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This review is taken from PN Review 119, Volume 24 Number 3, January - February 1998.

'...HELP FOR PAIN...' SALVADOR ESPRU, Selected Poems, edited and translated by Louis J. Rodrigues (Carcanet) £9.95

Twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, Salvador Espriu (1913-1985) was concerned less with the balm than with voicing pain itself. The present selection closes with his order:

Don't try to make me change
a word, if it seems sad to you.
Enough that you know you couldn't:
What I've written is writ.

When the Chief Priest questions Pilate's inscription on the Cross in John 19:21-22, Pilate too responds, 'Quod scripsi, scripsi.' Espriu's poetry continually evokes the Passion and a regret for decisions made under regrettable circumstances. He was also obsessed with a need to make language matter. Any sense of recovery for his readers must be to wonder that these struggles were recorded at all, let alone in such spare, beautiful strokes. The translations by Louis Rodrigues are perfectly unobtrusive, often echoing the original rhyme: 'Però la mort prenia / uns vells ulls i s'atansa' becomes, 'But death acquires / ancient eyes and comes.'

This bilingual Selected Poems is comprised of 100 poems spanning nine of Espriu's twelve collections, from Cemetery of Sinera (1946) through Holy Week (1971). Each was originally written in Catalan, as a protest to Franco's dictum that a unified Spain required a single, Castilian tongue. A virtuoso lyricist, Espriu conceived his poetry in book-lengths, and five of his featured collections are numbered sequences. His preoccupations include the imminence of death, the 'slow schedule of grief', and aspirations to knowledge and hope. He choreographs shifting ...


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