A MEXICAN POET FOREVER REMEMBERED
January 8 is the birthday of Francisco González Bocanegra, the Mexican poet and playwright who authored the lyrics of Himno Nacional Mexicano—the Mexican National Anthem. On this day in 1824, Francisco González Bocanegra was born in San Luis Potosi into a Spanish family. Although Mexico had become free from Spanish rule, Spain had not yet recognized it as an independent nation. Therefore, a federal mandate dictated that all Spaniards were to be expelled from Mexico in 1829. Francisco and his family were sent back to Spain, and settled in the city of Valencia. Then, in 1836, Spain officially recognized Mexico as a sovereign nation, and the Bocanegra family was allowed to return to their home in San Luis Potosi. Francisco was twelve years old at the time.
In 1849 Francisco moved to Mexico City, where he joined the capital’s literary community and established himself as a poet and playwright. He wrote idyllic verses about nature and love, as was the vogue, following the Romantic poets. One of those poems is dedicated to night, which he titled Song to Night. Here are just two stanzas of the lengthy poem.
Because I love
And your stillness;
Because you were
My charm, sad night,
In my fiery youth.
Because you have,
A thousand memories
Of luck and pleasure;
Because you have
Within your calm,
My soul’s memory
Of the love for a woman.
In 1853, officials from the Mexican government invited the nation’s poets to compose the lyrics to the National Anthem. According to a story, Francisco was too shy and insecure to write, or submit an entry. But when he mentioned the competition to his fiancée, Guadalupe Gonzalez del Pino, she found an unconventional, yet effective motivational strategy. She came to visit him at his home, led him to a room where she had set up a desk with papers and pen, then told him he had to complete the lyrics. She then went out and locked the door, telling him he would not be let out until he finished. Four hours later, Francisco slipped the finished product—ten stanzas in Italian octaves, under the door.
Bocanegra’s submission won, and the Spanish composer, Jaime Nuno, wrote the music to accompany the verses. On the eve of Mexico’s Independence Day in 1854, Bocanegra’s anthem was sung for the first time at the Santa Ana Theater (known today as the National Theater). It was adopted by the government as the nation’s official anthem in 1943, and the rest is history!
Sadly, Francisco’s life was not a long one. He married Guadalupe in 1854, and they had five children. Then in 1861, he developed typhus and died in Mexico City on April 11, of that year, at the age of 37. The newspapers of the day mentioned him with a few short lines, speaking of the death of “a young poet who had so much promise.” And yet his words have been immortalized in the Mexican National Anthem, and have been translated into 12 different Indigenous languages spoken throughout the nation. Here are some of the most celebrated stanzas.
Mexicans, at the shout of war,
Make ready the steel and the bridle,
And may the earth’s foundations tremble
At the resounding roar of the cannon.
May the divine archangel crown your brow
With an olive branch of peace, oh fatherland,
For your eternal destiny was written
In heaven by the finger of God.
But should a foreign enemy
Dare to profane your soil with his tread,
Know, beloved fatherland, that heaven gave you
A soldier in each one of your sons.