I read all of L’Atlàntida!

Everyone knows Verdaguer was a Spanish nationalist, right?

Trebots @ Tuesday August 27th 2013 14:19

Some friends were generous and unwise enough to react to last year’s parting of ways (following several years of auricular gloom) by booking me on blind dates. One of these came with gold-plated CV and connections, but unfortunately turned out to be a Catazombie. (If Jordi Bilbeny had a sex change I still probably wouldn’t marry him, but at least he’s not boring.) I stopped her at “If it weren’t for Spanish obfuscation, everyone would know about Catalonia's great literary heritage” by wondering if she could name a single author writing in Catalan in the 16th to 18th centuries. After a long pause, she came up with Ausiàs March (first half of 15th), and then confirmed that, yes, she had read him. At which point proceedings drew rapidly to a close.

Having sweated my way through all the 180-odd pages of faux-Renaissance heroics of the 19th century Catalan nationalist icon Jascinto Verdaguer’s La Atlántida (sic), I get a funny feeling that this dislocation between separatist salesmen and their wares may be quite general. For the poem is nothing less than a paean to a particular Spanish traditionalist notion of nation, territory and destiny, which accords Catalonia considerable but by no means exclusive pride of place. It's completely compatible with the mental deliria of nice old Mr Aznar, and a Catalan PP that valued literature over cosmetic surgery would quite happily have turned it into a manifesto declaration a long time ago.

The Occitan poet Mistral’s dedication starts off the fun by denying that Catalan is any more than a variant of his chosen language ("la Reneissènço de nosto lengo"), and then Verdaguer sets the tone by having a dying Pyrene, deity of the Pyrenees, hand to Hercules the keys of Spain:

Y á tu que entre les ales del cor m' has acullida,
d'Espanya que tant amo vullte donar la clau,
d'eix pa de cel que en terra te guarda una florida
d'amor, si tràurel d'urpes tiràniques te plau.

She recalls how, after Babel, Tubal chose Spain, “the happiest of his father’s kingdoms”:

Del mon quiscú á sa branca volá: Tubal á Espanya,
dels regnes de son pare triant lo més felis,
y, abont jau Tarragona, bastía sa cabanya,
sos camps y ribes fentli recorts del paradís.

Geryon, the evil, tricephalic cowherd who is to be her nemesis, discovers that the towers he builds at Gades are equalled by those of “inmortal Girona” ("Gerona, tres veces inmortal" was the title awarded to the city to recall the three terrible sieges it suffered from Napoleon’s troops during the peninsular entanglement which the Spanish refer to as the War of Independence). But she dies, and Hercules builds her a great tomb at the eastern extremity of the Pyrenees, dividing Spain all the better from France:

Desde esta gesta d' Hèrcules, ma dolsa Catalunya
d'altre castell de roques seure pogué á redós;
de la vehina Fransa dormí Espanya mes llunya,
fins al mar allargantse lo Pyrineu boyrós.

And so on and so forth, really!

It may be true that nationalists who have actually read Verdaguer now quietly ignore him in favour of the nonsense about the desire to recuperate ancient "liberties", which, as Toni Soler, points out, is Barcelona's 19th century industrial bourgeoisie's euphemismistic way of demanding protectionism be applied to cheap British manufactured goods.

I suppose those who can't bear to think of Verdaguer as a traitor may find hope in the odd phrase like “si tràurel d'urpes tiràniques te plau”: Spain is ruled by tyrannical claws and must therefore undergo the same destruction endured by the sinners of the poet's Atlantis, or something.

I am such a sorry and confused person.

In the interest of fairness I also read a bunch of other contemporaneous Atlantis tracts. Generally speaking they were less coherent but also more entertaining than Verdaguer. Pick of the bunch: Ignatius L. Donnelly's splendidly maniac Atlantis: The Antediluvian World.

