GALICIAN SONGS by Rosalía de Castro

Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885) is considered the founder of modern Galician literature. She wrote three major books of poetry: two in Galician, Galician Songs and New Leaves, and one in Spanish, On the Banks of the Sar. Nourished by the popular songs the author heard around her, Galician Songs was first published in 1863 and dedicated on 17 May, the date that a hundred years later, in 1963, would become and has remained Galician Literature Day, when the work of a particular Galician author is celebrated. Galician Songs marks the first full publication of any of Rosalía de Castro's books of poetry in English and is accompanied by a translator's introduction that argues for the importance and contemporaneity of the author's work and poetics, not just in Galician, but in English. 


'God bless us all, child,
Girl, may God bless you,
For he made you so graceful,
For he made you so lovely,
And though many lands I've wandered,
Though I've passed through many towns,
I've never seen a girl like you
So shapely and pretty too.
I praise the one who bore you!
Amen, I laud the one who raised you!'

'May God be with you, Granny,
May the Virgin keep you safe,
For you speak so well,
Well-spoken and persuasive.'

'Dear girl, in speaking well
There's nothing to lose:
Those that sing best
Can fly with songbirds;
The chick who doesn't chirp
Dies choked in the straw.'

'But if you were a wee chick,
I tell you, Granny dear,
You'd never die of choking,
When you chirp you chirp so well.'

'Oh, that's never been my fate,
My daughter, my girl!
For I was born an orphan,
With no love in the world;
From door to door begging
I've had to spend my days.
And oh, my life is passing,
Oh this pilgrim life of mine,
I seek as I wander begging
My daily bread each day,
Always in strangers' doorways,
Always in strange towns,
I have to pull myself onward
So I don't die in desperation,
Fallen by a wall
And forgotten by all,
The chirp of little birdies,
The clamour of doves,
The smooth tongue that's essential,
The quiet humility it takes.'

'You are wise, dear Granny,
Your knowledge is huge!
We'd have to wander the world
To be as wise as you are!
Even though it's hard work
Afar in distant towns,
Yet what things are learned!
Yet what things are seen!'

'You'd see so many valleys
You'd get lost for sure:
What the sun's gaze procures
Is left later in the dark!'

''Tis truth you tell, dear Granny,
But your eyes are so clear,
As if they'd been lent you
By the glorious Saint Lucy.'

'I am devoted to her,
She is my blessed saint!
But clear eyes aren't always
A proof of clear sight.
Many eyes glance like water
That races between cold peaks
Gurgling as it passes,
Serene, serene,
Where darkness once goaded,
Where gloom once lived,
In the dark gloom of sins
Hidden furthest away.'

'If you're talking of sin,
It's bread that grows
Wherever you look;
It's cultivated all over;
Yet some grains are poisoned,
Others dark as boiled blood,
Others, black as night,
Grow alongside lurking slatterns,
Who part their gold and silk
Wrapped up in envy,
Nourished by lust,
Flattered by greed.'

'Leave well enough alone,
Let it be, my girl,
Don't long to wander,
Nor see distant towns,
For the world betrays
Those who don its finery
And in towns you'd get into
Things you'd never do here,
For though rotten grain
Sprouts up everywhere,
In some places it hardly grows,
In others it shoots up high.'

'You talk like a lawyer
And anyone would think
That you'd learned in books
Such highfalutin words,
All so well spoken,
All so understanding:
You've put the fear into me
So I'd not leave from here
Without the Holy Bible
And medallions all blessed
In the pocket of my waistcoat,
Along with an amulet of jet,
To protect me from witches
And from slatterns who lurk.'

'May they save you from yourself,
Ask God this, young lady fine,
We ourselves are the slatterns
Who'd do us the worst.
But look, night is coming
With its mantle of stars, The cows have been herded
From the paddock where they graze,
Far off the bells are ringing,
They peel the Angelus,
Every rabbit to its burrow
Nimbly, nimbly heads,
For night's a foul companion
If a companion is required.
But oh, I have no burrow
Or spot to lie me down,
Nor roof to protect me
From cold night winds!
What a life the poor lead, child!
What a life, a bitter lot!
But Our Saviour was poor
And this brings us relief.'

