In this post I am looking at two poems about spinning by Novoneyra. You can listen to the Podcast here: Poetry in the Mountains

-Slender little spinner
always at your spinning
always spinning and dreaming
in the end to come to nothing.
-In the end to come to nothing,
that has still to be seen
since with the linen threads
as I twist them from their place
something has to take.
-Something has to take
and you were right, by faith,
since while watching you
all the time without realising
I went along falling in love.

This poem come from Novoneyra’s Os Eidos Libro do Courel.  I don’t usually put the original alongside the translation but I will here.  Novoneyra’s poems are pure poetic objects: the sound sense is as important as the meaning and, at times, even the visual aspect of the words plays its part.  If that sounds enigmatic, wait until tomorrow and I’ll give you a couple of examples.

sempre metida a fiar
sempre a fiar e soñar
para logo non ser nada.
-Para logo non ser nada
eso inda está por ver
e pois cas frebas do liño
ó torcelas de camiño
algo se ha de prender.
-Algo se ha de prender
i afé que tiñas razón
que eu estábache mirando
sin deñar que encantenón
íbame indo namorando.

And here is the second of the spinning poems:

Spinning Poem

Fiandeira namorada
Que fías detralo lume
Cos ollos postos nas chamas
Roxiñas brancas y azules.
Fiandeiriña que fías
Nas noites do longo inverno
As liñas máis delgadiñas
Co fío do pensamento.
Cai a neve quedo fora
Riba dos teitos calada
Mentras ti fías e soñas
Nunha cousiña lonxana…

(Spinstress in love/who spins beyond the light/with your eyes on the flames/ red, white and blue//Little spinstress who spins/on the long winter nights/the most slender threads/with the thread of her thought//The snow falls quietly outside/over the roofs in silence/whilst you spin and dream/on some small distant thing…)

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Pondal Nadal: Christmas Celts and Nationalism

Listen to the Podcast here:


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
With pained groan.
Under your mantle
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:

Galician National 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!

Catalonia is on my mind.   My friend Amand went to Barcelona to see the referendum on October 1.  He was born in Mallorca and studied in Barcelona as a drama student in the seventies, joining street protests against the Franco régime in its last years.  Like all of us, he is a complex mix of histories: as a witness, a participant and a victim.

“I stayed in a small hostel,” he said.  “There were three others in my dormitory.  One of them was Basque.  The other two were from Galicia.”

“Galicia,” I echoed, thinking of my own life as a walker and a reader.

“Yes.  They wanted to see this happening.”

Of course they did.  From the nineteenth-century to the present, through the Irmandades da Fala to Castelao and onwards, Galicia has sighed its unique identity onto the page.  And there is fellow feeling across the linguistic divides:  Manolo Rivas issued one collection of poetry in Galego, Basque, Catalan and Castilian Spanish.

Spain is a country of peoples.  Those peoples have felt their identities in the richness of their cultural history, their traditions, their music and above all their poetry.  The Spanish state has crushed the separatist movement in Catalonia with the force of the law.  I run around in circles in my head, repulsed by the authoritarianism of the state and equally horrified by the waving of flags in the streets of Catalonia.  I think about the different poets I have been studying over the past year and do not come away from the thoughts with a clearer picture.

R.S. Thomas dug in at the edges of Wales.  He had a visceral dislike of what he called the Machine that pushed the lives of the Welsh hill-farmers he served to the edge.  The English state represented for him what the Spanish state might represent for the Catalans.  His poems about the hills and the mountains, his mourning for the Welsh language and the tender bitterness of his meditations on relationships and landscape, make me think of poets in Asturias and Galicia and Catalonia.


They particularly make me think of Uxío Novoneyra.

Galicia será a mina xeneración quen te salve?
Irei un día do Courel a Compostela por terras libradas?

He asks if his generation will save Galicia: will he one day go from the Courel to Compostela through liberated lands?

I have walked from the Courel, in the Ancares mountains, to Santiago perhaps one hundred times over the past ten years.  On those walks I have often carried Novoneyra’s collection, Os Eidos (1955), with me.  He was a poet who walked the hills.  I felt myself into his words, learning to love the Galician language in my own inadequate way.  His were the eyes of a wolf to see a landscape dressed in heathers.

You do not read Novoneyra because you want to back up your political opinions.  But his poetry, with its emphasis on places and people, seems to inevitably lead him to declare separation and difference.  It comes as the cumulative result of meditations on deep particular moments.


Carles Puigdemont © Yves Herman / Reuters

I look up from a the quiet particular to the cackling commentators who, like a pack of jackals, attempt to ridicule the referendum in Catalonia.  The vilification of Puigdemont  is an insult to the people who voted.  They were not sheep being led by a corrupt and self-serving leader.  They are hardly going to forget their deep-felt desire for their own national identity because Mariano Rajoy imposes the full force of the law to suppress their ebullience.  They may sink back, disappointed, into the grooves of their lives, but culture is not suppressed this way; it has its own life.

