Galician Literature Day: A Tribute to Xosé María Díaz Castro

In 1991, Galician Literature Day (Día de las Letras Gallegas in Spanish) was added to the calendar as a public holiday in all of Galicia. Since then, every year, a Galician poet, writer or dramatist has been chosen to be honored on the day.

In 2014, Galician Literature Day chose to honor Xosé María Díaz Castro for his own poetry as well his magnificent translations in Spanish and English of other poets. Through his work, the poet and translator has made it easier for Spanish speakers to get their hands on poetry by great poets like William Butler Yeats and Rainer Maria Rilke in their own language. He also made the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca and others more accessible to non-Spanish speaking readers.


An Overview of Galician Literature

Galicia, Spain

Galicia is the region that lies in the north-west of the Spanish peninsula, including the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra. To the south lies Portugal. To the east are Castile, Leon and Asturias.

Spain has a rich literary heritage. And Galician literature has a major contribution to this heritage. The mountainous interiors and the Atlantic coastal plains of Galicia were once very open to Portuguese influence. Santiago de Compostela was a major pilgrimage center, and as we know, poetry often began in religious centers in the Middle Ages.

The earliest lyric poetry in the Spanish peninsula may have come from Galician cantigas. Cantigas were songs sung often in the praise of the Virgin Mary, though they could also be secular. These songs clearly had Provencal influence.

The language, especially the literary language, of the local people had a very well-developed meter as early as the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Even when the Castillian meter was not so developed, the Galician Portuguese meter was a flexible and well-established.

It is no wonder, then, that the non-Galician troubadours from beyond who carried these songs with them to other parts of the country would have carried the meter along too. It is believed that the Galician meter may have been related to the muineira, which was a song sung to a bagpipe.

But Galician was replaced by Castilian for several centuries after the Middle Ages as the language of literature.

Until recently. Nineteenth century literary influences like romanticism have led Galician intelligentsia to turn to their homeland’s past, folklore and ancient literature as an exploration of what they believe is Galicia’s autonomous identity and its ‘Celtic’ links.


Modern Galician Writers and Poets

A host of Galician Writers and poets of the past few centuries have lent their voices to a growing body of literary works. These include poets and writers like Antolin Faraldo (1823 – 53), Aurelio Aguirre (1833 – 58), Nicomedes Pastor Diaz (1811-63), Hose Garcia Mosquera (1810-68) who wrote the A vida do campo, Francisco Anon y Paz (1821-61), Rosalio de Castro, Eduardo Ponda y Abente, Manuel Curros Enriquez (1851-1908), Jose Perez Ballesteros, Manuel Leiras Pulpeiro and others.


The Origin of Galician Literature Day

The first celebration of the Galician language and the literature written in this language was held in 1963 by the Royal Galician Academy. On this day, lovers of Galician literature celebrated the hundred years of Cantares gallegos, which is native poet Rosalia de Castro’s first work written in the Galician language as we know it today.

Since then, the celebrations take place every year on May 17. The Royal Galician Academy decides which writer will be honored during the celebrations each year. Only writers who have been dead for at least ten years are chosen to be honored.


The Honoring of Xosé María Díaz Castro

Xosé María Díaz Castro

In 2014, the Academy honored Xosé María Díaz Castro for his contributions to Galican poetry. His only work of poetry Nimbos (1961) was praised as “un dos cumes da poesía galega moderna” or one of the summits of modern Galician poetry.

The Academy has also particularly praised the poem Penelope, for its celebration of the beauty of Galicia and its history. Despite living in Madrid, Diaz Castro has kept up his commitment to fund Galician culture along with others like Leiras Pulpeiro, Noriega Varela and others.