'Amen, old Granny, amen,
But by the holy souls I swear
Today you'll sleep in a bed
Made of wheaten straw,
Beside a hearth to warm you
With cinders aglow,
And you'll eat a hot broth
With potatoes and greens.'

'Blessed be God, blessed,
Blessed the Virgin be
Who brings me such goodness
With a compassionate hand!
May the Saviour grant you fortune
And a life of many years;
May your roof-tiles turn to gold
And flagstones to fine silver
And may every grain become
A diamond for you each day!
And now, my girl,
For it's time you had fun
Dancing with your girlfriends
Who gossip in the kitchen,
I'll have to tell you tales,
I'll have to sing you songs,
I'll clap shells to keep time,
My sweet kerchiefed girl!'


'Twas on a Sunday,
'Twas in late afternoon,
With the sun going down
Through the pine groves,
With white clouds
Shadow of the angels,
With little butterflies
That beat their wings,
With a rhythm
Meek and smooth,
Celestial spaces,
Foreign worlds
Cleaved by rays of sun,
Rich treasures
Of gold and diamond.
I tramped mountains,
Crests and valleys,
I tramped plains
And emptiness:
I tramped across ditches,
I tramped over oceans,
Kept my feet dry
And never got tired.

Night overtook me,
Brilliant night,
With a frail moon
Made of jasper,
And I went with it
On the road ahead,
With twinkling stars
To guide me,
For the path
Was one they knew.

Later dawn
With its colours
Made of roses
Arrived to light me;
And I saw then,
Between the leaves
Of elms and pines,
Was nestled
A small white house
With dovecote,
Where sweet doves
Settled and flew.
From the cottage
Gentle songs came,
Inside it the ruckus
Of young men flirting
With sweet young ladies
From the villages nearby.
All is contentment,
All is enjoyment,
While the millstone
Thrums and thrums,
Grinds and grinds,
Spits out and spits out
Just as it pleases,
Keeping time.

There's no place
Cheers me more
Than that mill
In the chestnuts,
Where young girls are,
Where young men are,
Who so richly know
How to unwind.
Where they spin it out
Until they're tired,
Young and old,
Kids and adults,
And though no one asked
Me to go down there,
For in this house
I knew no one,
I was at the mill
Of my godfather,
I went on the wind,
I arrived on the air.


A portly bagpiper
Dressed up in fine silk,
Like a total prince,
Affectionate and witty,
First among young men,
Urbane without peer,
He had a way of singing
At the break of dawn:
'My little bagpipe
Can sweet-talk any girl.'

He always came to town
With the air of a young lord,
With imposing brio always
And accompanied by a drum,
And when he blew in the bagpipe,
He exhaled so softly,
Then he'd burst into song
There at the break of dawn:
'My little bagpipe
Can sweet-talk any girl.'

The girls were wild for him,
All were swooning at him,
If he was near, they smiled,
If he was far, they cried.
Oh no! They didn't notice
In all his flowery ways
That he had a way of singing
There at the break of dawn:
'My little bagpipe
Can sweet-talk any girl.'

As the procession moved past,
Underneath a fig tree,
How many single young girls
Murmured 'I love you!' to him…
And he let his bagpipe answer,
To enchant them completely,
Then he'd burst into his song
There at the break of dawn:
'My little bagpipe
Can sweet-talk any girl.'

The girls danced captivated
And ran right after him,
Blindly, blindly not noticing
The brambles circling them;
Poor butterflies, they were after
The light that would burn them,
For he had a way of singing
There at the break of dawn:
'The sound of my little bagpipe
Can sweet-talk any girl.'

At the fairs, such contentment!
Such laughs in the sewing bees!
All the girls were swooning,
They proved his thinking right;
And he who thirsted for lovers
Wanted to sweet-talk them all.
When he saw them weeping later,
He sang at the break of dawn:
'If they weren't already crazy,
They wouldn't answer my song.'

Translated from Galician by Erin Moure

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    GALICIAN SONGS by Rosalía de Castro is available for purchase through PayPal at a cost of 16 euros including worldwide postage 

    This edition has flaps. The same edition without flaps is available through your local or online bookshop (ISBN 9789543840175)