Carner, Josep 1884-1970

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Carner, Josep 1884-1970
(Josep Carner i Puig-Oriol)


Born February 9, 1884 in Barcelona, Spain, died June 4, 1970 in Brussels, Belgium; exiled in Mexico, 1939-45; in Belgium 1945-1970; married Carmen de Ossa, 1915; widowed, 1935; married Emilie Noulet August 10, 1937 children: (first marriage) two. Education: Universitat de Barcelona, law degree, 1902, philosophy degree, 1904. Language: Catalan.


Writer, translator, journalist, editor, and diplomat.


Institut d'Estudis Catalans, National Council of Catalonia in exile (London, England).


Proclaimed "Mestre en Gai Saber" (Master in the Art of Poetry) at the 1910 Joc Florals (literary contest) in Barcelona; Folguera prize for El veire encantat, 1933; Guimerà prize (Mexico) for Cop de vent 1955.


Al vapor (play; title means "To Steam"), P. Toll (Barcelona, Spain), 1901.

L'idili dels nyanyos (narrative; title means "An Idyll with Bruises"), [Barcelona, Spain], 1903.

Corones (poems; title means "Crowns"), J. Cunill (Barcelona, Spain), 1904.

Llibre dels poetes (poems; title means "Book of the Poets"), F. Giró (Barcelona, Spain), 1904.

Primer llibre de sonets (poems; title means "First Book of Sonnets"), Vídua de J. Cunill (Barcelona, Spain), 1905.

Els fruits saborosos (poems; title means "The Savory Fruits"), [Barcelona, Spain], 1906.

Segon llibre de sonets (poems; title means "Second Book of Sonnets"), Joaquim Horta (Barcelona, Spain), 1907.

La malvestat d'Oriana (novel; title means "Oriana's Wickedness"), De Tots Colors (Barcelona, Spain), 1910.

Verger de les galanies (poems; title means "Orchard of Gallantries"), Fidel Giró (Barcelona, Spain), 1911.

Les monjoies (poems; title means "The Sheafs"), Lluís Gili (Barcelona, Spain), 1912.

Auques i ventalls (poems; title means "Ditties and Fans"), Marian Galve (Barcelona, Spain), 1914.

La paraula en el vent (poems; title means "The Word in the Wind"), F. Giró (Barcelona, Spain), 1914.

Bella terra, bella gent (poems; title means "Beautiful land, beautiful people"), [Barcelona, Spain], 1918.

Les planetes del verdum (essays; title means "The Fate of the Goldfinch"), Publicacions de La Revista (Barcelona, Spain), 1918.

L'oreig entre les canyes (poems; title means "The Breeze in the Bamboo"), [Barcelona, Spain], 1920.

La creació d'Eva i altres contes (stories; title means "The Creation of Eve and Other Stories"), Editorial Catalana (Barcelona, Spain), 1922.

La inútil ofrena (poems; title means "The Useless Offering"), Editorial Catalana (Barcelona, Spain), 1924.

El cor quiet (poems; title means "The Quiet Heart"), Editorial Políglota (Barcelona, Spain), 1925.

Les bonhomies (essays; title means "Kindly Moments"), Llibreria Catalònia (Barcelona, Spain), 1925.

Sons de lira i flabiol (poems; title means "Sounds from a Lyre and a Flute"), Els poetes i els músics (Barcelona, Spain), 1927.

Tres estels i un ròssec (essays; title means "Three Stars and One Tail"), La Mirada (Sabadell, Spain), 1927.

Cançons (poems; title means "Songs"), Amies del Llibre (Barcelona, Spain), 1928.

El giravolt de maig (opera libretto; title means "The May Upheaval"), La Mirada (Sabadell, Spain), 1928. October 27, 1928.

El veire encantat (poems; title means "The Enchanted Vessel"), Lluís Gili (Barcelona, Spain), 1933.

Lluna i llanterna (poems; title means "Moon and Lantern"), Proa (Sabadell, Spain), 1935.

La primavera en el poblet (poems; title means "Spring in the Village"), Lluís Gili (Barcelona, Spain), 1935.

Nabí (a poem; title is Hebrew for "Prophet"), Revista de Catalunya (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1941.

Tres diumenges (poems; title means "Three Sundays"), L'Oreneta (Paris, France), 1946.

El Ben Cofat i l'Altre (play; title means "The Well-Coiffed and the Other One"), Proa (Perpignan, France), 1951.

Llunyania (poems; title means "Distance"), El Pi de les Tres Branques (Santiago, Chile), 1952.

Arbres (poems; title means "Trees"), Selecta (Barcelona, Spain), 1953.

Obres Completes I. Poesia, preface by Mariá Manent, Editorial Selecta (Barcelona, Spain), 1957. With this volume Carner revised and reorganized his poems up to date and added an unpublished collection: Absència (poems; title means "Absence").

