Bran’s Business

Yearning for the Other Side

Yearning

Bran’s Business

Bran, stretching himself across the river,
his head on one bank, his feet on the other,
said: Who is the god who is older than the bridge!
And so the people and the cattle could pass
from one country to the other.

They left the land where night falls
to the land where dawn rises.

Bran did not feel on his body
the weight of people, warriors and oxen.

A little more weighed
pregnant women and the blind

for, however much they turned their heads,
they would never see the mist on the hills of their birth.

The last to cross was the bard
remembering a new song in his head,
and on his lips, with his voice, attempting
a tinge of the sound of the doves of Poente.

imageThey could not get out of their hearts a refrain:

I leave my heart in a willow grove
to the night, the rain and the ice.

Bran felt in his kidneys the weight
of the bard’s yearning
and so that he might in the Rising
renew his heart as a young child
he ordered to follow him, across the meadow,
the willows of the riverbank, all but one
which Bran left for himself,
in case one day he should stop being a god
and become a bard singing of lost countries.

When he got up, Bran saw a lark
shaking a twig and said:

Animula, vagula, blandula!

This is because he was a god,
Bran of the head held high,
and he did not like birds,

nor the burbling of memories.
Álvaro Cunqueiro Herba Aquí ou Acolá (Vigo: Galaxia, 1980)

Grass Here and Over There is a late collection of poems by Cunqueiro who was born in 1921 and had early success with his collections, Mar ao norde (1932), Poemas do sí e non (1933), and Cantiga nova que se chama riveira (1933).

The poems come from different periods in the poet’s life. Bran is a character in the Mabinogion, the Welsh book of foundation legends where he is a giant whose decapitated head is able to speak after being separated from his body. He is associated with a magic cauldron, which according to some writers developed into the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail.

It is not surprising that Cunqueiro should be interested in Celtic legends as the connection of Galicia with other Celtic peoples was in vogue in the thirties when he was defining his identity as a poet. He was also an erudite reader of myths and legends which he recounted with a characteristic style blending light humour, subtle pessimism and a feel for the yearning that is a characteristic of Galician saudade.

Even though Grass Over Here and Grass Over There is not a unified collection the title is peculiarly appropriate. It comes from Cunqueiro’s line “a verb here, a verb there”, verba being translated to herba, verb to grass. There are many indications of the yearning for the other side in the book and this poem shows us a good example, with the giant Bran laying down his body so that the people can pass from one side to the other.

In Celtic mythology there were two tribes of gods that were always at war the Don, who symbolized the sea and death, and the Llyr, who represented life and light.

Bran Fendigaid or Bendigeitvran was the Celtic god of regeneration. He was the son of the sea god, Llyr, and the grandson of Belenos, the Sun God. Yet Bran is not entirely a god either. He provides a bridge between the human and divine worlds.

About Jason Preater

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