Rafael Alberti’s “Nocturno”; sung by Paco Ibáñez

Rafael Alberti reading his poems to the V Regiment (February, 1936)One of the best poems by Rafael Alberti, writen in the years of the Spanish civil war. For better understanding of the poem, we must know some things: The Spanish intellectuals (poets, writers, painters, philosophers, musicians, singers…) made a great labour during the Spanish Second Republic (1931-1939), as in its come as in its development. The most of the intellectuals had left-handed politicals positions (marxism, communism, anarquism, democrats…), like many other writers along the whole world: against imperialsm, capitalism, fascism, etc.; so they made a laudable work for educating a people traditionally illiterate, in a society mostly agrarian yet, in the cultural programs of the first Gobernment or by their own. Along these years, the Spanish intellectuals were very active in the socials affairs; between 1934-1936, when the Right won the elections, and then occured the Revolt of Asturias (1934), intellectuals denounced the fascists ways of this gobernment; at the same time, a little of them take part in the I Writers International Congress (Paris, 1935), in which writers from the whole world came to denounce fascism (Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and also Greece, Portugal, Bulgary…) and reassert their compromise with the worker people. Spanish Delegation was presided by great writer Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, but being very sick, member of the Spanish Socialist Party, Julio álvarez del Vayo, took his place as president and made the speech. Also, the Spanish intellectuals, grouped in the Spanish section of the Asociación Internacional de Escritores para la Defensa de la Cultura (Writers in Defense of Culture International Association) or Alianza de Intelectuales Antifascistas (Antifascists Intellectuals Alliance), made and signed manifests for very causes: against the invasion of Ethiopia by Mussolini; against Hitler’s repression; against tortures and for the amnesty of the prissoners of the Revolt of Asturias; for the freedom of Antonio Espina (Spanish journalist arrested by an article against Hitler), Antonio Gramsci, Luis Carlos Prestes, Ernst Thälmann… And many acts in benefit of diverses causes… The most of them supported the candidature of the Spanish People Front –a coalition of the most of the left parties, leadered by president to be Manuel Azaña-, that won the ‘36 elections. Then, when militaries and fascists parties tried to realize a coup d’etat, that came into a civil war, the most of them kept their loyalty to the legitimate Gobernment of the Spanish Republic, and continued the intellectual labour; many of them wrote poems about the war, some of them were a denounce against unfair killing of Federico García Lorca. In 1937, take place in Spain the II Writers International Congress, also known as II Antifascists Intellectuals International Congress, in which writers from the whole world came to Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona to show their compromise with the Democratic Spain, In this year, Rafael Alberti wrote this beautiful poem: Alberti, as a member of the Spanish Comunist Party, was one of the intellectuals more active in this acts, but, as its said in the poem, he felt a little helpless as a poet and not soldier. "I've been singing for the people", Paco Ibáñez (www.triunfodigital.com)All the words they said and the acts they made couldn’t prevent war, nor the killing of Lorca and the bombardment over Guernica, Madrid and other towns and cities… Writers of the world was saying beautiful words, but they were useless words, and the only effective action was the combat. So, all that impotence is reflected in this poem that, many years later, was sung by the great songwriter Paco Ibáñez. Paco replaced the reiterative verse “Balas. Blas” by a play of guitar and bass: at the time of dictatorship, Rafael Alberti’s word were even most strongly in force when in the voice of Paco, Alberti’s words take a new meaning, when the Spanish intellectuals were deeply democratics and antifascists too.


Cuando tanto se sufre sin sueño y por la sangre
se escucha que transita solamente la rabia,
que en los tuétanos tiembla despabilado el odio
y en la médula arde continua la venganza,
las palabras entonces no sirven: son palabras.

Balas. Balas.

Manifiestos, artículos, comentarios, discursos,
humaredas perdidas, neblinas estampadas,
¡qué dolor de papeles que ha de barrer el viento,
qué tristeza de tinta que ha de borrar el agua!

Balas. Balas.

Ahora sufro lo pobre, lo mezquino, lo triste,
lo desgraciado y muerto que tiene una garganta
cuando desde el abismo de su idioma quisiera
gritar lo que no puede por imposible, y calla.

Balas. Balas.

Siento esta noche heridas de muerte las palabras.


When so much suffering without dream and by the blood/ it’s listening that only rage walks,/ that in the marrows hate shivers awake/ and in the medulla vengeance burns continuous,/ then words are not worth: they are words.// Bullets. Bullets.// Manifests, articles, comentaries, speechs,/ lost smoke, printing mists,/ what a sorrow of papers that should be windswept,/ what a sadness of ink that should be erased by water!// Bullets. Bullets.// Now I’m suffering the poor, the small minded, the sad,/ unfortunate and dead a throat has/ when from the abyss of its language it wanted/ to cry what it cannot as impossible, and keep quiet.// Bullets. Bullets.// I’m feeling tonight words as wounded of death.

Rafael Alberti

Paco Ibáñez at Olympia Theatre, Paris

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