  • Atlantis (2) Atlantis is a fictional island mentioned within an allegory on the hubris of nations in Plato's works Timaeus and Critias, where it represents the antagonist naval power that besieges "Ancient Athens", the pseudo-historic embodiment of Plato's ideal state. In the story, Athens was able to repel the Atlantean attack, unlike any other nation of the known world, supposedly giving testament to the superiority of Plato's concept of a state. At the end of the story, Atlantis eventually falls out of favor with the gods and famously submerges into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1) Atlantis: The Antediluvian World is a pseudoscientific book published in 1882 by Minnesota populist politician Ignatius L. Donnelly, who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1831. Donnelly considered Plato's account of Atlantis as largely factual and attempted to establish that all known ancient civilizations were descended from this supposed lost land.
  • Ausiàs March (1) Ausiàs March was a medieval Valencian poet and knight from Gandia, Valencia. He is considered as one of the most important poets of the "Golden Century" of Valencian literature.
  • Catalan language (51)
  • Frédéric Mistral (2) Frédéric Mistral was a French writer and lexicographer of the Occitan language. Mistral received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of the fresh originality and true inspiration of his poetic production, which faithfully reflects the natural scenery and native spirit of his people, and, in addition, his significant work as a Provençal philologist". He was a founding member of Félibrige and a member of l'Académie de Marseille.
  • Geryon (1) In Greek mythology, Geryon, son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoe and grandson of Medusa, was a fearsome giant who dwelt on the island Erytheia of the mythic Hesperides in the far west of the Mediterranean. A more literal-minded later generation of Greeks associated the region with Tartessos in southern Iberia.
  • Ignatius L. Donnelly (1) Ignatius Loyola Donnelly was a U.S. Congressman, populist writer and amateur scientist, known primarily now for his theories concerning Atlantis, Catastrophism, and Shakespearean authorship, which many modern historians consider to be pseudoscience and pseudohistory. Brother to Eleanor C. Donnelly, Donnelly's work corresponds to the writings of late 19th and early 20th century figures such as Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner, and James Churchward and has more recently influenced writer Graham Hancock. The concept of Atlantis as an antediluvian civilization became the inspiration for the 1969 pop song hit Atlantis by Donovan and the 2009 film 2012 by Roland Emmerich.
  • Jacint Verdaguer (6) Jacint Verdaguer i Santaló is regarded as one of the greatest poets of Catalan literature and a prominent literary figure of the Renaixença, a national revival movement of the late Romantic era. The bishop Josep Torras i Bages, one of the main figures of Catalan nationalism, called him the "Prince of Catalan poets". He was also known as mossèn Cinto Verdaguer, because of his career as a priest.
  • José María Aznar (20) José María Alfredo Aznar López
  • Napoleon I (34) Napoléon Bonaparte was a French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and its associated wars. As Napoleon I, he was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again in 1815. Napoleon dominated European affairs for nearly two decades while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He won the large majority of his 60 major battles and seized control of most of continental Europe before his ultimate defeat in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide and he remains one of the most celebrated and controversial political figures in Western history. In civil affairs, Napoleon implemented several liberal reforms across Europe, including the abolition of feudalism, the establishment of legal equality and religious toleration, and the legalization of divorce. His lasting legal achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has been adopted by dozens of nations around the world.
  • Occitan language (14) Occitan, also known as lenga d'òc by its native speakers, is a Romance language. It is spoken in southern France, Italy's Occitan Valleys, Monaco, and Spain's Val d'Aran; collectively, these regions are sometimes referred to unofficially as Occitania. Occitan is also spoken in the linguistic enclave of Guardia Piemontese. However, there are strong polemics about the unity of the language, as some think that Occitan is a macrolanguage.
  • Siege_of_Gerona_(disambiguation) (1) Siege of Gerona may refer to:
Categories: Les bourgeois

RSS: post comments / blog comments / blog posts / email / Twitter

You can leave a response or trackback from your site.

  1. looby
    August 27th 2013 16:02

    Sounds like you met one of those "introductions service" Rhodes scholar-type adverts in the back of the LRB, where the almost unbelievable ensemble of a woman's educational, physical and social attributes is detailed, with the implication that it is simply miraculous that such a siren has failed to attract the A-lister that she's angling for.

    I went to see L'Atalante once with a girl I fancied with a consuming and destructive passion I never want to experience again. It was a good film though. Might give its near Catalan homonym a miss.

  2. Trebots
    August 28th 2013 11:08

    It's important tho difficult to remember that they not we are the failures http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/01/women-and-marriage-at-princeton/

    That's one I've never seen, if just for this:

    Amongst the changes that Vigo made to the original scenario was replacing Père Jules’ pet dog with over ten alley cats supplied by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Vigo’s father had been fond of such cats and Vigo’s childhood homes were often overrun with stray cats.[13] During the scenes where Père Jules plays his phonograph, these cats would become immediately fascinated by the phonograph and surround it whenever it played music. Vigo quickly assembled his crew and shot footage of the cats listening to the music and sleeping inside the loud speaker.[16] Simon later adopted the kitten that rested inside the phonograph horn.[17]

    Cycling this summer south from Loudun the countryside was swarming with would-be Acadien museums and houses. The public simply can't get enough bollocks.

