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Josep Carner

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Josep Carner
Josep Carner
(Barcelona, 1884 – Brussels, 1970) was known as the prince of the poets. He was a precocious author: by the age of 12 he would already be collaborating with the magazine ‘L’Aureneta’. A poet, journalist, playwright and translator, Carner transformed Catalan letters, and was one of the most relevant figures of the ‘Noucentisme’.

Josep Carner’s literary interest would indeed manifest itself with an unusual precocity: by the age of twelve he was already sending pieces about the most varied of themes to the magazine, always with a pen name, ‘L’Aureneta’. He would end becoming one of their regular collaborators. The only child of an educated middle class family, he would begin his initial studies at Sant Miquel School. There he discovered that, in spite of his interest in science, his true passion was letters.

In the autumn of 1897 he would simultaneously commence two university careers; two years later, when he was only fifteen, he would win his first literary prize at Barcelona’s ‘Jocs Florals’ [Floral Games]. Up to 1905, he would win thirteen more prizes. He gained his Bachelor’s degree in Law in 1902 and that of Philosophy and Letters in 1904. That same year, he published his first book of verses, ‘Llibre dels poetes’ [Book of the poets]. His enormous ability to work simultaneously on many projects can be seen in the fact that at the same time, he directed the literary magazine ‘Catalunya’ and would begin to collaborate with ‘La Veu de Catalunya’, as a political journalist.

Up to 1921 he made a living as a writer, keeping to a vertiginous rhythm: he practically published a book per year. In 1905 ‘Primer llibre de sonets’ [First book of sonnets] appeared in bookshops, and a year later, ‘Els fruits saborosos’ [The tasty fruits], in which he captured the new aesthetic ideal that the ‘Noucentisme’ wished to promote: classicism, civility, irony and tenderness. With ‘Segon llibre de sonets’ [Second book of sonnets] (1907), Carner would complete the first four volumes of verses. The excellent reception they received became the indisputable forerunner of the new literary promotions.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Carner was a very popular figure, who would become known by the nickname ‘príncep dels poetes’ [prince of the poets]. His prestige would not cease to rise, as he published new books: ‘Verger de les galanies’ [Orchard of kindness] (1911), ‘Les Monjoies’ [The landmarks] (1912), ‘La paraula en el vent’ [The word in the wind] (1914) and ‘Auques i ventalls’ [Tales and fans] (1914), where he would restart the satiric tradition, as well as reflect upon the custom-filled, and political Barcelona of the time. Thanks to these books, Carner would gain technical, tonal and thematic plenitude.

This Barcelonan poet also found time to do all types of translations (narrative, drama, essay and poetry). Between 1908 and 1910, he would publish seven works in the Domènech publishing house, and between 1918 and 1921, sixteen, in the Editorial Catalana publishing house, of which he was the director. His versions of great novel classics of the English language (Dickens, Shakespeare, Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll, to mention a few), are points of reference in the field of translating.

Carner was protected by the leader of the ‘Lliga Regionalista’ and president of the ‘Mancomunitat de Catalunya’, Enric Prat de la Riba, and over time his influence in the party would grow. His intellectual and political criteria would prevail in the redaction of ‘La Veu de Catalunya’ until the death of the politician in 1917. From ‘La Veu’, Carner contributed to the creation of a new type of literary and political journalism. Works such as ‘Les planetes del verdum’ [The destinies of the greenfinch] (1918), ‘Les bonhomies’ [The good natured] (1925) and ‘Tres estels i un ròssec’ [Three stars and the trawling] (1928) are good examples.

However, Carner did not escape the crisis of the 1920’s, and the precarious nature of a profession in letters forced him to go to a public examination for a place in the diplomatic core. At the beginning of 1921 he would be nominated vice councillor of Geneva, where he lived until 1924. The poet would never live in Catalonia again. From this moment onwards, he would start a long period of his life which would take him to such destinations as San José in Costa Rica (1924-1926), Le Havre (1927-1932), Hendaia (1932-1934), Madrid (1934-1935), Beirut (1935-1936), Brussels (1936-1937) and Paris (1937-1938).

During the Spanish Civil War he would continue to be faithful to the Republic. In 1938 he wrote one of his masterpieces, ‘Nabí’, which would not be published in Catalan until 1941, in Buenos Aires. In 1939 he sought refuge in Mexico, where he would actively participate in the country’s cultural life, collaborating with magazines and publishing houses as well as undertaking all types of translations. Between 1939 and 1945 he was a professor at the Universidad Nacional and at the Colegio de México. After the Second World War, he returned to Europe, taking up residence in Brussels. There he taught Spanish language and history of Spanish literature at Brussels Free University and the European School of Bruges.

During these years, Carner was the victim of a series of campaigns that aimed to discredit him by accusing him of dressing up that which is unimportant, with a banal rhetoric. Trying to keep himself distanced from any polemics, he continued to write and rewrite the verses he had already published. Thus, in 1957, he would publish in Selecta editorial and mainly thanks to the poet and friend Marià Manent, the volume entitled ‘Poesia’ [Poetry]: a compilation of all of his books published up to that date and that the circumstances had made unattainable or practically lost. With due patience, Carner collected, corrected and increased these verses until he was completely satisfied.

In the field of drama, Carner would cultivate theatre in works such as ‘Al vapor’ [In vapour] (1901), and with scenic adaptations in ‘Canigó’ (1910). Later on, in 1928, he wrote the lyrics for Eduard Toldrà’s opera ‘El giravolt de maig’ [The spinning-top of May]. However, his best work in this field would be ‘Misterio de Quanaxhuata’ [Mystery of Quanaxhuata] (1943), the only book he would write in Spanish, in gratitude to the Mexican people. Later, reworked in ‘El Ben Cofat i l’altre’ [The Well Satisfied and the other] (1951), it is a theatrical poem of philosophic reach based upon motives belonging to Aztec mythology. The last book he published, ‘Cop de vent’ [Gust of wind] (1966), was also a drama.

In April of 1970, old and ill, Carner paid a brief visit to Barcelona, after having not been there for thirty years, and almost fifty since not living there permanently. On the 4th of June 1970, a few days after the visit, he died in Brussels.

With him would die a testimony and protagonist of an epoch. His works have survived the changes in images, the Avant-guard revolution, and the disintegration of the poetic voice and the discredit of the norm. For this reason Josep Carner is considered on his own merits to be one of the foremost names in Catalan letters of all times.