Álvaro Cunqueiro- Rosalía de Castro

Now this something no more is of this world
rose fountain perfume plum or glass
Now that it no longer is
you remembered this woodland
so sad in its birdless dawn
or how so early 
you fled a damp pipe dance sucking on the earth.

Now I no longer see you
today I would much like to see you
pale froth of blood in the world.

How you will be a soul in another air
how you will be white or deeplier
How you will be now on the dark riverbank
where the fields
run eternally before your eyes!
How you will be there without trickling streams
no Padrón, Adina or Lestrove
no sorrowful widows around low walls
no bushy green and with no dove of green
no headboards on the cleared bed!
How you will be there
without that nail you had here
harshly nailed into your heart!
Now that you already have death
doing vigil for your sad breasts
now that you already have death
with that sobbing morning choice of yours
what a delicate figure you will make in the other world
Now that you have
no shadow no desires no voice
and the grass grows in your new little boots.

 Herba aquí ou acolá  (1980; ed Xosé Henrique Costas González, Editorial Galaxia, Vigo 1984, p.138)

This is the second of my homage pieces to Rosalía de Castro. Álvaro Cunqueiro was a prolific writer of novels, essays and poetry. His statue presides over the main square of Mondoñedo and, fittingly, stares into space: he was a fabulist; his stories and poetry twist away from the real.
I have seen him interviewed on the television. He is a charming man of considerable learning and culture: a reader, an asethete. He went to Madrid to work as a journalist but in the early days of the Franco regime returned to Galicia where he edited the Faro de Vigo and published many books. He acquired the status of celebrity intellectual.
I can’t read Cunqueiro without hearing his voice: plummy, proud and perhaps a little defensive, weaving his words around ideas and often twisting ideas to his words. There is one word in this poem that I cannot find the meaning of: porfondal. I can hear him say it. It is appropriate to his voice. Fondal could mean that end of a field, but that does not make sense to me. The fondo is the depths of something. But porfondal? I’ve looked at the University of Vigo’s dictionary of dictionaries online and it does not help me and I have come to the conclusion that it is an invention of the poet and translated máis porfondal as deeplier, echoing what I take to be the poet’s invention in my translation.
The lack of punctuation is a direct translation of the poet’s lack of punctuation,

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Iglesia Alvariño- Rosalía de Castro


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.


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Saudade, Sebastianismo: Portugal

Today’s poem provoked me to some thoughts about Celticism.  Can you remember the theme tune from Titanic?  I think it will get you in the mood.

Texeira de Pascoes (1877-1952)

Who's that coming through the mist?

Who’s that coming through the mist?

Shadow of life, speak! Come tell me
your eternal secret.
O Cosmic shadow
shine out. I want to find myself
on your intimate, suffering breast.
I want to see you and get to know you, O life!
I want to touch your divine essence.
I want to see you in person and not
by means of lies and mere appearances.
Ah, tell me the very last word,
the magical word, that has been
a pallid, scarcely perceptible murmur,
an indeterminate vocal reflex
more a living light-struck silence,
in the mouthes of prophets and saints…
and a mechanical, dull imagein the dry, arid mouth of the wise…
and perfume in the opening flower,
and the vagueness of mist, water on the lips,
the avid and mute verb on rough rock
and light’s soft sound on soft sand
gorgeous song of the seven choirs
the Rainbow where divine love exists.
Feverish scream in the mouth when the sun burns
and sepulchral pallor in the sad moonlight.
It is what I, afflicted, say to the dark shadow
of life. And the dark shadow awoke
and a nocturnal voice, in my ears,
grew resounding splendidly, and spoke like this:

Listen to your heart if you want
to know the eternal living essence
which is bound up in transitory forms
where I was a little blind girl and a captive
in those forms I cried with tragic bitterness,
I suffered death, exile and misery
until one day, I was freed at last
from the brute density of matter.

Behold, look at the melancholy spirit,
the original: see the huge shadow
that was torn from top to bottom like
the black temple veils.

And from this formless
strange, cosmic shadow emerged
a scarcely visible ghostly glowing,
a faint form that little by little opened
its eyes in a Nebulous look.

And then the ethereal Mist wanted
to be a star and break apart in light
and the shining star wanted to be a frozen world
bathed in the blood of Jesus.
Then the bright chilled star
on the lips of dawn which impregnated it
turned itself into a tender green plant
which afterwards became, miraculously,
a creator also…

Last month I was in Portugal walking the Camino from Ponte de Lima to Santiago. We stayed in a beautiful country manor home in Calheiros, near Ponte de Lima. On a misty morning as we looked out over the valley, Francisco, the owner, spoke to me about Sebastianismo. Sebastian was a king of Portugal who disappeared in a calamitous battle in North Africa in which the cream of the Portuguese nobility was wiped out. He was young and the people thought of him as a good king so they did not want to accept that he had died. In the troubled years that followed a feeling grew that he had not, in fact, died, but had sailed out to the western sea and would return some day to restore justice and peace. The yearning for an ideal past and the idea that through the mists some day “a shining Star” itself the embodiment of an “ethereal Mist” will appear continued well into the twentieth-century: Sebastianismo has been potent in Portuguese and Brazilian politics and culture.

