They are the memories of pretty shepherdesses,
Of fascinating magical creatures,
Who on moonlit nights come from the Corruxeiras
Down to the spinning house at Cesuras.
The Full Moon bathes them in light
And solemnly watches them walk alone.
But soon it clouds over…mischievous
Prowlers like wizards appear.
The girls sing and their loud joyful cries
Disturb the peace of the sobbing pines.
Read the original and the explanation below it if you would like to understand this poem better.
¡Oh, divina Saudade!, compañeiras
Che eu mostrara si é certo que as precuras:
Son cal rosas cortadas das roseiras,
Estreliñas ausentes das alturas.
Lembranzas son de lindas pegureiras,
De fascinantes meigas criaturas,
Que en noites de luar das Coruxeiras
Baixan ao fiandeiro de Cesuras.
A Lúa Chea bríndalles raiolas
Mentras, solene, as ve camiñar solas;
Pero entóldase axiña… Coma bruxos
Aparecen arteiros rondadores…
Elas cantan, e os bravos aturuxos
Turba-na paz dos pinos fungadores.
I have translated a number of poems by Noriega Varela on these pages. Memories is from a collection of sonnets and we can see the poet working with his customary lightness in the tight traditional form. The rhyme scheme is repeated in the first two stanzas, but the touch is so natural that you scarcely notice it: it is not one of those poems that go rumpy-pumpy-PUM with a clanging rhyme at the end of the line. (One of the reasons I think it would give a false impression of the poem to put it into rhyme in English, however important it may be in the original.)
Noriega puts Saudade and Lúa Chea in capitals. There could almost be an equation between Yearning and the Full Moon in this magical poem that has echoes of the verse that is read at the traditional Galician ceremony of the Queimada, where all evil things are burnt in flaming aguardiente. The word meiga means magical but a meiga is the Galician witch, so common in regional superstitions. She can wear a good or a bad face; can bless or curse, heal or cripple. And, although As Coruxeiras can be the name of a place- Las Coruxas, for example, is a village near where I live- coruxas, or owls, are the birds of ill omen that are mentioned at the beginning of the Queimada as one of the ‘evils’ that the ceremony will keep at bay. In traditional belief they call at the door of someone who is about to die. Just as in the Pregón de la Queimada we have wizards, or bruxos, here too.
Noriega starts the poem by addressing Saudade in person. Saudade is that melancholy sadness that underlies Galician and Portuguese poetry: a yearning for something lost or desired. We are then offered the image of shepherdesses coming down to the spinning house in the moonlight. When the moon hides itself, Puck-like mischievous prowlers, arteiros rondadores, emerge and then we hear the joyful cries: aturuxos are those yodels you might hear in a fiesta, so the image is one of celebration, although the sexual implication is obvious. The same words are used in Esforzadas Mulleres, line 13, where the joyful cries frighten off the seagulls: that is another poem about sexual memory.
Nothing is out of place in a well-crafted poem. What do you think ‘a spinning house of caesuras’ might imply to the poet? This is a poem about memory and fantasy. Those shepherd girls are little stars dropped out of the sky into the poet’s lap. The Full Moon dresses these fantasy figures in raiolas, the luminous penumbra of moonlight that illuminates them as they walk alone. When the wizards come and steal the solemnity out of the light of the moon, the poet is left with nothing more than the gently sighing and sobbing pine trees.
I have written an extended description of this poem because I enjoyed it very much this morning in the library in Avilés. I reread it in a café bar on Rivero several times and it still haunts me this evening. That is the quality I get from a good poem. I hope you like it.
The queimada is a traditional Galician ceremony. Oruxo or firewater is mixed with orange peel, apple, coffee beans and sugar and burnt (queimar). Oruxo is made with the grape skins left after they are pressed for wine. It is like grappa. After it is burnt a thick, sweet liqueur remains and everyone raises their cup for a toast.
As you burn the oruxo a conjuration is read in Gallego. Here is a translation:
Owls, crows, toads and witches
Devils, goblins and demons, spirits of the snow-clad valleys
Rooks, salamanders and enchantresses, spells of the healing women,
Through the hollow thatch, the home of worms and spiders
The light of the Holy Company, the evil eye and black spells,
The smell of dead things, thunder and lightning,
Dogs’ howling, the augury of death, the satyr’s sickle and the rabbit’s foot,
Sinning tongue of a bad woman married to an old man
Abode of Satan and Beelzebub, light from burning corpses, mutilated bodies
Of shameless people, farts from the arse of hell, groaning of the agitated sea.
Useless womb of the single woman, speech of cats that walk
In the January moon, long hair of the aborted goat.
With this fire I will raise the light of these flames that resemble the fires of hell
And the witches will run away on their broomsticks,
Plunging into sea water on beaches of coarse sand.
Hark! Hark! The screams of those that do not want to burn
In the firewater and be purified by it!
And when this beverage goes down our throats we will be free
Of the ills of our souls and of all witchcraft.
Forces of the air, earth, sea and fire, I make this call to you:
If it is true that you have more power than humankind,
Here and now, make the spirits of those who are not here
Participate in this Queimada.