundo, porque encierra el primer grito
New World whose first shout was Spanish,
El primer grandioso grito de la aparición de América!
the first bellowing cry of the American spirit.

De Diego often figures the harmonizing of being and nature, history and destiny, Old World and New as music. He celebrates the magical word - “Tierra!" - that Columbus heard announcing the birth of a New World. Although the “mother-race" is dying, an American world is being born, speaking Spanish.

“Tierra"is a classic sonnet, with perfect rhymes and rhythms. These "cantos" - chants or songs - are meant for public presentation, avoiding wit and complexity. They range across the centuries, from heaven’s
purposes to history’s unfolding. The poem proposes a bold idea, that Spanish culture, reborn in America, recaptures energies lost to the Old World. Few of de Diego’s cantos are so formally conventional. The
themes require more flamboyant expression and flexible forms.

(from) Profecias Prophecies

La intensa luz de sus pupilas de aguila
With intensity of an eagle’s eyes, Rousseau,
tendió el vate filósofo a la orilla
the visionary, casts his gaze at the shore
del Mar Tirrene, en cuyo fondo gime
of the Tyrrene Sea -- at whose foundation tugs
la eterna gloria de la edad antigua,
the eternal glory of the antique age --
y, contemplando a Córcega en silencio,
and contemplating Corsica in silence,
dejó esta hermosa profecia escrita:
he left this beautiful written prophecy:
«Tengo el presentimiento de que al mundo
“I have the premonition the world
ha de asombrar esta pequeña Isla».
will be amazed at this small island".

Yo también, como el sabio de Ginebra,
I, too, like the sage of Geneva,
siento una voz providencial divina,
sense a providential voice divine,
Patria mia infeliz... ¡Oh, dulce Patria,
My unlucky homeland… Oh, sweet homeland,
cuna y sepulcro de la raza india,
cradle and grave of the indian race,
paraiso perdido entre las olas,
lost paradise among the waves,
ideal apagado entre las brisas!
exhausted ideal wafting in soft breezes!
¡tú has de salir de tu profundo sueño,
you will awaken from your deep dreaming,
para asombrar al Universo un dia!
to amaze the universe one day!

¡Dios redentor, en los espacios libres,
God the redeemer, in space’s vastness,
tiene una estrella para cada isla!
maintains a star for each island!

Rousseau anticipates Napoleon arising from Corsica to shake the world from its feudal past. Puerto Rico’s history has been nothing but defeat and humiliation --“grave of the Indian race,/ lost paradise among the waves." Yet history’s cycles are unexpected, God maintains “a star for each island." At this moment, Puerto Ricans are lulled by island breezes, but will awaken to amaze the universe.

“Ante la Historia", formed by linked sonnets, is bitter and ironic. Supposedly, native peoples were subdued by the cross, but the sword was always present. We celebrate the Conquistadores, but the Indians were left sobbing. Now we await modernity and Constitutional rights, only to find subjugation and hypocrisy:

Before History

Lanzó el cacique belicoso grito,
The Cacique launched a war-like shout,
al avanzar de la española quilla,
at the advance of the Spanish keel,
pero dobló indefenso la rodilla
but bent the knee defenseless
la Cruz del Redentor bendito.
to the blessing of the Redeemer’s Cross.

Y en las propias murallas de granito
And in their own walls of granite
que alzó a su ilustre pabellón Castilla,
where Castile raised a lustrous pavilion,
hoy la bandera americana brilla,
today the American banner shines,
como un fragmento azul del Infinito.
like a blue fragment of infinity.

¿Bajó el ciclo a la tierra borinqueña?
Did this cycle reach to Boricua?
¡Ay, la gloriosa insignia iluminada
Ay, the glorious shining ensign
entre sombrios ambitos domeña!
Rules with its ambitious dreams!
Y, como el indio ante la cruz sagrada,
And, like the Indian before the sacred cross,
se inclina el pueblo, ante la noble enseña
the people bow down, before the noble ensign
puesta, como la cruz, sobre la espada...
placed, like a cross, above the sword…
Con ellos vino el arma vencedora,
With them came the victorious army,
la fuerza, la conquista, el vasallaje...
the force, the conquest, the vassalage…
El derecho no salta al abordaje,
Justice no longer leaps aboard; law itself
la ley se asusta todo la mar traidora...
is now affrighted, all over the traitorous seas…

