Queixumes dos Pinos, ed. Miguel Mato Fondo ( Vigo: AS.PG, 1996)
At the hour when the sweet star of morning
Begins to soften and melt,
With his well-horned goats from the mountain
Coming along in front,
The Celtic shepherd Temenday
Returned to his sweet fold
Alone, through the broom singing
Of Xallas, decked with heather so white,
And, in vague loneliness trembling,
Would begin his song like this:
“Ancient tomb of Pïosa,
The wind so sad to hear,
Moans in the mute heather
That surrounds you
And pierces like an animal roar
With a pained groan.
Under your mantle
Lies brave Brandomil
Unforgotten, but 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 on
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:
Of the good pagan race
Of Celts, lies here at rest!’”
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 charming 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 a Pondal. And, if you were to recite a poem in one of these places, you would not really care if it was repetitive because the point of the poem would be the sound and not the sense or lack of it.