From town to town goes the Rose
of the Winds of the Knife Sharpener, like a Spring
brief and flooded, while the blackberries,
in Trives and in Luintra,
ripen on the hedges.

Watch them pass.

they climb the hillsides
of forgotten villages, descend towards the cities,
and rest on the scorched tarmac
their fountains of stars.

In their clothes of corduroy
there are mountainous scents yet
and broa bread crumbs.
Slicing lands,
remote geographies,
the Springs of Galiza walk
in the mournful
whistle of their flutes
and spinning of the wheel.

Watch them pass.

——————–Whistling they go and go,
swallows of the Miño,
from coin to coin.

——————–The old dried-out stick
that was once a tree in a meadow,
is now seasoned wood
with the melancholy of turtledoves.

Watch them pass.

——————–Sometimes I consider
running off with them to the unknown
geographies of the world,
down every road, one bend to another,
where perhaps there is still waiting for me
the dream that I saw during times of sorrow.

Watch them pass leaving behind
a cloud of beloved shadows.

(tr. Patrick Loughnane)

Though Antón Tovar (Rairiz de Veiga, 1921 – Ourense, 2004) wrote across various literary forms in both Castilian (Spanish) and Galician, he is primarily remembered for his poetry in the latter. This poems appears in his first Galician-language collection: Arredores (1962).

An “Afiador” (Knife Sharpener) on the road some time in the 1920’s.


If there was any uncertainty about what language this poem was originally composed in, its subject matter is unmistakably Galician (and indeed tied to Tovar’s own province of Ourense). The Afiadores  he describes were travelling Knife Sharpeners, going between towns in Galicia and beyond.

Their arrival was frequently a much celebrated event. After these welcomes, the craftsman would remain until every knife that needed his attention was seen to, before setting off on his way once more.

The admiration felt for these romantic figures is clearly reflected in this poem, as well as their abiding evocative powers for the peopleb of Ourense and the rest of Galicia. Indeed nothing illustrates their importance better than this statue, near Tovar’s birthplace, which is dedicated to the work done by these men:

Statue of an “Afiador” in Nogueira de Ramuín.

Finding an equivalent name for these craftsmen initially seemed a daunting prospect, before remembering that a similar (if less celebrated) tradition also existed here in Ireland.

Much like their Galician counterparts, these men would wheel their grindstone from town to town, only moving on once every blade there was sharpened.


Knife Sharpener at work in Loughrea, Co. Galway in 1973.

For anyone interested in getting a better idea of what their moving from town to town may have actually looked like, the below clip, from the film A última viaxe do Afiador (2012), offers an interesting dramatisation of their travels:

On a personal note: I first came across Tovar’s poetry in Peggy Records in Ourense (being the only place in the city with a selection of second-hand books), where I lived for a year.

The cover of his Poesía galega completa reminded me a little of the film El espiritu de la colmena– with it’s faded, off-white, cover made to look as though it were dripping honey:

Tovar’s “Poesía galega completa”


Taken by what I quickly read, I bought the book and duly took it with me across the Miño river (mentioned in the poem), where I was headed to take in the city one last time before leaving. 

After the afternoon sun ultimately proved too strong for anything but squinting across the glistening water, I turned to the book again.

I had seen there was a dedication on the title page before, but didn’t think it would be much more than another way of sentimentally ‘linking’ it to the city. As it turned out, it had been dedicated by “A Tovar”!


Anton Tovar Signed
Signed page of Tovar’s Poesía galega completa (1974)

I was delighted not to have had that motivate me to get it, as the few poems I read were more than enough to draw me to it then, as they still do now (and inspire this translation).

Far from the most widely celebrated of Galician poets, his poetry deserves better than being hidden away in decades-old collections in the back of record stores. I only hope this small effort goes some way to changing that.