Versos Sencillos (1891, view in UFDC) was Martí’s last publication before he died fighting for Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1895. He published these verses while he was still exiled in New York City. Each one is in a 4-stanza quatrain. They are commonly described as clear, colorful, heartfelt, and sonorous. In the original Spanish, the verses read like songs and are therefore easily memorizable and passed down from generation to generation, a goal that was important to Martí in fostering a unique Cuban consciousness apart from Spain and the United States. His work can thus be considered anti-colonial.
The first two lines are some of the most common to a Cuban ear,
Yo soy un hombre sincero (I am an honest man)
De donde crece la palma… (from where the palm tree grows…)
The palm tree immediately identifies these “versos del alma…” or verses from the soul, as universal (of the soul) but also, as very much Cuban (“from where the palm tree grows”). The next two can be read as final words to the world by the poet,
Y antes de morirme quiero (And before I die I wish)
Echar mis versos del alma. (To share my verses from the soul)
Perhaps aware of the dangers of his involvement in the war, Martí used these as a lasting legacy, his final message to the world, to Latin America, and to his Cuban compatriots.
The verses are dedicated in part to his long-time friend and fellow proponent of Latin American national independence, Manuel Mercado. In it he introduces the occasion of the publication, a meeting of various Hispanic nations in Washington to discuss Cuba’s independence. And concludes with an explanation of his choice of a simple poetic form and diction:
Se imprimen estos versos porque el afecto con que los acogieron, en una noche de poesía y amistad, algunas almas buenas, los ha hecho ya públicos. Y porque amo la sencillez, y creo en la necesidad de poner el sentimiento en formas llanas y sinceras. (These verses are published because the affection with which they were embraced, one night of poetry and friendship, by some good souls, has already made them public. And because I love simplicity, and I believe in the need to express sentiment in simple and sincere forms)(in New York, 1891)