Rosalía de Castro Castro, Rosalía de (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism) - Essay


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Rosalía de Castro 1837–1885

Spanish poet and novelist.

Castro is counted among the outstanding Spanish poets of the nineteenth century. She composed verse chiefly in the vernacular of her native Galicia (a dialect similar to Portuguese) and incorporated the folk themes, political ideology, and longings of the Galician people into her poetry. To these she added her own deep nostalgia, love of nature, and pervasive melancholy. Her poetry, while simple in form, is mystical, religious, and highly symbolic in content. As an examination of the human soul it offers universality, despite its regional concerns. As for her prose fiction, Castro wrote five novels and a few shorter works in Castilian, which have only in the latter half of the twentieth century been considered for their merit as social criticism. Overall, contemporary reassessment of Castro's works has shown her to be a major figure in Spanish letters, influential as a versifier and as a progenitor of the Galician cultural renaissance in nineteenth-century Spain.

Biographical Information

Born on 25 February, 1837, in the Galician town of Santiago de Compostela, Castro was the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish noblewoman, Teresa Castro, and a priest, José Martínez Viojo. Raised by her aunt until Castro reached age eleven, she received her education at the Liceo de San Agustín and Sociedad Económica de los Amigos del Pais in Santiago, where she was educated in languages and the arts. Demonstrating an early talent in music, art, and writing, Castro composed her first poem at the age of twelve. Castro's early life was characterized by deepening sadness, thought by some critics to have been brought on by her illegitimacy, which forced her separation from her mother. In 1856 she moved to Madrid, where her involvement in literary circles led to the publication of her first small book of poems, La flor (1857). The following year, she married Manuel Martinez Murguía, a historian and champion of the Galician literary renaissance. Although their marriage was troubled by financial difficulties, ill health, and the deaths of two of their seven children, Marguía's encouragement prompted Castro to publish Cantares gallegos (1863; Galician Songs), the verses that brought her first acclaim as a poet. In the years that followed, Castro produced another collection of Galician poems, Follas novas (1880; New Leaves), and

a series of controversial novels. It was not until the publication of En las orillas del Sar (1884; Beside the River Sar), however, that Castro won national attention as a poet. She died of cancer on 15 July, 1885 in Padrón, Galicia.

Major Works

Castro's first collection of verse, La flor, contains conventional love poetry, and is thought by critics to be of little consequence. A mi madre (1863) is, like La flor, a small book of Castilian poems. Its title piece, written in response to the death of Castro's mother, celebrates a woman's sacrifices for her daughter. In the larger Cantares gallegos Castro employed the language of the Galician peasantry for the first time to evoke the traditions and people of her homeland. Among its subjects are the cultural beliefs of Galicia, the natural beauty of its countryside, and the struggles of its poor. The unadorned Galician verses of Follas novas continue in the vein of Cantares gallegos by portraying Castro's passion for Galicia and her defense of its people and way of life. Castro's final collection of poetry, En las orillas del Sar, offers a somewhat darker tone than her previous works and a return to the Castilian dialect. It includes a variety of political verses in support of Galician culture, as well as poems suffused with a deep sense of loneliness and the desolation of love. Castro's five novels—La hija del mar (1859), Flavio (1861), Ruinas (1866), El caballero de las botas azules (1867), and El primer loco (1881)—contain elements of romantic fantasy blended with social criticism and Castro's incipient feminism. Each is generally focused on the struggles of women in paternalistic society. Having never known her parents, Esperanza, the persecuted heroine of La hija del mar, ends her desperate life by casting herself into the ocean. In El caballero de las botas azules, Castro presents a satire of the dominant literature of Spain and explores its degrading effects on women.

Critical Reception

Due in large part to perceptions of her as a regionalist poet, Castro failed to achieve substantial literary esteem for most of her lifetime. An ongoing critical reassessment of her work begun in the twentieth century, however, has demonstrated the enduring significance of Castro's poetry and, to a lesser degree, opened her prose works to serious critical consideration. Scholars have since acknowledged that while her contemporaries adhered to a rigid poetic structure in their works, Castro sought a fluid metrical style. Her simple, musical prosody, emotional themes, and natural symbols and motifs have been seen as influences on the writing of such modern poets as Rubén Dario, Amado Nervo, and Federico Garcia Lorca. Additionally, the publication of Castro's Cantares gallegos in 1863 is now thought to mark the inauguration of the Galician literary revival in Spain. Most recently, scholars have begun to look beyond the ostensible regionalism of Castro's works and her marginalization as a female writer, to acclaim the universal import of her poetic achievements. Summarizing this view of Castro, Gerald Brenan has stated: "Had she written in Castilian rather than in her native Galician dialect, she would, I feel sure, be recognized as the greatest woman poet of modern times."

