Pondal: A Celtic Bard in Spain

At the hour the sweet morning star
Begins to soften and melt,
His well-horned mountain goats
Trotting along in front,
Temenday the Celtic shepherd comes
Returning to his sweet fold
Alone and singing through the broom
Of Xallas, decked with heather so white.
Trembling vague with solitude,
He begins his song like this:
“Ancient tomb of Pïosa,
The wind so sad to hear
Moans in the mute heather
Over all the hills around you
And pierces with animal roar

Castromaior, near Portomarín

With pained groan.
Under your mantle
Brave Brandomil lies
Unforgotten, in the arms
Of sweet and eternal sleep:
He has on his right side
His golden pagan helmet
His strong spear and shield,
Where once the sun would sparkle
While with pleasure the Celts looked
Shut up in the waste lands of Xallas.

Oh, brave son of Ogas
And of sweet and noble Eiriz,
The long memory of you
Will forever remain!
And when the son of the Celts,
In times yet to come
Walking lost in thought
May happen to pass this way,
When in those times
He sees the moon shining
Spying you afar, he will say:
‘Brave Brandomil,
Of the good pagan race
Of Celts, lies here at rest!’”

Queixumes dos Pinos, ed. Miguel Mato Fondo ( Vigo: AS.PG, 1996)


Eduardo Pondal is one of the leading poets of the nineteenth-century revival of Galego along with Rosalía de Castro and Curros Enríquez.  The ‘complaining pines’ of the title of this book give you a fair indication that the work will be Romantic in tone, with an evocation of the lonely rural spaces of Galicia populated by the ghosts of Celtic ancestors whose remains are so evident in the castros, or iron age hill forts, that dot the countryside.

Pondal was and is popular: he is the author of the Galician national hymn.  He created for himself a poetic persona as the bard of his nation and his verses are full of high-blown phrases and rhythms.  In this particular poem he uses the word ‘sweet’ four times and ‘brave’ three times.  If this is a lack of care as a poet it is of a grand order: I cannot imagine any teacher of composition allowing his students this repetitive liberty, more particularly with such imprecise and woolly adjectives.

It is curious to me how the poem is still effective in spite of this.

The bardic tone is set by alternating feminine and masculine line endings that fall short of being a consistent rhyme-scheme but establish a rhythm to move the poem along in a song-like manner.   Pondal takes an everyday phrase and turns it into memorable poetry.  There is something special about this:

Debaixo das túas antes
‘sta o valente Brandomil,
Non no olvido, mais nos brazos
Do eterno e doce dormir.

This sounds to me just like a ballad.  Look at all the ‘o’ s in the last two lines.  When you read them aloud they just come tripping off the tongue like some lines of Edgar Allen Poe, the caesura marked by the comma after ‘olvido’ setting off that little alliterative cataract in the last line.

There is a healthy archaeological scepticism about the attempts of Galician nationalists to claim a Celtic ancestry, but if you have visited one of the hill-forts, which are always in stunning locations with extraordinary vistas, it is not difficult to be carried along with the Romantic reveries of Pondal.  The problem is that there is a Romanticization of the Celtic warrior that cannot help but seem sexist and old-fashioned these days (Misoxinia e racismo na poesía de Pondal, María Xosé Queizán, Laiovento, 1998, is a good place to start thinking about this).  Pondal himself was not a pleasant fellow and has come in for a good deal of criticism for his sexist and racist vision.  Have a read of this:


Vosotros sois de los cíngaros,                          You are of the travellers,
de los rudos iberos,                                            of the crude Iberians,
de los vagos gitanos,                                          of the lazy gypsies,
de la gente del infierno;                                    of the people from hell;
de los godos, de los moros                               of the Goths, the Moors
y árabes; que aún                                               and Arabs; so still
os lleven los demonios.                                     You can go to the devil.
Nosotros somos de los galos,                           We are Gallic,
nosotros somos de los suevos,                         We are Swabian,
nosotros somos de los francos,                        We are French,
romanos y griegos.                                              Roman and Greek.
Nosotros somos de los celtas,                           We come from Celts
nosotros somos gallegos.                                   We are Galician.


This unpleasant rant is one short part of an anti-Castilian poem by Pondal.  It would have been laughable even at the time it was written, like a Highland Scot or a Welsh sheep farmer singing about the dignity of his race.   It is lamentable that the Galician national anthem springs from the same source.  Here is the anthem:

I can’t stand this kind of nationalism so I found it difficult to get to the end!

