written in the chapel of the Hospital de Santa Cristina on the night before his execution
translated from the Spanish by James Weldon Johnson
If the unfortunate fate engulfing me,
The ending of my history of grief,
The closing of my span of years so brief,
Mother, should wake a single pang in thee,
Weep not. No saddening thought to me devote;
I calmly go to a death that is glory-filled,
My lyre before it is forever stilled
Breathes out to thee its last and dying note.
A note scarce more than a burden-easing sigh,
Tender and sacred, innocent, sincere—
Spontaneous and instinctive as the cry
I gave at birth—And now the hour is here—
O God, thy mantle of mercy o’er my sins!
Mother, farewell! The pilgrimage begins.
Despedida a mi madre
en la capilla
Si la suerte fatal que me ha cabido,
Y el triste fin de mi sangrienta historia,
Al salir de esta vida transitoria
Deja tu corazon de muerte herido;
Baste de llanto: el ánimo afligido
Recobre su quietud; moro en la gloria,
Y mi plácida lira á tu memoria
Lanza en la tumba su postrer sonido.
Sonido dulce, melodioso y santo,
Glorioso, espiritual, puro y divino,
Inocente, espontáneo como el llanto
Que vertiera al nacer: ya el cuello inclino!
Ya de la religión me cubre el manto!
Adios, mi madre! adios—El Peregrino.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 19, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
I said, in drunken pride of youth and you
That mischief-making Time would never dare
Play his ill-humored tricks upon us two,
Strange and defiant lovers that we were.
I said that even Death, Highwayman Death,
Could never master lovers such as we,
That even when his clutch had throttled breath,
My hymns would float in praise, undauntedly.
I did not think such words were bravado.
Oh, I think honestly we knew no fear,
We loved each other so.
And thus, with you believing me, I made
My prophecies, rebellious, unafraid . . . .
And that was foolish, wasn’t it, my dear?
From Caroling Dusk (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen. This poem is in the public domain.