Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

West Indies: Cuba, the Island


By José María Heredia (1803–1839)

(From The Exile’s Hymn)
Translated by W. H. Hurlbut

FAIR land of Cuba! on thy shores are seen

Life’s far extremes of noble and of mean,

The world of sense in matchless beauty dressed,

And nameless horrors hid within thy breast.

Ordained of Heaven the fairest flower of earth,

False to thy gifts, and reckless of thy birth!

The tyrant’s clamor, and the slave’s sad cry,

With the sharp lash in insolent reply,—

Such are the sounds that echo on thy plains,

While virtue faints, and vice unblushing reigns.

Rise, and to power a daring heart oppose!

Confront with death these worse than deathlike woes.

Unfailing valor chains the flying fate;

Who dares to die shall win the conqueror’s state.

We, too, can leave a glory and a name

Our children’s children shall not blush to claim;

To the far future let us turn our eyes,

And up to God’s still unpolluted skies.

Better to bare the breast, and, undismayed,

Meet the sharp vengeance of the hostile blade,

Than on the couch of helpless grief to lie,

And in one death a thousand deaths to die.

Fearest thou blood? Oh, better, in the strife,

From patriot wounds to pour the gushing life,

Than let it creep inglorious through the veins

Benumbed by sin and agony and chains!

What hast thou, Cuban? Life itself resign,—

Thy very grave is insecurely thine!

Thy blood, thy treasure, poured like tropic rain

From tyrant hands to feed the soil of Spain.

If it be truth, that nations still must bear

The crushing yoke, the wasting fetters wear,—

If to the people this be Heaven’s decree,

To clasp their shame, nor struggle to be free,

From truth so base my heart indignant turns,

With freedom’s frenzy all my spirit burns,—

That rage which ruled the Roman’s soul of fire,

And filled thy heart, Columbia’s patriot sire!

Cuba! thou still shalt rise, as pure, as bright,

As thy free air,—as full of living light;

Free as the waves that foam around thy strands,

Kissing thy shores, and curling o’er thy sands!