Xosé María Díaz Castro (1914-1990) was a Spanish poet and translator who wrote in Galician and supported Galician literature, though he lived in Madrid. Honored in the 2014 Galician Literature Day, Díaz Castro has clearly been a major influence on modern Galician writers.
Not only are his poems praised for their technical perfection, they also show concern for Galicia and explore existential questions of life, death, time and religion.
Díaz Castro’s Early Life
Díaz Castro was born in Vilariño in Guitirz, which lies in a part of Lugo known for its mineral springs. The house where he was born, with its green windows and gray stone facade still stands, and a plaque marks the residence.
The future poet was the son of Isidro Diaz Calvo and Maria Manuela Castro Lopez, and was the third of four brothers. The family was a farming family. But in February 1926, Díaz Castro had already won an award for narrative in the Plus-Ultra magazine.
Díaz Castro was all set to be ordained at the Seminary of Mondoñedo, which he entered in 1929. At the seminary, he was fortunate enough to meet the highly influential Galician poet Aquilino Iglesia Alvariño, who can be considered one of the most significant twentieth century Galician poets. Iglesia Alvariño was honored at the 1986 Galician Literature Day.
In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was declared. During the Spanish Civil War that followed, the poet was drafted into army medical service in Corunna. There he was a stretcher bearer. This was followed by service in the Asturias and then at the military clinic of the Hospital of Pontevedra.
His experience of the war must have changed his feelings about life in the seminary. Like Iglesia Alvariño, Díaz Castro would leave the seminary almost as soon as he returned to it at the end of the war in 1939. He would leave to collaborate with Alvariño in colleges at Arousa and Abadin.
Eventually, Díaz Castro would abandon his ecclesiastical studies, and take a bachelor’s degree in 1945. His subjects were Philosophy and Letters. He received his degree at the University of Salamanca. His specialization was in modern languages.
In 1954, he would marry Maria Teresa Zubizarreta Bengoechea. The couple would go on to have three children José Mari, Maite and Íñigo.
Díaz Castro’s Career
Díaz Castro moved to Madrid in 1948. He was very well-versed in languages. In fact, he knew as many as fourteen, and this skill found him jobs as a translator for private organizations and government offices. One of his posts was at the Instituto de Estudios Hispanicos, which was in the Ministry of the Interior. There he was given the task of translations that were of great importance in intelligence and security.
Díaz Castro also taught as a professor of classic and modern languages. He also worked at the Higher Council for Scientific Research, and the Institute of Hispanic Culture. He would remain in this last position until 1966, providing translation services for English, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Portuguese and Scandinavian languages.
Díaz Castro’s Work
The poet had already published his first poems in magazines before he entered the seminary. But his contact with Iglesia Alvariño seems to have been the decisive factor that made him a writer. He began to write in Galican. In 1931, he published El Progreso Villalbés, his first Galican verses. He would go on to write other poems like Baix’o o calor, Lá vou, amor and Era un contiño de fadas.
He also published other books of poetry in Galician, like Follas verdes (“green leaves”, 1934) and Follas ô aire. After the war, he continued to compose and publish Spanish and Galician poetry including El Cántico de la Ciudad and other poems and sonnets published in La Noche, Sonata Gallega, Cartel, Alba and Insula.
But the work the poet is really known for is Nimbos, which was published in 1961. The collection of poems was very well-received. According to Carvalho Calero, Nimbos restored the Galician voice in native Galician poetry.
Díaz Castro’s language is precise and rich, and the evocative power of the words he uses are profoundly praised. The poems deal with universal themes like human destiny, existential concerns, religion, love, freedom, the pain of humanity. But the voice is distinctly Galician though there is an elegant classicism in it that is the hallmark of universal poetry. One particularly well-known poem is Penelope, where the poet reflects on the destiny of Galicians unable to take refuge in their land.
Díaz Castro was also a translator, translating in over a dozen languages. He has translated works to Spanish, such as that of T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, G.K. Chesterton, Rainer Maria Rilke and others. He has also translated some works of Federico Garcia Lorca into English.
In 1973, Díaz Castro was appointed as a correspondent for the Real Academia Galega (RAG). The Guitiriz institute of IES Poeta Diaz Castro is named in the poet’s honor. In 2014, when he was chosen to be honored on Galician Literature Day, he won over other nominees like Ramon Valenzuela, Ricardo Carvalho Calero and Fiz Vergara Vilarino.
Should you want to check out the poet’s works, look for:
- Cartafol de traducións e outros poemas
- Poesía galega completa
- Sombras radiantes y otros poemas
- Fulguración e silencio