Rosalía de Castro
Oh, the long rain! A dream of grass atop the bridge
-Hill peaks, night peaks and many little children.
-Turn white, happy white mill, happy spout.
-What dreams are the still waters of your eyes milling?
Where is the gently cooing dove?
Oh! what a gust of wind,
cherry tree of the flowery air
-Give me sweet sun for an old olive tree in Adina.
-The cocks are crowing in the yard. Get up, girl!
-Breezy, breezy, breezes, from dark cliffs blustering down!
-And yellow cows in the pastures. Sing, little girl!
Ah, that breaking voice!
On what moonlit verandah,
Ah! on what verandah green?
-Oh, the happy barges on the Ulla, your strong river!
-Happy little girls of Tállara, orphan songs
-Oh, the green meadows of maize and fresh wind!
-Pigeons, pale pigeons, cold in the night.
Cold glass pigeon,
in the shadow of the long night,
no white love flowers nor river…
in what high alders
will April’s cuckoo
now sing endless April?
[Notes: Adina is the cemetery in Iria Flavia where Rosalía was buried and which she wrote about in Follas Novas; Tállara is a village close to Noya; galos de amor, I have tranlated as white love flowers, although the common name of galium palustre is white bedstraw- it is said to be common in the river Ulla, although I have not seen it there.]
Rosalía de Castro is perhaps the most famous poet in the history of Galician literature and this poem is a celebration written in that combination of strong images and paradoxical statements in dialogue characteristic of Iglesia Alvariño. He was a Latin scholar who translated Virgil, Horace and Plautus, and I think there is something of the Eclogues in the interchanging voices. As a Modernist, however, he reduces each voice to one line which gives a terse enigmatic tension to what they say. Perhaps it is my fancy, but I can see a process of reduction here that will lead to Novoneyra, a Japanese sense of the exquisite.
Let’s look at the images and see how they work.
The bridge and the rain that open the poem are powerful local images that also recall the bridges in some of Rosalía’s famous poems: we can imagine a young man dropping a carnation into the water, for example. Bridges also connect one river bank with another and this is precisely what happens throughout the poem, one image being contrasted with another. We should not forget that Rosalía died in 1885, so she was on the other side: bridges and barges are both symbolic of death.
The second couplet is typical. The first line gives us the happy mill, white with the flour it is grinding and which is coming out of the caneta, or spout, a metaphor for productive activity and creation. The second line stops the movement and asks us to look into eyes that are compared with a still mill pool, where something else is milling. Can you appreciate the tension?
This tension is dramatic when we get to the line about the olive tree in Adina where Rosalía was buried. The next line tells the girl to get up! And then she is told to sing. Rosalía is famous for the sadness of her love lyrics, the anger of her social voice and the pessimism of her philosophical outlook. We careen from the cock crowing in the morning to her breaking voice on the moonlit verandah, as though the poet wants us to take the whole day in a breath or two, sunrise to moonrise. Death and life are threaded together here, happiness and sadness interwined. It is startling in the image of the happy girls singing orphan songs.
I struggled with galos de amor at the end of the penultimate tercet. Galo normally means cockerel or Frenchman, but it is also the name of a family of plants whose Latin name is gallium. I haven’t been able to find any stories relating gallium to love, there are many varieties.
I love that last image of the cuckoo singing in endless April- the season of regeneration, a season pregnant with literary connections for me, from Chaucer to Eliot; a season that was sung by the Goliards as we have seen and the troubadors later.
Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño (Seivane, Abadín 1909- Compostela, 1961) belongs to the Mondoñedo school of poetry. He was educated at the seminary even though he went on to become a teacher and Latinist. He is of the same generation as Álvaro Cunqueiro. Next I shall offer a poem by Cunqueiro that is also dedicated to Rosalía. Cómaros Verdes was published in 1947. Rosalía was born in 1837 and died in 1885. Can you imagine Stephen Spender writing a poem to Christina Rossetti? That’s the time gap.
Iglesia Alvariño is a rural modernist, a fascinating combination. Fernández del Riego, Historia da Literatura (Galaxia: Vigo, 1984, p.143), says that he was influenced by Texeira de Pascoaes, Noriega Varela and Latin American modernism. Here is a translation of the last paragraph of his section on the poet:
“The poetic work of Iglesia Alvariño always shows a good understanding of peasant life, of his land and of the Latin classics. He was educated in Classical metrics, and brought to Galician poetry the eclogue in its Virgilian form with a range of themes drawn from everyday life. Besides his original work, we should notice his translation into our language of Horace’s Odes and the Aulularia of Plautus, translated as Comedia da oliña. As a writer of prose he brought out various essays, amongst them: Noreiga de Varela, mountain poet, The paths of men and the paths of God, and Brief essay as an introduction to a philosophical theory of saudade“
I will be coming to these publications in later posts, although I have already translated parts of the essay on Noriega Varela.