Museu Zoològic (poems; title means "Zoology Museum"), Nauta (Barcelona, Spain), 1963.

Bestiari (poems; title means "Bestiary"), Nauta (Barcelona, Spain), 1964.

El tomb de l'any (poems; title means "The Turn of the Year"), Proa (Barcelona, Spain), 1966.

Cop de vent (play; title means "Gust of Wind"), Edicions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1966.

Teoria de l'ham poètic (essays; title means "Theory of the Poetic Hook"), Edicions 62 (Barcelona, Spain), 1969.

Also author of Del pròxim Orient (1935-1936) and of Prosa d'exili (1939-1962) which collect some of his journal entries. His letters, Epistolari de Josep Carner, were published in 1985. A 1963 recording of Carner reading his own poems was reissued in CD format in 1993.


Called "the Prince of Poets," Josep Carner is the most important Catalan poet of the twentieth century. A precocious writer, he began writing in Spanish but soon abandoned this language for his native Catalan in which he wrote most of his abundant production. He began his writing career at a time when people could submit individual poems to yearly contests known as "Jocs Florals" or Floral Games. Carner earned a number of awards a those competitions, beginning in 1899. He would eventually be named "Mestre en Gai Saber," the highest honor granted by the Jocs Florals organization. He also contributed frequently to reviews and newspapers, most notably La Veu de Catalunya, a daily associated with the polical party Lliga Regionalista (Regionalist League), a conservative Catalanist party led by Enric Prat de la Riba who was a protector of Carner. After the death of Prat, Carner would gradually abandon the Lliga.

Despite his many publications, Carner, who was married and had two children, needed a reliable source of income and to achieve this end he joined the diplomatic corps in 1921, being first posted in Genoa, Italy. He later became Spanish consul at San José in Costa Rica, and subsequently found posts at Le Havre and later at Hendaia (France), Beirut, Brussels, and Paris. From 1921 to the time his death Carner lived outside of Catalonia although he continued to publish regularly there.

In 1957 he collected his poetry in a volume for which he discarded the books he had published before Els fruits saborosos of 1906. For this collection he reorganized his poetry thematically and rewrote quite a few of his lines thus establishing his own reedition which, with some critics dissenting, is accepted as definitive today. He also included an unpublished collection, Absència.

Llibre dels poetes follows the trends of turn-of-the-century poetry, with influence from the English Pre-Raphaelites and the French Parnasse, but it already shows some lines which were to become characteristic of Carner's poetry: an ironic, detached, worldly tone, and an interest in echoing classical forms and genres: eclogues, epigrams, hymns, elegies, idylls. Els fruits saborosos, a collection of eighteen poems, followed. With this book Carner joins the contemporary movement known as noucentisme (from "nou-cents" or nine-hundreds). Noucentisme can be seen as a reaction to Modernisme, or turn-of-the-century modernism. Noucentisme is urban where Modernisme was rural, it is ironic rather than sentimental, and interested mostly in the middle-and upper-classes instead of the poor. The new term was coined by Eugeni d'Ors who wrote a daily column in La Veu de Catalunya promoting the new style and granting the qualifier of "Noucentista" to a number of contemporaries. Historians of literature all agree to give the movement a birth date of 1906, not only because Ors began his colum, called "Glosari," in that year, but also because of the publication of Carner's Els fruits saborosos, a book that was seen as epoch-making immediately upon publication. Each poem in Els fruits saborosos compares a fruit—an orange, a pear, a bunch of grapes or cherries—to some aspect or circumstance of human life and views such circumstances, sensuous in nature, through a moralistic filter. Fruits are also related to different characters, mostly bearing Classical or Classicalsounding names: Aglae, Mirtilla, Alidé, Agavé, Pantídia and so on.

In the 1910s Carner's poetry reached maturity. Carner himself, after Joan Maragall's death in 1911, was seen as the Catalan poet. His work was immediately appreciated by both critics and readers. In Història de la literatura catalana, edited by Martin de Riquer and others, Marina Gustà noted that the critic Joaquim Folguera praised Carner for "recovering for the language the most beautiful words of classical Catalan and creating, poetically and scientifically, new ones which he ties together with an assured syntax, a harmonic system of rhyme, and the purification and systematization of popular expression." Carner's Verger de les galanies, for example, was qualified by the poet himself as a kind of urban fruit. The ensuing Les monjoies also treats the theme of love under the rules of an ideal civilized bourgeois society. This is again typical of noucentisme, a literary movement centered in the middle class of Catalonia, and particularly of Barcelona. In La paraula en el vent, under the influence of the English Romantic poets, Carner reinterprets a medieval theme, "La Belle Dame sans Merci," and even uses medieval poetic forms borrowed from the troubadours to express his views on love, women, fidelity or lack thereof, and his own aging. Gustà considered this book central in Carner's production.