The Catalan poet, Verdaguer, gave voice to the equivalent of the Galician rexurdimento:

Poeta i fangador sói
en tot faig feina tan neta,
que fango com un poeta
i escric com un fangador

(I am a poet and a digger and in everything I do I am so clean that I dig like a poet and write like a digger.)  It is like Seamus Heaney considering his pen and how he will dig with it.  This is what poets do: they dig.

Translators on the other hand move from place to place.  They cross boundaries and frontiers and look for correspondences and ways of understanding.  I can’t help but feel that more translation is needed in this fracturing world of shouted identities.  I can’t help but feel that the imposition of “the law” on Catalonia is a heavy-handed mistake that will have the Catalans digging in.  Where is the listening ear?  Where is the open hand?  Who wants to listen to the stories?

The stories must be fascinating.

Amand was present as people went to cast their votes in Barcelona on October 1.

“Old people came tottering up on their canes,” he said.  “The young people formed aisles and applauded them as they made their way to vote.  The young people were crying and the old ones were trembling with emotion.  What had they seen in their lifetimes?”

There is something more powerful here than the realities of business or the harsh application of the word of the law.  There is something that cannot be shouted down with arguments, but demands to be listened to.

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Misreading and Noriega Varela


Humble song

April breeze
Ethereal clouds
Go with you.

Humble stone
Lost in mud
Wounded by sun
Becomes a star.

Black branches
Touching sky
Paint themselves
Celestial blue.

Drop of dew
Trembling light
I see sun
Inside you

Humble things
No one sees
Branch or leaf
Grain of sand.

A charm more
Than divine
The God child
Come to earth.

Humilde Belleza

Noriega wrote, in another poem, “toda humilde belleza me namora”.  This attitude towards nature and life appealed to me when I first encountered the poet in 2007.  I saw in it a reflection of my own attitude as a provincial kid a bit suspicious of what was going on in the cities.

noriega001When I was a teenager I loved Hermann Hesse.  When I came to Spain and started going regularly to Galicia, Os Ermos came into my hands and I made a connection between the poet and Hesse’s heroes Goldmund or Knulp.  They are like innocent wild children outside the currents of mainstream thinking, not antagonistic to mainstream culture but quizzical towards it, as though their experience of life was too direct and ecstatic to be subsumed in cultural pieties.  Noriega seemed like a Franciscan friar wandering through the countryside.

I did not know much about the man.  Noriega was not a novelist’s creation and I feel now that I may have been wrong on many levels.  Somewhere I made a wrong reading and chasing that reading back to its root is a tricky job.  It might reveal something about me and that feels dangerous, but I am going to do it anyway.

A Cara Oculta

noriegaThe spark for these considerations is a book by X. Ramón Freixeiro Mato, A Cara Oculta de Noriega Varela (Laiovento, 1992) that contains some sharp critical essays and some previously unedited verse and letters of the poet.  The fact that this study was published over twenty years ago demonstrates how little I am concerned with being on the cutting edge of research and investigation.

I had known for some time that Noriega wrote some intolerant opinions in the wake of Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War.  I overlooked that.  “Who am I to judge?” I told myself.  “Who knows what people went through and what accommodations they felt obliged to make?”  And, anyway, the poet had been an activist as a young man on a radical rag called Guao-Guao that challenged the local bosses, or caciques.  This seemed to excuse him; he had a good heart.  Perhaps he was just covering himself.

A Different Story

Antonio_Noriega_Varela_1919The poems in A Cara Oculta, however, tell a different story.  There is a series of polemical poems called the Xuicios do Ano.  Although they are not signed by Noriega it seems clear that he was the author (see note p.168).  It is easy enough to pick out the eulogy of Franco and the reference to Cara al Sol, the Fascist anthem, but I do not want to quote these things out of context.

It is not really the fact that Noriega sympathised with Franco that bothers me.  When I say that I made a misreading I don’t mean anything quite so simple as that I overlooked one aspect of a writer and now have to reconsider my judgment.  When you realize you have made a misreading it is like losing your innocence: you still have a memory of it; it still gives you the same good feeling; but you have an aftertaste of bitterness.

The bitterness does not come from thinking that Noriega had “bad” opinions.  It comes from my complicity in the roots of those opinions, my sense of fellow-feeling with the younger poet and my feeling that I am not safe in my own understandings.  The Franciscan innocence really fooled me.  You see, I am with Noriega when he stands up for the local exactness of “his” language- not just Galician but the Galician but the Galician of the people in the villages.  If you have read what I have written about Novoneyra you will understand where this come from. I certainly don’t feel antagonistic towards him as he writes- in Spanish, not Gallego-  to Otero Pedrayo of his work collecting phrases:  Como falan os brañegos.

