“A Song for Stalin” by Nicolas Guillen

Nicolas Guillen is one of the greatest Cuban poets and one of the most outstanding Spanish-speaking poets. His main work was Songoro Cosongo. An Afro-Cuban, he united a masterly utilisation of poetic techniques in the Spanish tradition with expressions, themes, and feelings of the Afro-Caribbean culture of the Black slaves and their descendants.

The poem below was first published in the compilation Poetic Offering of Cuba to the Soviet Union, Havana, National Anti-Fascist Front, 1942. It was also published in an anthology together with Spain, poem in four anguishes and one hope – dedicated to the Spanish Civil War and Other Poems.

The translation below follows the text of the edition of the Publishing House of Cuban Literature in Havana, 1985, pp. 226-227.

Homage to Stalin at the Kremlin Wall on 5th March 2003, on his 50th Death Anniversary.

Stalin, Captain,
Protected by Chango and sheltered by Ochun.(1)
At your side free men sing as they walk:
The Asian, breathing with volcanic lungs,
The Black, with white eyes and beard of pitch,
The White, with green eyes and beard of saffron.
Stalin, Captain.

Europe’s map of stone and coal trembles.
A thousand centuries collapse and roll about emptily.
The North and South winds blast like cannons.
Heads and decapitated heads encircle.
The sea burning like a lake of tar.
Mouths which yesterday sang of Truth and Good
Today lie under four metres of bitter sleep…
Stalin, Captain.

But the future is grounded, lifting its hopes
There in your red land where bread is joyous
And lofty breasts, armed with a single song,
Deter and will deter the vulture’s wings
There in your icy sky of powder and fuse,
Stalin, Captain.

A jar of magnolias, Buddha’s floral heart(2)
Extends its ecstatic gesture;
A continent turns upon the Sea of Japan:
A crude bloc of blood from Siberia to Ceylon
And from Smyrna to Canton…
Stalin, Captain.

African drums with resonant beat
sound their vivid alert over jungles and deserts,
fiercer than the lion’s metallic roar;
and raising its stormy forehead to Mount Pichincha(3)
America convokes its pumas and alligators,
yet also greases its engines and rails.
The blind German will see hatred all around:
the dove, the airplane,
the toucan’s beak,
a vast indignant river of life,
poisoned arrows, carried by cyclone winds
their targets will strike…

Stalin, Captain,
Protected by Chango and sheltered by Ochun.
At your side free men sing as they walk:
The Asian, breathing with volcanic lungs,
The Black, with white eyes and beard of pitch,
The White, with green eyes and beard of saffron…
Stalin, Captain.
The peoples awaken, and march at your side!

Notes:

(1) Chango and Ochun are two gods in some African polytheistic religions, whose memory is preserved in the African-American culture of the Caribbean (Cuban Santeria and other similar syncretic religions). They represent Thunder/War and Water/Love.

(2) This passage alludes particularly to the culture of the Far East, incorporated in the world struggle against the Hitler coalition, which included Imperial Japan. It is above all a reference to the culture of China.

(3) Pichincha is one of the volcanic mountains in the Andean range, and gives its name to the Ecuadorian province which includes Quito, the capital of the Republic. The passage alludes to the great world alliance against Hitler, which included the peoples of the Americas.

Translated from the Spanish by Alfonso Casal.

 

nGuillen

 

Nicolas Guillen