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Haiku in Spain: Catalan

Catalonia (written as Catalunya in the Catalan language, and as Cataluña in the Spanish language) is an autonomous community in the northeastern part of Spain. The official languages are Catalan, Spanish, and the Aranese dialect of Occitan. The Catalan language is spoken in northeastern Spain and the Balearic Islands as well as the principality of Andorra. First contacts with haiku in Catalonia were made through the publication of translations from English of the imagist poets in 1920 and from French of parts of Paul-Louis Couchoud’s work the following year. In the early 1920s a number of established poets began to experiment with haiku-like verses, but the first true haiku in Catalan was probably written by Josep María Junoy. Today there are a number of poets writing and publishing their work in Catalan but such events as Catalan haiku anthologies and organizations are just beginning.

Catalan is a language that is spoken both inside and outside of Catalonia, at times referred to by different names depending on the region, and with unique local features that distinguish each variant linguistically and culturally. For the purpose of this article, Catalan will be used as a coverall for all regions and languages that have fallen under the umbrella of Catalan language.

First Contacts

In the 20th century, Catalan literature suffered the repercussions of the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing military dictatorship, which repressed the Catalan language and other cultural activities. Since Spain’s transition to democracy, Catalan has flourished.

In 1920 La Revista published Catalan translations of the imagists (Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others) that showed the influence of hokku and Asian verse on early-20th-century Anglo-American poetry.

The Barcelona journal La Veu de Catalunya (The Voice of Catalonia) translated and published parts of Paul-Louis Couchoud’s 1921 work Poetes et sages d’asie (Poets and Sages of Asia), specifically excerpting the section titled “Les epigrammes lyriques du Japon” (The Lyric Epigrams of Japan). Poets in Catalonia may already have heard of haiku, but this marked the official arrival of haiku on the Catalan literary scene.

Eugeni d’Ors (1881–1954) was one of the first poets to write haiku-inspired poems in Catalan. Mallorcan poet Joan Alcover (1854–1926) wrote humorous short verse inspired by haiku. See this example with a rhyme scheme:

Conec un japonés
gran enemic
dels versos que jo escric
perquè en té cada estrofa més de tres.
There’s an acquaintance of mine
a Japanese man who loathes
that all my strophes
have a fourth line1

In the same year Josep María Junoy (1887–1955) published Amour et paysage (Love and Landscapes), a sequence of poems in French and Catalan.

Dolça veu,
estesa per la roca com la molsa,
tota amarada de lluna i saliva.
Soft voice,
spread like moss over the rock,
drenched in moon and saliva.

In 1921 Catalan poet Joan Salvat-Papasseit (1894–1924) published “Vibracions” (Vibrations) as part of his work L’irradiador del port i les gavines (The Radiator and the Gulls). There is some dispute regarding which poet, Junoy or Salvat-Papasseit, was the first to produce haiku in Catalan, but it would seem Junoy was the first, and it is clear that, whatever the case, Salvat-Papasseit was influenced by the work of Junoy. Salvat-Papasseit, like Junoy, experimented with calligrams:

In English the text reads: the sun’s path — along friendly routes — some ants.

After the War

In 1947 Carles Riba (1893–1959) published Del joc i del foc (Of the Fire and of the Games), a collection that includes tanka. Riba devised a much-imitated system for syllable count, trying to reproduce the Japanese meter in Catalan. Riba also showed interest in the themes and techniques of tanka beyond syllable count.

Rosa Leveroni (1910–1985) was a student of Riba’s. Both poets were influenced by Michel Revon’s 1910 book Anthologie de la littérature japonaise des origines au XXe siècle (Anthology of Japanese Literature from Its Origins until the 20th Century). In 1952 Leveroni published 12 haiku under the subtitle “Flors al vent” (Flowers in the Wind) in her book Presència i record (Presence and Memory). Leveroni’s work, mainly composed in the autumn of 1938, was notable for its romantic nature and in the vein of tanka. As with Riba, syllable count was an important feature for Leveroni. For haiku her syllabic approach tended towards two hexasyllabic lines with a masculine rhyme scheme and closing with an additional line, generally of four syllables, with a stress on the last syllable (while allowing flexibility for an extra syllable.)

Com l’ametller florit
bandejo el meu neguit
les flors al vent.

Like the blooming almond tree
I flutter my anxiety
the flowers in the wind.

