NEW LEAVES by Rosalía de Castro

‘Poetry is the taste of thinking in the mouth,’ writes translator Erín Moure in introducing New Leaves. In the face of so much migration and precarity, poet Rosalía de Castro sets herself to thinking and recognizes repetition as key to humanity; she views the social as intimate; she creates poems in dialogue so that subjectivity reverberates; she examines the notion of home and articulates the effects of migration on women, the widows. ‘Thinking,’ continues Moure, ‘fills the absence when love and hope are missing.’ New Leaves confronts the conundrum of human existence and the injustices suffered by those left behind in the fight (flight) for (economic) survival. As such, Rosalía de Castro is our contemporary in our own times of migration. New Leaves was her second and last major work of poetry in the Galician language, after Galician Songs, and is here presented in award-winning poet Erín Moure’s memorable translation.



   New Leaves!! It makes me laugh,
this name you carry,
as if a dark one
overheard folk call her white.

   Not New Leaves at all; a bundle
of gorse and thorns is all:
nettles, like my sorrows;
feral, like my grief.

   Without scent or freshness,
savage regrets and wounds…
If in the scrubland you blossom,
who can blame you!!




          At night’s apèx, there
in the light of the sad and waning lamp
or in black dreaded darkness,
          the old man sees phantoms.

Some are withered trees, and leafless:
          others, dried-up springs;
mountains eternally wrapt in snow,
          barrens that do not end.

          And at daybreak,
when with the last star they too dissolve,
others come, more sad and rancorous,
          for the bitter truth
they carry is scribbled in their lifeless eyes
          and on their bald crowns.

Never say, dear youth, you’ve lost the
          lilt of hope
that’s always a friend as life begïns;
it’s a mortal enemy only at the end!





   It was in the month of May,
in the month of love, of plants and flowers,
month of suave prefumes
and transparent colours.
Of morning trills of little birds,
of fresh and candid dawns,
of fleeting clouds,
of afternoons asmile and golden.
When the sea is blue, the sky serene
like a sleeping baby,
rivers gentle, high the stars,
more faded is the moon,
yet also more beautiful,
with a peerless grace all of its own.
It was, in short, a time when all in this life
smiled on mortals with the happy, splendid
virginal smile of spring
that invites all to love and be lucky.

   Invites all…oh! If only fate
could máke it so;
for there’s one who, cloaked in the dark
of his own sadness,
sees only, in lovely spring,
in warming sun and in the rose
glistening with fresh dew of morning,
a sad bad omen that awakens
thoughts of mourning and misfortune.



   It was a morning in the month of May
on which the angels seemed to sing,
while breezes gently moaned
in a loving lament;
on which the rivulet trickling past the curtain
lightly murmured who knows what,
and the flight of restless swallows
who twittered in the air,
at the sight of wise clouds
foretold adventures and pleasures.
Morning of enchantments,
just what the spirit craves
as it waits and trusts;
morning that calls every being
to pleasure and joy,
apart from the sad soul
that in his very being knows not
what it is to feel relief and calm,
where sweet pleasure starts,
where the cruelty of pain ends.



   Oh kind guardian angel, you
who slowly bat white wings
around the afflicted spirit,
to touch it with blessed consolations
you bear us from the infinite,
where oh where have you been,
and why in such dark sorrow
did you leave that one sad soul?
Faith, hope, charity,
source of eternal beatitudes,
from luckier regions, you
come to calm our bitterness…
where are you, doing what?
When the one who places trust in you,
struggling alone with worry and agony,
orphaned, calls you without response?



   Among all those he insistently hated,
among all who he loved spitefully,
a sad one condemned to hard fate
plunged his gaze into the wild Cantabrian surf
wondering if
in such a deep tomb
the huge space of another world might be visibre.
And with adamant spirit,
so as to touch the clear liquid
he raced in a dizzying run
as if in the lure of the mysterious abyss
a strange power leads him to death.

   And he said:—Farewell, life!! Farewell, torment,
that with slow martyrdom
robs even my dreams of hope!
As for my misfortune,
I’ll breák the grip of its strong arm
to go where there is no pain, or change,
where worry is buried in repose.
And you, evil passion loosed in me
you were my God and my punishment,
if you still want to kill me, die with me!

   The sad one stopped, and fearsome
huge waves with manes of foam
twisted back upon the sands,
inciting the poor wretch
to end the battle
that had started in his breast.

   But a soft sound
suddenly found the perturbed ear
of that unlucky chump…
And he listened astounded to
an invisible being whose alluring talk
in soft and celestial melody
suavely and gently told him:

   —Stop right there at your life’s
shore, cowardly sentinel;
don’t think that by fleeing the present
you’ll pull the veil from eternity!
Try to take the path of life
between the roses and the bile;
don’t leap into your tomb
before the Maker asks it of you.
No offspring of Eve is ever freed
finally from their pain
until death comes of its own accord.
After having crossed
the huge deserts of the infinite,
you’d return to the world in spirit
to suffer, and pay for your crime.
By day and night,
without rest or release
you’d find yourself stuck to that breast
where the ungrateful heart beats
not for you but for the sake of repetition.
And in that thought
with implacable clarity you’d read
treacherous betrayal, bitter oblivion
unhidden by veils or tricks.

   —Oh God, all-powerful Maker!
What horrific torment!

   —No one can reverse the power of destiny
miserable or benign;
nor is it easy for anyone
to alter their fate.
Only those who wait and hope will triumph…
So get back to life and wait resigned.

   And he turned to live, having repented
though sad and hurt
was that poor wretch:
he asked God’s pardon for his sin,
and G-d, compassionate,
gave him holy peace and sweet oblivion.


Translated from Galician by Erín Moure

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    NEW LEAVES by Rosalía de Castro, the sixth in the series Galician Classics devoted to classics of Galician literature in English translation, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    Important ideas… articulated with striking intelligence and moral courage by a poet for whom ‘sadness’ was just a starting-point.

    Michael Kerrigan in The Times Literary Supplement


    ISBN: 978-954-384-058-8

    Publication Date: 17 September 2016

    Language: English

    Paperback: 300 pages

    Dimensions: 216 x 140 mm