Het komt van nergens. Weggaan?
Er is geen toverwoord dat deze sleur
doorbreekt, het staren, de sonore stilte
als van pijlen. De lente, en de overvloed
aan jaren en aan licht, liggen verloren
op de afgelegde weg. De verwachtingen doofden
op den duur volkomen. Opnieuw is alles volmaakt
in de leegte: de trage regen
gaat nergens heen.
Vertaling: Kees Bakker
Listen to this poem in Catalan.
Voiced by: Gisel·la Soler
Santa Coloma de Farners, 1913 - Barcelona, 1985
In 1931 he already published his first novel El Doctor Rip ‘Doctor Rip’. Before he graduated from University he had already published four narratives: Aspectes ‘Aspects’ (1934 ), Laia, (1934), Miratge a Citerea ‘Mirage in Citerea’, illustrated by Grau Sala (1935) and Ariadna al laberint grotesc, ‘Ariadna in the grotesque labyrinth’ (1935) . And that was just while he was studying in University! He studied Law (1935) and Ancient History (1936) in Universitat de Barcelona, which, founded in 1450, was the only university in Barcelona until 1990. There he would meet his lifetime friend, the also poet Bartomeu Rosselló-Pòrcel.
He lived during relevant events for the History of Europe and Spain, and Catalonia of course. In short, he was born shortly before the spark of First World War took place (1914-1918). He lived during the one-year-long Catalan Republic in 1932-1933. After he first graduated, there was the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. As a consequence, he had to work in his father’s notary office, where he stayed once the father passed away. In Spain, and during Franco’s dictatorship, Espriu wrote about the fracture in the society in several of his poems, and his perception of doom. He also lived to see the death of the Dictator in 1975.
His work and awards
Although he didn’t like working as a lawyer, this allowed him to keep reading and writing. His literature is cyclic, meaning that he returns to topics he already touched upon in his early novels, like a recurrent dream, or a daunting gloomy smear. For example, after Ariadna al laberint grotesc (1934), in 1956 he was awarded the Lletra d’Or (Golden Letter Award) for his novel Final del Laberint ‘End of the Labyrinth’. His topics revolve around biblical or historical scenes, sometimes with cinism, satire, and even cabalistic reminiscences.
He won several literary awards. He received the International Montaigne Prize by the Universität of Tübingen in 1971. He received the highest award for a Catalan writer, Premi d'Honor de les Lletres Catalanes, in 1972 for his career. His fiction Les roques i el mar, el blau (1981) ‘The rocks and the sea, the blue one’ received two awards in 1982: Crítica Serra D’Or and Ciutat de Barcelona . In the same year, he rejected the Cruz de Alfonso X el Sabio, awarded by the Spanish Government.
Espriu also received the Golden Medal of the Generalitat, the Catalan Government, in 1980. Busy year, also in 1980, he was invested Doctor Honoris Causa by two universities: Universitat de Tolosa in Llenguadoc (France) and Universitat de Barcelona (Spain).
His work includes all genres: poetry, novel, narration, drama. His work has been translated to Asturian, Czech and Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, Estonian, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Letonian, Portuguese , Romanian, Serbian, Slovenian, Swedish, Turkish, and Spanish of course!
What's this poem about?
The theme of the poem is the meditation about death, a recurrent element theme in the poet’s work. In his early years, Espriu had to overcome the death of two siblings, one of his best friends and poet Bartomeu Rosselló-Pòrcel, and relatives and acquaintances that were killed during the Civil War. It is a painful reflection about all the things he is and he loves, that will end up forgotten when he also dies. Although the topic is quite recurrent in the poet’s work, this poem is not one of the most representative.
The poem is composed of 9 verses without a rhyme. Almost all of them have 10 syllables, except for the first and the last verses.
Espriu opens the poem wondering about where rain comes from, which is nowhere. The reflection about the rain leads him to a lonely mood, to solitude, where silence happens at the same time with punching noise, which could be a metaphor of painful thoughts, as he writes with his words “this noisy silence of darts”. Some academics have written about the concept of “rain” in Espriu’s poetry, arguing that it refers to Bartomeu Rosselló-Pòrcel, his friend, transformed into a rhetoric symbol that would be present from then on in his literary work.
When he is in his solitude mindset, three concepts appear as a symbol of his happiest memories, namely the spring, luxury and light; which are now gone forever, as we can read in “lost in the defeated path”. Because of the Civil War, there is no room for bliss and joy for the losers, there is no hope or peace for his country, Catalunya. Emptiness is everywhere, in society, in himself. There is only perfect emptiness as it rains, a rain that comes from nowhere and goes nowhere else.
This poem can be found in the book Les hores, written in 1952, when Espriu was 39 years old. This book is, in most editions, part of Cementiri de Sinera, a compilation of poems written earlier, in 1946. The two compilations together constitute a complete view of his reflections about certain topics.
The poet writes surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the cemetery in his beloved town Arenys de Mar, where the happiest memories of his life took place. Suspended between the sky and the sea, he enters in deep and painful reflections about death, God, solitude, and the blissful times that will never come back, that have been lost because of personal and social wreckage caused by the Civil War. Those are the themes that will keep on appearing in later works of the author.
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Salvador Espriu in Leiden
What definitely brings Espriu and Leiden together is their struggle to get rid of the Spanish ruleship. His poems often called for building bridges of peace and comprehension, which he wished for. The Netherlands, or the Union of the Seven Provinces at the time, did not want to live under the catholic restrictions imposed by the Spanish Ruling. Although the Netherlands managed to achieve independence, Catalonia has still an open future to write.
