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
Oh, que cansat estic de la meva
covarda, vella, tan salvatge terra,
i com m’agradaria allunyar-me’n,
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
aquesta meva pobra, bruta, trista, dissortada pàtria.
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