Oh, que cansat estic de la meva

Salvador Espriu’s poem is evocative of the dreary years of Spain under Franco, probably in the 1950s when most of the violence stemming from the Spanish Civil War was over done with, but modernising influences were not yet in play. Thinking, literate people in Spain during that era kept their heads down and just tried to get on with their lives as best they could. Espriu himself scraped a living as a junior clerk in a lawyer’s office for most of these years.

The poem is a lament for the state of his country, for the despondent attitude of grudging acceptance of most of the people, and a fantasy of escaping abroad to a country where the people are free, prosperous, cultured and happy.

Spai under Franco was indeed a desolate place for almost 40 years.

As with almost all of Espriu’s poetry, it is written in Catalan, a language which was suppressed in the Franco years, but which fortunately rebounded even stronger after Franco’s death in the mid 1970s.

Assaig de càntic en el temple

Salvador Espriu

Oh, que cansat estic de la meva

covarda, vella, tan salvatge terra,

i com m’agradaria allunyar-me’n,

nord enllà,

on diuen que la gent és neta

i noble, culta, rica, lliure,

desvetllada i feliç!

Aleshores, a la congregació, els germans dirien

desaprovant: “Com l’ocell que deixa el niu,

així l’home que se’n va del seu indret”,

mentre jo, ja ben lluny, em riuria

de la llei i de l’antiga saviesa

d’aquest meu àrid poble.

Però no he de seguir mai el meu somni

I em quedaré aquí fins a la mort.

Car sóc també molt covard i salvatge

i estimo a més amb un

desesperat dolor

aquesta meva pobra, bruta, trista, dissortada pàtria.

From <http://bojosperlalite.blogspot.com/2011/05/assaig-de-cantic-en-el-temple-salvador.html>

The poem opens with two lines expressing the poets fatigue and fedupness with conditions in his country – cowardly, old-fashioned and unruly. He goes on contrast with where he would like to be – far away in a northern country where the people are straightforward and noble, cultivated, rich, free, and happy. But then the poet thinks of the inevitable disapproving comments of the people around him – he would be as bad as a bird abandoning his nest, if he were to flee abroad. The poet however knows that if he could but get away he would not need to heed such sterile and useless sermonising. But alas, the poet ends with sadness and frustration, as the poet admits that he will not leave, he will stay at home until he dies, as he himself is just cowardly and wild as his countrymen, so it is with despair that he will go on loving his poor, brutal, sad, unruly country.

This poem is a wonderful evocation of what it must have been like to live in Spain, under Franco;s rule in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

The Poetry Dude


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

I  suppose this must be John Masefield’s most famous poem, written early in the 20th century, and drawing on his experiences of life at sea as a young man, when traditional long-haul sailing ships still co-existed with the coming wave of steam-powered vessels. The longing to go to sea is an obsession, almost a sickness, a fever, for one who has experienced it and wants to return.


Sea Fever



I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.


I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.


I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.


From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/54932>


Each of the three stanzas start with the same half line, “I must go down to the seas again…”,  binding the poem together by repetition. The other glue running through the whole piece is the word “and” linking together an accumulation  of images and references about the sea, building a cumulative impact in almost a hypnotic way to accentuate the call of the sea. The poet uses alliteration extensively, “a star to steer her by”, and the “wheel”, “wind” and “white” in the third line, with several other examples.


Life at sea in the mind of this poet is adventurous, a heightened experience in close contact with the elements, with comradeship and travel. It is probably the same motivation as the ultra-rich of today with their luxury yachts.


The Poetry Dude

Belle épousée,

Gerard de Nerval was writing in the mid-nineteenth century when Gothic influences were quite in fashion – think Edgar Allan Poe, even quite a lot of Dickens, also the newly rich building creepy looking castles with false battlements etc. Anyway, this poem is announced as a Gothic song, so perhaps folks would let me know what are its most Gothic features…

Chanson gothique

Gérard de Nerval

Belle épousée,

J’aime tes pleurs !

C’est la rosée

Qui sied aux fleurs.

