Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jose Marti: I Grow a White Rose

One of the narrated poems in the "Son Corazon" performance (see previous post) was translated into English, alternating languages every two lines. I'm not a Spanish speaker, but I am a poet, and as I listened, I suspected the translation wasn't doing the original justice. Before we left at intermission, I glanced at someone else's program just long enough to see that the poem was by Jose Marti.

(Everything I know about Marti I learned from Pete Seeger's rendition of "Guantanamera.")

I looked around the Internet this morning and found that the almost-literal translation used at the performance is dismayingly common. But here's one that attempts to preserve the rhyme of the original.

I have a white rose to tend
In July* as in January;
I give it to the true friend
Who offers his frank hand to me.

And for the cruel one whose blows
Break the heart by which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I give:
For him, too, I have a white rose.

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En julio* como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazón con que vivo,
Cardo ni oruga cultivo:
Cultivo la rosa blanca.

*I think this should be "June," although "July" turns up in both Spanish and English versions on the Internet. It's amazing how mistakes turn into reality here. I need to find a reputable, actual book.

Here's another version. It seems, amazingly, to be from a publication called Military Review.

I grow a white rose,
In June as in January,
For my true friend
Who gives me his honest hand.

And for the cruel man who tears from me
The heart with which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I grow:
I grow the white rose.

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
en junio como en enero,
para el amigo sincero
que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
el corazon con que vivo,
cardo ni ortiga cultivo:
cultivo la rosa blanca.


  1. Thank you for offering a more decent translation into Enhlish of the original Spanish White Rose poem by Jose Marti.
    It is frustrating not being able to translate the music in Marti's poems into English.

  2. It really is "July" in the original. Thank you for your work!