Rosalía de Castro- The Oak Trees

How quick the implacable axe
Felled to the ground
Oaks and holm oaks.
And by the light of darling dawn
How bald appears
The mountain crest!

Where yesterday coppice and wood
Were rustic thick,
Enveloped in sweet mystery
When mists floated
In morning’s light,
Where the river source burbled on,
Hidden amongst flowers and moss,
Now the barren hill-backs bare
Their deep, deformed
And black furrows.

Now birds sing their love-songs there
No more, no longer gather
When May tricks out the slopes left
Naked of oaks, and only
Passing winds bring echoes of
The barking deer,
The howling wolf.

This is a section of a longer poem entitled The Oak Trees.  Rosalía raises her voice in outrage at the felling of the ancient oak woods of Galicia.

Galicia is enchanting and there are still opportunities to see ancient trees in the landscape. Each one reminds you of the enormous quantity that were lost to indiscriminate felling in the nineteenth century.

Rosalía sees the relationship of people with the landscape in which they live and have lived for centuries under threat from this brutal commercialisation of the environment.  The poem starts with a family sitting around the hearth in their poor dwelling and finishes with an evocation of the ancient Celts amongst their sacred trees.

It is not hard to imagine the sorrow she would feel on contemplating the modern highways that cut up the country now, or the vast expanses of eucalyptus plantation that represent wealth for a handful in an increasingly depopulated landscape.

About Jason Preater

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