Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ballad of Lady Alda

The lady Alda in Paris waits
She's good Sir Roldán's wife
Three hundred damsels wait with her
To bring joy to her life

And each is wearing quite a dress
And each has shoes so fine
They sit at table when they eat
The bread on which they dine

One hundred sew with golden thread
One hundred of them weave
One hundred play on instruments
The lady's life to ease

The sound of all the instruments
Has put her fast to sleep
And dreaming gave her such a pain
So painful were her dreams

She woke up fearful from the night
And with a fear profound
Her screams were so loud that they were
Then heard throughout the town

Her damsels spoke amongst themselves
And then they asked her thus:
"What's this, our lady? Why the screams?
Who's done you wrong? Tell us!"

"A dream I dreamed, oh damsels dear,
Which causes me great strife:
I saw me on a mountaintop
Devoid of any life

Beneath the mountaintops so tall
I saw a goshawk fly;
Behind it I did see an eagle
Chase it through the sky.

The goshawk, very cautiously,
Upon my dress did land;
And, full of wrath, the eagle's claws
To tear at it began."

Her maidservant spoke up, for she
Had heard her lady's dream:
"That dream you dreamed, oh mistress mine -
I'll tell you what it means.

The goshawk is your husband dear
Abroad now on campaign;
The eagle, lady, that is you
Who'll see him again.

That mountaintop, it is the church
Where you keep your waiting vigil."
"If that is so, my servant, I
Intend to pay you well."

The next day, early in the morn
A letter there did come
The outside written in black ink
The inside stained with blood.
It said: “Sir Roldán met his death
Last night at Ronceveaux.”

 - Anonymous broadsheet, Spain, early 16th c. Translation: Craig B. Daniel, 2009.

Like a number of my earliest translations, the poetic quality of this one is not a match for the original. There's a fair few of these ballads that are somewhat poorly composed, and I'd feel a lot better translating them as doggerel if I were better at showcasing the quality of a piece like "Lady Alda."

Roldán, of course, is the Spanish form of "Roland."

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