OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE

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.

 

When 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):

Who

moves

the ungreen

shadows?

 

The wind

flares up.

The moon

is redder,

the famous

night

without light already

 

The gaze

is the last.

The eyes are beautiful.

The face,

 

Asleep

he drifts

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.