En las Orillas del Sar

feb2In the organ’s echoes or the wind’s words
In a star’s shining or a drop of rain,
She felt you all round, saw you everywhere
Without ever finding you.

Maybe she found you, found you and lost you
Again, in the harsh battle of life
As she keeps seeking you and feels you all round
Without ever finding you.

But she knows you exist, are no vain dream,
Nameless beauty, perfect and unique,
So she lives sad, always looking for you
Without ever finding you.



feb1I don’t know what I eternally seek
On earth, in the air and in the sky
I don’t know what I seek but it’s something
I lost who knows when and cannot find,
Even when I dream that it lives on unseen
In everything I touch and see.

Happiness, I’ll never get you back
On earth, in the air or in the sky,
Even when I know you exist
And are not a vain dream.

This poem is from Rosalía de Castro En las Orillas del Sar (Madrid, 1884).  Rosalía is supremely pessimistic.  This poem is not the exception in an otherwise optimistic collection of poetry and is, furthermore, a late expression of a pessimistic tendency in her whole thought that builds like rising storm clouds over the sea throughout her life.  In her earlier poetry there are intimations in the sad finales of her love poems where the young maiden all too easily gives up her kisses to the inconstant wanderer.  Then there are the poems of outrage against poverty, emigration and discrimination towards Galicians in the rest of Spain and the poems of yearning for the homeland.  Finally there are the deeply personal shadows of death and mourning, the loss of her mother and a son in 1875 and another daughter in childbirth two years later, with a backdrop of her own sickness and suffering.

This sense of lost happiness gives up its bitterness like a nut cracked in the mouth.  Once the flavour is released it permeates everything.  Here Rosalía is grappling with something more all-encompassing than the specific reasons she has to feel sad; she is developing an existential philosophy of bitter sadness.

To go with the poem I have included a dark little acrylic painting of trees in the wood.  The light was going down.  It was a winter afternoon with a hint of frost in the air.  A hawk was keening mournfully as it quartered the valley and in the distance cows lowed.

If you are interested in Rosalía de Castro there are some books out there in English but I do not recommend them highly.  It is better to read what I put here!  You can get the originals from Austral:  En las Orillas del Sar and Cantares Gallegos both with an introduction and guide by Mauro Armiño who is a versatile translator and commentator.

About Jason Preater

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