Despite the country being at war, PEN Català was able to maintain an active presence at the 1937 Congress, as well as those in 1938 and 1939 with Carles Riba, Clementina Arderiu, Josep Millàs-Raurell, Carles Soldevila and Joaquim Xirau attending the 1937 Congress held in Paris.  The atmosphere at this, the fifteenth Congress of PEN International, 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, approving with enthusiasm resolutions in favour of peace and motions against the atrocity of war. Representatives of the Spanish PEN centre, are also present at the Paris congress: Andrés Garcia de La Barca, ‘Corpus Barga’ and Enrique Díez Canedo.

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 to poet’s memory and expresses its sympathy to the people of Spain, who today defend their independence and the sacred right of a people to self-determination, and, by the same token, safeguards the principles essential to all 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 we forget, but we are in the proposal of our brothers in the Madrid centre in the sense that we wish 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 passes and the International Federation of PEN Clubs meet again in Prague. Mercè Rodoreda and Francesc Trabal – who, at the time were at the centre of 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 his wife, as well as to Francesc Trabal and his guest, to attend 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 is read in Prague and will be published, with some brutal editing, in Meridià magazine, but not until many years have passed will it be accessible in its complete form  when it is published in the third volume of Obres Completes (Complete Works),[1].

This is explained in a letter he sent to Joan Vinyoli on the 16th November: “We are acting as intellectual ambassadors for Catalonia, its republican faith and its will to maintain itself as a spiritual value in the world. I do not think it is excessive to say that our actions are not ineffective. Others have preceded us and accompany us. It is 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 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).