I’ve Aged Myself – by Joan Teixidor

After a bit of a gap in posts (when did life get so busy??) here’s a short and somewhat dark poem from Joan Teixidor (or ‘John Weaver’ to us Anglophones)…

I’ve aged myself with much of my own life.
I’ve drawn my strength from deepest melancholy.
Too small a world has me shrunken to its size.
I envy those who’d leave it all behind.

Joan Teixidor (1913-1992)

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Original Catalan Text

‘M’he Envellit’
M’he envellit de massa vida meva.
He prosperat en la malenconia.
El món massa petit m’empetitia.
Envejo els homes que ho deixaren tot.

(Text sourced from http://lletra.uoc.edu/especials/folch/teixidor.htm)

Faith – by Eudald Puig

The clock hangs upon the wall.
Time now has a beautiful altar and a precise cord.
All the old ones are getting on their knees
and disturbing the earth with their hands;
they search for the ancient line of the redeemers.
One of them adorns another in piety.
They are full of faith.
The girls have brought a bloom of gladiolus
and the tip of agave cactus,
when it lays its flowers before the death carriage.
When all those present pray, spirit-filled,
the Beatitudes and the Rosary
the cancerous, as is their wont, die quietly.
Illuminated, the evening clock.
All is lost within the peaceful night.

Eudald Puig (b. 1948)

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Original Catalan Text

‘Fe’ – per Eudald Puig

El rellotge penja del mur.
El temps ja té un bell altar i una corda
precisa.
Tots els vells es van agenollant
i remenen terra amb les mans;
cerquen l’antiga nissaga dels redemptors.
Un d’ells n’acoltella un altre per pietat.
Són plens de fe.
Les noies han portat flors d’espadella
i l’alt pinacle d’atzavara,
quan floreix davant la carrossa mortuòria.
Quan tots els presents resen, ebris,
les benaurances i el rosari,
els cancerosos solen mori dolçament.
S’il.lumina el rellotge al vespre.
Tot es perd dintre la plàcida nit.

(Text sourced from http://lletra.uoc.edu/especials/folch/epuig.htm)

Testament – by Joan Teixidor

I will write verses blank
where every word shall hang suspended in the air,
where nought shall speak of aught
beyond the meadow’s peace, oblivion
where I am no more and ceaselessly live on.
When once I wished to be it all,
Now do I but live within
that bird that looks at me and I see not,
that creeping twilight,
that death that waits for me.
Think of me as if I were but a shadow,
as that which lingered written upon the water.
Incessantly have I loved you all
and that alone shall preserve me.

Joan Teixidor (1913-1992)

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Original Catalan text

‘Testament’ – per Joan Teixidor

Escriuré versos blancs
on totes les paraules quedin suspeses en l’aire,
on res no digui res
fora la pau dels camps, l’oblit
on ja no sóc i em perpetuo.
Quan volia ésser-ho tot,
ara ja només visc
d’aquest ocell que em mira i que no veig,
d’aquest crepuscle lent,
d’aquesta mort que m’espera.
Penseu en mi com si fos una ombra,
allò que va quedar escrit sobre l’aigua.
Però sempre us he estimat
i això només em salva.

(Text sourced from http://lletra.uoc.edu/especials/folch/teixidor.htm)

The Measure of a Man – by Joan Vinyoli

Well weighed, the days
of youth are worth much
to give them not a high price.
If they were rich in fire and in deed and attendant
to all
– a starry night
you must not disdain, it is not worth less than wastelands
ridden by death.
If you were
a failure, longing and loneliness and remnant
of the spark that sets forests ablaze
and not only a
project of greed-driven gain
in hypocritical realms,
above all if you were
pure in purity, I will say you made
the measure of a man.

Joan Vinyoli (1914-1984)

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Original Catalan text

‘La Mesura d’un Home’ – per Joan Vinyoli

Ben sospesat, els dies
de joventut valen molt
per no donar-los un alt preu.
Si fóren rics de foc i d’acció i disponibles
a tot
-una nit estelada
no la desdenyis, no val menys que els erms
transitats per la mort.
Si fóres
fracàs, anhel i solitud i reserva
de la guspira que encen boscos
i no sols
projecte avar de guanys
d’hipòcrita domini,
sobretot si fores
pur en el pur, diré que vas donar
la mesura d’un home.

(Text sourced from http://lletra.uoc.edu/especials/folch/vinyoli.htm)

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