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!’



Goodbye, rivers, goodbye, springs,
Goodbye, trickling streams;
Goodbye, all I see before me:
Who knows when we’ll meet again?

Oh my home, my homeland,
Soil where I was raised,
Little garden that I cherish,
Fig trees I grew from seed.

Meadows, rivers, woodlands,
Pine groves bent by wind,
All the chirping little songbirds,
Home I cherish without end.

Mill nestled between the chestnuts,
Nights lit brightly by the moon,
Tremor of the little bells,
My parish chapel’s tune.

Blackberries from the wild vines
I picked to give my love,
Narrow trails between the corn-rows,
Goodbye, forever goodbye!

Goodbye, glory! Goodbye, gladness!
I leave the house where I was born,
Leave my village so familiar
For a world I’ve never seen.

I’m leaving friends for strangers,
Leaving prairies for the sea,
Leaving all that I love dearly…
Oh, if I didn’t have to leave!…

But I’m poor and I’m unlucky
And my land is not my own,
Even the path you walk
Is borrowed if
To privation you are born.

So it is I have to leave
The precious garden I’ve so loved,
Warm hearth of my dwelling,
The new trees I planted there,
Spring outside the cabin door.

Goodbye, goodbye, I’m going,
All you grasses over the graves,
Where my father lies deep buried,
Grass I’ve often leaned to kiss,
Sweet soil where we were raised.

Goodbye, Our Lady of Assumption,
As white as a seraphim,
I carry you in my heart:
Please pray to God for me,
Virgin Mary heaven-bound.

Far off I hear them, far away,
The bells over in Pomar,
That ring for me, oh, heartache,
They’ll ring for me no more!

Far off I hear them, far away…
Each peel pierces with its ache:
I go alone, without companion…
Oh my home, goodbye! Goodbye!

Goodbye too, my beloved…
Goodbye forever it may be!…
I cry as I bid you farewell
From the shoreline of the sea.
Don’t forget me, home beloved,
Though I die of loneliness…
So many leagues across the sea…
My sweet abode! My hearth!


Translated from Galician by Erín Moure

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

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

    Barnes & Noble

    Book Depository


    ISBN: 978-954-384-017-5

    Publication Date: 24 February 2013

    Language: English

    Paperback: 184 pages

    Dimensions: 216 x 140 mm