how I would like to repeat
those Saturdays filled with roses!
Everything was ephemeral:
The nocturnal signals,
the departure of steamships…
What a sound, what a sound,
that lovely little song
and someone still standing,
impatient, on the shore!
It was a sea port,
the air burned on a narrow street,
a bit of a breeze blew,
a newspaper fluttered
and someone roared from a window.
Oh August, invincible, whole,
constellations in the sun,
the mercy of life!
Season of coming and going
like birds on a branch!
I studied so many rías
the strange travellers,
the great ocean liners.
And always that same end,
a uniform message, “Bye”,
“Take care” “Write”.
(Desire to not leave,
to never again return to the sea,
and have everything hurt,
as a sky is born to each moment).
Words lose themselves in the wind.
We’re surrounded by pieces of marble
and from memory to dust, just one step.
History can’t repeat itself now
because I see a wake
and think of the love that one day ended.
Today I quietly
tuck my hands into my pockets
and they declare me sad
simply because it rains.
(tr. Patrick Loughnane)
Though born in Santiago de Compostela, Xohana Torres (1931) was raised in the port city of Ferrol. Through the strong imagery developed in this poem, from her 1980 collection Estacións ao mar, the influence of that environment can be easily identified.
Speaking of her poetry in an interview published just after her first collection of poetry (Do sulco (1957) , the young poet declared that:
“A poesía madurecerá como as estaciós”
“Poetry matures like the seasons”.
Given that the collection featuring “Verán…” appeared over twenty years after this statement, it could be said that this poem not only reflects summer in a direct sense, but its accomplished style also shows that the poet has grown into the ‘summer’ of her poetic capabilities.
While the strengths of the poem in the original heighten its impact on the reader, these same qualities brought up significant issues in trying to get some sense of it across in English.
The word “Ría”, for example, can be understood as something between an estuary and a fjord . Galicia’s Atlantic coast is littered with them, and is actually divided into two sets of Rías: the Rías Altas (those found on the north/northwestern coast, incorporating Ferrol), and the Rías Baixas (which run down to the border with Portugal).
Though translating the word would have made this text more comprehensible for a reader unfamiliar with the phenomenon, it is so bound up in the consciousness of the region that opting for a lesser alternative seemed a disservice to the poet and the language.
In a cultural sense, Torres’ use of the phrase “os grandes trasatlánticos” (rendered here as “the great ocean liners”) is interesting. While Galician’s natural foundation in the the location of the province makes ‘trasatlánticos‘ perfectly understandable (and accurate in the context of the poem), it doesn’t seem to have an exact counterpart in English (despite the bulk of its speakers living either side of the Atlantic).
Though the phrase could have been made into “transatlantic ocean liner”, this would have unnecessarily cluttered the rhythm of the piece. So while Torres could rely on the much more evocative and direct reference to the sea itself, those of us speaking English have to make do with the generic “ocean liner”.
Though these linguistic and cultural curiosities did indeed influence the translation, it generally preserved the strongest quality of the original. Namely, the captivating images which are almost effortlessly laid out, one after another.
The feelings of sadness which come with departures are striking in the context of this poem, where the port would surely be more associated with the tears of emigrants rather than (what seems) a kind of summer fling.
But such is the skill with which Torres treats the issue, the almost child-like simplicity of the speaker describing how they ‘tuck their hands into their pockets’ is as effective as any fervent lament for those forced from the region.
The events recalled with the wake the speaker sees, much like this poem itself, will linger long after they have been left.