Principal Works

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Laflor (poetry) 1857

La hija del mar (novel) 1859

Flavio (novel) 1861

A mi madre (poetry) 1863

' Cantares gallegos [Galician Songs] (poetry) 1863

Ruinas (novel) 1866

El caballero de las botas azules (novel) 1867

Follas novas [New Leaves] (poetry) 1880

El primer loco (novel) 1881

En las orillas del Sar [Beside the River Sar] (poetry) 1884

Obras completas (poetry, novels, and prose) 1952

Poems: Rosalía de Castro (poetry) 1964

Kathleen K. Kulp (essay date 1968)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reality and the Poet," in Manner and Mood in Rosalia de Castro: A Study of Themes and Style, Ediciones José Porrúa Turanzas, 1968, pp. 63-132.

[In the following excerpt, Kulp considers style, technique, and theme in Castro's Follas novas, comparing this collection of Galician poetry with an earlier work, Cantares gallegos.]


Everyday reality and popular tradition

Some of the touches of realism which characterize Cantares are continued in Follas novas, but in the second book Rosalía tends to concentrate on the more tragic manifestations of life around her. A few poems are filled with realistic details and local color and employ colloquial expressions: "Vamos bebendo" (p. 460) [All page citations are taken from Rosalia de Castro, Obras completas.], "Miña casiña" (pp. 501-03), "Soberba" (pp. 503-04), "Xan" (pp. 512-13), "Tanto e tan to nos odiamos" (pp. 519-22), and others. A note of humor is sometimes discernible, but it is always diluted with irony, manifesting a keen observation of human nature which is comical in its pathos. The comic always borders very closely on the tragic. The long narrative poem "¡ A probina qu'está xorda,…!" (pp. 504-12) is one of the most extensive, animated and colorful of Rosalía's production, Nevertheless it contains a strong tone of sobriety. The courageous and clever old woman (sister to the loquacious vella in Cantares, III), is nonetheless a pathetic figure as she wanders through the night. The gaiety of the feast and the musicians, the generosity of the wealthy hostess, and the brief warmth of the fire do not alter the fact that there is poverty in the midst of plenty and that, after one night of food and warmth, the old woman will once more wander through the night, precariously maintaining the breath of life and the spark of human dignity12.

The supernatural beings and superstitious beliefs of the people also appear as motifs in Follas. The poem "Soberba" re-enacts the fear of simple folk during a storm, which penetrates them with a sort of atavistic guilt and the fear of divine punishment. There is not, however, the same conviction in the use of these motifs as in Cantares. The poet's own attitude asserts itself and she reveals in various places the real significance of the folk symbols in her work. They do not have a literal significance, as they have for the people, but become symbols for abstract concepts in the more rational mind of the poet. The dramatic narration of tragic love, "N' 'hay peor meiga que un-ha gran pena" (pp. 455-59) implies that the mysterious wasting away of Marianiña, attributed by her mother to the malevolent power of a meiga, is the result of emotional and psychological causes. An explicit statement of the use of mythological motifs appears in the poem "Xigantescos olmos" (pp. 462-63), which creates a mysterious and somber mood through the description of the dark forest where "a nai de toda-las meigas" lives, who represents to Rosalí a kind of fictitious scapegoat:

Y estes mals que nos afrixen
din que todos veñen d'ela;
jmais socede ç' esta vida
que os que tên culpa n'a levan!
(p. 463).

The enchantment which one feels in his own land is personified by the fantastic creatures with which the collective imagination has populated nature:

¡Hay n'as ribeiras verdes, hay n'as risoñas prayas
e n'os penedos ásperos d'o noso inmenso mar,
fadas d'extraño nome, d'encantos non sabidos
que sô con nós comparten seu prácido folgar!

