Quina petita pàtria
encercla el cementiri!
In view of the recent violent events in Barcelona it seems timely perhaps to feature some poems from the long and illustrious history of Catalan Literature which dates back its first golden age in the 14th and 15th centuries. So in this brief introduction we are featuring two short poems by Jordi de Sant Jordi (1395?-1424) and Ausiàs March (1397-1459). The same period is also distinguished by some outstanding works in prose, most famously, the epic novel, Tirant lo Blanc.
However, from the 19th century onwards, right up to the present moment, Catalonia, like Ireland and several other small nations with troubled histories, has produced a disproportionately high number of outstanding poets. Featured here are Salvador Espriu and Joan Margarit. Readers who would like to explore further will find much of interest at Selecció de Poesia Catalana. Although the poems are mainly in the original there are nonetheless many which are easily accessible in English versions by clicking on the flag: .
Jordi de Sant Jordi: Poem
(Translation by Angela Buxton)
Without friends, goods and master,
in a strange place and in a strange region,
far from everything good, tired of worry and sadness,
my will and thought captivated,
I find myself completely subject to an evil power;
I see no one who will take care of me,
and I am guarded, caught, shackled and imprisoned,
for which I blame my sad fortune.
I saw times when nothing satisfied me;
now I am content with what makes me sad,
and now I appreciate more the light shackles
than before I did the most beautiful embroidery.
I see that fortune has shown its power
over me, wanting me to reach this point;
but I don’t care, for I have done my duty
to all good people in whose company I am.
It is nothing for me to suffer all these wrongs
compared to the one which breaks my heart,
and every day it makes me crack with hope:
I see nothing that can give us a push
in preparing our liberation.
Bio: Jordi de Sant Jordi
Ausiàs March: Poem
AIXÍ COM CELL QUI ES VEU PROP DE LA MORT
(Translation by Angela Buxton)
Just like he who sees himself near death,
going through hardships, through perils at sea,
and sees a place where he can find his ease
and cannot reach it for his evil luck;
like him I pass through these hard times
and see you, who might cure all my ills:
and now despaired of achieving my desires,
I’ll circle the world, telling of your pride.
Bio: Ausiàs March
Salvador Espriu: Poem
A VEGADES ÉS NECESSARI I FORCÓS
(Translation by Magda Bogin)
Sometimes it is necessary and right
for a man to die for a people.
But a whole people must never die
for a single man:
remember this, Sepharad.
Keep the bridge of dialogue secured
and try to understand and love
the different minds and tongues of all your children.
Let the rain fall drop by drop on the fields
and the air cross the ample fields
like a soft, benevolent hand.
Let Sepharad live forever
in order and in peace, in work,
and in difficult, hard-won
Bio: Salvador Espriu
Joan Margarit: Poem
(Translation by Anna Crowe)
In the dreary Girona of my seven-year-old self,
where postwar shop-windows
wore the greyish hue of scarcity,
the knife-shop was a glitter
of light in small steel mirrors.
Pressing my forehead against the glass,
I gazed at a long, slender clasp-knife,
beautiful as a marble statue.
Since no one at home approved of weapons,
I bought it secretly, and, as I walked along,
I felt the heavy weight of it, inside my pocket.
From time to time I would open it slowly,
and the blade would spring out, slim and straight,
with the convent chill that a weapon has.
Hushed presence of danger:
I hid it, the first thirty years,
behind books of poetry and, later,
inside a drawer, in amongst your knickers
and amongst your stockings.
Now, almost fifty-four,
I look at it again, lying open in my palm,
just as dangerous as when I was a child.
Sensual, cold. Nearer my neck.
(Note: This poem was originally chosen by Carol Rumens as the Guardian’s Poem of the Week)
Bio: Joan Margarit
The above link will also direct you to several collections of Margarit’s work published by Blooxaxe Books in further marvellous versions by Anna Crowe.