Una paz europea – A European Peace

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Por la parte de Paxumal, los abedules techan el camino

y nos oscurecen.

Sólo al pasar Riparape vuelve a abrirse

y vemos el valle, otra vez, estrecho y hondo,

entre los huecos que dejan las colinas, encajadas como nudillos.


Tenemos poco prado y es empruno. Repartos de repartos familiares que disminuyen de hermano a hermano, de primo en primo, por todo el monte.

Cada árbol tiene su tiempo. Cuando le toca, descarga. O suben los gusanos. O las nubes de la fábrica coinciden con la lluvia y el fruto cuece en la rama.

Vamos de un árbol a otro, pisando fruta podre, viendo qué nos queda: prunos, piescos, manzanas de sidra, manzanas de asar, manzanas de compota.

Mi abuelo saca dos sillas de la chabola. Sabes tú que nun soy de muchu charrar, pero le gusta que nos sentemos fuera, hacia los montes.

De cerca veo otra vez su lunar, el que se mueve. Una esquirla que le saltó en el taller, cuando hacían hexágonos:

uno tenía por la forma, otro descargaba el pilón.

La esquirla entró en el labio y aún avanza con la sangre, azulada.

(En el monte no se entiende el camino.

Las curvas se pliegan y se estiran, a golpes.)

Una vez me enseñaron el árbol de familia, las fechas, los pueblos de los que fuimos bajando: Perabeles en el XVIII,


Les Pieces al cruzar el XX

y, monte abajo, raleando entre la maquinaria,

por El Trabanquín,

hasta El Llungueru.


Treinta quilómetros en trescientos años,

como si lleváramos el valle a cuestas.





On the way to Paxumal, the birches roof the road

and darken us.

Only passing Riparape does it open up again

and we see the valley, once more, narrow and deep,

between the hollows that the hills leave, fitted like



What little land we have slopes steeply. Divided and divided between families, diminishing from brother to brother, cousin to cousin, right across the mountain.

Each tree has its time. When its turn comes, it disburdens. Or the worms crawl up. Or the clouds from the factory coincide with the rain, and the fruit stews on the branches.

We go from tree to tree, treading on rotten fruit, seeing what we’re left with: Sloes, peaches, cider apples, cooking apples, apples for compote.

My grandfather takes two chairs from the lean-to. You know I’m not much of a one for chatter, but he likes us to sit outside, facing the mountains.

Close up I see his mole again, the one that moves. A splinter which flew at him in the workshop, while they were making hexagons:

One held the shape, another was driving the hammer.

The splinter entered his lip and still shifts with the blood, bluish.

(In the mountains you can’t fathom the road.

The curves fold and stretch, in jolts.)

Once they showed me the family tree, the dates, the villages from which we descended: Perabeles in the 18th Century,


Les Pieces crossing into the 20th

and, down the mountain, dispersing among the machinery,

through El Trabanquín,

up to El Llungueru.


Thirty kilometres in three hundred years,

As if we carried the valley on our shoulders.

THE POEM (Fruela Fernández)

This is the opening section to Una paz europea (Pre-Textos, 2016), a book-length poem that had been a long time in the making, but not in the writing. While my previous book, Folk (Pre-Textos, 2013), interrogated the meaning of belonging, Una paz europea retraces the experience of displacement. Shortly after publishing Folk, I arrived in Britain on a temporary contract, an unwilling move that brought back memories and echoes from my family’s time in Belgium in the 1960s (the day before leaving, my grandfather advised me to check for job advertisements in the newspaper, as he had done in Le Soir). In a political and historical sense, I knew I had to complete the narrative of my family, and yet I encountered a personal resistance in the autobiographical, as if my writing was unfit yet: the feelings were there, but the places and the faces were absent, and they reclaimed their right to return. I spent a couple of years away from poetry, focusing on other texts —especially a memory of Northern England through the music of The Smiths—, waiting for the form. It came shortly after a summer visit with my grandfather to our family plot near Les Pieces, a small village on one of the hills forming the coal-mining valley of Langreo in Northern Spain. My grandmother grew up in one of the nearby houses, where her grandfather had founded the local committee of the socialist party PSOE at the beginning of the 20th century, and where he also hid during the first years after the Civil War. Listening to my grandfather on the way back, I had the intuition that the form I needed was emerging with his recollections, with our code-switching between Asturian and Spanish, with the historical burden of the landscape. The pieces fell into place after Les Pieces, so to speak.


Reading though the opening section of Una Paz Europea, I was moved and drawn in by the narrative. Despite the differences between my urban English background and the rural Spain depicted here, it brought back my own memories: of collecting raspberries from my grandma’s back garden each summer, the familiarity of Hull after living away, and tracing my own family’s history. It is at once specific and personal, yet also universal; the themes of homecoming, the connection between generations and to nature, a sense of belonging and tradition transcend language boundaries. Nevertheless, word meanings and connotations do not overlap precisely across languages such that some translation loss is inevitable. For example, the verb descargar (literally discharge), used here to describe the fruit dropping from the tree, can also be used for rain falling suddenly from the clouds, thereby leading to the image of rainfall in the next line. Later the verb describes the action of working a hammer. This web of meanings ties together different images within the poem whereas in English no equivalent word exists which carries all these associations.

The mixture of Asturian and Spanish was also impossible to capture; I toyed with the idea of using English dialect but as the narrative is so deeply embedded in the geography of Asturias, the effect would have been jarring. Another challenge was not only the sense, but the sounds of the words, such as the plosive rhythm of the line tenemos poco prado y es empruno, which can only be partially echoed with other alliteration and assonance. Where possible though, I have tried to mirror the linguistic choices as closely as possible in the target language, juggling meaning, sound and syllables to create something that is alike, although never an exact replica of the original. Finally, there is always some gap between the author’s intention and a translator’s interpretation. Working with Fruela Fernández on the translation helped enormously in narrowing this gap, but my own ideas and language preferences have invariably come into play. Equally the reader brings their own experiences and interpretations to bear on the text and this is as true of the translation as of the original. That this work can reach a new audience means perhaps that what is found in translation, far outweighs what is lost.