Woe Is Me, Alhama!

Woe Is Me, Alhama!

Boabdil’s Farewell to Granada by Alfred Dehodencq [public domain via Wikipedia]
One of my favourite Spanish historical ballads is A Very Mournful Ballad of the Siege and Conquest of Alhama, also known as The Moorish King Rides Up and Down or Woe Is Me, Alhama! It was also one of the first Spanish ballads I’ve ever read in the original (Spanish learners take note – the text is that accessible). I came across it in a collection of ballads which I found in a second-hand bookshop in Southport in Lancashire; it was a university textbook from the 1960s. In A Brief (Literary) History of the Reconquista I have already shared an excerpt with you (and a shorter version a few years ago in The Moorish King Rides Up & Down) but the ballad deserves better, so today you’re going to get the full version – plus the Spanish original for those of you who can enjoy it.


The Very Mournful Ballad was translated into English in 1818 by Lord Byron, who was quite fond of romantic foreign poetry. Byron actually combined two ballads into one; the first ballad he translated in full but the second he cut substantially and adapted to fit with the first. In my opinion the result quite justifies the liberty he had taken but you’re welcome to differ! (This is not to say don’t read the original if you can!)

Alhama de Granada

Owing to its strategic position, the town of Alhama de Granada, was considered to be the key to the defeat of Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in Spain. It was stormed and taken on the night of 28 February 1482 by Rodrigo Ponce de León, Marquess of Cádiz. Ten years later, on 2 January 1492, King Boabdil of Granada surrendered the keys of his town to the Catholic kings Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile: this was the end of the nearly eight centuries Moorish rule in Spain which started in 711.

Thought for the Day

It is remarkable that the Spanish ballads commemorating the event are in no way triumphalist but instead enter into the feelings of the conquered; poignant is the word I believe. Worth thinking about?

A Very Mournful Ballad of the Conquest and Siege of Alhama

(Translated by Lord Byron)

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

Out then spake an aged Moor
In these words the king before,
“Wherefore call on us, O 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 obtained Alhama’s hold.”
Woe is me, Alhama!

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

“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, Albama!

“And for this, O king! is sent
On thee a double chastisement,
Thee and thine, thy crown and realm,
One last wreck shall overwhelm.
Woe is me, Alhama!”

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.
Woe is me, Alhama!

“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!

“Moor Alfaqui! Moor Alfaqui!
Though thy beard so hoary be,
The king hath sent to have thee seized,
For Alhama’s loss displeased.
Woe is me, Alhama!

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!

“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!

“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!

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

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!

The Original Spanish Ballads

Ballad I:

Paseábase el rey moro 

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

Cartas le fueron venidas
que Alhama era ganada;
las cartas echó al 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
aprisa toquen al 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 lost 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!)

Ballad II:

Moro alcaide, moro alcaide

‘Moro alcaide, moro alcaide,
el de la vellida barba,
el rey te manda prender
por la pérdida de Alhama,
y cortarte la cabeza
y ponerla en el Alhambra
porque a ti sea castigo
y otros tiemblen en mirarla,
pues perdiste la tenencia
de una ciudad tan preciada.’

El alcaide respondía,
de esta manera les habla:
‘Caballeros y hombres buenos,
los que regís a Granada,
decid de mi parte al rey
como no le debo nada;
yo me estaba en Antequera,
en bodas de una mi hermana:
¡mal fuego queme las bodas
y quien a ellas me llamara!

El rey me dio su licencia,
que yo no me la tomara;
pedíla por quince días,
diómela por tres semanas.

De haberse Alhama perdido
a mi me pesa en el alma,
que si el rey perdió su tierra
yo perdí mi honra y fama;
perdí hijos y mujer,
las cosas que más amaba;
perdí una hija doncella
que era la flor de Granada.

El que la tiene cautiva
marqués de Cádiz se llama:
cien doblas le doy por ella,
no me las estima en nada;
la respuesta que me han dado
es que mi hija es cristiana,
y por nombre le habían puesto
doña María de Alhama;
el nombre que ella tenía
mora Fátima se llama.’

Diciendo esto el alcaide
le llevaron a Granada,
y siendo puesto ante el rey
la sentencia le fue dada:
que le corten la cabeza
y la lleven al Alhambra.
Ejecutóse justicia
así como el rey lo manda.

You might also like:The Moorish King Rides Up & DownA Brief (Literary) History of the ReconquistaThe Seven Princes of LaraSketches of Spain: Granada

 

Comment is free...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s