Don Ramón Otero Pedrayo and Galicia: An Outsider’s Appreciation

Written by Nina Epton in 1958, published in Homaxe a Ramon Otero Pedrayo by Editorial Galaxia

I have been asked to add a personal contribution to the garland of tributes that are to be paid to Don Ramón Otero Pedrayo on the occasion of his forthcoming retirement from the University of Santiago de Compostela by a distinguished group of his admiring and grateful friends and countrymen.

It is an honor for me–an outsider–to add an unspectacular leaf of this rich garland, in my modest capacity as a lover of Galicia and her people, among them who Don Ramón Otero stands out rugged as the northern coasts, poetic as the mist-swirled rías, undaunted as the wave-swept promontories of his gallant land.

What can, however, a mere outsider add to these homages of men and women who belong to Galicia, whose roots are entwined with those of Don Ramón and who have been cradled by the same musical language? An outsider–aloof, disengaged from the intellectual struggle, beyond the subtleties of the idiom, on the outer fringe–looking in!

All I can say is that no human being with a spark of sensitivity can pass through and make friends in Galicia and emerge as a complete outsider, totally unaffected by such an enriching experience.

One does not need to know the language grammatically to tingle at the lilt of its poetry. There is music to be heard in every ría, poetry at every corner, vitality in every face… a poetry charged with life, sometimes with a cruel realism or furrowed with a nostalgia that all peoples with a Celtic strain in their blood can understand–can sniff in the very air of Galicia.

English travelers are apt to go to Galicia to recapture faded glories of a past Golden Age, to tread in the footsteps of their pilgrim forbears who journeyed in such discomfort, overland or in little tubs of boats, to reach  Santiago de Compostela. When I set out, I too thought I was embarking on a journey backwards in time, to a land rich in memories but whose spiritual and intellectual élan had withered.

But I made a heartening, exciting discovery: in this small, beautiful, but impoverished country I met a band of poets, writers, critics, and artists who have united in a common effort to bring about a renaissance of Galician culture. When the historians of the future ponder over the causes of this twentieth century renaissance, I hope that it will be as clear to them as it is to use who belong to this century that Don Ramón Otero Pedrayo has been the fiery soul of this magnificent achievement. In the warm, inspiring glow of his orbit others have kindled their sometimes more timorous flames and found strength to pursue what must have often seemed an impossible task in the face of so many material difficulties and, worse still, of so much indifference.

Don Ramón came at a time when Galician culture appeared to be dormant if not actually retreating into a petrified past. He has galvanized his most gifted countrymen into action, lifted them out of the Slough of Despond, encouraged them to press forward and to triumph over their numerous obstacles. Thanks to him, their public has grown not only in Spain but abroad. Their countrymen overseas, who have helped in so many tangible ways, may well be proud of them and of the now white-haired, but still eloquent, erudite, and enthusiastic Galician who has so enhanced his country’s reputation: Don Ramón Otero Pedrayo. It is because his influence is not confined to Galicia that an outsider may perhaps be permitted to join in this chorus of sincere, heartfelt praise at the end of his brilliant university career, Don Ramón belongs to the world’s gallery of great figures who have never hesitated to strike out boldly for the free expression of a nation’s soul. He has carved his niche patiently and courageously. He will not be forgotten.

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