Born in 1837 in Spain, Rosalia de Castro was a part of the autonomous Galician society in the north west of the country and is now considered one of the most well respected romantic poets of the time. She wrote not only in Spanish but also in the Galician language and is closely linked to literary greats such as Eduardo Pondal and Manuel Curros Enríquez.
Castro was born out of wedlock in Santiago de Compostela, to a father who was a priest and a mother who once came from one of Spain’s wealthy families. She formed a deep and lasting bond with her mother despite the perceived sin that had committed in having a child by a man who wasn’t her husband.
She was encouraged in her education by her mother and began writing poetry at the age of 11, also learning to play musical instruments including the guitar and piano. She fell in love with the works of Byron and Edgar Allen Poe, devouring foreign literature as much as she could as she developed her own writing style.
Castro went to school in Santiago and became immersed in the city’s cultural life, meeting for the first time with the leading light of the Galician Romantic Movement, Aurelio Aguirre, who was a great influence on her. There has been much debate that some of her poetry that talks of lost love comes from a failed relationship with Aguirre or at least a sense of unrequited love.
In 1856, at the age of just 19, Castro went to Madrid and began to work as a writer in earnest, mixing with a host of literary and artistic types. A year later she published her first collection, La flor, and it received a number of good reviews. Her second collection was dedicated to her mother, called A mi madre, and appeared in 1863. Her first full poem in Galician was published in 1861 and was followed a couple of years later by her debut collection in the language, Galician Songs.
At the time Galician was a dying language and her move towards publishing her poetry in it caused a revival and the first collection quickly went into a second printing. In 1880 Castro published Follas novas, again in Galician and En las orillas del Sar four years later.
Castro was not greatly praised for her poetry during her lifetime, either because she was a woman in a very male dominated society or because of her provincial attitude. Galician society and its language was considered by certain sections of the Spanish population as lower class and something not to be bothered with. It wasn’t until the 20th Century, when her work was re-evaluated, that she finally received the attention she deserved.
Castro lived in a situation of poverty for much of her life though she found the time to fight for the rights of others, particularly those who were denied their rights. She died in 1885 from ovarian cancer at the age of 48, giving her daughter instruction to destroy all her manuscripts.