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Joan Maragall

Glòria Casals (University of Barcelona)

(Barcelona, 1860 – 1911). Modernist poet and writer

From the standpoint of the history of Catalan poetry, Joan Maragall's work constitutes a bridge between the different formulas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Maragall embodies and emends the traditions of the Jocs Florals literary competitions, the Catalan cultural renaissance movement, the Renaixença, Romanticism, Verdaguer, the naturalism of Apel·les Mestres and the classicism of Alcover and Costa i Llobera while, in the spirit of agitation, he formulated an innovative set of reflections on his own poetry that, without his knowing it, coincided with some of the defining features of symbolism. He also experimented with poetic models that would flow into, on the one hand, the creation of a Maragallian school of uneven quality and echoes (Pijoan, Lleonart, Pujols and even Sagarra) and, on the other, some of the great obsessions of Riba (pure poetry, inspiration, the word, rhythm and how to understand criticism), Espriu (Goethe, the figure of Nausicaa) and, at another level, Salvat-Papasseit (songs, women and love as sources of pleasure and creation). Maragall would thus become a classic. The first classic poet of the twentieth century.

The Years of Apprenticeship

The fourth and last child and only boy in a family of small industrialists, Maragall was born in Barcelona on 10 October 1860. Little is known of his first years at school. The experience must have been somewhere between what Rusiñol describes in his L'auca del senyor Esteve (The Illustrated Story of senyor Esteve) and what don José de Sagarra recalls in his Memòries (Memoirs). The experience of Esteve was "shrunken and practical", while Sagarra learned a "series of useful things". His secondary schooling and family obligations indicate, as Maragall himself admits in the Notes autobiogràfiques (Autobiographical Notes) written in 1885, a first turning point in his personal and literary trajectory:

"(...) I finished my secondary schooling and started to feel unhappy. (?) I was abruptly torn away from books and seated at a small desk in the industry that was to be my destiny, occupying, in a certain fashion, the position of being little more than an apprentice. The blow was terrible and it resounded throughout my being, and this vexed thwarting of my aspirations would rise up in protest under the standard of rebellion, my passion for poetry while, at the same time, at the age of sixteen I gave myself body and soul to the adoration, idolisation of a number of attractive women who passed before my eyes, while a kind of mysticism about Nature also ran in my veins. My love for poetry manifested itself in a sort of craze for filling with myriad verses and astonishing fecundity, in any moment I could steal from my working hours, notebooks that I hid among other more prosaic books that were full of figures pertaining to our industry. (Joan Maragall Notes autobiogràfiques. In Gabriel Maragall (1988), Joan Maragall: esbós biogràfic (Joan Maragall, a Biographical Sketch). Barcelona: Edicions 62)

These early verses basically adhered to two models of nineteenth-century poetry. On the one hand was the humorist-satirical line (and it happened that Maragall considered that his first literary success was the poem "Òptica" (Viewpoint), which was published in Lo Nunci on 22 September 1878 and in which he nonchalantly and humorously described an amorous relationship that was frustrated because it was not just between two people but at least three). On the other, was the line that was close to storytelling and the canons of the Jocs Florals amatory poetry (the poem "An ella" (For Her), which was also published in Lo Nunci on 12 January 1879, is a song in the most delicate terms of the illusions of young love). After a tense discussion with his father in the autumn of 1879, he was finally allowed to leave the family business and to enrol in the Law Faculty. His classes, truancy, intellectual gatherings, reading, music, opera and several friends (the seven fellow students that completed the "circle", Antoni Roura and Josep Soler i Miquel) soon opened out what had previously been his rather stunted intellectual horizons. Antoni Roura (1860 - 1910), who studied in the Faculty, was the ideal friend and confidante. Numerous still-extant letters reveal a relationship that was not so literary as Maragall's friendships with Soler i Miquel and Pijoan but more human, familiar and mundane. More easygoing and infinitely more serene. Also a student in the Law Faculty, Josep Soler i Miquel (1861-1897) wrote as a literary critic for La Vanguardia. A connoisseur of symbolist poetry, he had a great influence on Maragall the poet and also on Maragall the critic and theorist. It was he who produced the edition of the volume Poesías (Poems - 1891), a wedding gift from Maragall's friends on the day he married Clara Noble. Much of his writing was subsequently collected in 1898, in the volume Escritos (Writings). Continue reading...

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