I am with him when he stands against the politicisation of “his” language in the name of nationalism.  I am only not with him when it comes to Franco because I know much more about the dictator than he did and, even so, it would be presumptuous to say that he was “wrong” as if I, an Englishman living in Spain, could make that kind of judgment.

Local Life

The closest contemporary comparison for me is the issue of Brexit and Europe.  The same understanding that values Noriega’s walks through the hills, his insistence on the local and his eye for the beauty of the particular, makes me feel that the European is an horrendous aberration with its Common Agriculture Policy that destroys local wildlife and human culture.  I feel myself getting irritated-just like Noriega- with the very idea of smart people in distant institutions making decisions that affect everyone except themselves.  It seems that this way lies factory farming, factory schooling, global warming and collapsing biodiversity.  So, like Noriega, I say no and turn my head away from the cities and their lights, looking for inspiration somewhere else.

And the question I have to ask myself is whether that is a bad reading.  Was the whole idea of a transformative experience in Nature going back through Hesse, Noriega, Wordsworth and Schubert a delusion?  Could it possibly be that the city makes a better reading?  It would be bitter to admit that.

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Cesário Verde: Poppies in a Cleavage

At that bourgeois picnic,
There was something so simple and beautiful,
With neither history nor grandeur,
Yet worth a watercolour all the same.

When you dismounted the donkey,
With no foolish pretensions, you went to gather
In a blue chickpea-patterned cloth
A ruby bouquet of poppies.

Shortly after, on top of the cliffs,
we camped out with the sun still going down
and there were sliced melons and apricots
and sponge-cake soaked in malvasia.

But all crimson, emerging from the cleavage
of your two breasts like two cakes,
was the greatest charm of the meal,
the ruby-red bouquet of poppies.

Cesario Verde, O Livro de Cesário de Verde (Estante, 2010)


Cesario Verde

Naquele pic-nic de burguesas, houve uma coisa simplesmente bela, e que, sem ter história nem grandezas, em todo o caso dava uma aguarela.


Foi quando tu, descendo do burrico, foste colher, sem imposturas tolas, a um granzonal azul de grão de bico um ramalhete rubro de papoulas.


Pouco depois, em cima duns penhascos, nos acampámos, inda o sol de via;

e houve talhadas de melão, damascos, e pão de ló molhado em malvasia.


Mas, todo púrpureo, a sair da renda dos teus dois seios como duas rolas, era o supremo encanto da merenda o rmalhete rubro das papoulas.


I was in Porto with a group of tourists.  One part of the tour included the Lello bookshop which has a staircase that appeared in a Harry Potter film.  Now it has become a tourist attraction and you have to pay for admission to the bookshop, but the entrance ticket entitles you to 3€ from your next purchase.  I gathered all the tickets from the group and went to buy some poetry.


One of the books I picked out was Cesário Verde.  I had come across him before by way of Pessoa who held the author of The feelings of a westerner in high esteem.


The poems have clarity of structure and form.  The poet wrote most of them when he was a very young man so they have the virtues and the faults of a precocious wordsmith.  On the one side I admire his facility with rhyme and image, on the other the images and thoughts are adolescent.


My first readings were rather less charitable.  To be honest, I thought Cesário was a creep.  He trails around after young girls admiring them from a distance and fantasising about their clothes.  Carmen said I should remember the age he was writing in.  Laurence said it was no different to any number of contemporary pop songs.


The poem I have translated here is a later example of his work.


Is it charming or is it creepy?  I can’t make up my mind.

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By the River

Ó Longo das Ribeiras


Ao longo da ribeira

Yearning along the water’s edge
I go, my girl.

Where are the boats and flowers?

The rivers head nowhere now.
Far distance and sea don’t exist.
It is all right here and clear.

The hour is anchored,
a barren stretch, no birds, no wind.

Sleep’s wellsprings
are full of dust,
and these eyes are tired and ageing.

But night must come
that went down beyond Urbazán,
with happiness in its wake of longing.

And then I will hoist all sails
of these anchored hours,
poor, dead hours with no birds and no wind.



Ó longo das ribeiras, arelante,


Ao longo da ribeira

eu, meniña.

¿Ónde as barcas e as froles?

Os ríos xa non corren pra ningures.
Non esisten os lonxes nin a mar.
Todo está â beira e craro.

A hora, ancrada,
insua erma sin páxaros nin vento.


As fontelas do sono
están cheas de pô,
e os ollos están cansos e velliños.

Mais ha vir a noitiña,
que se perdéu nos montes de Urbazán,
coa alegría do seu ronsel de arelas.

