Five Catalan Poems

February 26, 2019
translated by Andrew Kaufman & Sonia Alland
A statue of a reclining figure in a cemetery
Photo by Daniel García Peris / Flickr


The Pounding of Hoes

The pounding of hoes — don’t you hear them?
Behind high stone walls,
unceasing, yet slow,
beyond the folds of time.

They tore out the vines. They burned the fresh shoots.
Desert spread across the good earth.
Our old and anxious feet dragged
along the snaking dust-choked riverbed.

Wisdom cried out to fallow fields
and dry, wind-blown reeds:
Look at yourself in me as you approach
the death that waits for you.

Squatting in shadows, hired men
uproot the naked winter vines.
There is not enough light to fill the sky’s vast emptiness.
Just the pounding of hoes in the deepening cold.


Beside the Sea

Beside the sea. I had
a house, and my dream,
beside the sea.

The high prow. The open roads
of the water, the narrow
skiff I commanded.

My eyes once knew
all the restfulness and order
of a little country.

How badly I need to tell you
about the terrifying rain
against the windows!
Today the dark of night
falls upon my house.

Black rocks
lure me toward destruction.
Held captive by a song,
all my efforts useless,
who can guide me
toward dawn?

By the sea. I had
a house, a dream that would not end.


How Tiny the Country

How tiny the country
that enfolds the graveyard!
This sea, Sinera,
the pine and vineyard-covered hills,
the dusty riverbeds. There is nothing
I love more but the shadow
of a drifting cloud.
The slow memory
of days
forever gone.


Passing through Sinera’s Gates

Passing through Sinera’s gates,
grasping at crumbs of old memories.
My frail, useless prayers
echo in the silent streets.
Charity never cut the bread I ate,
the time I lost. Waiting for me,
my only hope for alms,
are the faithful, verdant cypress trees.*

* Cypress trees are commonly found in Catalan cemeteries.


The Boat Is Moored

The boat is moored
in the peace of Sinera,
where old hands rest
                under old trees.

Late summer drifts away
in the smoke of burning leaves
while I wait
            only for time that has passed.

Editorial note: From Llibre de Sinera (1960; The Book of Sinera).

Salvador Espriu (1913–1985) has been described by Harold Bloom as “an extraordinary poet by any international standard” and “deserving of a Nobel Prize,” whose work is “preternaturally hushed, haunted by the skeptical wisdom of Job and Ecclesiastics.” The author of nine books of poems whose obscurity beyond Catalonia reflects that of the Catalan in which he wrote, Espriu is an elegiac poet whose work is informed metaphorically by the cataclysm of Franco’s conquest of Catalonia and the suppression of Catalan language and culture. Yet as he eschews mention of specific events and personages, his writing takes on an encompassing resonance.

Andrew Kaufman’s books include the Cinnamon Bay Sonnets, winner of the Center for Book Arts manuscript award; Earth’s Ends, winner of the Pearl Poetry Book Award; Both Sides of the Niger (Spuyten Duyvil Press); and The Complete Cinnamon Bay Sonnets (Rain Mountain Press). He is an NEA recipient.

Sonia Alland translates from the French and the Catalan. Her works by the French writer Marie Bronsard include The Hermitage (2001) and The Legend (2013). Also from the French are the poems of Salah Al Hamdani: Baghdad Mon Amour (2008) and Baghdad, Adieu (2018). Translations from the Catalan include Portbou: A Catalan Memoir with Selected Stories from We, Women, by Maria Mercè Roca (2020), and selections from the work of the Catalan poets Salvador Espriu and Narcís Comadira.