The Royal Square – by Osvald Cardona

Like memories of times just come to an end,
The city of old you rejuvenate.
Silent Square! If new breaths come to agitate
You conserve your own airs, gathering them

Within the quadrant of a pillared porch ornate.
Untouched it leaves your little garden,
Unaided fountains bring forth their burden,
And palm trees sleep in absence of wind to wake.

Your air is lost within the narrow streets;
From these will children come, they with songs replete
And the blind musicians playing melancholy sound.

And old polemicists will arrive with zeal,
Along with groups of folk exchanging stamp and seal,
And a solitary sunbeam that touches all around.

Osvald Cardona (1914-1987)


ps – Experienced eyes will know the above photo is not within Catalonia, however I thought it just fitted the poem perfectly! Kudos if you know where the photo shows…  

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Original Catalan Text

‘La Plaça Reial’
Com el record d’un temps tot just finit,
rejovenies la ciutat antiga.
Plaça silent! Si l’aire no* fustiga,
conserves el teu aire, recollit    
(*I think this has been incorrectly transcribed. It should be ‘nou’, English new)
dins el quadrat d’una porxada amiga.
I l’has deixat al teu jardí petit,
i al brollador, que sembla emperesit,
i a les palmeres, que el vent no fatiga.
L’aire se’t perd endins dels carrerons;
per ells vindran infants plens de cançons
i els músics cecs tocant llur melangia.
I arribaran els polemistes vells,
i els grups de gent bescanviaran segells,
i un dit de sol que a tots acaricia.

(Text sourced from http://www.xtec.cat/~evicioso/bcnes/preial.htm)

Rambling thoughts – On ‘Rambla de Catalunya’ by M.C. Ferreres

“RAMBLE [ram-buh l] v. – To wander around in a leisurely, aimless manner.”

Being no linguist, I would merely have to hazard a guess that this English word and the Spanish Rambla come from the same source. Even if I am wrong, this definition of ‘ramble’ seems to resonate perfectly with my most recent translation ‘Rambla de Catalunya‘, capturing the essence of M.C. Ferreres’ Catalonia – leisurely, aimless, wandering…

In trying my hand at interpreting this poem, the first image I meet is the broad and bustling avenue, the ‘rambla’. This is the main artery of the city, where you experience the flow of its life-force. I immediately assumed the city in reference was Barcelona, and mention of ‘Tibidabo’ (line 6) – a mountain just on the outskirts of Barcelona – confirms this. Barcelona is undoubtedly the beating heart of Catalonia, and so by extension, we can see Ferreres’ Rambla as an image of Catalonia itself, as the flow of life that sustains it.

Gaudi's Casa Mila, or 'La Pedrera' (Ben Wright, 2013)
Gaudi’s Casa Mila, or ‘La Pedrera’ (Ben Wright, 2013)

Yet this beating heart is not a healthy one, but one whose tubes have become greasy through years of inert indulgence, clogged with the trappings of modern high society (‘lordly decay’ in my translation). ‘Modern’ here refers to the time when Catalan culture was experiencing a glorious and powerful resurgence, be that in the modernist buildings of Antoni Gaudí, the surrealist paintings of Joan Miró or the noucentist poetry of Josep Carner.

So, while from within, Catalonia appears to be at the height of progress – a burgeoning, fashionable city full of art, culture and riches – Ferreres takes a step back and what meets his eye is much less agreeable…

The fashionable hat (I assume!) worn by the well-to-do says “good day” – yes, a good day for you wearing it perhaps. But a ‘good day’ for the workers in your factory, the servants in your house, or the beggars you walk past on your Sunday ramble? Then there are Barcelona’s cultured class, sitting in cafés that line La Rambla. But from their lips comes no stimulating or incisive social comment. Instead, you might hear something more along the lines of ‘Eh Joan, did your hear of young Pere? What a scandal!’  And finally, passing by these gossips sipping their ‘Orxata’ (a creamy drink made from tiger-nuts, milk and water) are the nannies with their master’s children. No longer do families spend their time together; parental duties are delegated – even for something as simple as a Sunday stroll – to the nanny.

