dissabte, 21 de novembre del 2009

Joan Salvat-Papasseit: simple is beautiful

There was a time, around the tenths of the 20th century, when Modernism gasped its last breath. Europe was shaking and art needed to reflect that: the time of the Avant-gardes busted out. They were a new form of art which was expressed in many different ways: Pablo Picasso chose Cubism; Edvard Munch, Expressionism; Salvador Dalí delighted the world with Surrealism, Joan Brossa tried new ways of linking sculpture and poetry, etc. And finally, Joan Salvat-Papasseit experimented in a new way of writing poetry called "cal·ligrames" or pattern poetry.

Joan Salvat-Papasseit was born in Barcelona in 1894. He came from a humble background and soon sympathized with socialism and anarquism. He wrote, besides social critique in Spanish and Catalan, beautiful and simple poetry. Unfortunately he was easily ill and died, aged only 30, of tuberculosis.

Although he didn't have a long life he left an imprint. His poetry is, as I have pointed out, usually simple and easy to understand; its plainness makes it survive across time. This is what makes it, in my opinion, wonderful and amazing: through easy words it is capable of creating very powerful images and awakening strong feelings in those who read it.

It is precisely for this fact that in the sixties Papasseit's words were recovered by Catalan songwriters of la Nova Cançó (the New Song) to raise their voice against Franco's dictatorship. What these songwriters did was putting music to Papasseit's poetry. One of his poems, "La casa que vull" was given music by the well-known musician Lluís Llach and, though I may not be able to fully appreciate it as I was born too late for that, I am sure its lyrics had enormous political power sang in front of an audience who claimed desperately for freedom.

Here you have the song and the lyrics:


La casa que vull,
que la mar la vegi
i uns arbres amb fruit
que me la festegin.

Que hi dugui un camí,
lluent de rosada,
no molt llunys dels pins
que la pluja amainen.

Per si em cal repòs
que la lluna hi vingui;
i quan surti el sol
el bon dia em digui.

Que al temps de l'estiu
niï l'oreneta
al blanc de calç ric
del porxo amb abelles.

Oint la cançó
del pagès que cava;
amb la salabror
de la marinada.

Que es guaiti ciutat
des de la finestra
que es sentin els clams
de guerra o de festa
per ser-hi tot prest
si arriba una gesta.


The house that I'd like,
the sea must see it
and surrounded
with trees and its fruit.

You'd get there through a path,
shining with fine dew,
not far from the pines
by the raindrops smoothed.

If I need some sleep
the moon will be shining;
and when the sun comes
he'll say me good morning.

And in summertime
the nest from the swallow
will be at the whitewashed porch
accompanying the bees.

I'd listen to the song
of the peasant digging;
I'd feel the salty air
from the deep blue sea .

I'd see town
from the window
I'd hear the buzz
of war and of feast
so I can get there
when something occurs.

As I have pointed out, Salvat-Papasseit is well-known and present in school nowadays. In fact, one of his book, "El poema de la rosa als llavis" (The poem with a rose on the lips) is a mandatory reading for students. Also, he is known for his "cal·ligrames" or pattern poetry: he made poems with shapes. He was pure genius -for me-, above all, with this poem:

LES FORMIGUES. Camí de sol, per les rutes amigues - unes formigues. --> THE ANTS. On the sunny path, through friendly routes - some ants. (It is a pity the rhyme is lost in English!)

Yes, it is so simple, but I would never have thought about creating it!

4 comentaris:

anna ha dit...

I like the poem very much, the ants poem is sweet too :).

Isabel ha dit...

I love the beauty and simplicity of Salvat-Papasseit's poetry. I especially love "Les formigues" it's simple, beautiful, and clever.

I'm now off to search for more Salvat-Papasseit poems as the only other Catalan poet whose works I am familiar with is Miquel Martí i Pol.

Anna ha dit...


@Isabel: If you are doing research on Papasseit's poems, look for one called "L'ofici que més m'agrada". I recited it at school when I was twelve and I won a St. Jordi contest :D (but it seems that I am not a good poem-reader anymore...)

@anna: I wonder which house you imagined when you read the poem... I see a very mediterranean house near the sea.

Jason ha dit...

Interesting article on an unknown Poet to me, thank you. Good to hear some Catalan as well.
Look forward to the next posting.