In “Ballad of the Two Grandfathers,” Nicolas Guillen celebrates his mulatto background, the mixture of African and European blood.
Racial prejudice continues to be a concern in Cuba, where the Colonial past holds bitter memories that continue into the present.
Shadows which only I see,
I’m watched by my two grandfathers.
A bone-point lance,
a drum of hide and wood:
my black grandfather,
a warrior’s gray armament:
my white grandfather.
The poem celebrates the poet’s mixed blood and seeks to bring into unity
here through the vehicle of poetry– opposing heritages.
On the one hand, he talks of his African heritage, on which the powerful white grandfather imposes slavery, for lances cannot counter automatic rifles.
How to reconcile these conflicting heritages?
One grandfather points to his lost past and talks about dying; the other says that he is tired, for such is the burden of conquest:
On sails of a bitter wind,
galleon burning for gold…(822.17-18)
How to unite conquered and conquistador, for the blood of both runs in his veins?
Beka Lamb also encounters these racial and economic divisions.
In effect, the black grandfather’s statement that he is dying points in more than one direction. The literal meaning refers to his actual death far from his home. On the other hand, and this concerns the folklorist poet, the grandfather’s statement attests to the fear that the heritage he holds within will be lost.
But while the poem attests to the conflict between these two heritages–How harsh the trader’s whip (823.33)the poet does not finally present the two grandfathers as antithetical, for he sees himself as being watched by both:
Don Federico yells at me
and Taita Facundo is silent;
both dreaming in the night
and walking, walking.
I bring them together. (823. 43-47)
And the bringing together does not create silence, a certain harmony; instead, the friction between the two makes sparks and triggers the imagination: they possess for him equal power for inspiration:
They embrace. They sigh,
they raise their sturdy heads;
both of equal size,
a Black longing, a White longing.
both of equal size,
they scream, dream, weep, sing.
They dream, weep, sing.
They weep, sing.
In the preceding manner, the two heritages of the mulatto culture inspire him to write.