Vendéronlle os bois,

This poem, written in Galician, by Rosalia de Castro is a moving testimony to the hardships and deprivations of life in Spain in the late nineteenth century, which spurred emigration to the New World. The experience would have been quite similar to that of the Irish in the period following the famines of the late 1840s when so many Irish peasants and country folk left everything and went to the USA, firstly to the slums of New York and Boston. In this case, the Galicians are going to Havana, in Cuba, presumably seeking some cultural and linguistic continuity. But the tone is not one of hope, or optimism or expectation of a better life. Rather it is a tone of despair and disillusion, the people are being driven to this as a last resort because of poverty and misery.

Going to Havana – adventure or misfortune?


¡Pra a Habana!

I
Vendéronlle os bois,
vendéronlle as vacas,
o pote do caldo
i a manta da cama.
Vendéronlle o carro
i as leiras que tiña;
deixárono sóio
coa roupa vestida.
“María, eu son mozo,
pedir non me é dado;
eu vou polo mundo
pra ver de ganalo.
Galicia está probe,
i á Habana me vou…
¡Adiós, adiós, prendas
do meu corazón!”

II
Cando ninguén os mira,
vense rostros nubrados e sombrisos,
homes que erran cal sombras voltexantes
por veigas e campíos.
Un, enriba dun cómaro
séntase caviloso e pensativo;
outro, ó pe dun carballo queda imóvil,
coa vista levantada hacia o infinito.
Alǵun, cabo da fonte recrinado,
parés que escoita atento o murmurío
de augua que cai, e eisala xordamente
tristísimos sospiros.
¡Van a deixá-la patria…!
Forzoso, mais supremo sacrificio.
A miseria está negra en torno deles,
¡ai!, ¡i adiante está o abismo…!

III
O mar castiga bravamente as penas,
e contra as bandas do vapor se rompen
as irritadas ondas
do Cántabro salobre.
Chilan as gaviotas
¡alá lonxe…!, ¡moi lonxe!,
na prácida ribeira solitaria
que convida ó descanso i ós amores.
De humanos seres a compauta línea
que brila ó sol adiántase e retórcese,
mais preto e lentamente as curvas sigue
do murallón antigo do Parrote.
O corazón apértase de angustia,
óiense risas, xuramentos se oien,
i as brasfemias se axuntan cos sospiros…
¿ÓNde van eses homes?
Dentro dun mes, no simiterio imenso
da Habana, ou nos seus bosques,
ide ver qué foi deles…
¡No eterno olvido para sempre dormen!
¡Probes nais que os criaron,
i as que os agardan amorosas, probes!

IV
“¡Ánimo, compañeiros!
Toda a terra é dos homes.
Aquel que non veu nunca máis que a propia,
a iñorancia o consome.
¡Áńimo! ¡A quen se muda Dio-lo axuda!
¡I anque ora vamos de Galicia lonxe,
verés desque tornemos
o que medrano os robres!
Mañán é o día grande, ¡á mar, amigos!
¡Mañán, Dios nos acoche!”
¡No sembrante a alegría,
no corazón o esforzo,
i a campana armoniosa da esperanza,
lonxe, tocando a morto!

V
Éste vaise i aquél vaise,
e todos, todos se van.
Galicia, sin homes quedas
que te poidan traballar.
Tes, en cambio, orfos e orfas
e campos de soledad,
e nais que non teñen fillos
e fillos que non tén pais.
E tes corazóns que sufren
longas ausencias mortás,
viudas de vivos e mortos
que ninguén consolará.

In the first stanza, the emigrant sells his possessions, all the humble artefacts and livestock he has left to pay for his passage across the Atlantic. For Galicia is poor and surely he can do better elsewhere. But in the second stanza he looks around and everywhere he looks he sees downcast, somber faces, suffering in the present but also fearful of the future. This is not an easy choice.
The longer third stanza sees the travelers at sea, packed into a boat at the mercy of the winds and the waves. They are not joyful, they are anxious, people are sighing, probably regretting their departure. For after one month they could be in the cemetery in Havana, forgotten. The poet pities the parents that have raised them and the lovers they have left behind. In the fourth stanza, the travelers try to raise their spirits by thinking that one day they could return and be again in the beloved countryside of their homeland in Galicia. But it is clearly a forlorn hope.
The final stanza focusses on a picture of Galicia emptied of its men, its most productive people, reverting to a state of nature with no-one to work the land, and widows who will get comfort from nobody.
It is a bleak picture, with emigration driven by lack of opportunity in people’s own land. Rosalia de Castro has done us a service by capturing it with sympathy and compassion. Where are the poets of the great migrations of our own age?
The Poetry Dude
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-Escoitá: os algoasiles

Here is a poem of protest from Rosalia de Castro, a cry of anger at the tax collectors coming round to poor villagers who can hardly get enough money for a roof over their heads and food for their family. It is written in the Galician language, and I hope it is reasonably accessible to those with a good grasp of Castilian Spanish.

The title “Why?”, and the first word, “Listen:”, grab the reader’s attention, create a sense of momentum and urgency which conditions how we read the rest of the poem. The meat of the subject is then revealed – the tax collectors are coming to the village.

¿Por qué?

-Escoitá: os algoasiles
andan correndo a aldea;
mais ¿cómo pagar, cómo, si un non pode inda pagar a renda?

Embargaránnos todo, que non teñen
esas xentes concencia, nin tén alma.
¡Quedaremos por portas,
meus fillos das entrañas!

¡Mala morte vos mate
antes de que aquí entredes!
Dos probes, ao sentirvos,
os corazós, ¡cál baten tristemente!

-María, se non fora
porque hai un Dios que premia e que castiga,
eu matara eses homes
como mata un raposo a unha galiña.

-¡Silencio! ¡Non brafemes,
que éste é un valle de lágrimas…!
Mais ¿por qué a algúns lles toca sufrir tanto,
i outros a vida antre contentos pasan?

From <http://poemasderosalia.blogspot.com/search/label/As%20viuvas%20dos%20vivos%20e%20as%20viuvas%20dos%20mortos&gt;

The poem continues with the cry of despair, how can we pay our taxes if we can’t even pay the rent. But the tax collectors proceed remorselessly, without a conscience, without a soul and round everyone up.

The poet curses the tax collectors, wishing them a horrible death, and wishing she could kill them herself, like a fox kills a chicken, if only there were no God to judge everybody.

The poem finishes with a cry of protest, why do some people have nothing and suffer, while others live lives of ease and pleasure.

A poem for the 99% indeed.

The Poetry Dude