Before there were many locals
now more than half have left,
most of the people are leaving,
and they won’t return to the village,
with poverty they lived desperately
and they will never return,
all of the poor have left,
for the Basque Country,
it’s a very good country
for the poor to live,
it has a resemblance to Galiza,
it too has chestnut trees.
(tr. Patrick Loughnane)
Emilio Araúxo (Coles, Ourense 1946) is a Galician writer, translator, editor and ethnographer.
Though not the most celebrated of poets in the Galician language, some of his short poems are among its most beautiful.
This particular piece is taken from his collection Cinsa do vento: Libro da Ribeira Sacra.
The Ribeira Sacra, consisting of the area around the Sil and Miño rivers, lies in the south of the province of Lugo and the north of Ourense. The poems in the collection all deal with the area to some degree.
O país basco (“The Basque Country“) deals with the issues of rural depopulation and emigration. The poem offers the perspective of a local who is witnessing the full effects of this exodus. And while they do not blame the poor who have left a place where they “lived desperately”, there is a resignation in how it is described.
Though the Basque Country may indeed be a “a very good country” for the poor to live– there is a no suggestion that they will do more than merely live ‘better’ there. That is to say, there is no suggestion that their societal position will actually improve.
So while the speaker doesn’t begrudge their leaving, neither do they see it through rose coloured glasses.
The speaker offers another striking perspective when highlighting a feature the two Iberian regions have in common.
Asked what Galicia and the Basque Country share, most people would suggest their maritime traditions, beautiful green landscapes or even having a bilingual culture within the Spanish context. Few would suggest chestnut trees.
However it is precisely this which is identified as the most noteworthy similarity (or, at least, the only one mentioned). While there are others better qualified than this translator to comment here, the reference may well show Araúxo’s ethnographic interests coming through.
To identify the chestnut tree in this way reflects an awareness on the part of the speaker of its significance in this area of Galicia. Magosto, (which can be loosely described as the chestnut harvest), is a festival of great importance celebrated there each autumn. By referencing the tree the speaker suggests a concrete way in which those leaving might maintain a feeling of closeness to the villages they are leaving (though there are other functions the tree may have for them).
So although they are remaining behind, and view the rewards of leaving unsentimentally, the speaker nevertheless discreetly acknowledges the loss which will be felt by those leaving.
The apparent simplicity of Araúxo’s poems on first glance regularly belies a depth which only comes out after repeated visits.
They are poems to be read, and read again.