Readers, if you set aside the labours of your life
And go for a walk through the valley of Vilanova,
Enter respectfully, enter quietly,
The beautiful chapel of the Crystal Virgin.
If you are down on your luck and kiss her feet,
If you go and see her because of ill health,
The miraculous image will give you succour;
There is no other in the world that has more power.
For the sad comfort, for the poor hope,
A guide for the lover, the support of the labourer,
Whatever you want from God, that is what you get from God,
There is no one to whom she does not give consolation and favour.
When I was small, taken there by my mother,
I asked her for the celestial legend,
If the way I have written it does not please you
Do not blame the Virgin of the Crystal.
This is the end of this narrative poem by Curros Enríquez. It has been a pleasure to share it. If this were more than a blog I would have spent more time trying to capture something of the magic of the wording in the original. Curros Enríquez is a particularly lyrical poet and, in this poem, the speech is full of local flavour from Ourense. This caused me some difficulties in the translation and I had to look at the University of Vigo, Dictionary of Dictionaries- the most invaluable resource I have been able to find on the web.
It would be worth dedicating more time to a more studied translation, but even from this sketchy version you get a good sense of the mixture of elements in the story: the local flavour, the love story itself with its echoes of Romeo and Juliet and fairy tale romances, the historical vignettes, and above all the fascinating descriptions of the Virgin herself.
When the Virgin appears to Rosiña I could not help thinking of Velázquez’s famous painting The Fable of Arachne and other examples that pop and fizz in my mind where the supernatural is counterposed with the brutishly real. It seems to me that the Virgin is not the same Virgin as you might see in a painting of the Nativity at all: she is a pagan goddess. Her image has an independent power and she demands it be given homage in the same way Athene, Hera or Diana might in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
What do you make of the way the story turns out? In many fairy tales- no matter the violence and cruelty that takes place during the story- the ending is a happy one. It is a “fairy tale ending.” In this fairy tale, however, there is no letting up. This poem is not unique in its pessimism. There is a Spanish short story called “The Two Hunchbacks” which has a cruel, amoral and desolate ending: I love to tell it to people when I am walking on the Camino because it generates a broader discussion about what life, literature and Spain is all about.
Getting back to this story, I am struck by the way the Virgin breaks into the place where Martiño hides from the storm. She is a violent and powerful destroyer even though there is something mockingly coquettish about the way she appears in the crystal. She seems like an awful Goddess of Death who is called into being by the macho, sexist jealousies of Martiño. If we forget for a moment about Christianity and think only about what is told us here in the text, what kind of a religion would it be? Rosa will no longer marry a real man, but instead chooses to retreat from the world, a death to the world that is made even more explicit by the need to don a shroud.
The paradoxical final section of the poem goes so far as to say that this Virgin is a “guide for the lover and support for the labourer”. Curros Enríquez must have been aware of the irony in this. In other poems he has a mordantly anti-clerical attitude that led to Aires da Miña Terra being banned when it first came out. This is not a simple poem and merits rereading.
What I have done here comes on the back of other work I have done researching religious imagery and the traditions associated with it in Spain. On these pages we have already had the briefest of looks at Santiago. I shall certainly return to the subject because it interests me deeply. Next stop San Andrés do Teixido.