Clara Janés: Speaking of War

At the closing end of the fifteenth century, the great model in bronze of the horse made in honor of Francisco Sforza by Leonardo da Vinci, was melted down by French troops in order to make cannons. The same Leonardo, concerning the horse and the continuous interruptions to his work to which Ludovico el Moro subjected him, perhaps foreseeing something, had written to him: “Do what you mean to, each thing has its death”. Neither the idea of a work of art materially transformed into weaponry, nor that of the direct employment of a work – let’s say a poem – as an element in a struggle, appeared in my mind in my early years, nevertheless, I saw the light in 1940 in the bosom of an artists’ family, and talks about the war revolved around me incessantly.

Since I was born, and before being aware of it, I knew about bombardments, denunciations, treacherous murders, and about the employment of political excuses for personal vendettas. Since I was born I heard talk about the lack of food, of black bread, of shortage of sugar, of hours walking on foot undertaken by my aunts – running all kinds of risks – to bring home, from a town, fruit and vegetables, without knowing if they would make it back. Since I was born I heard talk about emergency situations, about the concentration camps, about exile and that my father had been imprisoned and condemned by one or another group and that, being a man of culture, he had friends on both sides and these liberated him. Since I was born, well, coupled with human barbarity and the worst cruelty, that concept reached me of an unbreakable bond of friendship indicating that there exists in man a facet of the savior.

When I began to become conscious of certain things, perhaps around my first year, the reality of pain was being drawn in my mind. What I could not yet name, nevertheless sensed lucidly, life, was pain where was also the possibility of a friendship victorious in the face of the worst obstacles, that in my mind configured itself like a form of compassion. The fledging line followed, which was outlined in me, it seemed, resulted in a desire to soothe the pain of others.

There were, however, other things going on in my mind since I was born, like music, the joy of young people when dancing, a fascinating ray of light coming through the window and breaking up into infinite points…

And how is this combined with the stories of bombarding and betrayals? About evil and good and its contradictory coexistence, I heard talk equally in the first few days, and perhaps these were the two concepts which were formed, for me, in the substrate where the rest grew. Little by little, that line to be followed, was entrenched, marked, certainly by compassion and mercy.

Rosa Chacel, with her brutal lucidity, wrote: “Where is the evil? … It is necessary to admit that probably in freedom. There is no reason to panic. If the evil is somewhere it can be only in freedom.” Rosa Chacel belonged to generation 27, full of optimism and faith. She firmly believed in human will, though she believed with the same force in the progress of science.

But it was Einstein who sad: “The human will is not free [ ... ] everything is determined by forces over which we have no control”. This was also my intuition from childhood, an intuition to which those heard conversations were not foreign, before they woke up in my conscience.

Today Erwin Schrödinger confirms it to me, among others, when he writes: “Life is valuable in itself. « Be reverent towards life » is how Albert Schweitzer framed the fundamental commandment of ethics. Nature has no reverence towards life. Nature treats the life as if it were the most valueless thing in the world. Produced million-fold it is for the greatest part rapidly annihilated or cast as prey before other life to feed it. This precisely is the master-method of producing ever-new forms of life. « Thou shalt not torture, thou shalt not inflict pain! ». Nature is ignorant of this commandment. Its creatures depend upon racking each other in everlasting strife.”

Looking face to face at this truth impels me to reject this existence on Earth, but something holds me back, perhaps what Vladimír Holan expresses in his poem “To the enemies”:


I have had enough of your baseness, and if I have not killed myself still,
it is only because I have not given life to myself
and because I love someone still…

Clara Janés

Clara Janés Nadal, born in Barcelona (6 November 1940), is a Spanish poet, writer and translator. She is regarded as one of the great love poets of contemporary Spanish literature, a designation given her by one of twentieth century Spain’s most respected women writers, Rosa Chacel. Janés’s works often employ mystical language and interior explorations in an effort to find union with the “other.”

She studied Philology in Barcelona and in Pamplona, where she completed her bachelor’s degree, and she received the Maître des lettres from the University of Paris IV: Paris-Sorbonne in comparative literature.
Janés employs multiple genres (poetry, narrative, essay, anthology, translation, photography and music), and her work includes diverse cultural and linguistic facets. She has translated Turkish, Czech, English, Chinese, Persian, Arabic and French authors, and she has explored ancient religious traditions from many cultures. Her work includes translations of the Czech poets Vladimír Holan and Jaroslav Seifert. She has also translated works by Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, Katherine Mansfield, William Golding, Ahmad Shamlou, Forough Farrokhzad and Mohsen Emadi. When she translates works from Turkish, Persian, Chinese and Arabic, she is generally assisted by speakers of these languages, which lends her poetic and translation activity a collaborative aspect that corresponds with her interest in connecting with “others”. In 1992, she won the Turkish Tutav Foundation Prize for her work with translation. In 1997 she received the Premio Nacional a la obra de un traductor for her translations of Eastern and Central European writers. In 2000, she received the First Category Medal from the Czech Republic. She has participated in several literature gatherings and her works have been translated to more than 20 languages. In 1998 she won Premio Internacional de Poesía Ciudad de Melilla for Arcángel de sombra.

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