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Varela was born in a boat, while his parents, emigrants from Galicia, were going to Havana, Cuba. Some people consider it to be a kind of prophecy, as Varela lived in exile for most of his life.
In 1934 Varela moved to Madrid, where he contacted with the group PAN (Poetas Andantes y Navegantes, literally Walking and Sailing Poets — note that the abbreviation makes reference to Pan, a Greek god, and is also the Spanish and Galician word for bread) and with Misións Pedagóxicas (Pedagogic Missions). He also joined the Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de España or PCE).
After the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), Varela left Spain, exiling himself first in France and then, in May 1939, in Mexico. He moved to Buenos Aires in 1941, where he made contact with other exiled Galicians and emigrants from Galicia. He would publish most of his poetry, in the Galician language, while in Argentina.
In May 1976, after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Varela decided to return to Spain. He finally settled in Madrid, where he lived until his death two years later.
The Día das Letras Galegas ("Galician Literature Day") was dedicated to him in 2005.
- Catro poemas galegos pra catro grabados, 1944
- Lonxe, 1954
- Poesías, 1979
- Poesía galega, 1990
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