thistle nor thorn do I grow

When I started teaching last century (ha, that amuses me, so I said it that way) I found myself overwhelmed by a smart group of high school seniors jaded beyond belief. It didn’t matter what we read, it was always stupid and always inconceivable that they could connect with what they considered to be ridiculous scenarios in the stories. It was clear to me as a novice that it was all my fault for failing to communicate the beautiful expression of the human condition found in literature.

Crushed, I shared my disappointment with a veteran teacher who had taken me under her wing in order to save me from myself. She offered me some sage advice that I have almost always followed. She told me never to teach a poem that I loved.

The “almost always followed” is important because sometimes I take a risk and follow my heart. As with any risk, sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. When I win, it’s a beautiful thing.

When I lose (and it happens often enough to make me sad — but not so much that I would quit trying) it makes me sad in a million directions, like a little kid showing her magnum opus to her mommy and being shoo-ed out of the kitchen. Or the puppy greeting his master with the paper in his jaws, only to be rebuffed. Or the teacher sharing a meaningful poem and being laughed at for being sentimental.

Ouch. That last one stings a little.

So, today I did it again. Shared a simple poem that I was surprised to find in a composition book. I found the translation wanting, so I shared the original, too. To a room full of blank stares. And a bored yawn.

Go ahead and rip out my heart and stomp on it, but please do it quickly. Thank you.

Here’s the original poem, a few lines from José Martí called, aptly, Simple Verses/Versos Sencillos XXXIX

Cultivo una rosa blanca,
En junio como en enero,
Para el amigo sincero
Que me da su mano franca.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El Corazón con que vivo
Cardo ni oruga cultivo:
Cultivo la rosa blanca.

And here’s the translation that was in the book, and too literal for me:

I grow a white rose,
In June as in January,
For my sincere friend
Who gives me his hand frankly.

And for the cruel man who tears from me
The heart with which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I grow:
I grow the white rose.

I’m not a fan of that, so I made a minor change which I think captures a different subtleness:

I grow a white rose,
In June as in January,
For my true friend
Who gives me his hand unconditionally.

And for the cruel one who tears from me
The heart with which I live,
Thistle nor thorn do I grow:
I grow a white rose.

I think it looks more balanced, too, with the long 4th and 5th lines. So there you have it, my heart on my sleeve this week. Be gentle.

5 thoughts on “thistle nor thorn do I grow

  1. Mario Zito, my (Italian) Spanish teacher in Phoenix made the class memorize this poem. I’m glad to find it again.

  2. To You Bego….It is wonderful to know that after so many years, Marti continues to touch your heart.

    To your audience…. “full of blank stares” etc …

    Ser culto, es el unico modo de ser libre.
    To be cultured, is the only way to be free.
    Jose Marti.

  3. That is beautiful! You go Girl and share that heart! And be real that Jesus did and look what people did TO him. However more importantly look what his sharing did FOR us.
    Con amore, mi quierda amiga, siempre con amore.

  4. I immediately hated the english translation, and just like that, I LOVED it when I read it with your subtle change–you’re SO talented!
    so deep–and beautiful.

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