Galician Classics

Against a background of perceived attacks on established religion by the politicians of the day, and the introduction of the newfangled cinematograph to the city of Ourense, the local bishop, His Excellency, faces dissent in the ranks. His assistant, Don Xenaro, while struggling to preserve his loyalty to the bishop, is drawn to side with the canon theologian, Don Telesforo, who is vehemently opposed to the new invention. No less an opponent is the much revered, and soon to be sainted, local nun, Sister Sabina, who appeals to the bishop to save his soul. The bishop seeks solace in food, in the once intellectual but now ailing company of his aged vicar, in memories of a better time, when he studied at the seminary, but ghosts rarely lie down easily, and he will have to chase them away if he doesn’t wish to be defeated. A visit to the cinema, where he witnesses the rowdy atmosphere, the impressive images and the poverty of its pioneers, an indulgent attitude… If he’s not careful, others at the start of this tumultuous twentieth century will take matters into their own hands, and dissent will turn into open revolt. A hilarious look at the internal politics of a cathedral chapter, at the confrontation between conservative and liberal elements, His Excellency is one of Galician writer Carlos Casares’ best-loved and most enduring novels.

‘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.

Xosé María Díaz Castro (1914-1990) is considered one of the greatest exponents of twentieth-century Galician poetry, alongside such names as Álvaro Cunqueiro, Celso Emilio Ferreiro and Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño. He published only one book during his lifetime, Halos. A short book, it comprises thirty-two poems divided into seven sections and containing one of the most emblematic of all Galician poems, ‘Penelope’. The book embraces such themes as the writing of poetry, the poet’s love for Galicia and his philosophical concerns, including his religious faith. Many of the poems were written in hendecasyllables and alexandrines and this translation by John Rutherford has set out to reproduce the metre as well as the meaning with remarkable success. The deep-seated concerns of this man, a translator and schoolteacher as well as a poet, are brought into English for the first time.

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.

Long Night of Stone is the most famous book of Galician poetry published during Franco’s dictatorship. The poem with this title is the result of the author’s imprisonment in Celanova Monastery during the Spanish Civil War; the book is read as a metaphor for the long years of dictatorship that ensued. Celso Emilio Ferreiro, a man of unwavering commitment, who stands with the downtrodden and oppressed and refuses to give up hope on the world, was himself born in Celanova, a town in the province of Ourense, in 1912 and died in Vigo in 1979. The message the book contains is surprisingly modern, inviting us as it does to investigate the truth of our own time and find our poetry.

A remarkable collection of literary sketches and perhaps this author's best known work together with Merlin and Company (which was published by Everyman in 1996). Here the author from Mondoñedo takes us on a whirlwind tour of the local characters he meets (invents?) and the fantastical adventures they relate. The second in our series of Galician Classics, this new translation by Kathleen March promises to reintroduce the reader to the joys of Cunqueiro’s unexpected world.

This volume brings together, for the first time in English translation, all three books of poetry by this author, two of them published in his lifetime (Poems 1981/1991 and Last Poetry of Love and Illness 1992-1995) and one posthumously (Poems for a Skylark). Like any true poet, Lois Pereiro lived on the edge, between cultures, spending time outside his native Galicia in Madrid, learning foreign languages, travelling as much as he could. He was also the victim of toxic oil syndrome at an early age, which was followed by a heroin addiction and the contraction of AIDS. He died at 38, having been forced to write “with delicacy in a Pandora’s box of pain”.