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.