“And for the power of a word
I begin my life again
I have only been born to know you
To call you
A cry of freedom rose above the sky of the Pati Finestres of the Museu Picasso in the continual reading of the poem Freedom, by Paul Eluard, on 16th November, in which personalities from the world of culture participated, but also bystanders and visitors to the museum who wanted to add anonymously to an event, open to everyone and that lasted 10 hours. One hundred and thirty people read in several languages – the original French, Catalan, Spanish, English, Russian, Turkish, German and Italian – the most famous poem by the French writer, written in 1941, which would become a symbol of the French Resistance during the German occupation. The manuscript of Freedom is one of the works that can be seen in the exhibition Pablo Picasso. Paul Eluard. a sublime friendship, currently open in the museum until 15th March.
The journalist Txell Bonet, partner of Jordi Cuixart, the imprisoned president of Òmnium Cultural, opened the poetic marathon at 12 noon, a choice to start the reading with “highly charged symbolism”, as Vicenç Altaió explains, organizer of the event. Throughout the day, and defying the cold, the poem was read by artists such as Ignasi Aballí, Perejaume, David Ymbernon, Nora Ancarola, Francesca Llopis or Gino Rubert; architects such as Beth Galí; poets as Francesc Parcerisas, David Castillo or Susanna Rafart; actors as Abel Folk, Imma Colomer, Enric Majó or Muntsa Alcañiz; the film directors Albert Serra and Isona Passola; the regional Minister of Culture, Mariàngela Vilallonga; and members of the board of the Foundation and workers of the Museu Picasso.
Some anonymous people also joined in, who improvised the reading of a poem, which was repeated “like a mantra” throughout the day. “An event of this kind highlights the fact that a text is an open work when it is put in the voices of many people. Each reader becomes an active subject”, Altaió explains. And each of the interventions represented a very different interpretation of Eluard’s text.
Freedom is one of the peaks of the poetic work of Paul Eluard. If you read it in the key of loving poetry, you will see how everything fits, given that the French poet first of all wrote it thinking of his wife, Nusch. But, at the height of Nazi occupation in France, during the Second World War, Eluard, committed to the French Resistance, transformed what was, in principle, a love poem, into a war poem. At the end of the poem he added the word “Freedom”, the only time the word appears throughout the text, after repeating in a beautiful litany in each verse, “I write your name.” The yearning for freedom had become a priority for Paul and Nusch Eluard. In a very risky action and so as not to raise suspicions, Nusch took the poem in loose sheets in a box of chocolates to a printer of the Resistance. The text, which was first published clandestinely, became a hymn of the Resistance after 1943 airplanes of the British Royal Air Force threw thousands of sheets with the printed poem over the occupied French territory.
Dora Maar. Portrait of Nusch Eluard. Paris, 1935. Photograph in the rooms of silver. 23.8 x 17 cm. APPH1457. Musée national Picasso-Paris
The proof of the impact that the poem has caused over the decades is also demonstrated by the fact that it has been massively translated and that many musicians have made their own versions of it. The composer Francis Poulenc who set the poem to music within his cantata Figure humaine and recently the jazz singer Madeleine Peyroux who did a version. but maybe one of the best-known songs inspired in part by Freedom is I call you freedom, a theme composed by Gian Franco Pagliaro, who popularized Nacha Guevara.