Percy's Reliques - Gentle River, Gentle River.

Gentle River, Gentle River.


            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,
Quanto cuerpo en ti se ba
De Christianos y de Moros
Muertos por la dura espada!

'Y tus ondas cristalinas
De roxa sangre se esmaltan:
Entre Moros y Christianos
Muy gran batalla se trava.

'Murieron Duques y Condes,
Grandes senores de salva:
Murio gente de valia
De la nobleza de Espa

'En ti murio don Alonso,
Que de Aguilar se llamaba;
El valeroso Urdiales,
Con don Alonso acabada.

'Por un ladera arriba
El buen Sayavedra marcha;
Naturel es de Sevilla,
De la gente mas granada.

'Tras el iba un Renegado,
Desta manera le habla;
"Date, date, Sayavedra,
No huyas de la batalla.

"'Yo te conozco muy bien,
Gran tiempo estuve en tu casa
Y en la Plaįa de Sevilla
Bien te vide jugar canas.

"'Conozco a tu padre y madre,
Y a tu muger Doņa Clara;
Siete aņos fui tu cautivo,
Malamente me tratabas.

"'Y aura le seras mio,
Si Mahoma me ayudara;
Y tambien te tratare,
Como a mi me tratabas."

'Sayavedra que lo oyera,
Al Moro bolvio la cara
Tirole el Moro una flecha,
Pero nunca la acertaba.

'Hiriole Sayavedra
De una herida muy mala:
Muerto cayo el Renegado
Sin poder hablar palabra.

'Sayavedra fue cercado
De mucha Mora canalla,
Y al cabo cayo alli muerto
De una muy mala lanįada.

'Don Alonso en este tiempo
Bravamente peleava,
Y el cavallo le avian muerto,
Y le tiene por muralla.

'Mas cargaron tantos Moros
Que mal le hieren y tratan:
De la sangre, que perdia,
Don Alonso se desmaya.

Al fin, al fin cayo muerto
Al pie de un pena alta.--
-- Muerto queda don Alonso,
Eterna fama ganara.'

*    *    *    *    *    *    *


GENTLE river, gentle river,
Lo, thy streams are stain'd with gore,
Many a brave and noble captain
Floats along thy willow'd shore.

All beside thy limpid waters,
All beside thy sands so bright,
Moorish Chiefs and Christian Warriors
Join'd in fierce and mortal fight.

Lords, and dukes, and noble princes
On thy fatal banks were slain:
Fatal banks that gave to slaughter
All the pride and flower of Spain.

There the hero, brave Alonzo,
Full of wounds and glory died:
There the fearless Urdiales
Fell a victim by his side.

Lo! where yonder Don Saavedra
Thro' their squadrons slow retires
Proud Seville, his native city,
Proud Seville his worth admires.

Close behind a renegado
Loudly shouts with taunting cry;
"Yield thee, yield thee, Don Saavedra,
Dost thou from the battle fly?

"Well I know thee, haughty Christian,
Long I liv'd beneath thy roof;
Oft I've in the lists of glory
Seen thee win the prize of proof.

"Well I know thy aged parents,
Well thy blooming bride I know;
Seven years I was thy captive,
Seven years of pain and woe.

May our prophet grant my wishes,
Haughty chief, thou shalt be mine:
Thou shalt drink that cup of sorrow,
Which I drank when I was thine."

Like a lion turns the warrior,
Back he sends an angry glare:
Whizzing came the Moorish javelin,
Vainly whizzing through the air.

Back the hero full of fury
Sent a deep and mortal wound;
Instant sunk the Renegado,
Mute and lifeless on the ground.

With a thousand Moors surrounded,
Brave Saavedra stands at bay:
Wearied out but never daunted,
Cold at length the warrior lay.

Near him fighting great Alonzo
Stout resists the Paynim bands;
From his slaughter'd steed dismounted
Firm intrench'd behind him stands.

Furious press the hostile squadron,
Furious he repels their rage:
Loss of blood at length enfeebles:
Who can war with thousands wage

Where yon rock the plain o'ershadows,
Close beneath its foot retir'd,
Fainting sunk the bleeding hero,
And without a groan expir'd.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *



*** 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.


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