Rosalía de Castro Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Rosalía de Castro was a novelist as well as a poet. Her five novels—La hija del mar (1859; Daughter of the Sea, 1995), Flavio (1861), Ruinas (1866; ruins), El caballero de las botas azules (1867; the knight with the blue boots), and El primer loco (1881; the first madman)—span the transition from Romanticism to realism. Although Castro herself put considerable stock in her novels, she is remembered only for her poetry.

Achievements

Rosalía de Castro has been called Spain’s foremost woman poet; Gerald Brenan has gone further, asserting that if she had written more in Spanish than in her native Galician dialect, she would be recognized as the greatest woman poet of modern times. Her unabashedly heart-throbbing lyrics are saved from mawkishness by her disciplined style. Castro’s poetry, along with that of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, is the most representative of Spanish poetry at the time of its transition from Romanticism to the modern lyric. Some critics believe that she interacted with Bécquer—that in fact she lent him in 1857 a copy of Gérard de Nerval’s translation of Heinrich Heine’s Tragödien, nebst einem lyrischen Intermezzo (1823), a book said to have influenced Bécquer. It was not until the second decade of the twentieth century, when Azorín (José Martínez Ruiz) and Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo recommended her to the public, that her reputation as a poet became assured. Later, even poet Luis Cernuda, who found her work uneven and sentimental, recognized the rare timelessness of her observations. Antonio Machado borrowed images from her poetry, Juan Ramón Jiménez referred to her as “our Rosalía,” and Gerardo Diego used her name as a metaphor in his own poetry. Her Galician poetry inspired Federico García Lorca to write his own “poemas gallegos,” including a “Canzón de cuna pra Rosalía Castro, morta” (“Lullaby for the Late Rosalía de Castro”)....

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Religion and Superstition

Castro was conventionally religious; she needed God and sought him everywhere, and she fought herself for her faith, as Unamuno did. There are biblical references in her poetry, as well as her marginally Christian sombras (shades), the souls of persons no longer living whom Castro “invokes” from time to time and who respond by intervening in the lives of the living. She also draws on Galician lore concerning the supernatural world. Witches (meigas, lurpias), warlocks (meigos), and elves (trasgos) inhabit her forests, and the safety of the unwary nocturnal traveler may be jeopardized by the Host of Souls in Torment. In “Dios bendiga todo, nena” (“God Blesses Everything, Child,” from Cantares gallegos), an old woman warns a young girl of the dangers of the world, whereupon the girl declares her intention never to leave her village without scapularies, holy medals, and amulets to protect her from witches. The fine line between religion and superstition is typified in “Soberba” (“Foolish Pride”) in Follas novas, where a family frightened by a storm tries to placate God with candles, olive leaves, and prayers, and by scouring from their personal slates offenses that might have incurred his wrath. Nor is the imagery of the supernatural always to be taken literally. In an aubade, Castro has the heroine address her lover affectionately as “warlock” while he prepares to leave her bed, and elsewhere employs the same word to create a metaphor for sorrow: “N’ hay peor meiga que un-ha gran pena” (there is no worse demon than a great sorrow).

Cantares gallegos

Castro’s first important book of poems was Cantares gallegos. In the prologue to this volume, she acknowledges the inspiration of El libro de los cantares by Antonio de Trueba, published the previous year, and apologizes for her shortcomings as a poet, claiming that her only schooling was that of “our poor country folk.” The poems are dedicated to Fernan Caballero (Cecilia Böhl de Faber), the pioneer of the realistic novel in Spain, who won Castro’s appreciation with her unprejudiced portrayal of Galicians. Working without a grammar, Castro apologizes for her Galician; indeed, it is not a pure dialect unaffected by Castilian influence, and lexical and orthographic inconsistencies abound. She attempted to imitate modern Portuguese in her use of diacritical marks, contractions, and elisions, and included a short glossary of Galician words for the sake of her Castilian readers.

Castro’s usual procedure was to begin her poems with a popular couplet and then to elaborate it into a ballad. Her masterpiece is perhaps “Airiños, airiños, aires” (“Breezes, Breezes, Little Breezes”) in which she portrays the nostalgia of a Galician emigrant, playing upon the dual meaning of airiños as “little breezes” and “little songs.” Everywhere this unfortunate emigrant turns in the strange country of her destination, people peer curiously at her, and she longs for the sweet breezes of home, those “quitadoiriños de penas” (takers-away of sorrow) that enchant the woods and caress the land. Similarly as Galician poetry inspired the Castilian lyric of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, this poem influenced the revival of Spanish poetry that began thirty years after Castro’s death. The Romancero gitano (1928; Gypsy Ballads, 1951, 1953) of Federico García Lorca, for example, with its themes and repetitions derived from folk tradition, owes much to this poem.

In “Pasa rio, pasa rio” (“Pass by, River, Pass By”), a disconsolate lover weeps tears into the ocean in hope that they may reach her beloved in Brazil, where he has had to emigrate. The plight of the Galician emigrant forced to leave his homeland because of economic necessity troubled Castro deeply. There are many poems of praise for Galicia, such as “Cómo chove mihudiño” (“How the Rain Is Falling Lightly”), in which she describes Padrón, lulled by the river where the trees are shady, and reminisces about the great house owned by her humanitarian grandfather. She dares to ask the Sun of Italy if it has seen “more green, more roses,/ bluer sky or softer colors/ where foam stripes your gulfs with whiteness”; and is reminded by a wandering cloud of the sad shade of her mother wandering lonely in the spheres before she goes to glory.

Follas novas

The poems of Follas novas are meant to be read and reflected upon, as opposed to the folk poems of Cantares gallegos with their marked oral quality. The 139 poems of Follas novas are more subjective and personal and bleaker than...

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Bibliography

Courteau, Joanna. The Poetics of Rosalía de Castro’s “Negra sombra.” New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995. A close critical examination of one of Castro’s poems. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Dever, Aileen. The Radical Insufficiency of Human Life: The Poetry of R. de Castro and J. A. Silva. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000. A comparison of Castro’s and Silva’s poetry. Their works have meaningful differences but share remarkable likenesses in theme, tone, and style, though it is unlikely that they knew of each other’s work. Of interest to feminist critics is an interpretation of Castro’s literary vocation within a patriarchal society.

Kulp-Hill, Kathleen....

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