Aquella gran Constitución, aurora,
That grand Constitution, the dawn
de un siglo, cual de un mundo, es un celaje;
of a century, sign of the new world;
brilla en su cielo, flota en su paisaje,
shines in its heaven, floats free in its domain,
pero encerrada en su paisaje llora...
but imprisons its weeping dominions…

¡Llora!... Sobre sus tablas ofendidas,
Shed tears!... Over its offended lands
el Aguila se eleva soberana
the Eagle hovers aloft superb,
con el rayo en las garras encendidas...
with lightning in its burning claws…

¡Llora, porque es la Libertad humana!
Shed tears, because this is human Liberty,
y Llora por las colonias oprimidas,
and weep for the oppressed colonies;
si es libertad y si es americana!
this is liberty, American style!

For Puerto Ricans between the stale grandeur of Catholic Spain and the false promises of US Constitutionalism there is little to choose. Like their Taino forefathers, Puerto Ricans again “bent the knee defenseless" to their redeemers. The beguiling ensign hides a murderous sword. And now arrives a predator, Constitution in one razor-claw and murderous lightning in the other. Boricuans embrace the signs of liberty - either Catholic or Liberal - only to suffer lawlessness and defeat. Written a century ago, de Diego’s scorching sonnets describe the century to come.

“Himno a America" is the most ambitious of the cantos. This is de Diego’s homage to Bolivarian thinking. Simon Bolivar (1783 - 1830) proposed a pan-Hispanic Latin America, formed as a bulwark against Europe and the growing threat of the United States. Bolivar had witnessed Spain’s defeat at Napoleon’s hands, and the rapid fall of the French Republic. Europe’s instability encouraged him to envision Latin American nations - Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia - united to command their destiny. This dream included uniting Caribbean island nations, and reviving the Taino’s lost paradise. De Diego’s hymn describes a world to come, drawing upon aboriginal memory, reviving the decayed brilliance of Spain, advancing God’s plan to favor the new and pure, and the natural grandeur of the New World.

In “Himno a America" light emerges from Stygian darkness, as in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and mythical beasts clash in titanic conflict. Great condors rise from the Andean valleys to confront the predatory eagles of the thirteen colonies, Dominicans battle Conquistadores, bloody Cuba remains unbowed, while Boricua, island of harmony, holds the center. Spain is revived in the warm sunshine of western skies with its faith, confidence, and the pulse of life renewed.

The poem is nearly 300 lines long, with irregular stanzas, capturing mood shifts. Prose passages mock US bureaucracy. The tapestry is vast, encompassing centuries, journeys from bright heaven to Stygian gloom, fabulous beasts and historical figures, Taino mysteries and Christian rites, “from the battle’s trenches to the altars of prayer", and the expansive metaphors that link human and cosmic scales. It begins with epic reach, recalling Paradise Lost:

Cuando el Planeta se abre en pedazos
When the planet breaks apart in pieces
y se derrumban montes y sierras
and hurls mountains and hills down
a cañonazos;
to the canyons;
cuando entre cielos, mares y tierras
when among skies, seas and lands Satan roils
Satan agita sobre los pueblos enloquecidos; sus rojos brazos;
the maddened people; their red arms;
vos, en la cumbre del Globo, indemne vos,
you, at the height of the globe, undamaged
de nuestra América bajo la egida,
from our America under the aegis,
alzais el magno verbo solemne
you might shout the great solemn word
que repercute por los confines como una rafaga de amor y vida.
that resounds through the heavens like a squall of love and life.

Por el divino genio que expande,
By the divine genius that expands as from
como de un núcleo cósmico en génesis, la raza ibérica
a cosmic nucleus at birth, the Iberian race
fue para el cielo dos veces gran
was twice blessed by heaven and for the World
y para el Mundo que en duple esfuerzo se completaba con nuestra América.
that in double force was perfected in America.

