So today is St George’s Day. Not just in England, though, but a whole host of other places (so Wikipedia informs me). One place where I can definitely vouch for George’s and this day’s importance is Catalonia where La Diada de Sant Jordi is a much more celebrated day than the semi-forgotten, slightly embarrassed thing it is here in Britain.
Two traditions mark the day of Sant Jordi in Catalonia – the giving of roses by guys to girls, and the giving of books from anyone to anyone. Rose-giving goes back to the 15th Century, but books weren’t involved until 1926, when someone decided to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, Spain’s great novel.
In 1995, UNESCO took up the idea and declared the 23rd of April ‘World Book Day’, also commemorating the day on which Shakespeare passed through nature to eternity. ‘Book Day’ began as a parallel but soon became absorbed into the festival of Sant Jordi, it becoming a tradition to give a book to someone close. The fervour with which this tradition has been taken up is seen in the fact that nearly half of all sales of books written in Catalan are reaped on this day – no wonder authors do their utmost to promote their book at this time!
And so now, Sant Jordi is firmly established as the day of the book and the rose, taking on the feel of St Valentines’ – not really celebrated by the Catalans – and so becoming a day of love and literature! Not a bad combo in my opinion. Oh, and here’s a Sonnet…
Sant Jordi – A Sonnet
Quixotic hearts attest romance’s power
And Jaques will sigh that ‘All the world’s a stage’.
We play our part in each and every age,
And dance alone until the calling hour
When Love descends from long forgotten bower
To free the heart that built itself a cage,
Put pen to ink and fill an open page,
Take a hand and place in it a flower.
If all’s an act, explain this touch I feel
That lights my skin and sets my heart on fire.
The veil is torn and mysteries revealed.
My soul is won, with love forever sealed,
By nothing more than purest pure desire.
Love is what shall write this fiction real.
(This post draws on a blog I wrote during my time in Catalonia, which if you just absolutely have to do so, you’re very welcome to click here.)
Creating something in your own language is wonderful enough, but creating something in another language is something else altogether. Having translated poems from Catalan, and written some poems in English about Catalonia, I suddenly got the itch to have a go at a poem in Catalan. So, feeling a little like an intrepid intruder setting up their own little home within a foreign land, I here put forward a very short poema Catalana that you could have a go translating if you want, or just enjoy the wonderful strangeness of a different language:
La nit és nostra força
Per viure amb un bes.
Trobem la llum que porta
I fem el món encès.
I came with camera clutched in hand.
My entry fee was my demand:
Another tourist out to claim
Another piece of culture to their name;
A stroke of depth upon a stoneless wall
For looks and likes and thoughts from friends and all.
And then I looked,
Looked up into the heavens’ store,
Looked up and thought of likes no more,
Looked up and felt this groaning body soar
Into a space of light
We burn to share the moments that we feel
Have weaved in us another realm of real.
Yet surely not to show them who we are,
But ask if this is only just the start.
Such light as falls and fills and breathes
Could change the heart of what a man believes.
Santa Eulàlia is Barcelona’s Cathedral, tucked into the heart of the city in the beautifully dark Barri Gotic. Here are some more pics (No, I didn’t completely let go of my camera!)
Here come the sounds of many feet
Upon the path in soldier-beat –
Attack before the midday heat
Has drained away our fight!
Now passing through the wisps of cloud
That cloak the mountain all around,
And hide us in a deadly shroud,
The castle comes in view.
We stand before the mighty gate
And walls that tell of fallen fate.
Upon our orders we await
For battle to commence.
Inside we find an empty shell,
And ghosts of those who used to dwell
Within these walls before they fell.
In valiant defence.
We spread across the sun-scorched stone
Of Claramunt, which stands alone
Upon the mount that we now own,
Surveying our new lands.
We sit upon our victory gains –
The journey made was not in vain.
This castle shall not fall again,
For we are Catalans!
Claramunt Castle (Castell de Claramunt in Catalan) was the site of the first field-trip I made in my role as English Conversation Assistant at the school of Mare del Divi Pastor. We made our way on foot from the nearby village of Capellades, where both I and the school were located, early in the morning, reaching the village of Pobla de Claramunt while the clouds still hung low. The castle – which was built along with a string of others within Catalonia to push back the borders of Moorish Spain during the Reconquista – sits atop an impressive mount. At the top, from the castle’s ramparts you can see out across brilliant swathes of Catalonia – a sight worthy of the sweaty slog up there!
Those select and much appreciated followers of this blog (thanks to all of you!) will know that so far, I have been posting translations of poems by Catalan authors, with a few biographies of those poets thrown in for good measure. I hope I’ve managed to provide a little, but worthy, flavour of Catalan poetical literature, and its Catalanitat, its essence that makes it something different, something unique.
I’ve really enjoyed doing this, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. However, translating – and especially translating poetry – is really quite time consuming (it is for me, anyway!) and time to do this has for me become really concentrated lately.
As such, I’m going to change tack for a while, and do something a little less time intensive. Having spent an unforgettable year living in Catalonia, I have a massive store of memories. Some of these I’ve written down elsewhere; click here to take a look if you’d like! But to put them down in poetry is something I’d really like to do, and Project Poesia would seem the perfect place to have a go, as it still combines two things I love – Catalonia and poetry.
So, I’ll be posting some of my own poems for while (gulp!) about my experiences in Catalonia. I know it’s a bit indulgent, so forgive me! But hopefully they can still give you enjoyment, and take you to a place you might not have even heard of, let alone been! As ever (I wouldn’t put them up here if I didn’t) I’d love to have feedback, so if you’d like, please tell me what you think!