Joan Salvat i Papasseit was born in Barcelona in 1894. After his father died in 1901 Salvat grew up in a naval orphanage where he received only the most basic education. He left school at the age of twelve to begin an apprenticeship in a perfumery.
Inspired by the anarchist revolution which took place in 1909, Salvat became interested in politics when he was 15 years old.
Two years later he met the anarchist sympathiser Emilio Eroles who owned a second-hand bookshop in the Santa Madrona market. Thanks to this friendship Salvat met left-wing poets, writers and political activists and read books that nurtured his political views and inspired his own writing.
By 1914 he had begun to publish articles in magazines and write poetry while working as a night watchman in the port of Barcelona.
Now considered one of the most influential Catalan writers of the 20th century, Salvat died of tuberculosis when he was just 30 years old. His work was largely unknown until the 1960s when it inspired a generation of singer-songwriters such as Joan Manuel Serrat, Ovidi Montllor and Lluis Llach.
Monument to Joan Salvat-Papasseit
It’s only fitting that the monument to Joan Salvat-Pappaseit is located on the the wharf where he used to work. The imposing bronze statue by Luxembourgian sculptor and architect Robert Krier portrays the poet dressed as a night-watchman and looking out over the harbour.
The statue stands on a rectangular stone plinth with two metal plaques. One of the plaques is inscribed with the poem Nocturn per a Acordió in which Salvat speaks of his experience working nights at the harbour.
Nocturn for Accordion
Now then: I’ve guarded wood on the wharf.
You don’t know what it is to guard wood on the wharf.
But I’ve seen the rain in buckets drenching the boats,
and the coin of anguish shivering beneath the timber,
beneath the flanders and the pinewood,
beneath the sacred cedars.
When the armed soldiers spied on the night
and the vault of the sky was a tunnel without the flare of carriages,
I have made a fire of shards in the black throat of the wolf.
You don’t know what it is to guard wood on the wharf,
but all the hands of all the trenches met like a lantern,
to swear an oath around my fire.
And it was like a miracle drawing out their stiff numb hands.
And in the fog each step was lost.
You don’t know what is to guard store wood in the wharf.
You don’t know the prayer of the lanterns of the boats,
which are of many colours,
like the sea under the sun: which don’t need sails.
The monument to Joan Salvat-Papasseit is located on the Moll de la Fusta wharf in Barcelona’s historic harbour El Port Vell.
How to get there
The nearest metro stops are Drassanes on the L3 green line and Barceloneta on the L4 yellow line.