Gabriel Ferrater: a New Direction in Catalan Poetry?
Xavier Macià (Universitat de Lleida)
The work of Ferrater is the effort of a great intellectual. His considerable versatility (he was a mathematician, a linguist, a literary critic, a translator, a university lecturer and a writer) accounts for the varied nature of his opus, which ranges from articles on linguistics to major poetic compositions. A fervent reader, Ferrater was well-acquainted with the English language and German writers of his time. He describes his poetry, in which the influence of his masters Josep Carner and Carles Riba is discernible, as "poetry of experience".
The intellectual and poetic career of Gabriel Ferrater i Soler (Reus 1922 - Sant Cugat 1972) covers a relatively short period (from 1950 to 1972, the year of his tragic death) but it was intense, brilliant and of undeniable intellectual vigour and quality.
Reus, 1922 - Sant Cugat del Vallès, 1972. Poet, critic, translator and linguist
Gabriel Ferrater represents a heterodox and atypical model of the intellectual and poet, at least according to the canons of his time. A long way from being the organic intellectual type described by Gramsci - which was totally unthinkable in the Catalonia under the Franco dictatorship - and also at quite a remove from the patriot-resistance model, Ferrater appears as a liberal and independent man of letters, sceptical, anti-provincial, suspicious of any ideology and dogmatism, politics and aesthetics and, above all, he was lucid, iconoclastic and provocative. He was an unconventional character, self-taught, rigorous, elegant, didactic and always impassioned.
Ferrater is mainly known as a poet, and it was in this domain that he undoubtedly achieved his most remarkable results. Noteworthy too, however, are his professional activities as a publishing reader and director, teacher and translator, while his contributions as an art critic, linguist and literary scholar are particularly interesting. His approximations to the works of Josep Carner, Carles Riba and J.V. Foix are obligatory references, both for the readings of them he proposes and for the way in which he discusses them.
Taken as a whole, his intellectual career is quite coherent, with a manifest complementarity among its different elements. His non-poetic production, despite its partial and, in some cases, unfinished nature, offers a glimpse of a clear unity of purpose so that it seems to be part of a deliberately comprehensive project. Ferrater himself defined this in a critical piece published in the review Laye, as a basic requirement for the modern "culture worker", whose work should only consist of "making his speciality robust enough to absorb all possible knowledge and to integrate this into an organised and dynamic expressive system".
His small body of powerful and original poetic work appears to be a very particular synthesis of tradition and modernity and the result of a selective appropriation of the principles proposed by some of the most significant writers of Catalan literature (March, Josep Carner, Riba, Foix) and also by some European and American writers (Catullus, Chrétien de Troyes, Villon, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Frost, Graves, Pavese, Kavafis, Eliot, Lowell, Auden, Brecht...).
Not remotely susceptible to being labelled as belonging to any particular movement, Ferrater represents the clearest example of the will to breathe new life into the Catalan literary system of the period after the Civil War. His poetry, written and published throughout the 1960s, at a crucial time of change and aesthetic polarisation between the post-symbolist tradition and the emerging trend of historical realism, represented in itself a third alternative possibility that was synthesising, new and different, while also particularly attentive to the evolution of contemporary poetry. However, there was little interest in his poetry until after 1968, which coincided with the beginning of the decline of historical realism and, in particular, until after his death four years later. But the vindication and real propagation of the Ferrater model, which is decisive for understanding Catalan poetry today, would not come about until the 1980s when his works were published posthumously. Continue reading...