Five Poems by Salvador Espriu

Translated from the Catalan by Sonia Alland and Richard Jeffrey Newman.


Diptychs of the Living

To save me from the sea,
perhaps a verse,
perhaps some clear words,
are all I have.
Their value
is my entire life.
But I fear my life
is worth so little
that I plead with famished beggars
for the paltry alms
they can give:
pray for me,
for the captive’s dream,
for our suffering:
those who carry,
in their hearts and on their lips,
the scar of ashes
and the mark of death.


Felt in the Manner of Salvador Espriu 

I have to pay my old price, death,
and today the light tires my eyes
Steps I go down, though I miss some,
draw me into the night’s dominance.

Silent, I rise, king of the night,
and I know I’m the servant of men in pain.
Oh, how can I guide this immense pain
into the words of the night?

The wind, triumph, restfulness pass between rows
of tall flames and archers.
Prisoner of my dead and of my name,
I become a wall I myself travel on.

And I lose myself and am, without a message, alone,
beyond singing, amidst the forgotten
who have fallen with fear, only a dark dream
that has come out of the palaces of light. .


An Offering to Cerberus

I have given my life to words
and have become a slow pasture for this dog’s hunger.
Oh, keeper, charity for these bones,
for I come to you with barely any flesh!
I immersed my hands in the mysterious gold
of my old Catalan and I show them to you
today, without profit, white with the ash
of fleeting time, and the sound of fragile glass
echoes in the depths of my empty head.
Now I dance in pain, for their hearty laughter,
to win the accolades of a thousand barks,
and they crown me with a cap of little bells.


The Olive Trees

Secret lips impose on me
the enigma I call
living. I, solitary
reader of prophetic
flights of falcons, I’d like
to guide the painful
dreams of other men
to bright distances
in that sky. If they let me
serve the sad, weak
path of the conquered and honor them
as military dead, with the tall
waving flags of the saved city!
Then my verses
would be like immortal
spears, the empire
of eternal light would come
from the old silver of the trees.


Garden of the Five Trees

After, when I’d already been
hurt  badly and
could barely smile,
I picked out the simplest
words, saying to myself
they were rising
out of the soil onto the ivy
of the garden of five trees.
It was the brief yellow of the setting sun,
in winter, while the last fingers
of serpentine water were falling
from the high clouds,
and the strange times entered me
like prisons of silence.


Salvador Espriu (1913-1985) is a Catalan writer who wrote poetry, as well as a number of narratives and plays. Espriu wrote, for the most part, during the dark years of the Franco regime. His voice is one of resistance, and often despair, in the face of the menace the Catalan language and culture were under during that era. Harold Bloom, who knew and admired his work, was convinced he deserved the Nobel Prize.

Sonia Alland translates from French and Catalan. She has published works by Marie Bronsard, and two volumes of poetry by Salah Al Hamdani, most recently, Baghdad, Adieu (2018). Publications from the Catalan are Portbou: A Catalan Memoir, by Maria Mercè Roca (2020) and poems by Narcis Comadira and Salvador Espriu, in collaboration with Richard Jeffrey Newman. In 2018, she was given permission to translate Espriu’s works by Planeta, which own the rights to these works, and she has collaborated with Richard Newman on these translations.  

Richard Jeffrey Newman has published two books of poetry as well as a chapbook, For My Son, A Kind of Prayer (2016). In addition, he has co-translated three books of classical Persian poetry. Newman curates the First Tuesdays reading a series in Jackson Heights, NY, and is Professor of English at Nassau Community College.



Photo credits:

Espriu: Generalitat de Catalunya, via Wikimedia Commons
Richard Jeffrey Newman: Brian Silak
Sonia Alland: Medvedsek


Published on May 1, 2023.


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