In his introduction to the collected poems of 1957, Marià Manent praised Carner's versatility. "Carner," Manent wrote, "is one of the few poets capable of composing a supple air and of giving lyrical interpretation to a metaphysical theme; only the most illustrious of poets possess this double gift." Manent also commented on the Carnerian tone, claiming it is hard to tell whether Carner's gaze comes with "an ironical smile or a tender look." Carner's poetry, more often than not, shows a detachment from his subjects. This detachment, however, may well be what saved his poetry from the rhetorical excesses of the sentimental Modernistes and from the preachiness that was to marr a later generation of politically engaged poets.

Along this line of archetypal love poetry, Carner issued his two ensuing books, Auques i ventalls and Bella terra, bella gent. In these he explores his immediate, daily reality, and the poetic forms from the popular Catalan verse tradition. La inútil ofrena of 1924 has been thought of as the closing volume in the first half of Carner's production.

The first book of poetry written from exile was published in 1925: El cor quiet. It signals a change in Carner's poetry, no so much in themes as in the unity that brings together the poems of the collection. Here Carner turns reflective, aiming at the tranquility implicit in the title. The poet never loses his ironic approach to experience. The poem he wrote on his turning forty concludes characteristically: "i aprenc a somriure / quan so decebut" ("and I learn to smile / when I'm disappointed.") Many critics consider El cor quiet the culmination of Carner's poetry.

Faithful to the Spanish republic, after the civil war of 1936-39 Carner continued his exile, this time forced by the Franco regime that also expelled him from the diplomatic service. He spent seven years in Mexico before returning to Europe at the end of WWII, though he was to set foot in Catalonia again only once, a few months before his death in Brussels where he spent the last two decades of his life. In Mexico he published a book-length poem, Nabí, in his own Spanish transla- tion; one year later, in 1941, he issued Nabí in the original Catalan in Buenos Aires. He had begun Nabí when he was assigned to Hendaia in France. Despite the thematic unity of such collections as El cor quiet, Nabí is Carner's only book to contain a single poem which brings it closer to the epic genre. The title is Hebrew for ‘prophet’ and the poem, in ten cantos totaling 1,365 lines, picks up on the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. Carner, tossed around the world in his exile, seeks, like Jonah, the acceptance of his dire destiny and the consolation of faith.

In 1957 Carner revised his complete poetry in a volume, Poesia, that was the head his complete works. He himself characterized his editorial effort as one of exercising "self criticism in a surgical function," according to Gustà. Absència, the last book within Poesia, gathers the largely unpublished poems written after his return to Europe to settle in Brussels. Brussels was the native city of Carner's second wife, Emilie Noulet, and at the Free University there he taught comparative literature. Absència is a deeply moving collection written after he had made Brussels his home. Its poems shine with elegant reflections about the poet's exile, about the impossibility of his "absolute[e] return," as he phrases it, about aging, and impending death. Some poems also express his appreciation for his new country despite the anonymity he feels among its population. Absència is well-wrought, clear, elegant; its emotion does not arise from rhetoric; it might be Carner's best. The books of poetry published after Absència return to earlier themes and lighter tones and seem almost like rewritings of earlier poems.

Besides poetry Carner wrote plays and some fiction. Two of his works were set to music as operas: Canigó, a rewriting for the stage of the epic by Jacint Verdaguer, was put to music by Jaume Pahissa; the Carner original El giravolt de maig was musicated by Eduard Toldrà and premiered in Barcelona's Palau de la Música Catalana on October 27, 1928, with costume and set designs by Xavier Nogués. His best-known play, El Ben Cofat i l'Altre, was written in Mexico and is set in pre-Columbian times.

Carner also translated profusely. The authors whose works he rendered into Catalan might very well throw light onto Carner's style. They include Shakespeare, Dickens, Mark Twain, and Molière. Throughout his life Carner published many essays in newspapers and magazines. An elegant diction characterizes his prose. He collected some of them in four volumes: Les planetes del verdum (1918), Les bonhomies (1925), Tres estels i un ròssec (1927), and Teoria de l'ham poètic (1969). In Les bonhomies, the better known of these, he included some reflections on his practice of translation. He also wrote children's fiction and a farcical novella, L'idili dels nyanyos.

Carner is inevitably anthologized in collections of twentieth-century Catalan literature. His poems saw translations into many languages. He has been rendered into English by Pearse Hutchinson, J. Gili, and Nathaniel Smith.



Carner, Josep, Obres Completes I. Poesia, preface by Mariá Manent, Editorial Selecta (Barcelona, Spain), 1957.

Riquer, Martin de, Joaquim Moles, and Antoni Comas, editors, Història de la literatura catalana, Volume 9, Editorial Ariel (Barcelona, Spain), 1987.

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Carner, Josep 1884-1970

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