“Look at the mist on the hills,” said Francisco.  “That is Sebastianismo.”  How do you connect mist and the returning king?

The idea of the returning king has echoes of King Arthur. If you remember the Arthurian legend, the king also sails out into the western sea and will return. The cosmic battle of good and evil with a human king involved was cannily picked up by Tolkein in his Lord of the Rings books, which are larded with a Celticism he took from The Song of Ossian. One of those books is even called The Return of the King.  Ah, the plucky little hobbits who overthrow the mighty empire of the evil wizard: they are Irish, aren’t they? Or looking a different direction, think of cheeky Leonard di Caprio in Titanic helping his girlfriend to “fly” for that brief moment as they sail into the Western sea: that is part of the same Celtic deal too. The Titanic soundtrack could swell in the background of many a celticising legend.

This all suggests that there is more to the lyrical gallic connection than some people would like to admit- a melancholy feeling that, even when times are hard, you can yearn for a beautiful past and an impossible future. This yearning in Galicia goes by the name saudade, and the same word is used in Portugal and Brazil. Indeed there is a movement of poetry in nineteenth-century Portuguese poetry that is called “saudesista“.

Texeira de Pascoes (1877-1952) was born in Amarante. He was the founder of the “saudesista” movement, which explores “saudade” in all its forms. The poem above is his definition of “saudade“: he says that “saudade” was born of the fusion of Roman and Semitic blood and is, therefore, both pagan and Christian at the same time. I think you can appreciate in the poem the mythological thinking that goes into making the shadow of life an expression of saudade.

I was struck by the line “tell me the very last word/the magical word” because it chimes in with another book I have been reading recently: Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, Historia de los Heterodoxos Españoles. I was searching for an account of the life of Prisciliano, a fourth century heretic who gained a vocal following in Galicia that came to threaten the church so much he was eventually executed. St Martin of Tours protested at this judgement.

According to Menéndez Pelayo, Prisciliano’s ideas were a mish-mash of Eastern mysticism and Manicheanism. The Manicheans believed that God could not have made all the evil in the world since God is good, so they invented a demiurge as the creator of evil. Observing the world, however, one could not deny the evidence of God’s grace. This grace, they said, comes from the sparks of divine breath that God breathed into his first Creation, and since then he has remained distant. The soul’s job is to work its way back to God.

I think you can see how this heretical belief could lead into saudade/sebastianismo: the soul is yearning for divine reunion. Divine sparks left in God’s creation come together in the mist.

This might have been my own fanciful imagining alone if it were not for Texeira de Pascoes mention of the “very last word/the magical word”. Here the coincidence becomes more striking. Texeira de Pascoes is not asking us to imagine Gandalf. The Manicheans and, by extension Prisciliano, believed that when the body died the Soul went on a journey to reunite itself with the Creator. On this journey it was important for the Soul to know the secret words in order not to be thwarted by the powers of evil. Actually that does sound a bit like Gandalf, come to think of it, as he struggles to make the grade as a White Wizard. Amongst the Albigensians, who could be seen as a later incarnation of Priscilianism, Gandalf would have made a fine Perfect, one of their elders who by discipline and meditation earned the “white cloak”.

In the trial of Prisciliano it was asserted that he and his followers gathered in moonlit woodland glades. Does this make him a distant ancestor of the saudesistas? Or does it just mean that Texeira de Pascoes read Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo and had the same thoughts that I am having?  Anyway the woodland connection was sufficient justification for the painting of the day also: a figure coming through the trees.

This post has been a whirlwind of readings, thoughts and ideas. I think I am going to have to keep reading!

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Dawn II- Iglesias Alvariño

Ploughline fingers touch through the dawn

and wash by the river green pastures.
-Ah, my morning girl says wedded she’ll be

to a wind like brave youth gusting in

from away out over the sea.
-Ah, feel the wind that gallant and brave is blowing.
-In his arms dawn died on an evening of love

and the pollarded oaks her sextons were.

I’ve been playing about with this poem again. This is only the first section and the painting is, I suppose, a kind of illustration of how I see it, although I have not done it justice.
And I am including below a passage from Edward Thomas, “The Heart of England”, in which he talks about Apollo descending upon the woodland. Perhaps it has no more relation to Iglesias Alvariño but the peculiar connection I make in my fancy, but Ifind the comparison suggestive and offer it to you.

