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The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)/Poetry/Volume 4/A very Mournful Ballad on the Siege and Conquest of Alhama

< The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero)‎ | Poetry‎ | Volume 4

POEMS 1816-1823.

A VERY MOURNFUL BALLAD[1] ON THE SIEGE AND CONQUEST OF ALHAMA.[2]

Which, in the Arabic language, is to the following purport.[3]

1.

The Moorish King rides up and down,
Through Granada's royal town:
From Elvira's gates to those
Of Bivarambla on he goes.
Woe is me, Alhama![4][5]


2.

Letters to the Monarch tell
How Alhama's city fell:
In the fire the scroll he threw,
And the messenger he slew.
Woe is me, Alhama!


3.

He quits his mule, and mounts his horse,
And through the street directs his course;
Through the street of Zacatin
To the Alhambra spurring in.
Woe is me, Alhama!


4.

When the Alhambra walls he gained,
On the moment he ordained
That the trumpet straight should sound
With the silver clarion round.
Woe is me, Alhama!


5.

And when the hollow drums of war
Beat the loud alarm afar,
That the Moors of town and plain
Might answer to the martial strain.
Woe is me, Alhama!


6.

Then the Moors, by this aware,
That bloody Mars recalled them there,
One by one, and two by two,
To a mighty squadron grew.
Woe is me, Alhama!


7.

Out then spake an agéd Moor
In these words the king before,
"Wherefore call on us, oh King?
What may mean this gathering?"
Woe is me, Alhama!


8.

"Friends! ye have, alas! to know
Of a most disastrous blow—
That the Christians, stern and bold,
Have obtained Alhama's hold."
Woe is me, Alhama!


9.

Out then spake old Alfaqui,[6]
With his beard so white to see,
"Good King! thou art justly served,
Good King! this thou hast deserved.
Woe is me, Alhama!


10.

"By thee were slain, in evil hour,
The Abencerrage, Granada's flower;
And strangers were received by thee,
Of Cordova the Chivalry.
Woe is me, Alhama!


11.

"And for this, oh King! is sent
On thee a double chastisement;
Thee and thine, thy crown and realm,
One last wreck shall overwhelm.
Woe is me, Alhama!


12.

"He who holds no laws in awe,
He must perish by the law;
And Granada must be won,
And thyself with her undone."
Woe is me, Alhama!


13.

Fire flashed from out the old Moor's eyes,
The Monarch's wrath began to rise,
Because he answered, and because
He spake exceeding well of laws.[7]
Woe is me, Alhama!


14.

"There is no law to say such things
As may disgust the ear of kings:"—
Thus, snorting with his choler, said
The Moorish King, and doomed him dead.
Woe is me, Alhama!


15.

Moor Alfaqui! Moor Alfaqui![8]
Though thy beard so hoary be,[9]
The King hath sent to have thee seized,
For Alhama's loss displeased.
Woe is me, Alhama!


16.

And to fix thy head upon
High Alhambra's loftiest stone;
That this for thee should be the law,
And others tremble when they saw.
Woe is me, Alhama!


17.

"Cavalier, and man of worth!
Let these words of mine go forth;
Let the Moorish Monarch know,
That to him I nothing owe.
Woe is me, Alhama!


18.

"But on my soul Alhama weighs,
And on my inmost spirit preys;
And if the King his land hath lost,
Yet others may have lost the most.
Woe is me, Alhama!


19.

"Sires have lost their children, wives
Their lords, and valiant men their lives!
One what best his love might claim
Hath lost, another wealth, or fame.
Woe is me, Alhama!


20.

"I lost a damsel in that hour,
Of all the land the loveliest flower;
Doubloons a hundred I would pay,
And think her ransom cheap that day."
Woe is me, Alhama!


21.

And as these things the old Moor said,
They severed from the trunk his head;
And to the Alhambra's wall with speed
'Twas carried, as the King decreed.
Woe is me, Alhama!


22.

And men and infants therein weep
Their loss, so heavy and so deep;
Granada's ladies, all she rears
Within her walls, burst into tears.
Woe is me, Alhama!


23.

