I had a fear of rowing,
I had a fear of clear water.
Though I had fine oars with me
though I was on a calm sea,
I didn’t row! I didn’t row!
I no longer know of that fear.
That vast sea’s since evaporated!
And without knowing its source,
if it’s mine or another’s,
I sail into a groundswell.
(tr. Patrick Loughnane)
For all her biographical and formal ties to other poets, María Mariño is a rather solitary figure in the landscape of Galician literature.
Born in the coastal town of Noia (A Coruña) in 1907, she eventually settled in O Courel (Lugo). Here she befriended other Galician poets, including Uxío Novoneyra, and began actively writing poetry just ten years before her death (in 1967).
While it may well have been coloured by his close relationship with Mariño, Novoneyra once stated that:
“ela, con Rosalía, é a voz poética de muller máis verdadeira da nosa terra”
“she, along with Rosalía [de Castro*], is the truest female poetic voice of our land”
Indeed given her youth on the Galician coast, and her later time inland in O Courel: Mariño’s life (and poetry) bore witness to the two principal experiences of the land.
And it is the former which she draws on in the above translation.
The poet uses her experiences of life by the sea in the piece’s two contrastive stanzas to reflect an existential anxiety so often present in her poetry.
However its isolated figure, clearly in some kind of crisis initially, eventually musters the courage to take up their “fine oars”- and seize control of the direction they are going in– giving a strong feeling of empowerment as it draws to a close.
Taken from the one collection published during the poet’s lifetime, Palabra no tempo (1963), this piece is representative of the formal simplicity present in most of its 70 poems. Though the translation attempted to convey this in following its basic meter– the original should be read to get the full effect of its powerful music.
* Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885) is arguably the most celebrated of all Galician writers. Her 1863 collection Cantares gallegos was the first book published in Galician for centuries. It sparked a literary revival, called the Rexurdimento, and in ending the period known as the Séculos escuros (Dark Centuries), ushered in a new age of Galician literature.
To compare Mariño to de Castro so emphatically was a very bold claim by Novoneyra.