Xosé Vázquez Pintor- The Longing Won’t Win Out
I am revisiting a poem by Xosé Vázquez Pintor. I want you to hear it in the original and in translation, now that I have connected my blog to the podcast service at Podomatic. First I will read the translation. I want you to pay attention to the line endings because they are important. Vázquez Pintor has a jazzy style. He topples the stresses towards the end of the line and then allows them to cascade into the next. This is not formal scansion but it is curiously effective.
The longing won’t win out
if only the summers keep ready after so much
winter, which leaves us scared like the cloud
that comes from the Tropic and suddenly it drops below zero.
Around about now we’ll all be getting old, that
station where the train comes from afar without warning
and makes its last stop
for the final hi, welcome, what’s up, a coffee
with milk and now what doesn’t matter is the track that
is behind you because the journey is
only short and a sign on the platform reminds you that, no,
there’s no going back to man’s end but a metaphor
of return, a voucher buffet
that is rented out in dreams and is so pricey that
it would maybe have been better not to have come, ever.
Now let’s see it (and hear it if you can) in the original:
NON VAI TRUNFAR A SOEDADE
Se é que atentos permanecen os veráns despois de tanto
Inverno que nos deixa ateridos como a nube aquela
Che chega do trópico e de súpeto entra en baixo cero.
Hogano estaremos todos entrando na vellice, esa
Estación onde o comboio vén de lonxe sen aviso
E pára-se definitivo
Para o derradeiro ola benvidos, que tal, un café
Con leite e xa non importa o camiño de ferro que
Se fixo atrás porque a viaxe é
Sosmentes breve e un monolito lembra no andén que non
Hai ese regreso a cabo home senón una metáfora
De volta, un comaquén de tíquet
Que se aluga no soño e ten un prezo tan alto que
Máis valera acaso no ter vido, nunca.
Xosé Vázquez Pintor, No Corazón Mancado (1989)
Xosé Vázquez Pintor was born in Melide in 1946. I have a particular affection for Melide because I work on the Camino de Santiago and Melide is one of the beads on the rosary that leads to Santiago. It is a medium-sized town on a crossroads at the heart of Galicia where the four provinces join like the sponge pieces of a slice of Battenburg cake. Growing up in Melide in the 1950s must have been different to the world of today: Franco was alive, there was no motorway linking Galicia to Castilla-León, the villages were still bustling with life, even if it was hard scraping by with little cash and fewer conveniences.
I bought the collection Seara (A Coruña: Espiral Maior, 2011) after finishing a Camino. It includes work that covers four decades. Of all the work in the collection it was No Corazón Mancado that most appealed to me. In the introduction the poet says that the collection shows “the intermittent beat of another skipping in the way I work the lines. I want to get out in the open, give my fears a lashing and kiss all the wild weather.” There are many poems in the collection about time passing and the approach of death: rather unusual for a poet of 43, except that these themes run deep in Galicia and the sense of having lost something must be greater still. There is all that was lost under Franco and all that has been lost to the new Galicia, with its crude modernity. You can’t even be nostalgic.
I am interested in the way that Vázquez Pintor plays with the poetic line. He has the lines topple into the next.
after so much// winter
getting old, that// station
a coffee// with milk
and, cleverly, this line:
now what doesn’t matter is the track that
is behind you
and again this:
The poem does not have a conventional structure. All the same I think the line endings should be stressed. The poet wants to create an imbalance that topples along to the close. And he creates just enough structure in the line endings to hold it together against that centripetal force. If you look carefully you will see that there is a scheme that is almost imperceptible when you read it: there are only three vowel sounds; O,A,O,A,O,O,E,E,E,O,A,E,E,A. Now tanto, cero and aviso are not rhymes unless you pronounce them absurdly. But to have them as full rhymes would have taken away from the improvisational feel of the text.
We have to take the poet seriously in his own description of what he is doing: going after an intermittent beat, a skipping through the lines. And when he uses unusual line lengths there is a reason for this. That is why I believe it is correct to emphasise the line endings in the reading, not to the point of absurdity- like saying tantO, cerO and aviso- but enough to hear where the line ends. If I have to choose I tend to go back to the architecture of the classics, but I enjoy this jazzy line as well. I appreciate the way that it can go out and kiss the hardness of the weather in a way that classical balance, perhaps, cannot.
I have been listening to A Desaparició da Neve by Manuel Rivas in the car. Manuel Rivas is perhaps the most successful of all contemporary Galician writers. Desaparició includes a cd with the book and the readings are accompanied by voices that echo the text, incant above and below it and, at times, take it into music. I would love to hear Vázquez Pintor in this strange mixture of chant and poem. The poetry seems to demand the musical and rhythmic connection. Perhaps it demands performance more than mere reading.
What does the poem mean? Well, if you have been following this blog and do not know what saudade is, your best bet is to read some previous posts that deal with this most Galician of ideas. It is a sense of longing for the unattainable that is said to be particular to Galicia and Portugal. The 28 poems in No Corazón Mancado, build towards a crushing sense of mourning- Total Ausencia, for example. This makes the first line of this poem strangely ironic: to say that saudade, or longing, will not win out in a poem that is all about things that are strangely, dreamily out of reach. Saudade is timeless; the irony marks it out as modern.
Man’s End- Cabo Home– comes up in Cangas 2 as well, Onde o mar non chega a ser adulto. What is the end of man? In that poem he explains it a different way:
And that’s the way we are, two universes of happiness
up to the confines of Cabo Home, Cíes, Soavela…
where I dream of you my friends in the loving
embrace of the water and the flowers when
the sun is called April and never winter.
I find it strangely moving.
E somos así dos universos da ledicia
Ata o confín do Cabo Home, Cíes, Soavela…
Onde vos soño amigas e amigos na almofía
Amorosiña das augas e das flores cando
O sol se chame abril e nunca inverno.
Read more about the poet here: