Versos Sencillos

We studied José Martí in Spanish class a while ago and the teacher assigned us to memorize these five stanzas from his most famous work, "Versos Sencillos" (Sincere Verses.) I loved them, especially the last one, and I wished there were a better translation of them available for English speakers. There's some song that translates it as "I'm just a man who's trying/ To do some good before dying." Which, if you look at the first verse, is pretty inadequate.

I wanted to have a translation that flows well in English, but I love some of the Spanish phrases so much that I did two translations, one literal and one poetic. Phrases like "the heart with which I live" just shouldn't be left out. Also, when I'm reading something in a language I know or am trying to learn, it's nice to be able to see what any unfamiliar words mean. So here it is for you.

Original Spanish Literal TranslationA more poetic version
Yo soy un hombre sincero,
de donde crece la palma,
y antes de morirme quiero
echar mis versos del alma.

Mi verso es de un verde claro
y de un carmín encendido.
Mi verso es un ciervo herido
que busca en el monte amparo.

Todo es hermose y constante.
Todo es música y razón.
Y todo, como el diamante,
antes de luz, es carbón.

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar:
el arroyo de la sierra
me complace más que el mar.

Cultivo una rose blanca
en junio 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 ortiga cultivo:
cultivo una rose blanca.
I am a sincere man
from where the palm grows
and before I die I want
to throw forth the verses of my soul.

My verse is of a clear green
and of a burning crimson.
My verse is a wounded fawn
that seeks in the mountain refuge.

All is beautiful and constant.
All is music and reason.
And everything, like the diamond,
before light, is coal.

With the poor of the earth
I want to throw my luck,
the stream of the mountain
pleases me more than the sea.

I cultivate a white rose
in June as in January
for the sincere friend
who gives me his frank hand.
And for the cruel one who steals
The heart with which I live
Thistle nor nettle do I cultivate:
I cultivate a white rose.
I am a sincere man
from where the palm grows,
and before I die, I want to pour out
My soul's verses.

My verse is of a clear green
and of a fiery crimson.
My verse is a wounded fawn
That seeks shelter in the mountains.

Everything is beautiful and constant.
Everything is music and reason.
And everything, like the diamond,
Is coal before the light.

I want to cast my lot
with the poor people of the earth.
The mountain stream
Pleases me more than the sea.

I grow a white rose
in June and January alike
For the sincere friend
who gives me his honest hand.
And for the cruel one who robs me
of what I need to survive
Thistle nor nettle do I grow:
I grow a white rose.

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