Hay antr'a sombr'amante d'as nosas carbelleiras;
e d'as curtiñas frescas no vivido esprendor,
e n'ò romor d'as fontes espritos cariñosos
que sô ôs qu 'aqui naceron lles dan falas d'amor
(pp. 500-01).


While Cantares is a book of vivid visual impressions where the colors of nature and of peasant dress sparkle in its pages, the palette of Follas is less rich. Colors tend to be diluted, barely suggested, and objects are seen in tones of light and dark. Color, so important in the outer world, does not belong to the shadowy realm of the soul. Sometimes the objects themselves seem to be neutral, and the changing play of light and shadow passes over them:

Tal com'as nubes
que lleva ò vento,
y agora asombran, y agora alegran
os espaçes inmensos d'o ceo,
asi as ideas
loucas qu 'eu teño,
as imaxes de múltiples formas
d'extrañas feituras, de cores incertos,
agora asombran,
agora acraran,
o fondo sin fondo d'o meu pensamento
(pp. 421-22).

Darkness is an indication of the prevailing doubt and mystery of the poetry of Follas:

Y-a péndola no-máis xorda batento
cal bate un corazón qu'hinchan as penas,
resóa pavorosa
n'a escuridade espesa.
En vano a vista con temor n'o escuro
sin parada vaguea.
Uns tras d'outros istantes silenciosos
pasando van, e silenciosos chegan
outros detrás, n'a eternidá caendo
cal cai ò grau n'a moedora pedra,
sin qu'ò porvir velado ôs mortais olios
rompan as pesadas brétemas
(p. 446).

Interiors are much more prevalent in Follas than in Cantares reflecting the movement from exterior to interior worlds. This mysterious inner world is often represented by the Cathedral, which is a world full of illusions and hallucinations, apart from the harsh light of reality:

Mais xa n'os vidros d 'a grand'araña
cai ó postreiro
rayo tranquilo qu'ò sol d'a tarde
pousa sereno;
e en cada prancha d'a araña hermosa
vivos refrexos,
cintileando com'as estrelas,
pintan mil cores no chan caendo,
e fan qu'a tola d'a fantesía,
soñe milagres, finxa portentos.
Mais de repente veñen as sombras,
tod'é negrura, tod'é misterio,
adiós alxofres, e maravillas …
Tras d'o Pedreso púxese Febo
(pp. 433-34).

The poet is nonetheless aware of the colors of the external world, but she excludes them from the shadowy inner regions of the soul:

N'ò ceo, azul crarísimo;
n'ò chan; verdor intenso;
n'ò fondo d'a alma miña
todo sombriso e negro
(p. 444).

The colors of the outer world fade or darken in consonance with her mood:

¡Qué bonitas eran
n'outro tempo as rosas
que n'aqueles campos
medran e s'esfollan!
Mais muchas estonces
s'amostraban todas.
Y ò sol cal á lú
en noite de brétema,
brilaba tembrando
por antr'as vimbieiras,
tan descolorido
com'a mesma cera
Y ò ferir as ondas
revoltas e oscuras,
víanse n'ò espeso
d'a negra fondura
as herbas marinas
e longas que a surcan
(pp. 551-52).

Colors, when they do occur, are soft, vague, barely suggested: "lua descolorida", "transparentes cores", "un máis ou menos azul", "cores de brilo soave, de transparencia húmida,/de vaguedad'incerta …" (p. 501).


Sinesthesia, so much a part of the poetic language of the twentieth century, is not a main feature of Rosalí's poetry, but certain of her characteristic images cross the boundaries of the senses and apply qualities from one sensory realm to that of another. These instances are not so daring as those to appear in later poets, but indicate another direction which Rosalí takes to characterize the intangible subjects with which she deals. In speaking of her poetry, words, ideas, sound and light all fuse;

Diredes d'estos versos, y é verdade,
que tên extraña insólita armonía,
que n'eles as ideas brilan pálidas
cal errantes múxicas
qu'estalan por istantes
que desparecen xiña …
(p. 422).

Black and white are often applied to ideas and sentiments and represent corresponding spiritual values: "brancas ilusiós", "negra melancolía", "negra tentazón", "negro olvido", "negro desengaño".