In 1967 Catalan poet Salvador Espriu (1913–1985) published a haiku sequence titled “Per al llibre de Salms d’aquests vells cecs” (For the Book of Psalms of These Old Blind Men). The work was inspired by Brueghel’s painting The Blind Leading the Blind, and drew heavily on biblical references. One can also potentially find veiled references to the oppressive regime of Francisco Franco, and early fragments of the poem were, in fact, censored. Espriu took his lead from Riba, who had devised a syllabic approach to tanka, and by association to haiku in Catalan. Espriu incorporated the 5–7–5 haiku form as an essential ingredient in his poetics. Espriu included a dedication to Riba in his seminal work on the Spanish Civil War, La Pell de brau (1960; The Bull Hide). The following haiku comes from “Per al llibre de Salms d’aquests vells cecs” (For the Book of Psalms of These Old Blind Men) :

D’un pou a l’altre 
de la nit, som profunda 
set de font clara. 
From one well to the other
of the night. We are deep thirst
of clear fountains.

“For the Book of Psalms of These Old Blind Men” has been marginalized in collections of his work. An early selection of the poems was censored by the Franco regime, most likely due to an accompanying illustration that appeared to be inspired in part by a haiku that mentions a long line of blind people:

Llarga corrua 
de cecs. Per la temença  
remor de passos.
A long single file
of the blind. Due to their fear
the noise of their steps

as well as the haiku that mentions “white garments of our desperation”:

Fixes, ben llises, 
blancs vestits de la 
nostra desesperança. 
Fixed, and ever smooth,
the pristine white garments of
our desperation

There are elements in the finished haiku sequence that may well be read as an allegory of the situation of Spain, especially Catalonia, in the period of the dictatorship after the Civil War.

Some may consider the examples by Espriu to have few of the hallmarks of a haiku. It seems to be what Spanish haiku poet and critic Vicente Haya would denominate “haiku para ser pensado,” a haiku that requires the kind of philosophical or poetic thought not belonging to haiku.

In 1982 the Barcelona-born poet Agustí Bartra (1908–1992) published Haikus d’Arinsal (Haiku from Arinsal), which is closely linked to Bartra’s exile as a result of the Spanish Civil War. An interesting feature of the work is the way in which some haiku are linked. Here are some examples of haiku that, while having a certain autonomy, are nevertheless designed to be read in conjunction, as the punctuation indicates. Here is a two-part haiku:

M’obro a les coses, 
que vénen, pelegrines, 
sense certeses, 

si no les drapo 
amb els meus sols de poŀlen.   
Començo a entendre. 
I open myself to the things
that come, pilgrims,
without certainties,

if I don’t drape them
with my suns of pollen.
I begin to understand.

An anthology, Poesía japonesa contemporània (Contemporary Japanese Poetry), was published in 1988 by Felícia Fuster (1921–2012) together with Naoyuki Sawada, and in 2001 she put out her last book, Postals no escrites (Unwritten Postcards), a collection of all her haiku.

Miquel Martí i Pol published La nit. Onze haikús (1994; The Night: 11 Haiku), later followed by Abecedari. Una joia solidària (2001; Alphabet: A Solitary Joy), Haikús en temps de guerra (2002; Haiku in Time of War), and Natura Viva (2003; Live Nature). Joana Raspall (1913–2013) brought out her collection Arpegis Haikús (Arpeggios: Haiku) in 2004, followed by Instants: Haikus i Tankas (Instant Haiku and Tanka) in 2009. In 2015 two Valencian poets Ana Añón Roig (born 1965) and Isabel Rodríguez Mas (born 1947) published a bilingual (Spanish and Valencian/Catalan) book of their haiku titled Entre las zarzas / Entre els esbarzers (Among the Bushes).

Haiku from Iberia and Beyond
by Danny Blackwell

In 2014 Sam Abrams and Jordi Mas López edited a collection of essays of various poets titled L’haiku en llengua catalana (Haiku in the Catalan Language). The book includes essays on the work of Espriu, Bartra, Fuster, Martí i Pol, Raspall, Josep Miquel Sobrer, Jordi Vintró, Lluís Urpinell, and Iban L. Llop.

Two major anthologies appeared in 2018. Abrams gathered more than 1,500 Catalan haiku written by 96 authors between 1906 and 2018 into an anthology titled Llum a les golfes (Light in the Attic). Included were living poets such as Abraham Mohino, Jordi Julià, Iban L. Llop, Pau Gener, Isabel Garcia Canet, Sílvia Bel Fransi, Jaume Coll Mariné and Jordi Mas López. Danny Blackwell published Haiku from Iberia and Beyond, a selection of haiku from both hemispheres written in the languages of the Iberian Peninsula (Basque, Catalan, Portuguese, and Spanish) along with English translations and notes and brief histories of haiku in each area.

