Galician Poetry Workshop

The Translation Exchange at Modern Poetry in Translation’s home, Queen’s College Oxford, supports a residency each year for a translator, or a partnership of a writer/poet and their translator, to spend some time in Oxford. This year’s residents were the Canadian poet and translator Erín Moure and the Galician poet Chus Pato. Pato is one of the major Galician poets writing today, and Moure has translated several volumes of her poetry into English, including At the Limit (2018).

A literal translation is provided on this page, along with notes from the translator Erín Moure, to help you create a version of the piece in English. We welcome all kinds of translation – versions which cleave to the original and render it as ‘faithfully’ as possible as well as ‘freer’ translations.

This workshop has now concluded. Hear and read Erín Moure’s reflections on the submissions in this podcast with transcript.

Workshop closed for entries

Original Poem

From 'Sonora' (a work-in-progress)

Original poem by Chus Pato


No mes de outubro comprobei
a vibración insuperable das ás dun colibrí
Na raia entre novembro e decembro
cruzóuseme nos ollos o azul magnético do Martiño peixeiro
o antergo alción dos gregos
e aínda tiven a fortuna de sentir
como partía as augas do regato a maior das velocidades
Onte observei unha curuxa alzando o voo
desde unha das árbores próximas
se cadra unha avidueira
voaba como un tule de maxestade e algo tímida
a sensación foi estar en presenza de Afrodita
Ao alisar unha saba para pasarlle o ferro
souben que toda a nosa vida
desde o berce á cova transcorre envolta en lenzos
cando o alento é o derradeiro e se expande no éter
as teas voan ao seu redor
acompáñano na súa marcha e absolución
por esta razón podemos pensar
Vallejo escribiu un poema no que fala das pirámides   3  3  3
nel non hai comparecencia de aves
es el tiempo este anuncio de gran zapatería
de la muerte      hacia       la muerte
ao pasar a páxina
el tiempo tiene hun miedo ciempiés a los relojes
O ceo que nos cubre
cando estamos na presenza dunha deusa
e asistimos ao alzarse da curuxa é callado de estrelas
contemplámolo con retardo
Tres, a serpe apréndenos a mudar de pel
Tres, a serpe apréndenos
que morder unha mazá é comprender as leis do discurso
Tres, Adán coñecía os signos
na súa boca xiraban baleiros como xira en bucle o tempo
A nosa vida é unha imaxe
o voo branco e lixeiro, as tebras mestas
medimos a potencia da noite
por esta causa podemos


View workshop materials as PDF


Literal Translation

From 'Sonora' (a work-in-progress)

Literal translation by Erín Moure


In the month of October I felt
the inimitable vibration of the wings of a hummingbird
On the line between November and December
my eyes met with the magnetic blue of the kingfisher
the ancestor halcyon of the Greeks
and I was even lucky enough to experience
how it parted the creek waters at the highest of speeds
Yesterday I observed a barn owl rising in flight
from one of the trees nearby
perhaps a birch
it flew with the majesty of tulle and somewhat shy
the sensation was of being in the presence of Aphrodite
While spreading a bedsheet to iron it
I realized that our entire life
from cradle to grave takes place wrapped in linens
when the last breath expands into the ether
textiles fly alongside it
they accompany it in its departure and absolution
that’s why we can think
Vallejo wrote a poem in which he spoke of pyramids 3 3 3
in it no birds make an appearance
we read
es el tiempo este anuncio de gran zapatería
de la muerte      hacia     la muerte
in turning the page
el tiempo tiene hun miedo ciempiés a los relojes 
The sky that covers us
when we are in the presence of a goddess
and we realize as the barn owl flies up it’s thick with stars
we contemplate it in delay
Three, the serpent teaches us to change skin
Three, the serpent teaches us
that to bite an apple is to comprehend the laws of discourse
Three, Adam knew the signs
in his mouth voids were spinning just as time spins in a loop
Our life is an image
flight clear and light, darkness thick-heavy
we measure the power of night
for this reason we can


View workshop materials as PDF


Help on translating this poem

Chus Pato says of this poem (tr. EM):

‘This poem is in the section entitled ‘Sonora’ [Sonorous, Vibrant, Resounding, Resonant] of my current work-in-progress. This is a provisional version, but nearly finished. It is predicated on the theme of three, of triads. In it are three birds: hummingbird, kingfisher, and barn owl. There are allusions to biblical paradise and to the protagonists of the biblical scene of temptation and fall under the tree of life, to the discerning of good and evil and to the acquisition of articulated language. Finally, the number three presides in the quotes from two poems by César Vallejo: ‘Me estoy riendo’ and ‘He aquí que hoy saludo’, both first published in the journal Favorables París Poema [dir. Juan Larrea, César Vallejo] in issue number 2, October 1926. We usually associate barn owls with Athena, but in my poem it is Aphrodite who is present. Here Aphrodite does not appear in an erotic sense, but appears in the text as generator of life, as the mother of Time. The poem uses the number three as a pretext for writing of the force of life and of death. It’s a poem, as are all those of this book, on mourning and the loss of the maternal.’

Notes from the translator

The poem is in free verse; it is discursive or narrative but has the rhythmic majesty of flight; it’s not a poem that treads heavily on the ground. The structures of Galician syntax give it this lightness. Pato at times disobeys the rules of syntax and connects syntactic elements improperly; they jar just slightly and, in jarring, move the poem into inhabiting more than one syntactical space at once. Curious!

Read a further note on this workshop from Erín Moure.