I-entón eu ergueréi as velas todas
destas horas ancradas,
pobres, ermas, sin páxaros nin vento.

Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño, Cómaros Verdes, 1947 (Voz de Galicia, 2002)


Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño (Seivane, Abadín, 1909-Santiago, 1961) emerged before the Spanish Civil War publishing the collections Señardá (1930) and Corazón ao vento (1933).  These books continue the landscape poetry of Noriega Varela.  He reached his poetic maturity with Cómaros Verdes, from which this poem is taken.


Here he abandons rhyme and achieves a richness of poetic tone using the hendecasyllabic line as the base.  The themes of the collection are saudade, reflections on nature and the strange linking of death and longing that are such common features of Galician poetry.


I bought this book for myself for my fiftieth birthday.  This poem that talks about ageing seemed appropriate.  The rhythm of the day is seen reflected in the rhythm of a life.  We are taken to the hot middle of the day along the water’s edge where everything is still.  The sources, or fountains, of sleep are full of dust.  Night brings sleep and dreaming.  It has a “ronsel de arelas”, “a wake of longings”.


This wake of longing reminds me of Eduardo Blanco Amor’s Ronsel da Morte.

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Privacy Matters

This is a short note to let my subscribers understand my position on the new privacy law.

I am not going to be sending out one of those advice notices that you probably delete instantly without reading, just as I do.  I have read about this privacy law and what I understand is the following:

  • the law to protect people’s digital identity is a sensible move in an increasingly online world
  • it is primarily directed at people and organizations that process data and then use that data for other purposes
  • I do not process data in any way or manner.  I write a blog about poetry that I share online.
  • Sometimes people get in touch with me through the blog and we exchange email.  That is a relationship between friends.  I do not collect any kind of personal information into files or databases online, on my computer or in a filing cabinet.

I would encourage readers of blogs not to get sucked into paranoia about the internet.  It is a marvelous tool that enables us to connect across cultures and languages.  Blogs enable people to engage directly with others at the opposite ends of the planet, without the interference of editors, publishing houses, censors and correcting inspection.


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Ultreya: the Ten Commandments


The Ten Commandments of the Galician Youth Movement Ultreya


  • – Porque amo a Galiza con toda a miña ialma, adicareille os meus millores esforzos pra tornala eternamente feliz.
    • Since I love Galicia with all my heart, I shall dedicate my best efforts to make her eternally happy.
  • – Porque a vida está encheita de mágoas, miña mocidade será unha leda canzón que ha erguer o esprito de tódolos coitados.
    • Since life is full of tears, my youth will be a cheerful song to raise the spirits of all the down-hearted.
  • – Porque estou afincado ao chan nativo e endexamais hei crebar as ligazóns coa miña xente, manterei sempre aceso o fogo do meu lar.
    • Since I am connected to my native earth and must never break the ties with my people, I will always keep the hearth fires burning.
  • – Porque penso no que fun, no que son e no que teño de ser, respetarei aos vellos e pequenos e defendereinos de todo aldraxe e sofrimento.
    • Since I think about what I was, what I am and what I must be, I shall respect the aged and the young and defend them from all insult and suffering.
  • – Porque quero a eficacia da miña laboura, axudarei os nobres desexos dos meus compañeiros como quixera que me axudasen a min na arela dos meus limpos ensoños.
    • Since I want my work to be effective, I shall help the noble desires of my companions just as I would want them to help me in the light of my clean dreams.
  • – Porque teño de sere home útil á miña Terra, cumprirei tódalas miñas obrigas pra ire facendo a miña histórea de cidadán eisemprar.
    • Since I must be someone useful to my Land, I shall fulfil all my obligations so as to make my story one of exemplary citizenship.
  • – Porque quero limpar a miña axuda de erros, educarei meu esprito no estudo e no traballo.
    • Since I want to keep my help clean of error, I shall educate my spirit with study and work.
  • – Porque teño de sere rexo na axuda aos meus irmáns, fortalecerei meu corpo na craridade das augas e no ar das montañas.
    • Since I have to be prompt and ready to help my brothers, I shall stengthen my body in the clarity of the water and the mountain air.
  • – Porque soño nun porvir de verdadeira fraternidade, farei por que rente de min se xunten tódolos rapaces galegos pra que o día de mañán non nos afosten prexuízos de caste.
    • Since I dream of a future of true brotherhood, I shall take an interest in bringing together all Galician young people so that tomorrow they do not suffer prejudice and insults.
  • – Porque quero unha Galiza enteiramente galega en convivio con tódalas razas, en fala con tódalas culturas, abrirei meu peito a tódolos homes de boa voluntade e reita intenzón.
    • Since I want a Galicia that is totally Galician living together with all other races, conversing with all cultures, I shall open my heart to all men of good will and honest intentions.


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