Guatemalan Portrait: La niña de Guatemala

Rudy Giron: &emdash; Guatemalan Portrait: La niña de Guatemala

If you don’t know who José Martí was, you are about to read a little about one of the most important figures of 19th century in America. Martí is considered one of the great turn-of-the-century Latin American intellectuals. José Julián Martí Pérez (January 28, 1853 – May 19, 1895) is a Cuban national hero and an important figure in Latin American literature. In his short life he was a poet, an essayist, a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist. After his death, one of his poems from the book, “Versos Sencillos” (Simple Verses) was adapted to the song “Guantanamera”, which has become the definitive patriotic song of Cuba.

Martí’s most famous legacy for Guatemala is the poem “La niña de Guatemala” about the death of young María García Granados, daughter of Guatemalan president Miguel García Granados who fell in love with Martí. The García-Granados schoolgirl’s crush was unrequited, however, as he went again to México, where he met Carmen Zayas Bazán and whom he later married. In 1878, Martí returned to Guatemala and published his book Guatemala, edited in Mexico. On May 10, socialite María García Granados died of lung disease; her unrequited love for Martí branded her, poignantly, as ‘la niña de Guatemala, la que se murió de amor’ (the Guatemalan girl who died of love). Following her death, Martí returned to Cuba. Continue reading about José Martí at Wikipedia.

Needless to say, these were the times when poets influenced many of the arts, politics and philosophy to name a few of the areas where they intervened. By the way, the two videos below are based on Martí’s poetry and are among the most popular songs in Latin America together with La Bamba, of course. Enjoy!

La niña de Guatemala

Quiero, a la sombra de un ala, Contar este cuento en flor: La niña de Guatemala, La que se murió de amor.
Eran de lirios los ramos, Y las orlas de reseda Y de jazmín: la enterramos En una caja de seda.
…Ella dio al desmemoriado Una almohadilla de olor: El volvió, volvió casado: Ella se murió de amor.
Iban cargándola en andas Obispos y embajadores: Detrás iba el pueblo en tandas, Todo cargado de flores.
…Ella, por volverlo a ver, Salió a verlo al mirador: El volvió con su mujer: Ella se murió de amor.
Como de bronce candente Al beso de despedida Era su frente ¡la frente Que más he amado en mi vida!
…Se entró de tarde en el río, La sacó muerta el doctor: Dicen que murió de frío: Yo sé que murió de amor.
Allí, en la bóveda helada, La pusieron en dos bancos: Besé su mano afilada, Besé sus zapatos blancos.
Callado, al oscurecer, Me llamó el enterrador: ¡Nunca más he vuelto a ver A la que murió de amor!

por José Martí

The Girl of Guatemala
At a wing’s shade, I want to tell This story, like a flower:
The girl from Guatemala, The girl that died of love.
The flowers were lilies, And mignonette ornaments
And jasmine: we buried her In a silk casket.
She gave to the forgetful A perfumed sachet:
He came back, came back married: She died of love.
She was carried in a procession By bishops and ambassadors:
Behind were the town’s people in groups
They were all carrying flowers.
She, wanted to see him again,
She stepped out to the balcony:
He came back with his wife: She died of love.
She went into the river at dusk,
She was dead when the doctor pulled her out:
Some say she died of coldness: But I know she died of love.

by José Martí

La niña de Guatemala


© 2014, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Phil Landmeier

    Great post. I learned about José Martí 50 years ago.

    I was fortunate in many ways when I was growing up. In 1963 my parents gave me a high quality Philips shortwave radio and showed me how to rig a basic antenna in the yard to get high-performance. Before there was an Internet there was shortwave radio. Back then, nearly every country broadcast its culture, music, ideas, and opinions on shortwave radio for the whole world to listen to and I listened to shortwave radio a lot. One of my favorite stations was Radio Martí, broadcasting out of Havana, Cuba. I became curious why the station was called Radio Martí and researched the name.

    Other favorites I listened to often were Radio Sofia, Radio Netherlands, HCJB (Ecuador), and Radio Moscow. My grandmother had taught me from an early age that every country twists the truth to its own advantage. To see the twisting done by your own country, you must listen to multiple sources. Shortwave radio allowed me to do that.

  • Kim Hotinger

    The girl in this poem was my grandfathers sister and most get it wrong. She and Jose were i love , but his family in Cuba arranged another woman for marriage. When she found out she walked in to the water and drowned. My grandfathers brother pulled her out!