***There follows a catalogue of nations and their duress:
Esa Cruz tiende un brazo de Hércules a la angustia cubana
This Cross offered Hercules’ arm to Cuban anguish, and
esa Cruz tiende un brazo de angel a la fe borincana,
tendered an angel’s arm to Boricuan faith, from
es de Ojeda, Velazquez y Ponce en tierras y mar,
Ojeda, Velazquez and Ponce on land and sea
de Caonabo, de Hatuey, de Agueybana...
from Caonabo, Haiti, Agueybana…
India, española, cristiana!
Indian, Spanish, Christian!
¡Sirve lo mismo para una trinchera que para un altar!
Serves as a trench in war and an altar in prayer!
¡Cruz redentora dominicana!
The Cross redeems Dominica!
¡Cruz encendida sobre el Baluarte!
A Flaming Cross over Baluarte!
¡Cruz del acero que esgrimió Duarte!
The Iron Cross Duarte wielded!
¡Cruz Antillana!
Cross of the Antilles!
Borinquen sola la gracia espera
Boricua alone, the gracious hope
del brazo angélico que forma parte
of the angelic arm that forms part
de tu bandera,
of your banner,
y si no puedes aqui elevarte
and if you cannot raise it here
por la plegaria, por el derecho ni por el arte,
by prayer, by right, by art,
ni en la victoria de una trinchera...
nor in victory in the trenches of war…
¡ven a posarte
come and place it
sobre las tumbas en que mi Patria luchando muera!
over the tombs in which my battling homeland perishes!

***Satan appears, with his ravaging eagles terrorizing the peace of the Antilles:

Con siete vueltas cercando a Europa ruge el Estigio,
In seven turns Stygian dark roars, enclosing Europe,
y el magno verbo que en el fastigio
and the great word that the south wind collects
del Capitolio recoge el austro, difunde el bóreas,
within the Capitol’s fastness, disperses the north,
envuelve ¡oh Prócer! vuestro prestigio
sheltering, oh great one, your prestige
y va cantando de polo a polo con el prodigio
and goes singing, pole to pole, with the wonder
del resonante vuelo invisible de vuestras Águilas incorpóreas.
of the resounding flight invisible of your incorporeal eagles.

De vuestras Águilas... Una de ellas,
Of your eagles… one of them
que tuvo el vértigo de la altura,
that had the highest standing,
precipitada de las estrellas
cast down from the stars
cayó en la sombra, perdió su espiritu, tornóse oscura.
fell in shadow, lost its spirit, turned dark.
Águila negra de alma de cuervo,
Black Eagle from the soul of a raven,
rapaz y torva,
rapacious and fierce,
de pico acerbo,
with sharp beak,
de garra corva,
and curved claws,
en cada pueblo libre de América tendria un siervo
sent to each American free people a servant
y asi el destino y el rumbo estorba
loyal to the fate and deadly course
de las potentes aguilas liricas de vuestro verbo...
of the mighty fabled eagles of your word…

***His emissaries speak in soothing tones, all the better to plunder the islands:

«Los Estados de América no son rivales hostiles, sino amigos que cooperan juntos, y el progresivo concepto de la comunidad de sus intereses, lo mismo en cuestiones politicas que económicas, puede darles una nueva significación como factores en asuntos internacionales y en la historia politica del Mundo. Esto es panamericanismo. No tiene un espiritu imperialista. Es la encarnación, la encarnación efectiva del espiritu de la ley, la independencia, la libertad y el mutuo servicio.»

“The states of America are not hostile rivals but friends who should cooperate in the progressive concept of mutual interests, both in political matters and economic, to give us a new purpose as agents in international affairs and in the political history of the world. This is pan-Americanism. It does not have an imperialist spirit. It is the incarnation, the effective incarnation of the spirit of the law, independence, liberty, and mutual service."

Palabras dulces y armoniosas,
Sweet and harmonious words, like breezes
como las brisas que pasan ledas entre los calices de las rosas...
that pass merrily between the rosebuds…
encierran un arrepentimiento
are they wrapped in repentance
o solo tienen, como las brisas, risas de viento?
or are they only, like the breezes, the wind’s laughter?

