Neil Anderson Translating Federico García Lorca: Six Galician Poems

1. Madrigal for the City of Santiago

It is raining in Santiago
my darling one.
The rain,
a white camellia
shining darkly beneath the sun.

It is raining in Santiago.
Deepest night.
argent and dreaming,
slight an empty moon.

the rain on the flagstones,
a plaint of mineral and glass;
the threadbare wind,
merely shadow, merely ash.

(Merely shadow, merely ash.)

far from the sun.
Ancient waters
run shivering in my heart.

2. Feast of the Virxe da Barca

O revel, revelers
for the little Virgin
who brings her boat ashore!

The Virgin is small, stone.
Silver is her crown.
Blond the four oxen
that draw her in their cart.

Doves of glass draw
rain to the mountain.
The dead, draped in mist,
drift along the cartpath.

Virgin, leave your face here
in the cows’ sweet eyes.
And wear upon your cape
flowers from a shroud.

Above Galicia’s crown
dawn begins to sigh.
The Virgin looks
from her door toward the sea.

O revel, revelers
for the little Virgin
who brings her boat ashore!

3. Song of the Shop Boy

The north wind
with its dark, misty lips
plays a bagpipe
a bagpipe in Bos Aires
above the River Plate.
Ramón de Sismundi,
there in Esmeralda Street,
sadly brushes dust
he brushes dust
from boxes and shelves.
Galicians walk the endless streets
a valley, impossible,
a valley,
on the verdant prairie.
Ramón de Sismundi
sadly hears the water dance
a muiñeira
as seven moon-oxen
graze in pastures of memory.
He goes to the river’s edge,
to the banks of the River Plate
Where willows and naked horses
naked horses and willows
craze vitreous waters.
He does not find there
the bagpipe’s melancholy plaint.
He does not see the great piper
with his feather-flowered mouth.
Sad Ramón de Sismundi,
on the banks of the River Plate
sees walls of vermillion clay
as the sky is dimming,
at the dimming of the day.

4. Nocturn for the Dead Boy

We silently walk the banks
to see the drowned boy.

We silently walk astride the air,
before this river can carry him to the sea.

His soul cries,
small and wounded

beneath the pine straw
beneath the dry grass.

Naked water falls from the moon
and covers the hillside in white lillies.

The wind leaves a ghost camellia
upon his mouth, a sad spent torch-flame.

Come golden youth!
Come down from the hills,

come in from the fields
to see the boy who’s drowned.

Come dark people!
Come from far and near.

Come before this river
can take him to the sea.

To the sea whose white fields
oxen of ancient water furrow.

Oh, how the trees sang by the river Sil
against the moon, green as a drumskin.

Come, let us go quickly to the banks!
My boy! This river will surely take him to the sea.

5. Lullaby for a Dead Rosalía de Castro

Rise, dear friend,
as the morning rooster crows!
Rise, dear love,
as the ruminant wind lows!

The plows go up and back
from Santiago to Bethlehem.
From Bethlehem to Santiago
an angel comes sailing.
A boat of finest silver
laden with Galicia’s mourning.
Galicia, supine, still,
wrapped in sorrow’s vines.
Vines that twist round your bed
and your black fountain hair.
Your hair that yearns toward the sea
where clouds nest like doves.

Rise, dear friend,
as the morning rooster crows!
Rise, dear love,
as the ruminant wind lows!

6. Dance of the Moon, Santiago.

Look! He is white, gallant.
His body glows.
It’s the moon, dancing

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Look. His bygone body,
black with wolves and shadow.
Mother: the moon is dancing

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Who casts a colt
upon the gate of dreams?
The moon. It is the moon

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Who, with clouded eye,
beholds my window gray?
The moon. It is the moon

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Let me die in my bed,
dreaming of golden flowers.
Mother: the moon dances

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

My daughter! In the airy sky
quickly I grow pale.
It is not the air, but the sad moon

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Who stirs with the groaning
of that great sad ox?
Mother: It is the moon, the moon

in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Yes! The moon. The moon,
crowned with gorse,
who dances, dances, dances,
in Quintana,
plaza of the dead.

Translator’s Note:

These poems were first published in 1935 in the Galician-language magazine Nós. Scholar Andrew Anderson notes that Lorca most likely composed the poems “in Castiian or defective Galician” and that the final versions are the result of a series of reworkings by Galician writers Ernesto da Cal and Eduardo Blanco Amor.

In the spirit of collaboration across languages and cultures that these poems embody, I have felt free to depart from the familiar Galician texts, improvising where necessary in order to bring into English some of the strangeness and musicality I find in the originals.

Readers are encouraged to consult Catherine Brown’s fine versions of Six Galician Poems, which appear in García Lorca’s Collected Poems, edited by Christopher Mauer.

Select Bibliography

Anderson, Andrew A. Lorca's Late Poetry: A Critical Study. Liverpool Monographs in Hispanic Studies 10. Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1990. [No relation to the translator.]

García Lorca, Federico. Collected Poems. Ed. Christopher Mauer. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Pérez Rodríguez, Luís. O pórtico poético dos Seis poemas galegos de F. García Lorca. Santiago de Compostela: Consello da Cultura Galega, 1998.