The world of sound has also become more muted in Follas novas. Direct imitation of sounds with onomatopoeic words occurs in the more realistic pieces, which continue the tendency of Cantares. "A probiña qu'está xorda …" is a vividly dramatized sketch full of visual and auditory effects:

"¡Viv'a cega! ¡Viv'o cego!…"
De cand'en cando lle berran,
y-el di, berrando máis forte:
"¡Vivan eles! … ¡Vivan elas! …
Y a máis bonita de todas
que veña a darm 'un-ha prenda."
"¡ju-ju-ru-ju!" Y aturuxa
hastra ensordecel-as pedras,
y a cega dall ô pandeiro
y ò cego toca n'as tecras
y ô compás d'o "zongue, zongue",
de novo bailan as nenas …
(p. 508).

The tendency more prevalent in Follas, however, is that of harkening to an interior music, whose echoes are faint and indistinct. These sounds can only be suggested, leaving the reader the task of perceiving them with his mind's ear. Rosalí has said of the poetry of Follas that it has an "extraña insólita armonía" as opposed to the lilting, audible music of Cantares:

Diredes d'estos versos, y é verdade,
que tên extraña insólita armonía,
que n'eles as ideas brilan pálidas
cal errantes múxicas
qu'estalan por istantes
que desparecen xiña,
que s'asomellan â parruma incerta
que voltexa n'ò fondo d'as curtiñas,
y ò susurro monótone d'os pinos
d'a veira-mar bravía.

Eu direivos tan sô qu'os meus cantares
así sân en confuso d'alma miña,
como sai d'as profundas carballeiras,
ô comezar d'o día,
romor que non se sabe
s'é rebuldar d'as brisas,
si son beixos d'as frores,
s'agrestes, misteriosas armonías
que n'este mundo triste
o camiño d'o ceu buscan perdidas
(p. 422).

The effect of sounds often arises from the language itself, so rich in words suggesting the sound they represent:

Y ô fin soya quedéi, pero tan soya,
qu'oyo d'a mosca ò inquieto revoar,
d'o ratiño roer terco e costante
e d'o lume ò "chis chas",
cando d'a verde ponla
o fresco zugo devorando vai …
(p. 427).

¡Tas-tis!, ¡Tas-tis!, n'a silenciosa noite
con siniestro compás repite a péndola …
(p. 445).

The alliteration of s in the poem "N'a catredal" gives the effect of whispered prayers; and the [k] sound echoes the clash of the organ and the dissonant notes of the chorus:

Com'algún día pól-os corrunchos
d'o vasto tempro
vellos e vellas, mentras monean
silban as salves y os padrenuestros,
y os arcebispos n'os seus sepulcres
reises y reinas con gran sosego
n'a paz d'os mármores tranquilos dormen
mentras n'ò coro cantan os cregos.
O órgano lanza tristes cramores
os d'as campanas responden lexos,
y a santa imaxen d'o Redentore
parés que suda sangre n'ò Huerto
(p. 432).

As in Cantares, music and bells have a magic power of enchantment. They are a stimulus for recollection or a means of communication with the unseen powers of nature and with those of her own soul:

D'a catredal campana
grave, triste'e sonora,
cand'ô rayar d'o dia
o toque d'alba tocas,
n'ò espanço silencioso
soando malencólica,
as tus bataladas
non sei qué despertares me recordan
(p. 440).

De tempos remotos,
d'edades leixanas,
de noites sereas,
pra sempre acabadas,
aquel cantar tróuxome
non sei qué lembranzas,
non mortas…, dormentas,
¡quén sab'en qué campas!
(p. 493).

In her perception of sounds and constant recourse to musical terms to express sensations and sentiments, Rosalí approaches the symbolists. Music and familiar sounds make up an intangible but affective presence which belongs...

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Kessel Schwartz (essay date 1972)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rosalía de Castro's En las orillas del Sar: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation," in Symposium, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, Winter, 1972, pp. 363-75.

[In the following essay, Schwartz explores the destructive, libidinal, and neurotic themes and imagery of En las orillas del Sar.]

Poets have always been concerned with death, the world's greatest mystery. With its own special function in an ordered universe, death has been viewed as something of infinite horror yet at the same time as something desired, the final answer to incomprehensible truths, as a new experience, and as a peaceful end to pain. In En las orillas del Sar (1884), written over a period of...

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Martha LaFollette Miller (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Aspects of Perspective in Rosalía de Castro's En las orillas del Sar," in Kentucky Romance Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1982, pp. 273-82.