***Spain, weakened and decrepit can offer no resistance:

Y con las doce nitidas aguilas de intensa albura
And with twelve spotless Eagles of intense white
que se atrevieron contra el magnifico León hispano,
that challenged the magnificent Spanish lion,
inerme entonces por la impotencia de su bravura
unarmed therefore by impotence
entre las olas del Océano,
among the ocean waves,
la negra Águila imperialista,
the black imperialist Eagle,
de los combates ya el fin cercano,
of combats already nearly complete,
fue a la conquista
went to the conquest, and with its
y con sus alas nubló una punta de aquel lucero,
wings shrouded the point of light,
que era el espiritu genetliaco del invencible pueblo cubano.
the in-born spirit of the invincible Cubans.

Y ¡oh, mi Cordero!
And oh, my Lamb!
¡santo Cordero de la parabola del Bautista!
Sacred Lamb of the Baptist’s parable!
¡santo Cordero que acompañaste al León de España

Sacred Lamb who accompanied the Lion of Spain
hasta el postrero
unto the very end,
dia terrible de la hecatombe de la campaña,
the terrible day of the hecatomb of the countryside,
por débil eras la unica victima propiciatoria
by weakness you were the lone propitiatory victim
¡y fue tu entraña
and it was your entrails He scattered,
el desgarrado, único, rojo girón sangriento de la victoria!
the red hero, bloody in his victory!

***But history, with God’s guiding hand, will take its turn empowered by the power of justice and the brave indignation of its people:

Hay un poeta, Cordero, a tus plantas, que tiene una lira
There is a poet, Lamb, at your feet
y esa lira suspira
who holds a lyre that breathes
tu candido amor:
your truthful love:

si tu dolor una vez la desata y estira…
if your pain once unravels and expands … the monster
¡el monstruo vera cual relumbra en los aires de ira
will see what shimmers in the air of hatred, a
una espada que ha sido una lira de amor y dolor!
sword fashioned from a lyre of love and grief!

***Hispania is triumphant in the New World:

En el pinaculo del mundo entonces,
At the pinnacle of the world then
radiara América sus ideales,
America will spread its ideals,
no cual la efigie de duras piedras y frios bronces
not like the effigy of hard rocks and cold bronzes
sobre la roca chata y minúscula de una bahia,
over the flat minuscule rock of a bay,
sino viviente, con el aliento omnipoderoso
but living, with the all-powerful breath
que en el espacio diera el Coloso
that will give the Collosus space
de las ocultas profundidades del nucleo eterno de la Energia.
from the hidden depths of the eternal nucleus of Energy. *********************************************************************************

Y, en el concierto de sus Naciones,
And in concert of its Nations,
dichosa y libre se elevaria,
happy and free, there will arise
templo de todas las religiones,
a temple of all religions,
fuente de toda sabiduria,
a fount of all wisdom,
amor de todos los corazones,
love from all hearts,
hogar abierto para el proscrito,
an open house for the rejected,
¡faro bendito,
a blessed beacon,
guiando el cruce por el Planeta de las futuras generaciones
guiding the cross throughout the Planet of future generations
y el del Planeta por los misterios iluminados del Infinito!
enlightened by the mysteries of the Infinite!

Jose de Diego died in 1918, having witnessed the harsh grip the US maintained on his island and the shrewd gift of incomplete citizenship conferred upon his people to enlist them for the trenches of WWI. The rebellion de Diego imagined has surfaced, but fitfully. The Philippines met US power and plunder with guerilla force; Cuba challenged the dark eagle and won; but Puerto Rico, for all its suffering, has remained the good child of de Diego’s hymn. Still, prophecies have no expiration date.

Luis Munoz Rivera (1859-1916), a tough-minded journalist and politician, battled for liberal opportunities within monarchical Spain. Munoz Rivera worked to establish legal and commercial rights for the island’s business community. His plan went into effect just as the US initiated its war against Spain -- in the words of President McKinley, a war to take “all we can get… and keep what we want."

Munoz Rivera suffered for his realism. In the 1890s, he supported the island’s commercial and plantation elite, the only politically functional group in a society mostly rural, 85% illiterate, and given to irregular habits. Rivera’s associations bred distrust among his radical Autonomy colleagues. After the US invasion, many radicals expected economic equality: in their excitement, they attacked land-owners and merchants, Munoz Rivera counseled restraint, and for his pains had his newspaper offices and his home torched. Following threats to his person and family, he moved to New York City. A decade later he was selected to serve as the island’s representative to the US Congress. The title “Resident Commissioner" persists to this day, as does the humiliation of attending Congress but having no vote.

