The Moorish King Rides Up And Down

Last Sunday we had an overcast picture of the Alhambra, so today we’ll follow it up with a poem set in Granada. Although reading Spanish poetry in the original is, by and large, beyond me at the moment (Arturo Pérez-Reverte generally drives me to despair with his quotes of Francisco de Quevedo), there is the odd poem that I have no problem understanding (Spanish learners, take note). I was afraid I might have to provide a prose translation myself, but Lord Byron obliged! The Spanish original is below the English translation for those of you who can enjoy it…

The poem refers to an event during the Reconquista, the retaking of Spain from the Moors. The town of Alhama de Granada, mentioned in the poem, was of strategic importance in defeating Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in Spain. Alhama was stormed and taken by Rodrigo Ponce de León on the night of 28 February 1482. The capture of the town marked the beginning of a ten-year-long military campaign which led to the fall of the Emirate of Granada in 1492.

The poem actually has several versions, and Byron’s translation is either based on a longer version than my particular Spanish text or is a combination of two ballads. I stopped with Byron’s poem where my Spanish ballad finishes; the full poem by Byron is available here.

A Mournful Ballad on the Siege and Conquest of Alhama

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!

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!

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!

When the Alhambra walls he gain’d,
On the moment he ordain’d
That the trumpet straight should sound
With the silver clarion round.
Woe is me, Alhama!

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!

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

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

“Friends! Ye have, alas! To know
Of a most disastrous blow,
That the Christians, stern and bold,
Have obtain’d Alhama’s hold.”
Woe is me, Alhama!

Out then spake old Alfaqui,
With his beard so white to see,
“Good King, thou are justly served,
Good King, this thou hast deserved.
Woe is me Alhama!

“By thee were slain, in evil hour,
The Abecerrage, Granada’s flower;
And strangers were received by thee
Of Cordova the chivalry.
Woe is me, Alhama!

“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!

Romance de la pérdida de Alhama

Paseábase el rey moro
por la ciudad de Granada,
desde la puerta de Elvira
hasta la de Vivarrambla.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Cartas le fueron venidas
que Alhama era ganada;
las cartas echó en el fuego
y al mensajero matara.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Descabalga de una mula
y en un caballo cabalga;
por el Zacatín arriba
subido se había al Alhambra.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Como en el Alhambra estuvo
al mismo punto mandaba
que se toquen sus trompetas,
sus añafiles de plata.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Y que las cajas de guerra
apriesa toquen el arma,
porque lo oigan sus moros,
los de la Vega y Granada.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Los moros que el son oyeron
que al sangriento Marte llama,
uno a uno y dos a dos
juntado se ha gran batalla.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Allí habló un moro viejo,
de esta manera hablara:
«¿Para qué nos llamas, rey,
para qué es esta llamada?»
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

«Habéis de saber, amigos,
una nueva desdichada:
que cristianos de braveza
ya nos han ganado Alhama.»
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Allí habló un alfaquí
de barba crecida y cana:
«¡Bien se te emplea, buen rey,
buen rey, bien se te empleara!
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Mataste los Bencerrajes,
que eran la flor de Granada,
cogiste los tornadizos
de Córdoba la nombrada.
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)

Por eso mereces, rey,
una pena muy doblada:
que te pierdas tú y el reino,
y aquí se pierda Granada.»
(¡Ay de mi Alhama!)


4 thoughts on “The Moorish King Rides Up And Down

  1. Tronsawyer

    Atonished… I read this poem when I was I kid at the school and never again. A forgotten piece of history has just popped up… and there you are, Alhama was essential. Ten years to conquer, and what I conquered by reading was to defeat my ignorance. Or my oblivion.


    1. arwen1968

      I’m glad I gave you the chance to revisit this poem!… 🙂 I really quite like the way it flows and I think Byron did a very decent job of the translation – but then this sort of romantic stuff was right up his street. (The Isles of Greece comes immediately to mind.)
      BTW, you also just gave me an idea for a new post. 🙂
      But I absolutely have to ask – is it true that ‘ay de mi Alhama’ is a phrase that is still used today in Spanish to express regret? I can’t quite imagine somebody saying it in an everyday situation!


      1. Tronsawyer

        Sorry for answering this so late… I forgot to answer.
        Well, I must say I never heard the saying🤔 But maybe it is indeed used locally in Alhama or surrounding places… I would need to ask… 😊
        Regarding the translation, I think translating poetry is a very complicated issue, but this time Byron did a good job. I guess no one better to translate the poem🖒


        1. arwen1968

          What a disappointment about Ay de mi Alhama… I love sayings that are rooted in history. Like poner una pica en Flandes. (To put a pike in Flanders, for you English speakers.) 🙂


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