Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Jose Marti

"The formation of new social conditions makes the struggle to earn a living uncertain and hampers the fulfillment of daily duties that, not finding broad roads, change form and direction at every instant, spurred on by the fear that arises from the probability and proximity of poverty. With the spirit thus divided among contradictory and intranquil loves, and the concept of literature shaken at every moment by some new gospel, with all the images that were once revered now naked and discredited while the future's images are as yet unknown, in this bewilderment of the mind, this restless life without fixed course, definite character or certain conclusion, in the biting fear of our own impoverishment and the varied and apprehensive labors we undertake to escape it, it is no longer possible to produce those long and patient works, those expansive tales in verse, those zealous imitations of Latin men that were written with great deliberation, year by year, in the repose of the monk's cell or amid the pleasant leisures of the ambitious courtier, seated in his ample chair of richly worked cordovan with studs of fine gold, in the beatific spiritual calm produced by the certainty that the good Indian was kneading the bread, the good king decreeing the laws, and the Mother Church giving shelter and sepulcher. Only in an era of stable elements, a general and established literary type, and well-known and established channels, when individual tranquillity is possible, is it easy to produce those massive works of ingenuity that, without exception, require such a conjunction of favorable conditions."

Jose Marti wrote the above as the prologue to Poem of Niagara by Jose Maria de Heredia.

I used this high-toned statement as the back cover for the 50 or so copies of Overherd at the River's Hip I put together two years ago. As I work on two new books for little scratch pad, his words ring just as true to my ear today, though the references to 19th century Spanish Colonies would need to be changed slightly to make sense of the feeling of stability he describes as lost. And after a little deliberation, I have to admit to myself what kinds of wealth I do have, and the kinds of pressures and uncertainties Marti is talking about above.



  1. Hi, do you know where I could find the full english translation of this prologue of Jose Marti to Poem of Niagara?

    1. I got this quote from the English translation by Esther Allen. I owe a debt of gratitude to Esther Allen for her great job translating this passage.