Action and poetry

As well as diaries, books, essays, letters and speeches, Guevara wrote poetry, but considered poetry a “private affair”, not counting himself a writer, a title that he told writer Ernesto Sabato was the “most sacred” in the world. Perhaps because of this, after the revolution, Guevara met or corresponded with the poets and intellectuals of his time such as René Depestre, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and León Felipe whom he called the “great, desperate poet”. And it would appear that it was to Felipe that Guevara wrote a letter in which he called himself a “failed, would-be poet”. The idea that poetry could find a place in man’s struggle and so work for the majority was perhaps consolidated around León Felipe’s El Ciervo (The Stag) in which a man is persecuted throughout history; the poem being known as one of Guevara’s favourites.

Guevara and his first wife, Peruvian economist Hilda Gadea (1921–1974), shared an interest in poetry, notably Rudyard Kipling’s If (evoking the virtues of stoicism and heroism) and the Uruguayan feminist poet Juana de Ibarbourou (1892–1979) whom Guevara called the best postmodernist woman poet. Ironically The Fig Tree (La Higuera), one of her most important poems, has as its title the name of the village in Bolivia in which Guevara died.

And notably, before setting off to campaign in Bolivia, Guevara made a tape recording of poems for his second wife, an active combatant in Castro’s Cuban army, Aleida March: the recording includes Pablo Neruda’s Adios: Veinte poemas de amor (Twenty poems of love and a song of despair); Nicolás Guillén’s La sangre numerosa (The great blood) and El abuelo (Grandfather); and Rubén Martinez Villena’s La pupila insomne (Insomniac pupil).