Julian del Casal, the great cuban poet

A few days ago, someone brought to my memory one of the Cuban personalities of the nineteenth century who influenced the most of my adolescence: the poet Julián del Casal.
The author of one of the top works of Cuban literature, born in 1863, died one night in October in 1893, while laughing out loud at a joke that he heard during a dinner conversation at his friend’s house. Julián, barely thirty years old, had already delved, before many others, into the Latin American literary modernism, leaving behind the stale romanticism of his predecessors.

Julián del Casal. Photo: courtesy of Tanía Díaz Castro
Julián del Casal. Photo: courtesy of Tanía Díaz Castro

José Martí, who knew all his poetry and his works, said goodbye to him, lamenting that he had not been able to embrace him: “A poor poet has died and we did not get to know him. He died of his weak body, or of deep sorrow, with elegant and enamored fantasy, in a servile and deformed nation¨. Casal thus left in the heart of the Cuban Apostle (Martí) an infinite nostalgia, an encounter that could have been vital for both.
Years went by and it was not until José Lezama Lima, as faithful admirer of Casal’s poetry, passed his days and nights enabling the young poet to emerge from his ashes. Lezama Lima was convinced that Casal would become, once again, the cursed poet of before.
It was Lezama Lima who suspected that Julián would be the object of the cruelest silence. Thanks to this dictatorship, Julián was ignored for more than half a century. It was because of this hunch that Lezama Lima hastened to compile the complete work of Julián del Casal: his poetry, his fruitful journalistic work written between 1885 and 1893, all his chronicles, articles, translations, short stories and letters to the friends in five volumes. To the satisfaction of the famous author of Paradiso, his arduous compilation was published by the National Council of Culture in 1963.
It is the only edition that brings together the complete work of the poet that time managed to make disappear and that has never been published again. Not even the first volume, which brings together his books of verses published during his life.
Just a couple of months ago, the president of the Institute of the Book, Juan Rodríguez Cabrera, told the Granma newspaper that, until last April 4th there has been published in Cuba one trillion one hundred seven million copies of books of the most dissimilar subjects. We should ask Rodríguez Cabrera why Cubans have not been able to buy Casal’s poetry in a bookstore in more than fifty years nor borrow it from one of the many libraries in the country.
Why has one of the most prominent poets of Cuban culture disappeared, as well as his journalistic work, published in the best Cuban and Latin American press of the nineteenth century? Could it be that the young Havana poet was not to the taste of the Commander? Could it be that the octogenarian generals who rule Cuba have not yet discovered the poet? Is it because he lived his own way, was eccentric, liberal, rebellious to worldly standards, and disappointed by the Ten Year War, refused to take a rifle? Is it because he was a young man without a woman, away from the mundane noise, always dreaming of a better country? Have they declared it openly cursed, silenced like so many others, in this “rough sea” where the mischievous ones get the best profits?
“Because we are bitter towards each other, instead of loving ourselves,” said Martí regarding Julian. “Because we are jealous of each other instead of opening to the others. We love each other as we’d be in a prison. Really, it’s time to end this! Julián del Casal already ended it, young and sad. “

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