Following the death of Ernesto Che Guevara, 50 years ago, distinguished Cuban, Latin American, and European poets dedicated tender and beautiful lines to him.
The list of outstanding voices of the Spanish language who wrote extraordinary poems to Che includes, among many Cubans: Nicolás Guillén (“Che Comandante”), Eliseo Diego (“Donde nunca jamás se lo imaginan”), Mirta Aguirre (“Canción antigua al Che Guevara”), José Lezama Lima (“Ernesto Guevara, comandante nuestro”), Miguel Barnet (“Che”), Fina García Marruz (“En la muerte de Ernesto Che Guevara”), Ángel Augier (“Che vivo”), Samuel Feijóo (“Che”), Félix Pita Rodríguez (“Cantata del guerrillero heroico”), and Cintio Vitier (“Ante el retrato de Guevara yacente”).
Admired and award-winning intellectuals from other countries joined this “cantata” to Che, including: Julio Cortázar (“Yo tuve un hermano”), León Felipe (“El gran relincho”), Vicente Aleixandre (“Funeral por Che Guevara”), Gabriel Celaya (“Yo estoy con el Che, ¿y usted?”), Gonzalo Rojas (“El Comandante”), Mario Benedetti (“Consternados, rabiosos”), Idea Vilariño (“Poema”), René Depestre (“Cantata de octubre a la vida y la muerte del Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara”), Juan Gelman (“Conversaciones”), Pablo Neruda (“Tristeza en la muerte de un Héroe”), and José Saramago (“Breve meditación sobre un retrato de Che Guevara”).
Below we offer a minimal sample of these compositions dedicated to Che, beginning with the moving poem “Che Comandante,” by Nicolás Guillén (1902 - 1989), which the poet himself read on that solemn evening of October 18, 1967, in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución José Martí.
The first verses were prophetic. Twenty years ago, Che’s remains were found where they had been hidden, and were transferred to Cuba:
Though you have fallen your light burns no less bright.
A fire horse
sustains your guerrilla sculpture
among the wind and the clouds of the Sierra.
Though still you are not silence.
And even though they burn you,
they conceal you underground,
they hide you
in a cemetery, woods, paramos,
they are not going to prevent us from finding you
Che Comandante, friend.
One of the most unique poems was written by Cuba’s Mirta Aguirre (1912-1980): “Canción antigua al Che Guevara” (Old song to Che Guevara). It is not very extensive, but here we include only the final verses:
Where are you, gentleman of glory,
the leading among so many?
Made a legend in the death that I die;
Made history, ma'am, made history
Eliseo Diego (1920-1994), winner of the 1993 Juan Rulfo International Prize for Latin American and Caribbean Literature, wrote on the death of Che the poem “Donde nunca jamás se lo imaginan” (Where they never ever imagine), of which we quote a few verses:
Today we are told
That you are really dead, that they have you
Finally where they wanted
They are mistaken
More than us on supposing
That you are a torso of absolute marble
Motionless in history, where everyone
Can discover you.
Were never anything but the fire,
But the light, the air,
But the freedom of the Americas
Inspiring wherever, where they never
Ever imagine, Che Guevara
Miguel Barnet (1940), in his poem to Che concedes:
It’s not that I would want to trade you
a pen for a gun
but the poet is you.
Meanwhile, José Lezama Lima (1910-1976), in his extensive “Ernesto Guevara, comandante nuestro” (Ernesto Guevara, Our Comandante), writes:
“Surrounded by the final test, stone stripped of the beginnings to hear the inaugurations of the verb, death went to find him... Man of all beginnings, of the last, of a single death, distinguished through death, stone on stone, stone fuelling the fire.”
Nobel laureate in Literature 1977, Vicente Aleixandre (1898-1984), a poet of Spain’s Generation of ‘27, wrote in exile “Funeral por Che Guevara” (Funeral for Che Guevara):
without light already
is the last.
The eyes are beautiful.
through the clear
Headed for the wide
How wide and long...!
Pablo Neruda (Chile 1904-1973) Nobel laureate in Literature 1971, met Che following the triumph of the Revolution in 1959. Before his assassination in Bolivia, he included the elegy “Tristeza en la muerte de un héroe” (Sadness on the death of a hero) in his book Fin de mundo. Below some of the verses:
Those who experience this story, this death and resurrection of our bereaved hope,
those who chose combat and saw the flags rise, we knew that the most quiet
were our only heroes and that after the victories came the vociferous
with mouths full of arrogance and salivary boasts.
The people nodded their heads:
and the hero returned to his silence.
But the silence was dressed in mourning until we drowned in grief when in the mountains died
the illustrious fire of Guevara.
A third Nobel laureate in Literature, this time in 1998, the Portuguese José Saramago (1922-2010) entitled his tribute “Breve meditación sobre un retrato de Che Guevara” (Brief contemplation on a portrait of Che Guevara), where he concludes:
“Che Guevara, if it can be said, existed before he was born, Che Guevara, if it can be affirmed, continued to exist after his death. Because Che Guevara is just another name for what is most just and worthy in the human spirit. What so often lives dormant within us. What we should wake up to know and to know ourselves, to add the humble step of each to the path of all.”
The Argentine author of Hopscotch, Julio Cortázar (1914-1984), wrote in “Yo tuve un hermano” (I had a brother):
We never saw each other
but it did not matter.
I had a brother
who wandered through the mountains
while I slept.
Uruguay’s Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), in “Consternados, rabiosos” (Dismayed, enraged), noted
That’s what we are.
Although this death is one of the foreseeable absurdities.
It is shameful…
Typing the three global letters of your name on the rigid typewriter that never, ever, had such a pale ribbon.
You’re dead, you’re alive, you’re falling, you’re a cloud, you’re rain, you’re a star.
Wherever you are, if you are, if you are arriving, it will be a pity if there is no God, but there will be others, of course there will be others, worthy of receiving you, comandante.
Spanish playwright Alfonso Sastre (1926) warned in his poem “Nada de llantos” (No tears):
… flags unfurled,
Yankees gone home (and pumba!), screams
of rabid anger, intestinal, and here war,
Lord, and then Glory.
Compañero, Che Guevara is dead!
Half a century after the death of Ernesto Guevara, poets continue to dedicate verses to him.