Munoz Rivera was sharp-witted and direct. When in 1914 the US proposed a limited form of citizenship for Puerto Ricans, Munoz Rivera responded on the floor of the US Congress: “if you wish to make us citizens of an inferior class; if we cannot be one of your States; if we cannot be a country of our own then we will have to be perpetually a colony, a dependency of the United States. Is that the kind of citizenship you offer us? Then that is the citizenship we refuse." His poetry shows Munoz Rivera was not a man to be deceived.


Aceptareis, patriotas, inerte vuestra mano
Will you accept, patriots, with limp hand,
la esclavitud abyecta, la servidumbre vil?
abject slavery, vile servitude?
¿No veis cómo el tirano
Don’t you see how the tyrant
azota a nuestro pueblo juzgandole servil?
thrashes our people, seeing you servile?

La patria estaba muda; la patria estaba muerta;
Our native land was mute; was dead;
el déspota la heria con barbara crueldad:
the despot wounded it with barbarous cruelty:
la patria se despierta
Our native land awakens
y a nuestros brazos fia su sacra dignidad.
and entrusts its sacred dignity to our arms.

¿Vivir bajo la punta del latigo extranjero?
To live under blows of the foreign lash?
¿Llorar en el oprobio y en la abyección gemir?
Weep in disgrace and moan in wretchedness?
no, no: vibre el acero;
No, no: shake your steel; we will
volemos, ciudadanos, volemos a morir.
strike back, citizens, strike back to the death.

¡Al arma, hijos del Plata! Cabezas de verdugos
To arms, sons of silver! Demand the heads of
exige nuestra tierra: herid sin compasión.
the slave-drivers; wound without compassion.
Asi se rompen yugos!
That way break your yokes! and
y donde fue la tribu se forja la nación.
where there was the tribe, forge the nation.

“Minha Terra", however, sounds a different note, Munoz Rivera’s disgust at his countrymen’s timidity:


Borinquen, pobre cautiva
Boricua, poor captive
del mar que sus costas bate;
of the sea that batters both its coasts;
garza dormida entre brumas
heron dozing among mists
como en lecho de azahares,
as if upon a bed of lillies,
no vio nunca en sus collados
I see nothing in its hills
el humo de los combates,
of the smoke of combat
ni el somatén en sus villas,
no uproar in its villages,
ni el tumulto en sus ciudades.
nor tumult in its cities.

Borinquen, la pobre tierra
Boricua, poor land
de las angustias tenaces,
of stubborn anguish,
de las danzas gemidores,
of lamentable dances,
y de los tristes cantares,
and sad songs,
no vengó, loca de furia
never avenging, in mad fury
como una virgen salvaje
like a savage virgen,
las equimosis del latigo,
the bruises of the lash,
las cicatrices del sable.
the scars of the sabre.

Borinquen tiene en su escudo
Boricua has on its shield
un peñasco entre dos mares
a rocky crag between two seas
y un cordero solitario
and one lonely lamb
con un palido estandarte.
with a pale banner.

Simbolo fiel de su historia
A faithful symbol of its history
que, a través de las edades,
in which throughout the ages,
no escribió jamas en rojas
no one ever inscribed in blood-red
tintas el nombre de un martir.
tints the name of a single martyr.

Borinquen, la cenicienta,
Boricua, the Cinderella,
no puede romper su carcel,
could not break its cage,
porque faltan, ¡vive Cristo!,
because it lacks, Christ almighty,
mucho nervio en su caracter,
much nerve in its character,
mucho plomo en sus colinas
much lead in its hills,
y mucho acero en sus valles,
and much steel in its valleys,
porque en sus campos no hay pueblo;
because in its fields there are no people;
porque en sus venas no hay sangre.
because in their veins there is no blood.

