Issue 1 – Winter 2001 – Álvaro Cunqueiro

Álvaro Cunqueiro

Translated by Ger Killeen & Gabriele Hayden


Álvaro Cunqueiro, 1911 – 1981, is one of the leading writers of twentieth-century Galician literature. Writing in Galician and Castilian, he had long career as a journalist both in Madrid and in his native Galicia. Cunqueiro was an extremely prolific writer, and his published works include a great deal of poetry, essays, translations, drama and fiction. His accomplishments as a linguist allowed him to explore a wide variety of foreign literatures, and his own work is characterized by an easy familiarity with the classics of world literature. Indeed he is often considered as a remaker of ancient myths for modern times. Cunqueiro’s works include Merlin and Family (1955), Chronicles of the Subcantor (1956), Don Hamlet (1959), The Boyhood Deeds of Ulysses (1960), A Man Who Looked Like Orestes (1969), The Year of the Comet (1974).

The Recognizing of Harold Godwinson

A night of ash fell across the earth, 
the lanterns picked their way alone among the dead 
and into the wounds of the most wounded of all 
Edith Swanehais shone the violet light of her eyes 
to see if one was Harold son of Godwin 
whom she had loved so much. 
And it was him, 
his mouth from where there came a thread of blood 
resting on the earthly mouth of a molehill.

From far away came the song of the sea. Edith sat down 
beside his corpse

and with a white thread she drew out from her dreamings
she began to weave a small cloth 
to cover the eyes of the King.

She listened to the sea, to the dry leaves of the woods 
whirling along on the roads between the hills. 
Edith’s last caress was that quiet weaving

next to his body, and when the moon came out 
she mixed blue threads from the light of the traveller with her own
— the needles came and went in silence 
her hands moving as if she were rocking a child to sleep,

assuring herself that the dead man was Harold
Edith’s violet look penetrating deeper and deeper
into the dark wounds,
recognizing the blood of her lover and even death itself.
So it was that Edith was already blind
when they asked her who 
among those sixty dozen dead
was Harold
-this one, she said, feeling her way along,
who made the nightingales sing on Summer nihgts

when he kissed me and said to me
— Swanehals, Swan’s Neck, we will grow old together
but you more slowly.


Harold Says Goodbye to Edith

-I ought to bring you a gold chisel 
embroidered all over in air with shadows of turtledoves!
-Ay! and I dreaming of black threads!

-I ought to put in your mouth a ray of sunlight 
and perfume myself with the air of your walkingl 
-Ay! and I dreaming of black threads!

-Whether I live or die, 
Edith, I will bring you a song in my hand! 
-Ay! and I dreaming of black threads!

-Whether I die or live, 
Edith, listen to my blood learning from the blackbird! 
-Ay! and I dreaming of black threads!

-Leaming from the blackbird, learning from the rixer, 
learning from the wind, and from the fountains too.
-Ay! and I dreaming of black threads!


Harold on the Battlefield

-This country of small hills looks like 
my mother, pregnant with me, stretched out under the sun.


The Coming of the Ships

William’s drakkar made in the sea 
a shadow ochre and elongated 
like the tongue of a dog. And it pulsed on the waves.

The Bastard rested his right hand on his beard 
as he listened to the shouts of the barons 
who demanded hot food.

Vere de Vere, beat the drum!

But the Bastard was alone, 
alone like an old wolf, like the wind, 
like the sea, like a sword, like one 
who goes in a dream to a loved woman.

He was so alone that he could not remember 
that he was once a boy who played at boats 
with a bit of an oak tree 
in a pool, by the seashore.

Vere de Vere, beat the drum!

The hands of the wind put the “Mora” in Hastings 
when the dry leaves came to the beach. 
William’s spurs dragged in the sand 
and the Bastard imagined streams of blood

running to the sea 
through those small furrows. From the island came 
the smell of the harvests. The horses neighed 
while the barons brushed away with their banners 
their steaming breath from in front of their mouths

to see how the morning grew 
farther away from the sails, from the seagulls, 
from the lances, from the hills, 
from the rage, from the hunger, from the fires.

And Vere of Vere beating the drum!



Ger Killeen teaches at Marylhurst University and at Linfield College. He is the author of A Wren, which won the Bluestem Award, and A Stone That Will Leap Over the Waves.

Gabriele Hayden is a graduate of Reed College and studied at the University of Santiago in Galicia. Her poetry has appeared in several magazines and on the sides buses in Portland, Oregon.