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Incerta glòria

Uncertain glory

What an exciting time to be alive, that spring of 1931! Will we ever see another like it? You, Lluís, I, and all the revolutionary students were outside the Generalitat on that afternoon, April 14th, when Colonel Macià proclaimed the Catalan Republic. The old colonel, veteran of so many conspiracies, had such white hair and poetic eyes, which filled with tears every time he came out on the balcony to greet the crowd filling the Plaça de Sant Jaume. We were all brothers in those days, when there were only Catalans in Barcelona. The sight of that mane of white hair and the colors on that flag, which had belonged to all of us for centuries, had worked a miracle. How it fluttered in the spring breeze! What joy in everyone’s eyes, as that flag made us all feel like one big family! What a glorious day: that April 14th! The whole country smelled of flowering thyme, of earth thawing after a long winter. And we, so young and free, felt that by simply coming into the world we’d been able to change it! It was the glory of an April day, but at the time we had no idea that it would be so uncertain. Who would have thought all that excitement would lead, five years later, to senseless butchery?… (307)


The Night Wind It’s natural that we should see it through the mists of the past, that war as remote as our youth —and nonetheless, like our youth, as though it were yesterday. Or maybe I’m like a grandfather clock that’s stopped. Perhaps any clock that’s marked a moment of glory, of uncertain glory, stops there forever. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never recovered from my youth or from my war. Like an infection, they’re in my blood and always will be! I miss them both, with a longing as sinful as it is invincible… that scent of youth and war, of burning woods and rain-soaked grass, that wandering life, those nights beneath the stars, when we fell asleep enfolded in a strange peace, for when everything’s uncertain, one doesn’t worry. The heart’s uncertain glory, and war’s, when we’re twenty and war and our hearts are new and full of hope. War is stupid; perhaps that’s why its roots in men’s hearts are so deep. Kids play soldiers even if no one’s taught them. War is stupid, an unquenchable thirst for glory, but can love be quenched? Can we achieve love and glory in this world? And all youth is nothing more than the uncertain glory of an April morning, a dark tempest traversed by flashes of glory, but what glory? What glory, O God? One must awaken, and awakenings are sad after nights of fever and delirium. Perhaps the worst thing about war is that it’s followed by peace… One awakens from one’s youth as from a delirious fever, but one clings to the memory of that fever and that delirium, that dark tempest, as though nothing else on earth were worth the trouble. I’m nothing more than a survivor, a ghost. I live only in my memories. (646-647)


Maybe someday I’ll tell the story of how Picó led the six of us through our occupied country till we rejoined the Catalan forces. We rejoined them in time for the last battles. When we reached Coll d’Ares, where in February there wasn’t a single patch of snow, when we reached the ridge between Molló and Prats de Molló, between the two parts of Catalonia, between France and Spain, Picó sat down on the boundary stone marking the border and, turning toward the south with tears in his eyes, muttered, “This is the end of culture…” Someday I’ll tell this whole story and how the remains of so many pulverized brigades straggled onto that ridge, all mixed together: regular brigades and volunteers, Catalanists and Communists, anarchists and Christian Democrats, republicans and socialists, syndicalists and federalists, an indescribable jumble of disordered brigades and divisions, of mules and trucks, artillery and machine guns we had to throw away and that piled up in the ravines. And suddenly, rising from that vast jumble, we all sang Verdaguer’s hymn to the Virgin Mary, gazing out at those smoking cities, towns, and villages, amid the dying rays of a February sunset, before continuing our march, now downward and northward, into exile. (678-679)

Translated by David H. Rosenthal
, Uncertain glory. Uncertain glory. Translated by David H. Rosenthal. Houston: American Institute of Catalan Studies, 2002.
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