Archive for September 14, 2006

Catalan language and poetry

Sept 11th was an important holiday for Catalunya. While the rest of the world talked about terrorist attacks and the loss of liberties those entailed, Catalans remembered the date in 1714 when its armies surrendered to the Spanish forces led by Felipe V. Many foreigners laugh and shake their heads – “why commemorate a defeat?”, they ask. Because it wasn’t a simple defeat. The date marked the beginning of suppression of Catalan language, culture and institutions by a centralizing Spanish monarchy that wanted to punish Catalunya for picking the wrong side on the war of succession to the throne. So the date has become an important day to commemorate freedom (llibertat) and Catalan culture.

Young Catalan at Sant Cugat Flags at Saint Cugat

As Alan mentioned on his blog, when we took the train that day to go hiking nearby, we were given a little hardcover book of Catalan poetry. It is entitled Catalunya en vers: mil anys d’història a través de la poesia and it is basically a collection of poems that mention Catalunya as a nation. Since nationalism was the criteria, most of the poems hail back from the nineteenth century, that golden age of nationalism.

I have to say I was very disappointed. For a book that wants to talk about “a thousand years of history”, it completely ignores the middle ages. The oldest poem in the book is from the seventeenth century. As a medievalist, I cannot let that pass without saying something. There was no dearth of poets and writers writing in Catalan between the 13th and 15th centuries. Just think of Ramon Llull or Ausiàs March.

It always amazes people when I tell them that not only Catalan is a language in its own right (and not a dialect of Castilian as some assume), but it is also one of the oldest of the current languages spoken in Europe. Scholars hail about the early development of English citing the work of Geoffrey Chaucer and Shakespeare. Well, Ramon Llull was writing his mystical novels one hundred years before Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales just as Ausiàs March and his contemporaries were writing beautifully a hundred years before Shakespeare.

Here’s one of Ausias March love poems:
Així com cell qui en lo somni·s delita
e son delit de foll pensament ve,
ne pren a mi, que·l temps passat me té
l’imaginar, que altre bé no hi habita.
Sentint estar en aguait ma dolor,
sabent de cert que en ses mans he de jaure,
temps d’avenir en negun be’m pot caure:
aquell passat en mi és lo millor.

Del temps present no·m trobe amador,
mas del passat, que és no res e finit.
D’aquest pensar me sojorn e·m delit,
mas, quan lo perd, s’esforça ma dolor,
sí com aquell qui és jutjat a mort
e de llong temps la sap e s’aconhorta
e creure·l fan que li serà estorta
e·l fan morir sens un punt de record.

Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passàs ma vida en dorment:
malament viu qui té lo pensament
per enemic, fent-li d’enuigs report,
e, com lo vol d’algun plaer servir,
li’n pren així com dona ab son infant,
que, si verí li demana plorant,
ha tan poc seny que no·l sap contradir.

Fóra millor ma dolor soferir
que no mesclar poca part de plaer
entre aquells mals, qui·m giten de saber
com del passar plaer me cové eixir.
Las! mon delit dolor se converteix,
dobla’s l’afany aprés d’un poc repòs,
sí co·l malalt qui, per un plasent mos,
tot son menjar en dolor se nodreix.

Com l’ermità qui enyorament no”l creix
d’aquells amics que tenia en lo món
e, essent llong temps que en lo poblat no fon,
per fortuit cas un d’ells li apareix
qui los passats plaers li renovella
sí que·l passat present li fa tornar;
mas, com se’n part, l’és forçat congoixar,
lo bé, com fuig, ab grans crits mal apella.

Plena de seny, quan amor és molt vella,
absença és lo verme que la guasta,
si fermetat durament no contrasta
e creure poc, si l’envejós consella.

September 14, 2006 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Vallfogona and Roca Guinart

It’s amazing the way we thread our way through various interests. Where one thing leads to another and another and another……… until we find ourselves in a place that has no common links to where we started from. In this sense, this post is probably an intermediate step.

Yesterday I posted some Catalan poetry I had picked from a booklet given to us on September 11 to celebrate a Catalan holiday. I understood the context of one of the poems but didn’t know the first one. Antoni, a phtographer from Sant Pol de Mar explained that the poem was about a famous Catalan bandit, Roca Guinart. Of course I had to look into this. It’s difficult to research because I do not speak Catalan and almost all of the references were in Catalan, after all he is part of Catalan folklore.

Well, I found reference to the author, Francesc Vicent Garcia (Rector of Vallfogona) and the town Vallfogona.

Vallfogona de Riucorb is a pueblo of 130 people. It’s roots go back before 1038 with the Queralt and Cervallo families (they have a history all to themselves) and it was known as Vallis Alfedi or Vall d’Aleu until the 12th century.

In 1193 the Knights Templar established a Templar castle there and, after the order was dissolved in 1312 it was taken over by the Hospitalers. In 1416 the castle was restored and in 1811 became the house of Vallfogona de Comalats. The town was surrounded by a fortress with towers and had a hospital that cared for pilgrims and the sick. There are still ruins from the chapel of Sant Pere dels Bigats dating back to the 13th century.

As I mentioned, one of the towns citizens was Francesc Garcia Torres ( Tortosa 1582-Vallfogona 1623,) and also known as Rector of Vallfogona. He studied in Lleida and Vic and, in 1607, he came to Vallfogona where he befriended Rocaguinarda and wrote the poem. In 1951, the town erected a monument in his memory.

The famous “bandoler” Perot Rocaguinarda (Roca Guinart) was born in December 18th 1582 in Oristà, Catalunya. He is also refered to as the gentleman bandit Roque Guinart in Don Quixote. The Castilian writer Miguel de Cervantes imagined the Catalans as being fearsome natives. He writes: “More than forty highwaymen suddenly surrounded them and told them in Catalan to stop and do not move until the captain had arrived.” The captain was Perot Rocaguinarda, and Don Quijote and his attendant spent three days and three nights with that Catalan highwayman, hiding themselves together through the woods around Barcelona. Just as a point of interest he was one of a a very few highwaymen who escaped the gallows. His house of birth can still be seen (at least the ruins) inOristà.

September 14, 2006 at 12:19 pm 2 comments


September 2006
M T W T F S S
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930  

Flickr Photos

Blog Stats

  • 124,898 hits