Luis Llorens Torres (1878 - 1944) was also a rebellious child of Spain. Born to a family of plantation owners, he rejected convention to find himself in poetry. He was a successful lawyer and was among the founders in 1912 of the Independence Party, the first to demand the island’s independence. Llorens Torres was more bohemian than active politician, his poetry more attuned to nature and to tangled web of affection and Eros. “Cancion de las Antillas" (1913; rev. 1929) celebrates the bounty of the Caribbean and its lush beauty. Unlike de Diego’s epic “Hymn", Llorens Torres praises the land’s fertility, its lush forests and warm seas, with a painter’s eye and savage senses. But by 1929, much of this had also become a paradise lost to colonialism and its destructiveness.

From “Cancion de Antilles"

¡Somos ricas! Los dulces cañaverales,
We are rich! Sweet fields of sugar-cane,
Grama de nuestros vergeles,
the grass of our orchards,
Son panales
are honeycombs
De aureas mieles.
of golden riches.

Los cafetales frondosos,
The luxuriant coffee plantations
so beloved,
Paren granos abundantes y olorosos,
yield abundant and fragrant beans;
Para el cansado viajero
the coconut palm, greets the tired traveler
Brinda sombra y pan y agua el cocotero.
with shade, bread and water.

Y es incienso perfumante
And the perfumed incense
Del hogar
of home is
El aroma hipnotizante
the hypnotic aroma of lush
Del lozano tabacar- otros mares guardan perlas
tobacco fields - other seas store pearls
En la sangre del coral de sus entrañas.
in the blood-coral of their wombs.

Otras tierras dan diamantes del carbón de sus montañas.
In other lands mountains yield diamonds.
De otros climas son las lanas, los vinos y los cereales.
From other climes wool, wine and cereals.
Berlin brinda con cerveza. Paris brinda con champan.
Berlin toasts with beer; Paris with champagne.
China borda los mantones orientales.
China sews oriental shawls,
Y Sevilla los dobleces de la capa de Don Juan.
And Seville the folds of Don Juan’s cape.
¿Y nosotras?... De tabacos y de mieles,
And we? Our ships go out
Repletos nuestros bajeles
always full
Siempre van.
Of tobacco and of honey,
¡Mieles y humo! Legaciones perfumadas.
Honey and smoke! Our perfumed legations,
Por la miel y por el humo nos conocen en Paris y en Estambul. W
well known in Paris and Istanbul.

¡Somos indias! Indias bravas, libres, rudas,
We are Indians! Brave, free, tough,
Y desnudas,
and naked,
Y trigueñas por el sol ecuatorial.
wheat brown from the equatorial sun.
Indias del indio bohio
Indians of the native bohio
Del pomarrosal sombrio
of shady orchard
De las orillas del rio
of the river’s banks,
De la selva tropical.
of the tropical forest.
Los Agueybanas y Hatueyes,
The Agueybanas y Hatueyes,
Los caciques, nuestros reyes,
the caciques, our kings,
No ciñeron mas corona
crowned with no more than
Que las plumas de la garza auricolor.
gold-tinged heron plumes.
Y la dulce nuestra reina Anacaona,
And our sweet queen Anacaona,
La poetisa de la voz de ruiseñor,
poet with voice of the nightingale,
La del césped por alfombra soberana
she of the regal carpet of lawn
Y por palio el palio inmenso de los cielos de tisú,
under the immense canopy of heavenly tissue,
No tuvo mas señorio
had no more sign of royalty than
Que una hamaca bajo el ala de un bohio
a hammock hung beneath the bohio’s eave,
Y un bohio bajo el ala de un bambú.
the bohio tucked under the bamboo’s wing.