If you are interested in getting a more rounded view of the Celts in north west Spain E-Keltoi is a good place to start.  You will quickly find that the denomination Celt is itself contested!

A few notes are in order:

Xallas is a real place in A Coruña.  The river Xallas is famously beautiful and hasn’t been completely ruined by modern development.

The hero Brandomil takes his name a town of the same name in A Coruña where there is an old bridge from the sixteenth-century that was thought to be Roman in Pondal’s time.


According to Wikipedia, Piosa is an old Irish name for a patch or piece, which can also refer to a musical composition.  Ogas and Eiriz do not have any particular significance that I can detect.  Eiriz is a common surname particularly in Lugo.


The suevos/Swabians were a Germanic tribe that settled in the north west of the Iberian peninsula on the fall of the Roman Empire.  They were eventually defeated by the Visigoths.

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Trobadores- Johan Arias de Santiago

I saw a young girl walking
At Cresente through the woods
And there she started singing
Far from the view of the world
Tying her skirt at the waist
As the sun with dawn gold chased
The banks of the river Sar.

There were birds flying above
Through the breaking light of dawn
They were all singing their loves
Through the branches all around.
Well, I don’t know anyone
Who could have thought anything
But of love there, only love.

There I was, all quiet,
Wanting to speak but too scared
But finally, fearfully,
Said, “Lady, can I talk
A bit, if you will hear me,
And I’ll leave when you tell me
And I won’t be here any more…”

“Sir, by Our Lady,” she said,
“Don’t stay here any more.
Get on with you on your way.
It is best for you before
The others who are coming
See you and think something
Happened to me here, for sure!”

This poem is by Johan Arias de Santiago, a troubador poet working in the court of Alfonso X the Wise around the year 1270. A native of Santiago de Compostela he was writing at a time when Gallego was the courtly language of Christian Spain.

This shows typical features of the Provenzal tradition of love poetry with a local flavour. The unrequited lover with his ideal and courtly love of the distant lady is here replaced by a very real, if still unrequited, love for a peasant girl. The sense of place is vivid. It is worth noting that Rosalía de Castro’s last book of verse was titled ‘On the Banks of the River Sar‘.

Source: Locus Amoenus, ed. C. Alvar (Barcelona: Gutenburg, 2009)

I am reposting this poem with a link to another blog, Musica Antiguawhich has a beautiful rendition of a song by Martín Codax, which I translate below:

Ondas do mar de Vigo,
se vistes meu amigo?
E ai Deus!, se verra cedo?

Ondas do mar levado,
se vistes meu amado?
E ai Deus!, se verra cedo?

Se vistes meu amigo,
o por que eu sospiro?
E ai Deus!, se verra cedo?

Se vistes meu amado,
por que ei gran coidado?
E ai Deus!, se verra cedo?

Martín Codax gives his name to a fine Albariño wine.

Waves of the Vigo sea,
Have you seen my love?
Dear God, will he come soon?

Waves of the wind-blown sea.
Have you seen my love?
Dear God, will he come soon?

Have you seen my love
The one I am sighing for?
Dear God, will he come soon?

Have you seen my love
Who has me so worried?
Dear God, will he come soon?

Martín Codax wine is made in the south of Galicia in the pretty seaside town of Cambados, not far from Vigo.

(Cantiga de Amigo V)

Martín Codax was a mid 13th century to early 14th century Galician troubador, possibly from Vigo, we guess from the many references to the city in his poems.  There are scarcely any records of his life.

There are only seven cantigas de amigo attributed to him which are to be found in the old Galician-Portuguese songbooks and the Vindel Manuscript where his name appears as the author of the works.  This is his entire oeuvre.

The discovery of this manuscript was pure chance.  In 1914 the bibliographer Pedro vindel found it in his library where it was the inner frontispiece of a copy of Cicero’s De Officiis.

The Martín Codax poems in the manuscript are the following (the first line is used as the title):

Ondas do mar de Vigo
Mandad’ei comigo ca ven meu amigo
Mia yrmana fremosa treides comigo
Ay Deus se sab’ora meu amado
Quantas sabedes amar amigo
En o sagrad’ e Vigo (Solo texto, sin notación musical)
Ay ondas que eu vin veer

Thanks to the manuscript the musical notation of these compositions survives as well.