And from the windows o'er the walls
The sable web of mourning falls;
The King weeps as a woman o'er
His loss, for it is much and sore.
Woe is me, Alhama!

[First published, Childe Harold, Canto IV., 1818.]

  1. [Byron does not give his authority for the Spanish original of his Romance Muy Doloroso. In default of any definite information, it may be surmised that his fancy was caught by some broadside or chap-book which chanced to come into his possession, and that he made his translation without troubling himself about the origin or composition of the ballad. As it stands, the "Romance" is a cento of three or more ballads which are included in the Guerras Civiles de Granada of Gines Peres de Hita, published at Saragossa in 1595 (see ed. "En Alcala de Henares," 1601, pp. 249-252). Stanzas I-II, "Passeavase el Rey Moro," etc., follow the text which De Hita gives as a translation from the Arabic; stansas 12-14 are additional, and do not correspond with any of the Spanish originals; stanzas 15-21, with numerous deviations and omissions, follow the text of a second ballad, "Moro Alcayde, Moro Alcayde," described by De Hita as "antiguo Romance." and portions of stanzas 21-23 are imbedded in a ballad entitled "Muerte dada á Los Abencerrajes" (Duran's Romancero General, 1851, ii. 89). The ballad as a whole was not known to students of Spanish literature previous to the publication of Byron's translation (1818), (see Ancient Ballads from the Civil Wars of Granada, by Thomas Rodd, 1801, pp. 93, 98; Southey's Common-Place Book, iv. 262-266, and his Chronicle of the Cid, 1808, pp. 371-374), and it has not been included by H. Duran in his Romancero General, 1851, ii. 89-91, or by F. Wolf and C. Hofmann in their Primavera y Flor de Romances, 1856, i. 270-278. At the same time, it is most improbable that Byron was his own "Centonista," and it may be assumed that the Spanish text as printed (see Childe Harold, Canto IV., 1818. pp. 240-254, and Poetical Works, 1891, pp. 566, 567) was in his possession or within his reach. (For a correspondence on the subject, see Notes and Queries, Third Series, vol. xii. p. 391, and Fourth Series, vol. i. p. 162.) A MS. of the Spanish text, sent to England for "copy," is in a foreign handwriting. Two MSS. (A, B) of the translation are in Mr. Murray's possession: A, a rough draft; B, a fair copy. The watermark of A is 1808, of B (dated January 4, 1817) 1800. It is to be noted that the refrain in the Spanish text is Ay de mi Alhama, and that the insertion of the comma is a printer's or reader's error.]
  2. [In A.D. 886, during the reign of Muley Abul Hacen. King of Granada, Alhama was surprised and occupied by the Christians under Don Rodrigo Ponce de Leon.]
  3. [The effect of the original ballad—which existed both in Spanish and Arabic—was such, that it was forbidden to be sung by the Moors, on pain of death, within Granada. ["This ballad was so dolorous in the original Arabic language, that every time it was sung it acted as an incitement to grief and despair, and for this reason it was at length finally prohibited in Granada."—Historia ... de las Guerras Civiles, translated from the Arabic of Abenhamim, by Ginès Perez de Hita, and from the Spanish by Thomas Rodd, 1803, p. 334. According to Ticknor (Hist. of Spanish Literature, 1888, iii. 139), the "Arabic origin" of De Hita's work is not at all probable. "He may have obtained Arabic materials for parts of his story."]
  4. Alas—alas—Alhama!—[MS. M.]
  5. [Byron's Ay de mi, Alhama, which should be printed Ay de mi Alhama, must be rendered "Woe for my Alhama!" "Woe is me, Alhama!" is the equivalent of "Ay de mi Alhama!"]
  6. ["Un viejo Alfaqui" is "an old Alfaqui," i.e. a doctor of the Mussulman law, not a proper name.]
  7. ["De leyes tambien hablava" should be rendered "He spake also of the laws," not tam bien, "so well," or "exceeding well."]
  8. The Alcaide or "governor" of the original ballad is converted into the Alfaqui of stanza 9. It was the "Alcaide," in whose absence Alhama was taken, and who lost children, wife, honour, and his own head in consequence (Notes and Queries, iv. i. 162).]
  9. —— so white to see.—[MS. M.]