Forests, rivers, roads: everything seems the same, frozen in time, if not because one of the mills has disappeared and, to the side of the castle, modern buildings have been built. Nothing has changed, apart from that. Neither "living waters" and "discreet course", nor "dark groves" and "melancholic garden" nor the "green dome" have disappeared.
80 years ago, the winter and spring of 1939, a group of Catalans spent a few months in this farm 60 kilometers south of Paris. The words quoted in quotation marks from the first paragraph were written by one of these Catalans who had left their country for some weeks before the impending entrance of the Francoist troops. It was the end of the Civil War and between hundreds of thousands of exiles was the poet Carles Riba. He, his wife, the poet Clementina Arderiu, and their children found shelter at domaine of Bierville, the "graceful and severe landscape at the same time" where, as I would write later, "I had had the first stable and returned hope" after the first weeks of exile. And this is where he wrote his most important book – and one of the peaks of Catalan poetry of the 20th century – Elegies of Bierville. Like all classics, the book, made up of twelve poems, is open to multiple readings, which are never exhausted. But the starting point, as the author explained, the place "where these elegies took shape" was "to emigration, indeed, and to the feeling of exile." If they were a movie, the Elegies of Bierville They would show the image of a gentleman who walks through those gardens and experiences one flashback towards the ancient Greece overlooking lost Catalonia.
"Súnion! I will evoke you from afar with a cry of joy, "begins the best known of them Elegies, the second. Head Súnion, explains Riba to the final notes of the book, is "the sublime promontory", the "rocky end of the Attic" where Pericles built a temple of Poseidon. Riba i Arderiu had visited Greece and Súnion in 1927. "It is this unique place," says Riba in the notes, "a synthesis and symbol of many pure things, which in my exile represented me in memory; just as if I were among the dark trees in the Bierville Valley and reveal myself, the happy trip twelve years ago. "
There is a fetishism from the houses of writers, and from the scenes of their works. Of the poem scenarios, perhaps less, but the Elegies of Bierville They are a case of poems intimately linked to a place and a moment. Now Bierville, on the outskirts of Boissy-la-Rivière, a village of 500 inhabitants, is a residence and training center for members of the first French union, the French Democratic Labor Confederation (CFDT). The trade unionists come here to spend a few days to follow the courses and live there.
There is a thread linking Riba with the trade unionists of the CFDT. Marc Sangnier is called and is one of those figures today, half forgotten but fundamental in his time. Sangnier, son of a bourgeois and Bonapartist family, was a politician and journalist who, with the Le Sillon movement (El Solc), promoted a progressive, social and secular Christianity at the beginning of the century. He was a convinced pacifist and, in the 1920s, in the castle he had just bought in Boissy-la-Rivière, he organized peace conferences with young French and German. It was Sangnier who, at the end of the Civil War, hosted the Catalan exiles in Bierville.
And it is then that Riba begins to compose them Elegies of Bierville. He and the Catalans lived in a mill that was used to accommodate congressmen, "with monotonous chambers and austerity, all monkeys" and "two overlapping corridors (which) extended to shady and useless ends, which they evoked mysterious games or not entirely overthrown Basebos as a child, "writes the poet to the preface to the second edition.
Carles Riba wrote to Bierville five of the eleven electives. The Catalans marched in June 1939. Marc Sangnier said goodbye with a speech, recalls Albert Manent to his biography of the poet. Riba finished the book on the other stairs of Periple in France. In April 1943, Riba, Arderiu and his daughter Eulàlia returned to Barcelona. That same year they published them Elegies of Bierville In a "very small and clandestine" edition dated in Buenos Aires a year earlier, explains Manent.
When they entered France in June 1940, the Germans occupied the Bierville estate. At the end of World War II, Sangnier gave it to the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), the Christian union that would give origin, some decades later, to the CFDT. In 1961, the trade unions were bombed by the OAS (Organization of the Secret Army), the terrorist group opposed to the independence of Algeria. In that "old park" where "the waters glide monotonously" under "the noble expanded tenderness of the trees of France" a piece of history of the 20th century has passed.
"The path was secret, fabulous of divine sorrows, / to the living waters that reminded me of a name," Riba said at the beginning of the first elegy. Read it now – a spring day of 2019, "in the park where it seems to be reborn / I do not know what God died, son of the spring and green," with the same soundtrack of the streams Juine and Éclimont, and the song of the same birds that 80 years ago – the verses acquire another texture. And they are revealed as what they are also: a fairly accurate description of a real place.
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