Misreading and Noriega Varela


Humble song

April breeze
Ethereal clouds
Go with you.

Humble stone
Lost in mud
Wounded by sun
Becomes a star.

Black branches
Touching sky
Paint themselves
Celestial blue.

Drop of dew
Trembling light
I see sun
Inside you

Humble things
No one sees
Branch or leaf
Grain of sand.

A charm more
Than divine
The God child
Come to earth.

Humilde Belleza

Noriega wrote, in another poem, “toda humilde belleza me namora”.  This attitude towards nature and life appealed to me when I first encountered the poet in 2007.  I saw in it a reflection of my own attitude as a provincial kid a bit suspicious of what was going on in the cities.

noriega001When I was a teenager I loved Hermann Hesse.  When I came to Spain and started going regularly to Galicia, Os Ermos came into my hands and I made a connection between the poet and Hesse’s heroes Goldmund or Knulp.  They are like innocent wild children outside the currents of mainstream thinking, not antagonistic to mainstream culture but quizzical towards it, as though their experience of life was too direct and ecstatic to be subsumed in cultural pieties.  Noriega seemed like a Franciscan friar wandering through the countryside.

I did not know much about the man.  Noriega was not a novelist’s creation and I feel now that I may have been wrong on many levels.  Somewhere I made a wrong reading and chasing that reading back to its root is a tricky job.  It might reveal something about me and that feels dangerous, but I am going to do it anyway.

A Cara Oculta

noriegaThe spark for these considerations is a book by X. Ramón Freixeiro Mato, A Cara Oculta de Noriega Varela (Laiovento, 1992) that contains some sharp critical essays and some previously unedited verse and letters of the poet.  The fact that this study was published over twenty years ago demonstrates how little I am concerned with being on the cutting edge of research and investigation.

I had known for some time that Noriega wrote some intolerant opinions in the wake of Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War.  I overlooked that.  “Who am I to judge?” I told myself.  “Who knows what people went through and what accommodations they felt obliged to make?”  And, anyway, the poet had been an activist as a young man on a radical rag called Guao-Guao that challenged the local bosses, or caciques.  This seemed to excuse him; he had a good heart.  Perhaps he was just covering himself.

A Different Story

Antonio_Noriega_Varela_1919The poems in A Cara Oculta, however, tell a different story.  There is a series of polemical poems called the Xuicios do Ano.  Although they are not signed by Noriega it seems clear that he was the author (see note p.168).  It is easy enough to pick out the eulogy of Franco and the reference to Cara al Sol, the Fascist anthem, but I do not want to quote these things out of context.

It is not really the fact that Noriega sympathised with Franco that bothers me.  When I say that I made a misreading I don’t mean anything quite so simple as that I overlooked one aspect of a writer and now have to reconsider my judgment.  When you realize you have made a misreading it is like losing your innocence: you still have a memory of it; it still gives you the same good feeling; but you have an aftertaste of bitterness.

The bitterness does not come from thinking that Noriega had “bad” opinions.  It comes from my complicity in the roots of those opinions, my sense of fellow-feeling with the younger poet and my feeling that I am not safe in my own understandings.  The Franciscan innocence really fooled me.  You see, I am with Noriega when he stands up for the local exactness of “his” language- not just Galician but the Galician but the Galician of the people in the villages.  If you have read what I have written about Novoneyra you will understand where this come from. I certainly don’t feel antagonistic towards him as he writes- in Spanish, not Gallego-  to Otero Pedrayo of his work collecting phrases:  Como falan os brañegos.

I am with him when he stands against the politicisation of “his” language in the name of nationalism.  I am only not with him when it comes to Franco because I know much more about the dictator than he did and, even so, it would be presumptuous to say that he was “wrong” as if I, an Englishman living in Spain, could make that kind of judgment.

Local Life

The closest contemporary comparison for me is the issue of Brexit and Europe.  The same understanding that values Noriega’s walks through the hills, his insistence on the local and his eye for the beauty of the particular, makes me feel that the European is an horrendous aberration with its Common Agriculture Policy that destroys local wildlife and human culture.  I feel myself getting irritated-just like Noriega- with the very idea of smart people in distant institutions making decisions that affect everyone except themselves.  It seems that this way lies factory farming, factory schooling, global warming and collapsing biodiversity.  So, like Noriega, I say no and turn my head away from the cities and their lights, looking for inspiration somewhere else.

And the question I have to ask myself is whether that is a bad reading.  Was the whole idea of a transformative experience in Nature going back through Hesse, Noriega, Wordsworth and Schubert a delusion?  Could it possibly be that the city makes a better reading?  It would be bitter to admit that.

About Jason Preater

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