Noriega Varela- the Angelic Wolf

Noriega Varela

This is an article translated from the book Galicia Emigrante 1954-1971 a collection of the radio broadcasts of Luis Seoane (Ediciós do Castro: A Coruña, 1994).

Angelic Wolf is the name the great poet of Portugal, Teixeira de Pascoes, gave to the great poet of Galicia, Noriega Varela.  The life of this angelic wolf, a kind of Steppenwolf, like Hermann Hesse’s sculptor, was related in a brief monograph by another great poet from his home town of Mondoñedo, Iglesia Alvariño.

He had all the passion of Hesse’s sculptor and the same picaresque and wandering spirit that led him to find an ideal of beauty on the country by-ways hidden in his own heart.  Iglesia Alvariño drew a biographical picture of Noriega Varela in which he remembered the deep friendship other illustrious men of Portugal and Galicia felt towards him.  The biographer had no other sources beyond his own memories and a few letters.  Most importantly he kept alive in his memory the endless conversations he had with the poet of the Galician mountains over six years of deep contact.  Aside from their poetic vocation and their deep love for their homeland, they were also both seminarists in the Seminary of Mondoñedo and learnt a vigorous Latin in their winding walks about the cloisters.  Both of them also gave up their vocation, in common with other artists and solitaries like Hesse’s Steppenwolf.

[Seoane is confusing Harry Haller of Der Steppenwolf (1927) with Goldmund of Narziß und Goldmund (1930): Haller is an intellectual; Goldmund is the sculptor who is placed in a monastery by his father but runs away to pursue a life of wandering adventures and sexual encounters. The comparison of Noriega Varela with Goldmund is, however, a very good one.]

For Noriega Varela and Iglesia Alvariño there was always something funny about those peasant lads studying to be priests who, dispersed amongst the houses of the old city in the province of Lugo, made up little communities of from ten to twenty students watched over by cathedral chaplains and cared for by a woman servant whose only job was to boil the milk and water in the morning for the chocolate and soup.  They brought from their village houses cheeses, bacon, pork shoulder, ham, butter and sausages for the common larder to these communities from whence the heroes of many enjoyable and picaresque adventures set out to the great amusement of the people of Mondoñedo.  As Iglesia Alvariño says these adventures added to Noriega Varela’s popularity, which was recounted in barbershops and chemists, student gatherings and at the dining table of the teachers with the amusing portraits he drew of his fellow students.

The young seminarist was blond and fresh-faced, following young women and village fiestas.  There is no doubt that he must have preferred the picaresque muse of Martial to the grave conceit of Seneca in his Latin studies.  His life as a country teacher once he had given up Theology is one of innocent adventures and witty sayings many of which, with their deep philosophy, have still to be anthologised.  In the Lugo Almanac, the most popular publication among the Galician peasants because it told them about fairs and business as well as the rains and winds, for many years short poems and songs by Noriega Varela appeared.  His name was popular amongst the peasants.  He sang of the mountain:

The snowflake is silver
The broom flower old gold
The master of such riches
Could well walk the mountains.

He was eagerly awaited in the literary clubs of Galicia.  When he went down to Ourense, where Don Marcelo Macías, Basílio Álvarez, Rey Soto, Vicente Risco, Otero Pedrayo and the newer writers amongst whom was Francisco Luis Bernárdez were waiting for him, the gatherings were seen as a party.  On one occasion it seems they said to Francisco Luis Bernárdez:

Paco Luis give us a poem
Here comes Noriega Varela

When his poetry was already popular and had been translated into various European languages, influencing the latest Galician and Portuguese poetry, some Galician societies of America offered him a commemorative gold medal.  He went straight to Ourense with his young daughter Doloriñas, and showed her the miraculous world of the city, although she was most attracted by the sweetshops and the toys in the shop windows and took a fancy to a doll that was as big as her with blonde curls and blue eyes.  Noriega Varela went around buying his daughter everything she fancied; the coloured sweets, the sugar-coated biscuits, until all the money he had left was the bare minimum to get back to Calvo de Randin where he lived as a humble and poorly-paid schoolmaster.

When the girl broke into tears and had a tantrum to get the doll, the angelic wolf, Noriega Varela, did not think twice but found a goldsmith and sold the medallion for its weight- ‘twenty six pesos all told’ says Iglesia Alvariño- and he handed it over in exchange for the doll for his girl.  When Noriega Varela went to Ourense to proudly show his friends in the literary club the medallion that had been such an honour for him, he could only show them his daughter’s doll and leave them with this saying:

A gloria, para machacá-la
Glory- is to be crushed.

About Jason Preater

Working on Projects
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