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Catalan poetry

by Ramon Pla i Arxé
The “Renaixença,” the movement that affirmed the independent character of Catalan culture and initiated the construction of its contemporary literature, began, as has been traditionally described, with the publication of a poem: “La Pàtria” (The Homeland. 1833) by Bonaventura Carles Aribau. Poetry was considered a foundational source and, at the same time, the culmination of a literature. As this literary modality had a more agile production process than theater or novels, poetry was predominant during the Renaixença.

The Jocs Florals (Floral Games)—a medieval competition restored in 1859 that rapidly extended to all the Catalan-speaking territories and is still celebrated today—constituted a powerful instrument of poetry promotion and diffusion. The poets Joaquim Rubió i Ors in Principat, Tomàs Aguiló in Mallorca, and Teodor Llorente in Valencia were catalysts of the movement. From this frame emerged some notable poets, generally romantic and liberal, and a myriad of lesser-known poets. Jacint Verdaguer's L'Atlàntida , which won the Jocs Florals in 1877, was considered the culmination of this process because it gave to Catalan literature a great epic poem—unequivocal proof, in those days, of the cultural maturity of the movement—and a popular and prestigious author who was hailed as the first great national poet of Catalan letters.

Modernisme did not cancel out this tradition, but rather implied that Catalan poetry—and, in general, the arts—were to lead the transmission of European modernity independent from southern models. Among the modernista poets, Joan Maragall stands out as a civil and literary personality of great intellectual and popular prestige, author of poetry that has remained in collective memory. Simultaneously, some of the best poets of contemporary Catalan literature published their work in Mallorca: Joan Alcovar and Miquel Costa i Llobera, who, together with Maria Antònia Salvà, Llorenç Ribé and Miquel Ramon Ferrà, formed what is called the “Mallorcan school,” noted for a classical aesthetic and very much admired by the poets of Noucentisme.

Josep Carner was, quite deservedly, the national poet of Noucentisme, because his poetry was produced in agreement with the movement's thematic, formal, and linguistic models: purified, rigorous, ironic, and elegant. Jaume Bovill i Mates ( Guerau de Liost ), Josep M. López-Picó, Rafael Masó, and Joaquim Folguera wrote in the same vein. Meanwhile, the avant-gardes took root in Catalonia both in plastic arts—Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró—and in poetry, with Joan Salvat-Papasseit and others, but above all, with Josep Vicenç Foix, an exceptional poet, prose writer and critic. Almost contemporaries of the latter, and heirs in part of Noucentisme, Carles Riba, the most prepared and respected, Marià Manent, Tomàs Garcés, the Roussillon native Josep Sebastià Pons, or the Mallorcan Bartomeu Rosselló-Pòrcel, consecrated poetry as the genre that embodied the highest literary quality and poets as the personalities of reference in Catalan culture. Neither the Civil War, nor exile, nor the repression of the postwar years cut it short, and poets like Salvador Espriu, Joan Oliver (Pere Quart), Joan Vinyoli, Gabriel Ferrater, Josep Palau i Fabre, Joan Brossa and Miquel Martí i Pol, committed to the anti-Franco battle, added continuity to the value society assigned to its poets. Currently, the cultivation of poetry is wide—forty-four poetry contests are celebrated annually—and, as a consequence, the number of notable authors is truly high, even though poetry has probably lost weight in social acknowledgement.

Translated by Robin Vogelzang

Isabel Banal: Llapis trobats, sèrie iniciada el 1999.

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