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Once Upon A Night In The Wheat Fields

Translator: Eduardo Freire Canosa
(University of Toronto Alumnus)

I grant the translations herein to the public domain

Manuel Curros Enríquez

(Cántiga, 1869)

Translator's Notes

"Unha Noite na Eira do Trigo" was the first poem that young Enríquez penned in the Galician language.

"Unha Noite na Eira do Trigo" uses one affectionate diminutive, "olliños" (2.4): Dim. and pl. of "ollo" (eye) translated "dear eyes." Other options: cherished eyes, longed-for eyes, lovely eyes.

Explanation of some words, terms or expressions

Of a rogue steamboat slaver (4.2). By the early 1830's the Spanish colonial authorities of Cuba, the landowners and the sugar exporters realized that the growing population of African slaves posed a serious threat to the stability of the Caribbean island. In 1853 slave trafficker Urbano Feijóo Sotomayor and captain general Valentín Cañedo elaborated a White Paper to fill the demand for slave labour in the sugar cane plantations with Galician workers brought in under a five-year contract. The plan was approved by the Spanish Courts on May 2, 1854. In March of that same year the frigate Villa Neda transported the first 314 Galician workers to Havana. The official plan promised a decent life in Cuba. However the reality turned out to be very different...Upon arrival the employer secluded the workers in barracks lacking the minimum living conditions and hygiene; this was to be their residence during a period of "adaptation." The barracks were in fact derelict venues where landowners flocked to buy workers: a marketplace for buying and selling human "cargo." The food provided was sparse and dismal, potatoes and salt-cured meat, and the period of "adaptation" lasted for as long as it took to negotiate the price of a worker with Feijóo. Ramón Fernández Armada the director of the Havana enterprise describes the working conditions thus,

The Galicians were taken from their homes tricked with false and vague promises and have arrived in Cuba to find opprobrium, fraud, ignominy and death. Until now approximately 500 have died from hunger, ill treatment or as a result of being abandoned [...] Their entire blame consisted in asking for bread to avert starvation; and to restrain the [rebellious] impulse the bosses ordered that they should be held in foul-smelling quarters, chained and fettered, naked and barefoot. They feed them rotting meats which the African blacks reject. They force them to work fifteen hours daily by way of the whip, the stick and the sword. This situation has led them to despair and the ones who did not escape died in the byways, the jails or the hospitals. A scandal—horrendous—a slaughter.1

1 Ascensión Cambrón Infante. "Emigración gallega y esclavitud en Cuba (1854). Un problema de Estado." PDF file.

Musical Adaptation

"Unha Noite na Eira do Trigo" was put to music by Juan Montes Capón and subsequently by José Castro González alias Chané. The song became an instant hit. Over the years the common people altered the original text slightly to yield, for example, the modern lyrics below. The television program "No bico un cantar" of Radio Televisión de Galicia aired on March 5, 2013, gave an in-depth study of this ballad.

Listen-to-this icon Joaquín Deus (vintage recording)
Listen-to-this icon Cantigas Da Terra (vintage recording)
Listen-to-this icon Soundtrack from the 1959 movie La Casa de la Troya
Listen-to-this icon Pucho Boedo from the 1974 album Miña Galicia Verde
Listen-to-this icon Ana Kiro from the 1979 single Ana Kiro
Listen-to-this icon Rosa Cedrón and Cristina Pato from the 2010 album Soas
Listen-to-this icon Ana Häsler (to min. 4:30) and the Galicia Philharmonic at the Amadeo Roldán Theatre in Havana (Cuba)
Listen-to-this icon Uxía, Christina Margotto, Jed Barahal and Sérgio Tannus
Listen-to-this icon Egeria String Quartet
Enciclopedia da Emigración Galega

For those who saw a ship leave port...


Unha noite na eira do trigo,
ó refrexo do branco luar,
unha nena choraba sin trégolas
os desdés dun ingrato galán.

I a coitada entre queixas decía:
"Xa no mundo non teño a ninguén,
vou morrer e non ven os meus ollos
os olliños do meu doce ben."

Os seus ecos de malencolía
camiñaban nas alas do vento
i o lamento repetía:
"¡Vou morrer e non ven o meu ben!"

Lonxe dela, de pé sobre a popa
dun aleve negreiro vapor,
emigrado camiño de América
vai o probe, infelís amador.

I ó mirar as xentís anduriñas
cara a terra que deixa cruzar:
"Quen pudera dar volta—pensaba—
quen pudera convosco voar!..."

Mais as aves i o buque fuxían
sin ouír seus amargos lamentos;
soio os ventos repetían:
"¡Quen pudera convosco voar!"

Noites craras de aromas e lúa,
desde entón ¡que tristeza en vos hai
pra os que viron chorar unha nena,
pra os que viron un barco marchar...

Dun amor celestial, verdadeiro,
que non soio de bágoas a proba:
unha cova nun outeiro
i un cadavre no fondo do mar!

Once upon a night in the wheat fields
By the reflected white light of the bright moon
A young girl mourned without pause
The disdain of an ungrateful beau.

And the poor girl said between plaints,
"I have no one left in the world,
I am going to die and my eyes do not see
The dear eyes of my sweet boon."

Her echoes of melancholy
Drifted away on the wings of the wind
And she kept repeating the lament:
"I am going to die and my boon won't come!"

Far away from her, standing at the stern
Of a rogue steamboat slaver,
The unfortunate, forlorn lover
Emigrates en route to America.

And upon watching the gentle swallows
Cross toward the land he is leaving behind:
"Who could turn back," he pondered,
"Who could fly back with you...!"

But the birds and the vessel sped onward
Without hearing his bitter laments,
Only the winds kept repeating:
"Who could fly back with you!"

Clear nights of fragrances and moonlight,
Since then how much sadness you own
For those who saw a young girl weeping,
For those who saw a ship leave port...

Away from a heavenly, genuine love
That is not shown by teardrops alone:
A grave on a lookout
And a corpse on the ocean floor!

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