  3. Trebots
    October 8th 2013 11:14

    Josep Pla, Quadern Gris:

    Ala matinada, tracto, una vegada més, de llegir Verdaguer. No he pogut, fins ara, acabar ni un sol cant de «L'Atlàntida» o del «Canigó». Em dono gairebé vergonya de confessar-ho... Faig un altre esforç. Ho provo una vegada més. Hi clavo la dent... El paquet no passa. Tota aquesta enorme geologia, totes aquestes històries desorbitades, no em promouen ni el menor interès. Comprenc que aquests papers són una gran cosa i que les literatures han de contenir aquestes baluernes de la mateixa manera que en els grans palaus hi ha d'haver enormes escalfapanxes que no escalfen, merament decoratius, i tapissos penjats a les parets. Comprenc, així mateix, que la meva sensibilitat és molt incompleta. Però no hi puc fer més. La sensació de buidor, l'ensulsiada de verbalisme, gloriós, reeixit, però totalment deslligat de la vida humana autèntica, la sonoritat grandiosa de les estrofes, m'esterilitza tota possibilitat d'atenció o de curiositat.

    He sentit sospirar alguna vegada:

    —La mística, la poesia mística de Verdaguer...!

    Però jo voldria que algú m'expliqués quina relació té aquest país, poblat d'aquesta classe de pagesos, d'aquesta classe de taujans de la indústria i del comerç, amb la mística. Voldria que algú m'expliqués quina intenció portava Verdaguer en tractar de lligar-nos, a través de la mística, amb una literatura tan intrínsecament forastera.

    La gent no vol acabar de comprendre, però algun dia haurà de fer-ho, que la posició d'un escriptor d'avui davant de la realitat, la curiositat que el mou, la passió que el domina, és d'un sentir totalment diferent de la de qualsevol posició literària acadèmica de qualsevol altra època, societat o ambient. El que abans era l'excepció —el realisme— ara és la regla.


    De tota manera, és una mica difícil de donar la volta a mossèn Vergaguer. El que sorprèn més en aquests països en què l'esforç literari sol esgotar-se tan prematurament és l'aparició de casos de gran vitalitat, de capacitat biològica potent. Verdaguer fou un home fort, violent, orgullós, de cos enter. No podia pas ésser d'altra manera: agafar amb les mans una llengua conservada maquinalment per la pagesia com qui agafa un fang informe i convertir-la en un mitjà d'expressió és una feina considerable... De seguida és dit! Des del punt de vista de l'eficàcia, doncs, tot el que es pugui dir en honor de Verdaguer serà poc, al costat del que es mereix.

    Però la nostra generació tracta de dir, en la llengua restaurada fa quatre dies per Verdaguer, tot el que en les llengües més treballades es diu normalment. Potser és una pretensió excessiva. Sense pretensions, però, no es pot viure. Així, tant com en el dir les coses, el problema està a tenir alguna cosa a dir. Això és el que separa els nostres dies dels de Verdaguer.

    «L'Atlàntida», el «Canigó», són autèntics fenòmens literaris que tenen aspectes de gran interès i que, en bloc, tenen, a penes, interès. L'escenografia hi és exasperant. Des del punt de vista de la sensibilitat i de les tendències de la literatura moderna s'hi sent un esforç perdut, que entristeix. La literatura moderna tendeix a la captació de la veritat i de la vida. Gairebé tot el restant li és indiferent. I aquests poemes són reminiscències d'un retoricisme abolit.

    Com s'explica la mística de Verdaguer? La mística, com a gènere literari que ha transcendit d'una situació social determinada, és un fenomen de reacció contra determinades saturacions de sensualitat i d'immoralitat que arriben a fer fàstic. La mística es produeix quan se sobrepassa el nivell normal d'animalitat —quan el grau d'animalitat per metre quadrat és excessiu. Llavors, per contracop natural, apareix l'espiritualisme cadavèric —l'ànsia de cel. La mística castellana demostra que Castella, com a nucli humà, no és un país místic. Enquadrant-la en el seu temps, ¿és aquesta l'explicació de la mística de Verdaguer? ,¿És una reacció contra l'embafadora hipocresia que caracteritzà les primeres generacions industrials d'aquest país?

    Després, hi ha la prosa de Verdaguer: insuperada, magnífica.


Book recommendation

Buy L'Atlàntida or other books by Jacint Verdaguer. You pay the same, this blog gets 5% commission.

More book ideas here.

Check the cheap second-hand books over at the Librería del señor licenciado Pero Pérez - get 'em before he burns 'em.


If you're feeling generous, check out my Amazon wishlists for Deutschland, France , and the UK, or use PayPal to


Back to top