In spite of the country being at war, the PEN Català has been able to maintain its active presence at the 1937 Congress, as well as the Congresses of 1938 and 1939. Carles Riba, Clementina Arderiu,  Josep Millàs-Raurell, Carles Soldevila and Joaquim Xirau attend the 1937 Congress held in Paris. It’s the fifteenth Congress of PEN International and the atmosphere is incredibly tense. It cannot be compared to the euphoria of two years earlier in Barcelona. The assembly talks time and time again about the war in Spain. The resolutions in favour of peace and the motions against the atrocity of war are enthusiastically approved. Andrés Garcia de La Barca, ‘Corpus Barga’ and Enrique Díez Canedo, representatives of the Spanish PEN, are also present in Paris.

One of the tensest moments comes with the homage PEN International pays to Federico García Lorca, murdered a year earlier in Granada. ‘Corpus Barga’ and Díez Canedo propose a text of declaration to the assembly:  “The congress, deeply moved by the death of Federico García Lorca, pays tribute in memory of the poet, and expresses its sympathy to the people of Spain, who today defend their independence and the sacred right of the people to self-determination, and, by the same token, safeguards the principles essential to all of civilisation.” Before voting on the proposal, Carles Riba asks the floor to agree to it and reads the rough draft that he’s written on a piece of paper: “The Spanish delegation from Barcelona, I would not say it is forgotten, but it is in (the) proposal of your brothers in the Madrid centre, in the sense that it wants to emphasise, that the poet García Lorca, represents all the pure victims, that is to say the most tragic, of this war into which the people of Spain were pushed.”

A year has gone by and the International Federation of PEN Clubs meet again in Prague. Mercè Rodoreda and Francesc Trabal, in an explicit love story, are the Catalan delegates. Carles Riba also had the intention of going to Prague and, amongst the papers of his archive, there is an authorisation dated 15th June, 1928, addressed to Carles Riba and Mrs, as well as to Francesc Trabal and Mrs, to attend to the Congress in Prague. Since Riba has not been able to attend, he has prepared a speech to address the Congress, Als escriptors del món (To the writers of the world), which includes a lucid evaluation of the Spanish Civil War and the historic task of Catalan writers. The text has been read in Prague and will be published, with some cuts, in Meridià magazine but not until many years have passed, when it is published in the third volume of Obres Completes (Complete Works),[1] will it be accessible in its complete form.

Carles Riba and Clementina Arderiu, however, do attend the International Federation of PEN Clubs’ Executive Council in London on the 8th and 9th November. Riba makes the most of his time in Great Britain and also gives lectures about Catalan literature in London, Cambridge and Oxford, as well as serving as an intellectual ambassador and propagandist for the republican and Catalan cause.

This is explained in a letter he sent to Joan Vinyoli on the 16th November: “We are acting as intellectual ambassadors for Catalonia and its republican faith and of its will to maintain itself as a spiritual value in the world. I don’t think it’s excessive to say that our actions are not inefficient. Others have preceded us and accompany us. It’s necessary, however, that more of them do so as well. This is how we will also win, not only through the barrel of a gun.”[2] On the 21st November, 1938, the poet John Pudney (under the pseudonym Henry Beau) writes the following in the London-based ‘News Chronicle’: “We have a renowned guest, Carles Riba, the most famous Catalan poet and a professor of Greek in Barcelona”.[3]

Despite working for his government, Riba’s most interesting work is the maintenance of culture during times of war. The problem is that the end of the Spanish Civil War is clearly foreseeable. Barcelona will fall in no more than two months and preparations are already being made for the republican exodus into exile.

[1] Carles Riba, Obres Completes 3. Crítica 2. Edited by Enric Sullà and Jaume Medina. Edicions 62. Barcelona, 1986 (pp. 291-293).

[2] Cartes de Carles Riba I: 1910-1938. Els orígens. By Carles-Jordi Guardiola. La Magrana. Barcelona, 1990 (p. 507).

[3] Jaume Medina, Carles Riba (1893-1959). Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat, 1989. Vol I (p. 331).