Espriu always fought and defended the dialogue between the Spanish and the Catalan community, especially after the misery times of the post-war where there was a huge rivalry between the two. Thus, in his poetry, and more specifically in his most important poetry anthology La pell de brau (1960) “The skin of the bull”, we can read his will for reconciliation and acceptance for a plural, multicultural and multilinguistic nation, a point of view which was not majoritary in Spain, and is still not.
La pell de brau
A vegades és necessari i forçós
que un home mori per un poble,
però mai no ha de morir tot un poble
per un home sol:
recorda sempre això, Sepharad.
Fes que siguin segurs els ponts del diàleg
i mira de comprendre i estimar
les raons i les parles diverses dels teus fills.
Que la pluja caigui a poc a poc en els sembrats
i l'aire passi com una estesa mà
suau i molt benigna damunt els amples camps.
Que Sepharad visqui eternament
en l'ordre i en la pau, en el treball,
en la difícil i merescuda
The skin of the bull
Sometimes it is necessary and forceful
that one man dies for a whole community,
but never should a whole community die
for the sake of one man:
always remember this, Sepharad.
Ensure that the bridges of dialogue are safe
and try to understand and love
the reasons and diverses ways of speaking of your children.
Let the rain fall slowly over the swon fields
and let the air pass through like an outstretched hand
smooth and very benigne over the open fields.
May Sepharad live eternally
orderly and peacefully, in the work,
in the difficult and deserved
In El Caminant i el Mur, “the Wayfarer and the Wall”, the narrative voice complains that he wants to leave his arid barren land and go up north, where people are more noble, rich, cult and free. But he decides to stay, acknowledging his cowardness, because, like the land, he is also coward and sauvage. And because he loves, although with a desperate ache, this poor, dirty, sad, unfortunate homeland of his, “Aquesta meva pobra, bruta, trista, dissortada pàtria”. This words resonate still, maybe recently more than lately, in the collective memory of many Catalans.
- He wrote his second novel Laia in 1932, although he published it in 1934.
- Laia /’la.jə/ is a woman’s name resulting from the truncation of Eulàlia, Greek for “She who speaks (lalia) well (Eu)”. It is one of the two patroness of the city together with Mercè. It is a very common in the region of Barcelona.The ibers, pre-Roman tribes, living in the area surrpunding and including current Barcelona were named Laietans “laiteani”. If you have been to Barcelona, you might remember a Via Laietana, going all the way to the sea, not far from Columbus statue.
- He graduated in Law (1935) and Ancient History (1936) because in his heart he wanted to become an Egyptologist!
- Due to the outbreak and sudden aftermath of the Spanish Civil war (1936-1939) turned down his initial aspirations as a historian and a novelist. The death of his father in 1940 he had to take over his job in the notary’s office, becoming a grey clerk. Yet, any of these did not hold back his bookworm readings in the solitude of his office.
- One of the most renowned translators in Dutch of the work of Catalan poets, including Espriu, is Bob de Nijs. He was born in Antwerpen in 1931. He met Espriu in person in 1963 in a literary celebration in Cantonigròs, Catalonia. As Bob de Nijs explains himself, he wanted to give voice to the social injustice that Catalunya was submitted to. He managed to gather enough material to publish a 200 pages anthology of 20th century Catalan poems written by other Catalan poets such as Joan Maragall, Pere Quart, Josep Carner, Joan Salvat-Papasseit, Carles Riba, Joan Vinyoli and of course Salvador Espriu. The Ministry of Culture in Belgium granted the anthology Een Catalaans Bericht (Una notícia catalana) (1968) the Translation Prize.
- If you are interested in reading more of Espriu’s poem, de Nijs selected some of Espriu’s poems in Ik heb mijn leven gezien als een muur, another anothology that Bob de Nijs translated and published in 1980.
No ve d'ennloc. Partir?
No hi ha paraula màgica que trenqui
aquest costum de l'ull, aquest silenci
sonor de dards. La primavera, el luxe
dels anys i de la lumm. Ara es perdia
en el camí vençut. Les esperances
han mort a temps. Tot és de nou perfecte
al llarg de la buidor: la lenta pluja
no va a cap banda.
It comes from nowhere. Leave?
There's no magic word that can break
this monotone, the staring, the sonorous silence
like that of arrows. The spring, and the abundance
of years and of light, lie lost
on the road behead. The expectations died away
completely in the end. Once again everything is utterly
in a vacuum: the slow rain
is going nowhere.
Translation: James Brockway
This entry was written by Helena Ros i Redon and Gisel·la Soler i Bertolin. The following publications were consulted:
- Lletra over Salvador Espriu
- Lletres Catalanes over Salvador Espriu
- Centre de Documentació i Estudi Salvador Espriu via Arenysdemar.cat
- Visat.cat over Salvador Espriu
- Een Catalaans Bericht. [Una notícia catalana]. Introcution and translation by Bob de Nijs, Lier: De Bladen voor de Poezie,1968.
- Catalanes dichters 1968-1978 [Poetes catalans]. Introducció i traducció Bob de Nijs. Edició bilingüe. Yang XV, (1979).
- Een nieuwe generatie Catalanes dichters [Una nova generació de poetes catalans]. Edició bilingüe. Dimensie (1979).
- ESPRIU, Salvador. Ik heb mijn leven gezien als een muur. [Antologia] Introducció, traducció i selecció de poemes Bob de Nijs. Gent: F. Masereel Fonds 1980. [Il·lustració de J.M. Subirachs.].