Author: Danny Blackwell

Adapted from: Blackwell, Haiku from Iberia and Beyond

Sources / Further Reading

Histories, studies, and anthologies of Japanese haiku and haiku generally

  • Aullón de Haro, Pedro. El jaiku en España: la delimitación de un componente de la poética de la modernidad (The Haiku in Spain: The Delimitation of a Component of the Poetics of Modernity). Madrid: Playor, 1985; 2nd enlarged edition, Madrid: Hiperión, 2002.
  • Balcells, José Maria. “Poesia hispanica japonesista.” Estudios humanísticos. Filología 18 (1996), 93–114.
  • Benachir, Hynde. Anthologie du haiku hispanique. Université Bordeaux-Montaigne, 2016.
  • Couchoud, Paul-Louis. Sages et poètes d’Asie. Paris: Éditions Calmann-Levy, 1916. Includes “Les épigrammes lyriques du Japon” (1906).
  • Haya, Vicente. Herbas rojas de tardor (Cent estances de l`haiku japonès). Barcelona: Pagés Editor, 2009. In Catalan.
  • Paz, Octavio, and Eikichi Hayashiya, trans. Matsuo Bashō: sendas de Oku. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1981. In Spanish.
  • Revon, Michel. Anthologie de la littérature japonaise des origines au XXe siécle. Paris: Delagrave, 1910.

