Rosalía de Castro 1837-1885
Spanish poet and novelist.
Castro is considered one of the most influential Spanish poets of the nineteenth century. Much of her poetry was written in the traditional language of Galicia, the northwest region of Spain where she was born. Her verse, while simple in form, is mystical and highly symbolic in content, incorporating themes of cultural longing, love of nature, religious fervor, and deep melancholy. Although she received little literary recognition before her death, a reassessment of her works since the mid-twentieth century elevated Castro as a major figure in Spanish literature.
Castro was born in the Galician town of Santiago de Compostela in February 1837. She was the illegitimate daughter of María Teresa da Cruz de Castro y Abadía, a noblewoman born into a once-prominent family in Padrón, and a seminarian, José Martínez Viojo, who later became a priest. Castro's childhood years were spent on an estate in the countryside outside Santiago, where she was raised by a paternal aunt. She joined her mother in Santiago sometime after her tenth birthday. Some scholars believe that the sadness that characterizes her literary works had its roots in the early years of separation from her mother. In Santiago Castro attended the Sociedad Económica de los Amigos del País, where she studied music, art, and languages, and was active in the Liceo de San Agustín, a cultural gathering place for young artists and writers. She is reported to have written her first poem at the age of twelve. In 1856, she moved to Madrid, where she was exposed to other young Galician writers, including Manuel Martinez Murguía, whom she married in 1858. Her first volume of poetry, La flor (1857), was published during this period of her life. During their marriage, Castro and Murguía endured financial problems and Castro's persistent ill health. Still, Murguía, a historian who championed the cultural renaissance of Galicia, encouraged Castro to write. In 1863, Castro published Cantares gallegos, for which she received her first recognition as a regional poet of her day. Castro's second collection of Galician verse, Follas novas (1880), was written during a ten-year period during which she gave birth to five of her seven children, losing two of them to early deaths. Castro received national recognition as a poet with the publication of En las orillas del Sar (1884; Beside the River Sar), which she wrote in Castilian, the predominant language of Spain. This final collection of verse was composed during her long struggle with cancer. She died in July 1885.
Castro's first two volumes of poetry, La flor and A mi madre (1863) were both written in Castilian. The first collection contains conventional love poetry and is thought by critics to be of little consequence. The title piece of the second volume, which celebrates a woman's sacrifices for her daughter, was written in response to the death of the poet's mother. In Cantares gallegos Castro first celebrates her Galician heritage, using the folk language of her homeland to portray the natural beauty of the region and to evoke empathy for the poor of Galicia who struggled to preserve their traditions and political identity. These themes are revisited in Follas novas in unadorned verse that taps into a deepening cultural affinity for Galicia. Cantares gallegos and Follas novas are credited by contemporary critics with having contributed to the preservation of the cultural and linguistic heritage of the people of Galicia. In her final collection of poetry, En las orillas del Sar, Castro expresses an awareness of her own mortality in verse steeped in a pervasive sense of loneliness and loss. During her career, Castro also published five novels and numerous short stories. Only since the latter half of the twentieth century have these works received scholarly attention for their merit as social criticism.
Castro did not receive significant attention as a literary figure during most of her lifetime. Contemporary critics theorize that her gender and her reputation as a regional poet and defender of the Galician culture limited her acceptance within wider Spanish literary circles of her day. In the century after her death, however, scholars began to reassess the significance of her poetry within the context of Spanish letters. The publication of Castro's Cantares gallegos is now thought to mark the inauguration of the Galician literary revival in Spain. Castro's fluid, lyrical style of verse is notable as a contrast to the more formal, rigid structures favored by her male contemporaries. Once marginalized as a feminine approach to poetry, her independent style is now considered to be a precursor of symbolist poetry of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Critics trace the influence of her themes and motifs on the work of later poets including Rubén Darío (1867-1916), Amado Nervo (1870-1919), and Federico García Lorca (1898-1936).