Sant Jordi – A Sonnet

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.

– Ben

(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.)

First Poem in Catalan

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:

Festa

La nit és nostra força
Per viure amb un bes.
Trobem la llum que porta
I fem el món encès.

– Ben

Comments/Corrections very welcome!

Time for a change

Time for a bit of a change.

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!

Fins aviat, amics!

Ben

Joan Salvat-Papasseit – Fighting Time

The Avant-Garde of Catalonia is unthinkable without one Joan Salvat-Papasseit (what a name, by the way). In his tragically short life Salvat-Papasseit took an obscure, abstract idea and made it into personal, lived reality, spearheading a movement that sent cultural shockwaves through Catalonia and into Europe beyond.

Born in Barcelona in 1894 and raised within a working class background (greengrocer’s apprentice and seafront nightwatchman are a couple of his early jobs) the desire to see social reform was present in Salvat-Papasseit from a very early age. His membership to the Catalan Socialist Youth and his leaning towards Anarchism testify to this. This desire led him to the Avant-Garde movement.

Statue of Papasseit on Barcelona waterfront (Wiki Commons)
Statue of Papasseit on Barcelona waterfront (Wiki Commons)

While today Avant-Garde has come to be almost uniquely seen as a cultural movement, pushing at the accepted boundaries of art, it originally also encompassed a strong desire for social reform. The Avant-Garde saw themselves as the cultural vanguard, using their cultural non-conformity not simply to raise stiff eyebrows, but to push and break-up the social status-quo, thereby freeing the working class masses to march up behind them and secure better lives.

Salvat-Papasseit founded the Llibreria Nacional Catalana – a grand bookstore – which became a focal point for the Catalan Avant-Garde, and in the process formed important friendships with other artists encompassed under the Avant-Garde umbrella such as the surrealist painter, Joan Miró and the Constructivist painter, Joaquín Torres Garcia. These influential artists would, along with others, contribute to the various Avant-Garde publications Salvat-Papasseit produced, thereby raising its (and his) prestige and spreading awareness among Catalan society.

Work by Joan Miro - 'The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings' (1953)
Work by Joan Miro – ‘The Smile of the Flamboyant Wings’ (1953)

Careering down the path of socio-political activist, Salvat-Papasseit continually met with road blockages along the way caused by his fragile health, which resulted in frequent stays in sanatoriums throughout the Pyrenees. His times in these solemn yet tranquil settings, coupled with the obvious deterioration of his health, had a deep impact on his writing, none more so than in turning his focus towards poetry, a focus he never lost, right up to his death.

Painting - 'El Puente de Les Escaldes' (1933) by Catalan artist Joaquim Mir i Trinext. Les Escaldes was one of the sanatoriums in the Pyrenees were Salvat-Papasseit stayed during poor health (reproart.com)
Painting – ‘El Puente de Les Escaldes’ (1933) by Catalan artist Joaquim Mir i Trinext. Les Escaldes was one of the sanatoriums in the Pyrenees were Salvat-Papasseit stayed during poor health (reproart.com)

Salvat-Papasseit very much took the Avant-Garde ethos into his poetry, which was consistently concerned with themes such as freedom, youth, sincerity, heroism and struggle. He advocated a poetry in line with the fledgling Futurist movement in Italy, which admired technology and the triumph of man over nature, praising originality and newness over traditional ‘good taste’ (while still managing to express strong nationalist tendencies). This was tempered with the simplicity of Le Corbusier’s L’esprit Nouveau – an art ideal that sought newness in ‘pure’ geometric forms, rather than the complexity of Cubism – and ‘Nunism’, a movement that celebrated the here and now, placing the present, earthly moment above any transcendent realm or heavenly future.

Futurist work by Giacomo Balla - 'The Flight of the Swallows' (1913) (Wikiart.com)
Futurist work by Giacomo Balla – ‘The Flight of the Swallows’ (1913) (Wikiart.com)

Salvat-Papasseit’s focus on humanity’s mastery of nature, his need to be in the present, and his urge to bring the future into that present are perhaps best understood when taking his physical state into account. Throughout his life, his health was of such delicacy that the spectre of death could not but help hover over his imagination. Encased in his fragile, frustrated frame and forever having the eternal unknown held before his face, it is unsurprising that Salvat-Papasseit reveled in Human triumph over Nature, and looked to bring the bright, hopeful future into his present reality.

It’s perhaps the biggest truism there is, but death comes to us all, and when it does, it seems that a person’s real, deep feelings finally come to the fore, no longer obscured by fancy and vain hope. This can be seen in the late poetical works of Salvat-Papasseit – In La gesta dels estels (The epic of the stars – 1922) he set about mythologizing everyday reality, perhaps as a way of reaching out to something more magical he hoped was beyond the reality he lived. Finally in Óssa Menor: fi dels poemes d’avantguarda (Ursa Minor: An End to Avant-garde Poems – 1925) he abandons all that has concerned him in his day to day life, as he prepares for the anguish and nearness of his death.

Salvat-Papasseit near the end of his life (bcncultura.cat)
Salvat-Papasseit near the end of his life (bcncultura.cat)

Joan Salvat-Papasseit died of tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 30. His influence on early 20th century Catalan culture is all the more remarkable considering the bitterly short time he spent here. We all know how tragedy can raise a profile, but this man’s earnestness and intensity are surely rightly celebrated. At the end of his life, I really hope – as I do for everyone – that he found the future he had been longing for, even if it probably wasn’t as he’d expected.  

This post owes a lot of thanks to the biography of Salvat-Papasseit at http://www.lletra.net/en/author/joan-salvat-papasseit