Les belles choses

N’ont qu’un printemps,

Semons de roses

Les pas du Temps !

Soit brune ou blonde

Faut-il choisir ?

Le Dieu du monde,

C’est le Plaisir.

Gérard de Nerval, Odelettes

From <http://www.poetica.fr/poeme-1221/gerard-de-nerval-chanson-gothique/>

As the poem is quite short and simple, I will attempt a translation into English:

Gothic Song

Beautiful bride,

I love your tears!

They are the dew

Which waters flowers.

Beautiful things

Have spring but once,

Let us sow roses

In the cadence of Time!

Be a brunette or a blonde

Why must we choose?

The God of the world

Is Pleasure.

The Poetry Dude

Estas son y seran ya las postreras

Here is a sonnet from Francisco de Quevedo on the theme of the effects of disappointment in love. The title just about sums it all up – Surrender of the lover in exile who gives himself up to the power of his sadness. And as we will see at the end of the poem, for poetic purposes sadness is fatal, not transitory.

Rendimiento de amante desterrado 

que se deja en poder de su tristeza

Éstas son y serán ya las postreras

lágrimas que, con fuerza de voz viva,

perderé en esta fuente fugitiva,

que las lleva a la sed de tantas fieras.

¡Dichoso yo que, en playas extranjeras,

siendo alimento a pena tan esquiva,

halle muerte piadosa, que derriba

tanto vano edificio de quimeras!

Espírito desnudo, puro amante,

sobre el sol arderé, y el cuerpo frío

se acordará de Amor en polvo y tierra.

Yo me seré epitafio al caminante,

pues le dirá, sin vida, el rostro mío:

“Ya fue gloria de Amor hacerme guerra.”

From <http://ingber.spanish.sbc.edu/cgi-bin/sonnets.py?activity=get_poem&poem_id=quevedo20>

The poet has gone into exile after disappointment in love, We find him in the first eight lines weeping his final tears in a wild place far from his native country, where his tears will be a source of water for the many wild beasts. He considers himself fortunate f he can find death n such a place.

And in the final six lines, the poet’s love remains pure, but it will only be remembered in the dust and earth of this desolate place. Some stranger may walk by and find his body in which his own epitaph can be read – it was the glory of Love to make war on me.

This is indeed Baroque in tone as well as in style and language.

The Poetry Dude

to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow

An interesting piece from Samuel Beckett, which I include here, even though it seems that Beckett considered it to be a short story, not a poem. However, to me it reads like a poem, having many poetic qualities of allusiveness, rhythm, linguistic economy, and a presentation on the page like verse. The piece was also used as a libretto for an opera by one Morton Feldman, so this is truly a genre-crossing piece.




to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow

from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself

by way of neither

as between two lit refuges whose doors once

neared gently close, once away turned from

gently part again

beckoned back and forth and turned away

heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam

or the other

unheard footfalls only sound

till at last halt for good, absent for good

from self and other

then no sound

then gently light unfading on that unheeded


unspeakable home


Samuel Beckett


From <http://www.zeitgenoessische-oper.de/english/Neither/Text%20Neither.html>


The poem/story  seems to describe movement, without a source or beginning and without an object or outcome. Neither one thing nor another in fact, but that doesn’t matter, the movement is enough to deliver its own justification.


I think readers will grapple with this and come up  with their own meaning or interpretation, or not as the case may be. Or just enjoy the juxtaposition of words and sounds on their own merit.


As a bonus I offer up one of my favourite Beckett quotes: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”


The Poetry Dude

…antes de tiempo y casi en flor cortada

Another poem by Rafael Alberti to pay tribute to one of his illustrious predecessors in Spanish poetry, this is a lament on the death of Garcilaso de la Vega, killed from injuries sustained in battle four hundred years previously in 1536. Compare with this other Alberti poem posted on this blog, “Si Garcilaso volviera”, posted on May 16th 2015.

An elegy, of course, is usually a poem of mourning for the dead, and this is no exception.

