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José Martí (1853-1895)

Cuban poet, essayist and journalist, who became the symbol of Cuba's struggle for independence from Spain and who promoted better understanding among American nations. "No man has any special right because he belongs to any specific race; just by saying the word man, we have already said all the rights." Martí's three major collections of poems were Ismaelillo (1882), Versos sencillos (1891), and Versos libres, written in the 1880s, but published posthumously in 1913. In his most famous political poem, 'Sueño con claustros de mármol', he takes the reader in his dream world, in which sculptures of dead heroes come alive. José Martí was born in Havana, the son of a soldier of the Spanish garrison who retired to become a watchman. The educational reformer Rafael María Mendive (1821-1886) persuaded Martí's father to allow him to study at secondary school. He attended the Instituto de Havana (1866-69), and worked on the underground periodicals El Diablo Cojuelo and La Patria Libre. At the age of sixteen Martí was arrested for subversion and sentenced to six years' hard labor in a chain gang. After a year he was exiled to Spain, where he studied at the University of Madrid (1873) and University of Saragosa, receiving a degree in law in 1873, and a year later a degree in philosophy and letters. In Spain he published El presidio de Cuba in 1871. Because of his political activities, Martí was unwelcome to many countries. In 1881 he moved to New York City, where he worked as an editor, journalist or foreign correspondent for several magazines, including the New York Sun, El Partido Liberal, La Opinión Nacional, La Nación, La República, El Economista Americano, and La Opinión Pública. Martí also served as consul for Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina, and was a Spanish teacher at Central High School. Martí's most influential collection of poems from his mature period, Versos sencillos (1891), was produced during a particularly difficult period in his life. In 1894 he founded the Cuban revolutionary Party and tried to lead a company of revolutionaries from the U.S. to Cuba. The plan failed but the next year he succeeded in reaching Cuba, and died in a skirmish at Dos Rios on May 19, 1895.

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