[In the following essay, Miller studies Castro's complex stylistic and thematic use of perspective in the poems of En las orillas del Sar.]

The poetry of Rosalía de Castro has frequently been characterized as simple, clear, and unadorned.1 Like Bécquer's, her verse possesses a certain simplicity to which it owes part of its charm. Yet many of her poems, though outwardly uncomplicated in theme and technique, have a strangely complicated effect on their reader, and often this effect is due to her subtle...

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Julian Palley (essay date 1984)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rosalía de Castro: Two Mourning Dreams," in Hispanofila, Vol. 82, September, 1984, pp. 21-27.

[In the following essay, Palley analyzes Castro's somber, dream-like poems "A mi madre" and "En sueños te di un beso, vida mía."]

The encounter with a departed beloved person in dream, in the subconscious or pre-conscious mind, in an under - or other-world which resembles both, is a major motif of literature that goes back to Ulysses' meeting with his mother in Book XI of the Odyssey: "As my mother spoke, there came to me … the one desire, to embrace her spirit, dead though she was. Thrice, in my eagerness to clasp her to me, I started forward with my...

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Shelley Stevens (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Society, Legend and the Poet," in Rosalía de Castro and the Galician Revival, Tamesis Books Limited, 1986, pp. 17-35.

[In the following excerpt, Stevens surveys Castro's life and criticism of her work, and discusses Castro's association with the nineteenth-century Galician Revival in Spanish literature.]

1. Biography

Rosalía de Castro was born in Santiago de Compostela on February 24, 1837. She was the illegitimate daughter of María Teresa da Cruz de Castro e Abadía, the descendant of a noble family that had seen better days.1 Almost nothing is known of Castro's father, José Martínez Viojo, except that he was a priest...

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Anna-Marie Aldaz and Barbara N. Gantt (essay date 1991)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Poems by Rosalía de Castro, State University of New York Press, 1991, pp. 1-24.

[In the following excerpt, Aldaz and Gantt discuss Castro's life, place in Spanish literature, and poetic themes.]

Her Life

At the time of her death in 1885, Rosalía de Castro was little known outside of her native Galicia, a region in northwestern Spain. Yet this woman poet who wrote more than half of her poems in a regional language and did not follow the poetic conventions of her time is now considered one of the outstanding figures of Spanish literature.

Rosalía was born on February 24, 1837, in the historic city of...

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Susan Kirkpatrick (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fantasy, Seduction, and the Woman Reader: Rosalía de Castro's Novels," in Culture and Gender in Nineteenth-Century Spain, edited by Lou Charnon-Deutsch and Jo Labanyi, Clarendon Press, 1995, pp. 74-95.

[In the following essay, Kirkpatrick investigates the relationship of Castro's novels El caballero de las botas azules and La hija del mar to the tradition of seduction fantasy.]

Do you think a thriving virgin imagination can gorge itself with impunity on Martin, the Orphan Boy, A Doctor's Memoirs, and The Man of the Three Pantaloons? … Devouring The Three Musketeers, [the young girl learns of] Milady's...

(The entire section is 9501 words.)

John Wilcox (essay date 1997)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Rosalía de Castro," in Women Poets of Spain, 1860-1990: Toward a Gynocentric Vision, University of Illinois Press, 1997, pp. 43-83.

[In the following excerpt, Wilcox examines Castro as a marginalized woman poet whose collection Cantares gallegos—ostensibly a poetic celebration of her native Galicia—offers an ambivalent feminist vision.]

Unlike her sisters, Rosalía de Castro has established a secure reputation in Peninsular literature, but such was not the case during her lifetime (1837-85), when she fluctuated between being a "Nobody" (Emily Dickinson's word) and a "santiña" (dear little saint).1 Few have noted her "monstrous"...

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Further Reading

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)


March, Kathleen N. "Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885)." In Spanish Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book, edited by Linda Gould Levine, Ellen Engelson Marson, and Gloria Feiman Waldman, pp. 104-15. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Bibliography of translations, primary and secondary sources preceded by a biographical and critical introduction.


Balbontin, José Antonio. "Rosalía de Castro." In Three Spanish Poets: Rosalía de Castro, Federico García Lorca, Antonio Machado, pp. 15-55. London: Alvin Redman, 1961.


(The entire section is 385 words.)