The Lament of King Roderick (La lamentación de don Rodrigo)

In the early 19th century, several English poets, among them Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ and the poet laureate Robert Southey, were inspired by old Spanish historical ballads. Someday I will explore this topic in more detail but today, I’m merely sharing an excerpt from a ballad known as The Defeat of King Roderick.

A principios del siglo XIX, varios poetas ingleses, entre ellos Lord Byron, Walter Scott¹ y Robert Southey, eran inspirados por viejas baladas históricas españolas. Algún día voy a explorar este tema con más detalle pero hoy sólo estoy compartiendo un extracto de una balada conocida como La Derrota de Don Rodrigo (Los huestes de don Rodrigo).

King Roderick with is troops in the battle of Guadalete / El rey Don Rodrigo arengado a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete (Bernardo Blanco) [public domain via Wikipedia]
King Roderick with his troops in the battle of Guadalete / El rey Don Rodrigo arengado a sus tropas en la batalla de Guadalete (Bernardo Blanco) [public domain via Wikipedia]


This Roderick was the last Visigothic king of Spain, who died in 711 after losing his kingdom to the Moors. According to legend, he violated Florinda, also known as Cava, the daughter of one of his noblemen, don Julián, the Count of Ceuta. To revenge his daughter, don Julián called on the help of the Moors who invaded the peninsula, defeated Roderick in the battle of Guadalete and conquered Spain. It took the Christians almost 800 years to drive the Moors out of Spain again.

King Roderick / El rey Rodrigo (Museo de Prado) [public domain via Wikipedia]
King Roderick / El rey Don Rodrigo (Museo de Prado) [public domain via Wikipedia]
Este don Rodrigo era el último rey visigodo de España, que murió en 711, después de que perdiera su reino a los moros. Según la leyenda, Rodrigo violó a Florinda, también conocida como la Cava, la hija de uno de sus nobles, el conde don Julián de Ceuta. Para vengarse por su hija, don Julián pidió ayuda de los moros, que invadieron la península, derrotaron Rodrigo en la batalla de Guadalete y conquistaron España. Los cristianos tardaron casi 800 años en expulsar los moros de España.

The excerpt is the lament of King Roderick in the immediate aftermath of the lost battle and was parodied by Cervantes in Don Quijote.

El extracto is el lamento de don Rodrigo inmediatamente después de la batalla perdida y fue parodiado por Cervantes en Don Quijote.

The Lament of King Roderick

(Translated by J. G. Lockhart)

He climbed unto a hill-top, the highest he could see,
Thence all about of that wide rout his last long look took he;
He saw his royal banners, where they lay drenched and torn,
He heard the cry of victory, the Arab’s shout of scorn.

He looked for the brave captains that led the hosts of Spain,
But all were fled except the dead, and who could count the slain?
Where’er his eye could wander, all bloody was the plain,
And, while thus he said, the tears he shed ran down his cheeks like rain:—

“Last night I was the King of Spain,—to-day no king am I;
Last night fair castles held my train,—to-night where shall I lie?
Last night a hundred pages did serve me on the knee,—
To-night not one I call mine own—not one pertains to me.

“Oh, luckless, luckless was the hour, and curséd was the day,
When I was born to have the power of this great signiory!
Unhappy me that I should see the sun go down to-night!
O Death, why now so slow art thou, why fearest thou to smite?”

La lamentación de don Rodrigo

Subióse encima de un cerro
el más alto que veía:
desde allí mira su gente
cómo iba de vencida;
de allí mira sus banderas
y estandartes que tenía,
cómo están todos pisados
que la tierra los cubría.

Mira por sus capitanes
que ninguno parecía;
mira el campo tinto en sangre
la cual arroyos corría.
El triste, de ver aquesto,
gran mancilla en sí tenía:
llorando de los sus ojos
de esta manera decía:

‘Ayer era rey de España,
hoy no lo soy de una villa;
ayer villas y castillos,
hoy ninguno poseía;
ayer tenía criados,
hoy ninguno me servía;
hoy no tengo una almena
que pueda decir que es mía.

¡Desdichada fue la hora
desdichado fue aquel día
en que nací y heredé
la tan grande señoría,
pues lo había de perder
todo junto y en un día!
¡Oh muerte! ¿Por qué no vienes
y llevas esta alma mía
de aqueste cuerpo mezquino,
pues se te agradecería?’

I have to say: the Spanish original is much better… and Lockhart was no Byron!

Tengo que deciros: el original es mucho mejor que la traducción… ¡Lockhart no era Byron!

¹NOTE: I do know that Walter Scott was in fact, well, Scottish!

¹NOTA: Walter Scott era, de hecho, escocés, no inglés (pero eso no importa a nadie, con la excepción de los escoceses, claro).

You may also like / Quizá también te gusta:The Moorish King Rides Up & Down (Paseábase el rey moro)Tales of the AlhambraIllustrations by Owen Jones in Ancient Spanish Ballads by J. G. Lockhart. Jones, an architect, is famous for his book The Grammar of Ornament, inspired by his study of the Alhambra.
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2 thoughts on “The Lament of King Roderick (La lamentación de don Rodrigo)

  1. Enjoyed this new lesson for me. I do like Lockhart’s lament, but it is probably because I am not acquainted with the original and cannot read other languages. It sounds like something I would have liked to memorize at one time in my life. But I don’t memorize much anymore. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i find Lockhart’s version a little contrived in general, the Spanish has a (to me) very pleasing simplicity to it… Having said that, I do like these lines by Lockhart:

      He looked for the brave captains that led the hosts of Spain,
      But all were fled except the dead, and who could count the slain?
      Where’er his eye could wander, all bloody was the plain…

      Puts me rather in mind of Casabianca by Felicia Dorothea Hemans…

      Liked by 1 person

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