sleep took me and I slept a while.
I dreamt such things in that short sleep
that after I ran from children’s games
And seeking out some willow’s shade
I tried to dream, a lowly dream
of a path through a giant world;
found a tambourine but no world.
Since then I renounce those vain words
that explain the world with reason
letting loose one hundred thousand heresies
That had been locked up in the heart;
they are only dreams and chatter,
even though they speak of… regeneration.
Daniel Pernas Nieto was a priest who followed in the poetic footsteps of Noriega Varela. Armando Requeixo edited the book from which this poem is taken and, as always, enlivens the book with a provocative introduction: Fala das Musas (Xunta de Galicia, 2014).
The book was first published in 1936. It is curious that a book in Gallego should pass by the censor at a moment when Galician nationalism was being squashed. The poem, however, is from 1907, which means that the poet was a very young 23 years old when he penned it, in his last year at the seminary of Santa Catarina where he was training for the priesthood.
What does it mean?
The first two stanzas seem fairly straightforward. The child finds a hedgerow where he goes to sleep and has what people these days call a “vivid dream”. It captivates him and he runs away from children’s games to seek out the shade of a willow tree and find the dreamworld again, but all he dreams is a tambourine. The “pandeiro” is a square or rectangular tambourine that used to be commonly used in Galician village fiestas. So far so good: it is a simple moral tale of idle dreaming with the tambourine standing for vanity.
The next two stanzas seem to bear little or no relation to what went before. Since that day, he says, he renounces reason. It does not make sense. After all, pace Goya, the sleep of reason breeds monsters… not the reverse. Yet that is the explicit meaning of the words- there is no getting away from it. He says that explaining the world with reason leads to heresy and those vain words are only dreams.
The last word of the poem- rexeneración- suggests that the vain chatter he is referring to is political in nature: the regeneration of the country and Galicia in particular. It also suggests why his poems were acceptable to the Fascist censor even though they were written in Galician. They are openly conservative.
The prologue to the collection, written by Álvaro Cunqueiro, repeatedly talks about dreaming. He says “verse either dreams with angels or does not dream at all,” and “it has the grace achieved by one who dreams with angels.” It seemed natural to look at the one poem in the collection that is about dreaming. The paradox of the poem is that dreaming shows the author the vanity of dreams, and that those dreams are the result of reason.
There is another symbolic level to the poem that I am going to assume the poet was aware of in constructing it, ignoring Cunqueiro’s characterisation of him as naive and a certain prejudice I have for thinking that clerical thinking could drub the subtlety out of a man. I am prepared to give the poet the benefit of the doubt because the Seminary of Santa Catarina produced so many good poets.
At the symbolic level the child goes to sleep in a hedgerow or “lindeiro”. The “lindes” are the borders between one property and another. He does not just sleep but sleep takes him. This makes of Sleep an allegorical figure, like you sometimes see on Attic urns where Sleep and Death are represented together. Sleep is a little death.
The sleeper then is at a boundary in more than one way. It is almost as though he were crossing over into a fairy world, like in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
When he comes back from the dreamworld he renounces the “brincadeiro”, which I translate as child’s play, but which includes the root “brincar” meaning leaping and jumping. The neat paradox here is that when he returns to the dream world searching for a path through that giant world he gets a tambourine, an instrument that might lead him to “brincar” or leap and dance.
My translation is a rather poor thing because I cannot get the rhymes that the poet achieves: ABBA ABBA CDCDCD. When I read the poem in the original the rhyming adds to the circularity of the thoughts making the paradoxes more interesting.
Cando era meniño, aló n-un lindeiro
tomoume ó sono, é durmín un pouquiño,
soñei tantas cousas n-aquel soniño,
que dempois fuxía d’o brincadeiro.
Y-a sombra buscando d’algún salgueiro,
precuraba soñar, soñar baixiño
d’un gigantesco mundo, algún camiño;
y-en ves de mund’o o qu’achei, foi un pandeiro.
Destoncias renego d’as fechorías
d’os qu’esprican todo po-la razón,
pois ceivando van cen mil herexías
que gardadas teñen n-o corazón;
é soyo son sonos, faladurías,
anque vos digan… rexeneración.