'Els Quatre Gats' by Ricard Opisso, showing the creme de la creme of Catalan fin de secle intellectuals and artists (credit: grupferre.com)
‘Els Quatre Gats’ by Ricard Opisso, showing the creme de la creme of Catalan fin de siecle intellectuals and artists (credit: grupferre.com)

To me, Ferreres paints a picture of a society in the thralls of decadence, unaware, unable, perhaps even unwilling to stir itself from its luxurious slumber. The ‘lordly decay’ is emphasised by all these acts taking place on a Sunday, the traditional holy day for Christians (the Catalan word ‘diumengera’ roughly translates as “of or pertaining to Sunday”).

Dismay is not all Ferreres expresses though, for there is undoubtedly a note of threat in the last line of the poem:

Al fons, el Tibidabo t’espia.

This literally translates as: “In the background, Tibidabo watches you.”

This unholy frivolity – Ferreres warns – is not going unnoticed. Tibidabo is a mountain on the outskirts of Barcelona, visible from practically anywhere within the city. Upon its summit stands the Sagrat Cor, the ‘Sacred Heart’ Temple, and upon this stands a sculpture of Christ. This makes me wonder whether Ferreres (continuing with the thought of desecrating the holy day) felt that Catalans were bringing righteous judgement on themselves.

credit: conocerbarcelona.com
Sagrat Cor, Tibidabo. Credit: conocerbarcelona.com

 

Interestingly (well, I think so anyway!) the name ‘Tibidabo’ means ‘I will give to you’ and comes from the Latin translation of Matthew 4:9: “All this I will give you,” he [the devil] said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” This is where Satan took Jesus, during his period of temptation, to a high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the earth (Matt 4:8) and promised to give them to Jesus if Jesus would worship the devil. Tibidabo, according to Catalan folklore, is that very mountain. Has Catalonia sold its soul in order to reap earthly reward?

Away from religious imagery, another thought I had is that Tibidabo represents the watchful eye of Spain, jealous of Catalonia’s success, irate at its confident self-expression, and ever-ready to break both. It’s just a tentative thought, but nonetheless interesting to note that by the mid-1920s Catalonia was under a temporary military dictatorship and would soon become a victim to one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century – the Spanish Civil War. The times of Sunday walks along the Rambla would not return for a long, long time…

What do you think? Do you agree, or have a different interpretation? I’d love to hear from you! 

Rambla de Catalunya – by M.C. Ferreres

Note to Reader:- I chose to keep the title of this poem in the original Catalan spelling just because it seemed appropriate, so ‘Catalunya’ is simply the Catalan spelling of Catalonia, and ‘Rambla’ (which translates literally as ‘avenue’) refers to a wide, tree-lined road that has a pedestrian walkway running down the middle. Most towns and cities in Catalonia – indeed Spain – have a ‘Rambla’, the most famous of which must be Barcelona’s ‘La Rambla’!

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Rambla de Catalunya’

So the Rambla’s Sunday-spirited joy
has engorged itself with lordly decay.
The proud hat – brand Prats – declares to all a “good day”,
sipping vermouth and orxata, loose tongues have their say
and nannies are out walking another’s girl and boy.
Beyond, Mount Tibidabo espies your way.

                                                –   M.C. Ferreres (n.d.)

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Original Catalan Text

‘Rambla de Catalunya’ – per M.C. Ferreres
Talment una rambla diumengera,
ha crescut amb trast de senyoria.
El baret -marca Prats- dóna el “bon dia”,
el vermut i l’orxata fan xafarderia
i passeja els infants la mainadera.
Al fons, el Tibidabo t’espia.

(Text sourced from http://www.xtec.cat/~evicioso/bcnes/rcat.htm)

Frozen December’s New Song – by Josep Carner

Come December’s icy freeze;
in confusion it retires
from the city it must appease
and from afar admires
where the sky is filled with love;
the mountain shields from above
and the blue waves beside
in sweetest slumber they reside.
Barcelona, city of charm,
Catalonia’s flow’r,
December’s chill does you no harm
but smiles on from afar.
‘To you my frost shall not come near,
yet in abundance are roses here,
all over are the bushy bowers
enveloped in the whitest flowers.’
‘Woe to the one who mars your face
and a fool who you forgoes;
your soul of joy and solace
in fullness overflows.’
With dark shadows the wintry wight
comes to this place with all his might
but finds his fright turned clear and pure:
December smiles, and does demur.
There in the most secluded ways
the goldfinch sings his song;
and pollen fresh from earlier days
in dust is borne along;
laughs Sant Jordi, champion;
and between the hills of lush garden
a spout of water clear
cries ‘Onward’ and ‘No fear!’
Each city-girl shares her heart
and wears her violets for him;
their looks are lights that burn and spark
from Love’s own cherubim.
Golden is this city fair.
The icy wind of December
must confusedly retire
in tones as gentle as from a lyre.