Alberti evokes all of nature grieving around the lifeless body and now pointless armour of the soldier/poet Garcilaso, cut down before his time, like a flower, as it says at the beginning of the poem. Very moving.



Elegia a Garcilaso


Rafael Alberti


… antes de tiempo y casi en flor cortada.




Hubierais visto llorar a las yedras cuando el agua más triste se pasó toda una noche velando a un yelmo ya sin alma,

a un yelmo moribundo sobre una rosa nacida en el vaho que duerme los espejos de los castillos

a esa hora en que los nardos más secos se acuerdan de su vida al ver que las violetas difuntas abandonan sus cajas

y los laúdes se ahogan por arrollarse a sí mismos.

Es verdad que los fosos inventaron el sueño y los fantasmas.

Yo no sé lo que mira en las almenas esa inmóvil armarnadura vacía.

¿Cómo hay luces que decretan tan pronto la agonía de las espadas

si piensan en que un lirio es vigilado por hojas que duran mucho más tiempo?

Vivir poco y llorando es el sino de la nieve que equivoca su ruta.

En el sur siempre es cortada casi en flor el ave fría.




From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/rafael-alberti-elegia-a-garcilaso.htm>


After the dedication to G. de la V., the first line of the poem proper kicks off with an imperfect subjunctive, which simultaneously sends a tingle down my spine and transports me to the far off place and time where Garcilaso met his untimely death (in the south of France, while an officer in Charles V’s army. ) The ivy is weeping over a lifeless helmet, and all around there is a symphony of loss and death from the roses, the thistles, the violets as the sound of lutes fades away. Alberti creates an atmospheric portrait of nature mourning the loss of Garcilaso.


As the poem progresses, Alberti introduces elements of the battle and its lugubrious outcome – pits, presumably mass graves from which nightmares and ghosts come forth; the battlements toward which Garcilaso’s lifeless armour is turned; the swords which bring death, while the lily-leaves go on living. The last two lines are haunting images of the brevity and sadness of life, leaving us with a deep sense of loss and  despair.


The Poetry Dude

Crépuscule grimant les arbres et les faces, 

This is the fifth poem by Marcel Proust that I have posted on this site. It is the second one dealing with an artist and his work, the other one being the Dutch master, Albert Cuyp. There was also a poem inspired by the composer and pianist, Chopin, a light-hearted pastiche of another poet’s style, Anna de Noailles, and a poem about the Dutch city of Dordrecht. Using his own art to comment on other art is a major feature of Proust’s work, with La Recherche du Temps Perdu full of detailed and insightful references to works of art, of music, of architecture, of great literature (French, English and German, primarily), as well as wonderfully well thought out analyses of human psychology, of botany, of anatomy and even the cutting edge technology of his age. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Sir Isaiah Berlin categorized Proust as a hedgehog. In my view he indubitably belongs with the foxes.

There was a very nice book published a few years ago, compiled by Eric Karpeles, who took most of the visual art references in La Recherche and paired them with reproductions of the paintings referred to. It is called “Painters in Proust” and I recommend it highly.

So this poem is inspired by Antoine Watteau, the French early eighteenth century master, who painted colourful scenes of people enjoying themselves in a countryside scene. I assume this poem is inspired by one such painting, but I do not know which one. But it is straightforward to recognise attributes of Watteau’s paintings in this poem – masked and costumed figures surrounded by trees at dusk, the remnants of a countryside entertainment with masquerades, music, a picnic, and the silence and languid kisses after a day of fun.


Antoine Watteau

De Marcel Proust

Crépuscule grimant les arbres et les faces,

Avec son manteau bleu, sous son masque incertain ;

Poussière de baisers autour des bouches lasses…

Le vague devient tendre, et le tout près, lointain.

La mascarade, autre lointain mélancolique,

Fait le geste d’aimer plus faux, triste et charmant.

Caprice de poète – ou prudence d’amant,

L’amour ayant besoin d’être orné savamment –

Voici barques, goûters, silences et musique.

From <http://short-edition.com/classique/marcel-proust/antoine-watteau>


The Poetry Dude