Gentle River, Gentle River.TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH.
Although the English are remarkable for the number and variety of their ancient ballads, and retain perhaps a greater fondness for these old simple rhapsodies of their ancestors, than most other nations; they are not the only people who have distinguished themselves by compositions of this kind. The Spaniards have great multitudes of them, many of which are of the highest merit. They call them in their language Romances, and have collected them into volumes under the titles of El Romancero, El Cancionero,[ 1] &c. Most of them relate to their conflicts with the Moors, and display a spirit of gallantry peculiar to that romantic people. But, of all the Spanish ballads, none exceed in poetical merit those inserted in a little Spanish History of the Civil Wars of Granada, describing the dissensions which raged in that last seat of Moorish empire before it was conquered in the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1491. In this history (or perhaps romance) a great number of heroic songs are inserted, and appealed to as authentic vouchers for the truth of facts. In reality, the prose narrative seems to be drawn up for no other end, but to introduce and illustrate those beautiful pieces.
The Spanish editor pretends (how truly I know not) that they are translations from the Arabic or Morisco language. Indeed, from the plain unadorned nature of the verse, and the native simplicity of the language and sentiment, which runs through these poems, one would judge them to be composed soon after the conquest of Granada above mentioned; as the prose narrative in which they were inserted was published about a century after. It should seem, at least, that they were written before the Castilians had formed themselves so generally, as they have done since, on the model of the Tuscan poets, or had imported from Italy that fondness for conceit and refinement, which has for near two centuries past so much infected the Spanish poetry, and rendered it so frequently affected and obscure.
As a specimen of the ancient Spanish manner, which very much resembles that of our old English bards and minstrels, the reader is desired candidly to accept the two following poems. They are given from a small collection of pieces of this kind, which the Editor some years ago translated for his amusement when he was studying the Spanish language. As the first is a pretty close translation, to gratify the curious it is accompanied with the original. The metre is the same in all these old Spanish ballads: it is of the most simple construction, and is still used by the common people in their extemporaneous songs, as we learn from Baretti's Travels. It runs in short stanzas of four lines, of which the second and fourth line alone correspond in their terminations; and in these it is only required that the vowels should be alike, the consonants may be altogether different, as
Yet has this kind of verse a sort of simple harmonious flow, which atones for the imperfect nature of the rhyme, and renders it not unpleasing to the ear. The same flow of numbers has been studied in the following versions. The first of them is given from two different originals, both of which are printed in the Hist. de las civiles guerras de Granada, Madrid, 1694. One of them hath the rhymes ending in aa, the other in ia. It is the former of these that is here reprinted. They both of them begin with the same line:
Rio verde, rio verde.[ 2]
which could not be translated faithfully:
Verdant river, verdant river,
would have given an affected stiffness to the verse; the great merit of which is easy simplicity; and therefore a more simple epithet was adopted, though less poetical or expressive.
'Rio verde, rio verde,
'Y tus ondas cristalinas
'Murieron Duques y Condes,
'En ti murio don Alonso,
'Por un ladera arriba
'Tras el iba un Renegado,
"'Yo te conozco muy bien,
"'Conozco a tu padre y madre,
"'Y aura le seras mio,
'Sayavedra que lo oyera,
'Sayavedra fue cercado
'Don Alonso en este tiempo
'Mas cargaron tantos Moros
Al fin, al fin cayo muerto
* * * * * * *
GENTLE river, gentle river,
All beside thy limpid waters,
Lords, and dukes, and noble princes
There the hero, brave Alonzo,
Lo! where yonder Don Saavedra
Close behind a renegado
"Well I know thee, haughty Christian,
"Well I know thy aged parents,
May our prophet grant my wishes,
Like a lion turns the warrior,
Back the hero full of fury
With a thousand Moors surrounded,
Near him fighting great Alonzo
Furious press the hostile squadron,
Where yon rock the plain o'ershadows,
* * * * * * *
*** In the Spanish original of the foregoing ballad, follow a few more stanzas, but being of inferior merit were not translated.
Renegado properly signifies an Apostate; but it is sometimes used to express an Infidel in general; as it seems to do above in ver. 21, &c.
The image of the Lion, &c. in ver. 37, is taken from the other Spanish copy, the rhymes of which end in IA, viz.
"Sayavedra, que lo oyera,
Como un leon rebolbia."
1. i.e. the ballad-singer.
2. Literally, Green river, green river. Rio Verde is said to be the name of a river in Spain; which ought to have been attended to by the translator had he known it.