Josep Carner (1884-1970)

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Original Catalan text

Nova Canço del Desembre Congelat – per Josep Carner’
El desembre congelat
confós se retira:
el detura una ciutat
que de lluny admira
on el cel és amorós;
la muntanya fa redós
i la blava onada
s’és adormissada.
Barcelona, bell casal,
flor de Catalunya,
el desembre no et fa mal:
dolçament s’allunya.
Diu: -Gebrada no et duré,
que hi ha encara en ton roser,
al cim de les branques,
tot de roses blanques.
Malaurat qui et faci tort
i foll qui t’oblida;
tens de festa i de conhort
l’ànima reblida;
l’ombra fosca de l’esglai
pervinguda a ton espai
es fa clara i fina,
somriu i declina.
Hi ha al carrer més amagat
cants de cadernera;
hi ha un nou pol·len del passat
en la polseguera;
riu sant Jordi el paladí
i, entre tosses de jardí,
un broll d’aigua clara
diu: “Avant!” i “Encara!”
Cada noia té promès
i duu violetes;
son esguard és tot encès
de les amoretes.
És daurada la ciutat.
Del desembre el vent gelat
confós se retira,
dolç com una lira.

 

(Text sourced from http://www.xtec.cat/~evicioso/index.htm and http://horinal.blogspot.co.uk/2013_12_01_archive.html)

Barceloneta – Guest Translation

I recently had the privilege of reading someone else’s translation of ‘Barceloneta’, a poem which I posted my own translation of just last week. I think it’s great how there’s no monopoly over poetry translation, not even of the same poem, but in effect as many variations as there are people. I was really keen to demonstrate this, and so ‘geb’ of ‘don’t confuse the narrator‘ has very kindly allowed me to post their interpretation of Alexandre Plana’s poem. Here you go!

 

‘Barceloneta’ – Translation by geb

Near white sands and harbour, contours
of a rasping scent of stone, darkening.
Low houses, streets strung with balconies.
Stink of fish, of folded sails, of mildewed boards
and the mix of primary colours – green, blue, yellow –
of doors and of clothes hung to dry.
In colours and scents, the light unmakes it all.

Alexandre Plana (1889-1940)

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Original Catalan Text

 La Barceloneta
Vora la sorra blanca i el port, sa fesonomia
d’olor coent i pedra s’enfosqueix cada dia.
Cases baixes, carrers que atensen els balcons.
Fortor de peix, de veles plegades, de taulons
amb verdet i la mescla de les colors més fortes
-el verd, el blau, el groc, el vermell- en les portes
i en les robes que pengen posades a assecar.
En colors i en olors la llum tota es desfà.

(Text sourced from http://www.xtec.cat/~evicioso/index.htm)

Barceloneta – by Alexandre Plana

Note: Barceloneta (‘Little Barcelona’) is a small district of Barcelona tightly-packed by the water-front. Built in the 18th Century, for a long time it was the home of the city’s fishermen and its fishing industry.

 

Barceloneta

At the white sand’s edge beyond the port, the sudden appearance
of a rasping, itching smell of stone that each day darkens.
Squat houses, streets that to balconies edge towards.
The stench of fish, of folded sails and of boards
stained with mildew, and the mix of bolder colours
– the greens, the blues, the yellows and reds – on the doors
and on the clothes that are hung and placed out to dry.
In colours and smells all dissolves into a melted light.

Alexandre Plana (1889-1940)

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Original Catalan Text

 La Barceloneta
Vora la sorra blanca i el port, sa fesonomia
d’olor coent i pedra s’enfosqueix cada dia.
Cases baixes, carrers que atensen els balcons.
Fortor de peix, de veles plegades, de taulons
amb verdet i la mescla de les colors més fortes
-el verd, el blau, el groc, el vermell- en les portes
i en les robes que pengen posades a assecar.
En colors i en olors la llum tota es desfà.

 

(Text sourced from http://www.xtec.cat/~evicioso/index.htm)