¡Somos bellas! Bellas a la luz del dia
We are beauty! The beauty of day-break, and
Y mas bellas a la noche por el ósculo lunar.
more at night by the shadowy moon.
Hemos toda la poesia
We are all the poetry
De los cielos, de la tierra y de la mar:
of skies, earth and sea: in the
En los cielos, los rosales florecidos de la aurora
skies, rose bushes bloom at dawn, as the
que el azul dormido bordan de capullos carmesies
slumbering blue embroiders the turquois bell
en la cóncava turquesa del espacio que se enciende y se colora
of space, with carmine buds lit
como en sangre de rubies:
with the blood of rubies:
en las mares, la gran gema de esmeralda que se esfuma
In the seas, the great emerald gem fades
como un viso del encaje de la espuma
like a vision in the mist’s mosaic
bajo el velo vaporoso de la bruma:
beneath the vaporous film of spray:
y en los bosques, los crujientes pentagramas
and in the forests, on those five-lined staffs,
bajo claves de orquideas tropicales,
under the clef signs of tropical orchids,
los crujientes pentagramas de las ramas
staffs formed by the branches where
donde duermen como notas los zorzales…
thrushes sleep, like notes of the scale..
Todas, todas las bellezas de los cielos, de la tierra y de la mar,
All this beauty of sky, land, and sea, our
Nuestras aves las contemplan en las raudas perspectivas de sus vuelos,
birds view in their swift flights,
Nuestros bardos las enhebran en el hilo de la
while bards thread the needle,
luz de su cantar.
lit by their singing.

Llorens Torres asks, “we Puerto Ricans, who are we?"

To Puerto Rico

La América fue tuya. Fue tuya en la corona
America was yours. Yours in the bewitched
embrujada de plumas del cacique Agueybana,
crown of plumes of the cacique Agueybana,
que traia el misterio de una noche de siglos
who brought the mystery of a night from centuries
y quemóse en el rayo de sol de una mañana.
and burned himself in the sun’s ray one morning.

El África fue tuya. Fue tuya en las esclavas
Africa was yours. Yours in the slaves
que el surco roturaron, al sol canicular.
who turned the furrow, in mid-summer heat.
Tenian la piel negra y España les dio un beso
They have black skin and Spain gave them a kiss
y las volvió criollas de luz crepuscular.
and turned them creole in the twi-light.

También fue tuya España. Y fue San Juan la joya,
Also Spain was yours. And San Juan the jewel,
que aquella madre vieja y madre todavia,
that mother of old and still our mother,
prendió de tu recuerdo como un brillante al aire
hung from your memory like a brilliant gem in air

sobre el aro de oro que ciñe la bahia.
over the golden ring that encircles the bay.
¿Y el Yanki de alto cuerpo y alma infantil quizas?...
And the Yankee of tall body and infantile soul?...
¡El Yanki no fue tuyo ni lo sera jamas!
The Yankee was not yours and never will be!

The island’s destiny is in rebellion, not in armed violence, but stubborn persistence armed by god’s truth and justice - and songs written in tongues of fire:

El pueblo inerme que sumiso calla,
The people unarmed who rise up quietly,
lanza, al fin, su protesta poderosa,
heave, at last, their heavy protest,
como la oscura nube silenciosa,
like a dark silent cloud, filled
llena de estruendo y luz, se abre y estalla.
with thunder and light, that rips open and explodes.

Surge el blanco adalid: rompe la valla:
The white champion surges forward, tearing the valley:
sus plantas de angel en el suelo posa,
their angel footprints set down in the soil
y es rayo la palabra victoriosa
it is the ray of the word victorious
que ilumina su campo de batalla.
that illuminates its field of battle.

¡Asi el genio inmortal se transfigura
So the immortal genius is transformed
y, de la patria en el amado infierno,
and, from the homeland in the beloved inferno,
canta en lenguas de fuego sus dolores!
sings its pains in tongues of fire!

¡Rebeldia sublime de la altura!...
Rebellion sublime from on high!...
¡Luzbel hermoso, impenitente, eterno,
Brilliant beauty, impenitent, eternal,
cercado, como Dios, de resplandores!
surrounded, like God, with splendors!

All Translations: Stephen Zelnick

Works Used:

De Diego, Jose. Cantos de Rebeldia. Editorial Cordillera: San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1966.

Denis, Nelson A. War Against All Puerto Ricans. Nation Books, 2015.

Fernandez, Ronald. The Disenchanted Island: Puerto Rico and the United States in the Twentieth Century. Praeger Publishers, 1996.

Fernandez, Ronald; Serafin Mendez and Gail Cueto. Puerto Rico: Past and Present. Greenwood Press, 1998.

Llorens Torres, Luis. Obra Poética. Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 2010.

Munoz Rivera, Luis.

Naipaul, V. S. The Loss of El Dorado. Vintage, 1969.

The Linnets Wings