Anthologies, collections, and studies of Catalan haiku

  • Abrams, D. Sam, Jordi Mas López, et al., editors. L’ haiku en llengua catalana (The Haiku in Catalan). Santa Coloma de Queralt: Obrador Edèndum, 2014.
  • Abrams, D. Sam, selector. Llum a les golfes (Light in the Attic). Barcelona: Viena Ediciones, 2018.
  • Añón Roig, Ana, and Isabel Rodríguez Mas. Entre las zarzas / Entre els esbarzers (Among the Bushes). Albacete, Spain: Uno Editorial, 2015. In Spanish and Catalan.
  • Bartra, Agustí. Haikús d’Arinsal. Andorra la Vella: Coŀlecció Nívia, 2nd edition, 1983.
  • Bartra, Agustí. Haikús d’Arinsal / Haiku from Arinsal. Translated by Sam Abrams. Terrassa, Catalonia, Spain: Mirall de Glaç, 2nd edition, 1986. In Catalan and English.
  • Bartra, Agustí. Haikús d’Arinsal / Haiku from Arinsal (Haiku of Arinsal). Terrassa, Catalonia, Spain: Mirall de Glaç, 1986. In Catalan and English.
  • Bartra, Agustí. Haikús d’Arinsal / Haiku from Arinsal. Prologue and English translations by D. Sam Abrams. Andorra: Editorial Andorra, 2010. In Catalan and English.
  • Bartra, Agusti. Last Poems. Translated by D. Sam Abrams. Barcelona: Institut d’Estudis Nord-Americans, 1981. In Catalan and English.
  • Blackwell, Danny. Haiku from Iberia and Beyond. Valencia: Mono Ya Mono Books, 2018.
  • Bover, August. Mojave. Sitges, Spain: Papers de Terramar, 2006. In Catalan, English, and French.
  • Cerdà, Jordi. “Per al llibre de Salms d’aquests vells cecs (1967).” Visat—La revista digital de literatura i traducció de PEN Català 12 (October 2011): http://www.visat.cat/traduccions-literatura-catalana/cat/articles/84/151/-/4/teatre/salvador-espriu.html.
  • Corrales, Luis, and Vicente Haya, editors. Poetas de corazón japonés: Antologia de Autores de “El Rincón del Haiku” Toledo, Spain: Editorial Ceyla, 2005.
  • Defez, Antoni. Els haikus de Ciutat Vella (Old Town Haiku). Valencia: Bromera poesía, 2005.
  • Espriu, Salvador. La Pell de brau (The Bull Hide). Barcelona: Salve, 1960.
  • Espriu, Salvador. Poesía. Barcelona: Edicions del Mall, 3 vols, 1981–1982.
  • Fuster, Felicia. Obra poètica: 1984–2001 (Poetic Works: 1984–2001). Curated by Lluïsa Julià. Barcelona: Proa, 1st edition, 2010.
  • Fuster, Felícia. Poesía japonesa contemporània (Contemporary Japanese Poetry). Edited by Naoyuki Sawada. Barcelona: Proa, 1988.
  • Fuster, Felícia. Postals no escrites (Unwritten Postcards). Barcelona: Proa, 2001.
  • Joana Raspall Raro, Rosario. Puerto Libertad (Port Liberty). Castellón, Spain: Ediciones Urania, 2014.
  • Junoy, Josep Maria. Amour et paysage (Love and Landscape). 1920. Barcelona: A. Artis, 1st edition, 2010. In French and Catalan.
  • Junoy, José María. Fin de paisaje: doce haikais de occidente. Barcelona: Editorial Montaner y Simón, S.A., 1941.
  • Junoy, Josep Maria. Obra poética (Poetic Works). Edited by Jaume Vallcorba. Translated by Andrés Sánchez Robayna. Barcelona: Acantilado, 2010.
  • Kirkup, James. “Agusti Bartra: Catalan Haiku Poet.” Modern Haiku 23:1 (Winter–Spring 1992), 39–41. Essay and translations of 16 haiku.
  • Leveroni, Rosa. Presència i record (Presence and Memory). Barcelona: Ossa Menor, 1st edition, 1952. In Catalan. Reprint: Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2013.
  • Martí i Pol, Miquel. Abecedari: una joia solidària (Alphabet: A Solitary Joy). Barcelona: Aura Comunicació, 2001.
  • Martí i Pol, Miquel. Haikús en temps de guerra (Haiku in Times of War). Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2nd edition, 2002.
  • Martí i Pol, Miquel. Natura Viva (Live Nature). Perspectiva, 2005.
  • Martí i Pol, Miquel. La nit: onze haikús (The Night: 11 Haiku). Barcelona: Llibreria Antiquària Delstre’s, [1994?].
  • Martí i Pol, Miquel. La nit: onze haikús (The Night: 11 Haiku). [Barcelona: Perspectiva Editorial Cultural], ©2002.
  • Martí i Pol, Miquel. Obra poetica 4 (Poetic Works 4). Barcelona: Edicions 62, 2004.
  • Mas López, Jordi. Els haikús de Josep Maria Junoy i Joan Salvat-Papasseit. Barcelona: Autonomous University of Barcelona, March 2002. Doctoral thesis in translation theory, Department of Translation and Interpretation, Autonomous University of Barcelona; directed by Montserrat Bacardi Tomàs.
  • Mas López, Jordi. “L’haiku, forma clau en la poesia de Joan Salvat Papasseit” (The Haiku, a Key Form in the Poetry of Joan Salvat Papasseit). Quaderns. Revista de traducció (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) 11 (2004), 175–85.
  • Mas López, Jordi. Els haikús de Josep Maria Junoy i Joan Salvat-Papasseit. Barcelona: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, March 2002. Doctoral thesis in translation theory.
  • Mas López, Jordi. “The Significance of Haiku in the Poetry of Joan Salvat-Papasseit.” Inter Asia Papers (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) 13 (2010), 175–85.
  • Miralles Contijoch, Francesc. Un haiku per a l’Alícia. Barcelona: Crüilla, 2002.
  • Pagès, Jordi. Marea baixa: haikús de primavera i d’estiu. Barcelona: Edicions La Magrana, 1997.
  • Prado, Carlos García. “La poesia imáginista y el haiku japonés” (Imaginary Poetry and Japanese Haiku). Revista iberoamericana 21 (1956).
  • Raspall, Joana. Arpegis Haikús. Saldes, Catalonia, Spain: ABADIAeditors, 2004.
  • Raspall i Juanola, Joana. Instants: Haikus i Tankas (Instants: Haiku and Tanka). Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Catalonia: Edicions del Llobregat, 2009.
  • Riba, Carles. Del joc i del foc (Of the Fire and of the Games). Barcelona: Editorial Selecta, 1946. In Catalan.
  • Salvat-Papasseit, Joan. L’irradiador del port i les gavines. Barcelona: Atenes, A.G., 1921. Paperback edition from Educaula, 2016. Walters, D. Gareth. The Poetry of Salvador Espriu: To Save the Words. Tamesis Books, 2006.

Haiku in Spain

Haiku in Spain: Basque

Haiku in Spain: Galician


  1. All translations of Catalan haiku in this article are by Danny Blackwell from his Haiku from Iberia and Beyond []
Updated on May 2, 2024