The woods became more dense as we walked ; not far ahead the oaks closed in and expounded the contours of the land by their summits. But our path led away from them, and we were about to lose sight of them when, gently as the alighting of a bird, the sunlight dropped among the tops of the oaks, which were yellow and purple with young leaves, and blessed them. We turned. There was the sun held fast among the fresh leaves and green trunks, as if Apollo had changed into a woodland god, and forsaken the long lonely ways of heaven, and resolved no more to spend a half of his days in the under world. How the nymphs clapped their hands at this advent, abandoning Pan, and bringing to the new lord all choicest herbs and highest fair grasses and golden flowers that should make him content to be away from the clouds of sunset and dawn, and blue flowers on which his feet should tread without envy of the infinite paths of the sky, and white flowers that should suffice for his shepherding in place of the flocks of the high desolate noon ! How they drove up grey dove and green woodpecker to shake their wings and shine about the new god’s head as they flew among the branches! How Pan himself, that does not heed dark hours, crept away from his light-hearted nymphs and hid in the sombre reeds! ” Ever-young Apollo ! Eternal Apollo! Young Apollo ! ” were the cries. ” Why have we ever served a goat-foot god?” And so they made haste to serve him with the clearest honey of the wild bees, the cream from the farm that was most clean, the fruits that yet preserved flavours of a past summer and autumn in the granary close by, and fresh cresses from the spring ; nor would some of the little satyrs forget the golden ale and amber bread and cheese of the colour of primroses; and all seemed assured that never again would Apollo forsake the red and yellow leaves of the full oaks or the mid-forest grasses or the lilied pools standing among willow and alder and ash. And we saw that the light was passing in triumph slowly, and accompanied by the cooing of doves, along the wood from oak top to oak top.

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Dawn- Iglesias Alvariño

Dawn Fields

Dawn Fields

Dawn fields at sunrise wash
green meadows at the river.

-The early morning will be wed
to the adventurous wind
that blows in from the sea.

-Oh, how dashing is the adventurous wind!

-In his arms she died one evening of love
already buried by the oak groves
in her little coffin of song.

Midday fields at noon lay out
green meadows in the sun.

-As yet in her eyes I see no night.

-And her hands are all forgotten
all lined over with tiring work
and she has little moon flowers with no stalks.

-For her wedding dress
the larks sold her curly lace
at the moon’s market
she bought moonlit silk
at the stall of dawn
she bought sunlit kerchiefs.

The evening fields put away
green meadows in the shade.

Iglesias Alvariño from Cómaros Verdes

I am enjoying Iglesias Alvariño. I can re-read the poems many times because they don’t make sense, or at least the kind of linear, narrative sense that you find in prose. In this poem there are three two line stanzas that take us through the day from dawn to middaly to dusk. The image is of a villager washing sheets in the river and leaving them out to dry in the sun then taking them in in the evening, but they are not sheets, they are cómaros verdes, or pastures, and there is no villager either.

This prepares us for the humanization of other parts of the landscape: the early morning to marry the wind, the oak groves burying the morning in a coffin of song. Here we have the larks selling curly lace, which must be cow parsley or similar, sometimes known as Queen Anne’s lace in English and the moonlit silk and sunlit kerchiefs.

The whole thing reminds me of a passage in the prose of Edward Thomas when he tries to reimagine the pagan world of the gods in a vision of light over woodland. I’ll dig that out and show it to you next time because my plan with this poem is to rework it several times, moving further away from the literal translation and closer to what my feeling of it is.

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  The Pastoral of Pedr’Amigo de Sevilla

One day on my way to Compostela

as a pilgrim a shepherdess I saw.

I’ve seen none so fine in all of my life

nor any that spoke finer than she,

so I composed this pastoral for her.
Right then I said: “Fair maiden,

do you want me as your suitor?

I will give you good Estella veils

and fine Rocamador ribbons

with other presents to please you

and beautiful cloth for a tunic.”
And she said: ” I would not take you

as my suitor, since I never saw you

until this moment. I would not take your

presents either for they are not mine

as I think, if I accepted them,

somewhere some poor girl will suffer.
And if I should see her what would I say,

if she said through my fault she lost

her love and the presents he was bringing?

I don’t know anything I could tell her.

If it were not for this one thing I fear

I cannot say I would not say yes.”
I said to her, “Shepherdess, you are right,

but believe me, if it is not too hard,

but there is no one else in the world

I could love aside from you

and that’s why I am here now asking

if you will take me as your vassal.”
And she said, like a well-educated woman,

“Then I shall accept you as my suitor

and when the pilgrimage is done

come here to the Sar where I live

if you want to take me away, I think

I will go away with you at your expense.

This is a charming little poem I found in an otherwise exceptionally dull book, Leyendas y milagros del Camino de Santiago, by Xosé Ramón Mariño Ferro (Eliaga Ediciones, 2010, p.170). It was written at the time of Alfonso X and is filled with the spirit of courtly love. The word I have translated as suitor is “entendedor” in Spanish and the note from the book is helpful in explaining this:
Entendedor, in the rules of courtly love, is one of the grades or steps in the relation between the lover and his lady. The complete scale is made with the fenhedor or timid; the pregador or supplicant; the entendedor or accepted suitor; and the drutz or lover.
I took this book with me on the Camino that I just completed with my son, walking from Lugo to Santiago in three and a half days. That Camino does not go past the Sar which is the river on the south side of Compostela. The Sar is a river that appears in other love poems and is the title of a famous book of poems by Rosalía de Castro, En las orillas del Sar.

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Bran’s Business

Yearning for the Other Side


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.

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