If you are interested in old music it is well worth looking up Jordi Savall and Eduardo Paniagua on Youtube.  It will inevitably lead you on a treasure hunt!

Try looking at Alia Vox for more information on Savall.

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The Tempest at the Globe

Was Shakespeare written by Shakespeare?  People who want to poach his work for some noble pen ignore the references within the plays to the business of theatre.  The Tempest is a good example of this.  It gives knowing nods to the audience, the theatre and, in the figure of Prospero, Shakespeare himself.

The Globe Theatre in London does a solid job of putting the Bard on the boards.  In this extract you can feel the references clearly:  “We are such stuff as dreams are made of.”


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mozatreeIt is 2017 and I have a number of projects that have kept me away from this blog for a while.  I have been thinking how to bring the separate strands of what I do together and playing around with different projects.

For the past year and a half we have been taking volunteers to help in our organic garden in Asturias.  You can see a bit of that work here:  www.villandasrural.com.  The website is not the best unfortunately and it does not focus on the gardens, which in my mind are the major attraction.

When I came to Spain with Carmen eight and a half years ago the garden was a field that she rented out to a neighbour and we have been planting trees, bushes, flowers and a vegetable plots since then.  Year by year it changes.  Last year we started taking in volunteers to help through the WWOOF organisation: http://www.wwoof.net/

These volunteers have been of all ages from 18-60 and have been a great help in the garden.  I realise, however, that they are not necessarily primarily motivated by organic farming.  They are on their own individual life journeys.  They enjoy the environment we live in and gladly help with the work that we are engaged in, but the attraction of being in the mountains is more than just the attraction of organic farming.  It is good food, healthy activity and stimulating conversations as well.

I came to think that I could share all of this without the umbrella of the volunteer organisation.  Why not read, walk and eat instead of gardening, talking and eating?  That is the motivation behind Shakespeare in the Mountains.  I hope to extend the range of activities that I engage in to attract more people and really promote the things that seem important to me in the world: good living and good reading, which I never separate.

In the meantime I have put an archive widget in the bar on the right to enable you to search through the translations here by month.  There is a lot of work there and I shall be going over it and re-working and re-issuing some of those translations with new commentaries through the year.  I have an idea that it might be a good idea to put together an e-book.  What do you think?



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In Death’s Wake

In Death’s Wake

…barely a word to light youstarlilies
Under dead stars’ luminous shower.
Take a fardel of star lilies
to brighten your long way.
Between sky and earth in the magic
Of pure night, in the clear water wake
your starlit roaming leaves,
I must follow on a trail of grief.

Karmas and memories spread out
Drowned in the present, with no past,
Not even these immaterial dreams
That bring back the rose-blooms of your body.

Instead of burning, my transmuted bodywake
Will follow your wake over the ample blue
And on pressing my frozen lips to yours
The seven heavens will disperse in light.

This poem is by Eduardo Blanco Amor, whom I have spoken about here and on my other site Shakespeare in the Mountains.

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Novoneyra- Wolf Stuff

Wolf stuff

boar gorge

lone places no one’s been or will go.

The wolf! The eyes the back of the wolf!

The wolf comes down the wood’s eye

moving the yewtree branches

rustling along leafy paths

seeking the most isolated and fearful corner.

It pauses

stops and sniffs

extends claws stretches out head and howls at the sky

with all the sky’s shadows in its mouth.

This is Uxío Novoneyra describing the wolf. Wolves are still common in Spain. One came down and ate a sheep in Carmen’s garden in the village, in spite of the howling dogs and the farmers around.

Novoneyra is talking about the Courel with areas more remote than the area of Asturias where I live. In the fifties I can easily imagine “places no one’s been or will go.”

As usual, my translation cannot match the original. Noveoneyra is a very interesting poet to me personally because he walks. The words grow out of the landscape from which they are taken. In the dedication of the book (to Carlos Maside and Ramón Piñeiro) he says:

The words of this book are true in the high, lonely lands of the Courel. In them so as not to cause injury to things I name them or allow them to go along with their own natural and customary movement

I understand this to mean that the poetry itself is not so much written as discovered. There is certainly all the aesthetic quality of objects in the words. I can’t explain it well. But look at these two lines:

O lobo! Os ollos o lombo do lobo!

Baixa o lobo polo ollo do bosco.

And now tell me whether they could not be coming out of the mouth of the wolf.


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Funky evanescence – No / holds / barred //


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