The Galician Pipes

The Galician Pipes by Rosalía de Castro
Translation by John Rutherford

Reply
to the eminent poet Don Ventur Ruiz de Aguilera

                    I
When this song, poet,
you play on your lyre, lamenting,
I don’t know what happens to me,
for my tears choke me,
and before me I see passing
the Virgin-martyr you invoke,
her feet pierced with thorns,
her hands covered with roses.
In vain the pipes, playing
a glorious albada,
scatter through the air tunes
that fall into the bobbing waves;
in vain the crazy crowd
dances happily on the threshing-floors,
for those tunes afflict me so,
they speak of such sad things,
that I can tell you:
the pipes don’t sing—they weep.

                    II
Like you I see these skies,
I see these white dawns,
I see these flower-filled fields
where doves coo to each other,
and these giant mountains,
touching the clouds on high,
and covered with green pines
and sweet-smelling flowers;
I see this blessed land,
overflowing with God’s good,
where beautiful angels
weave shining garlands;
but oh! since I also see
haggard shadows passing by,
dragging iron fetters
amidst mocking smiles,
even though the tender pipes
play a glorious albada,
I can tell you:
the pipes don’t sing—they weep.

                    III
You speak, and in my mind
I watch the passing
of the shadows in those hundred ports
dwelling at the edge of the waves
and, as little by little they leave,
fragile, sad and alone,
the wandering of the proud ships
away into a treacherous sea.
And oh! since on them sail
the sons of our coasts
on their way to infinite America
that bestows on them bread and death
as naked they beg in vain
for mercy from their fatherland,
even though the poor piper
plays happy bagpipes,
I can tell you:
the pipes don’t sing—they weep.

                    IV
Poor Galicia, you should
never call yourself Spanish,
for Spain forgets you
although you are, oh! so beautiful.
As if you had been born in infamy,
it foolishly feels ashamed of you;
and the mother who despises her child
is called a heartless mother.
Nobody, to help you to your feet,
holds out a kind hand to you;
nobody dries your tears
as you humbly weep and weep.
Galicia, you have no fatherland,
you live alone in the world,
and your prolific offspring
scatters in wandering hordes
while, sad and alone,
prostrate on the green carpet,
you beg hope from the sea,
you implore God for hope.
And so although in their festive way
the pipes might sound happy,
I can tell you:
the pipes don’t sing—they weep.

                    V
‘Have hope, Galicia, have hope.’
How comforting is this cry!
May God reward you, good poet,
but it’s a crazy hope:
before the time comes
for such good fortune,
before Galicia climbs
with the cross that burdens her shoulders
up that arduous road
that touches the depths of the abysses,
perhaps, weary and thirsty,
she will die of anguish.
May God reward you, good poet,
for that hope and glory
which, issuing from your breast,
crowns the Virgin-martyr,
and may this be the compensation
for such deep, bitter griefs.
May He reward you for this sad song
that tells of our sorrows,
for only you…you among so many!
remember our sufferings.
Worthy decision of a genius,
a pure, generous soul!
And when away in Castile
you hear the Galician pipes,
just ask your heart:
you’ll see that it replies
the Galician pipes
don’t sing—they weep.

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