Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lockhart's "March of Bernardo del Carpio"

With three thousand men of Leon, from the city Bernard goes
To protect the soil Hispanian from the spear of Frankish foes
From the city that is planted in the midst between the seas
To preserve the name and glory of Pelayo's victories

he peasant hears upon his field the trumpet of the knight, 
He quits his team for spear and shield, and garniture of might; 
The shepherd hears it 'mid the mist, he flingeth down his crook, 
And rushes from the mountain like a tempest-troubled brook.

The youth who shews a maiden's chin, whose brows have ne'er been bound 
The helmet's heavy ring within, gains manhood from the sound; 
The hoary sire beside the fire forgets his feebleness, 
Once more to feel the cap of steel a warrior's ringlets press. 

As through the glen his spears did gleam, these soldiers from the hills, 
They swell'd his host, as mountain-stream receives the roaring rills; 
They round his banner flock'd, in scorn of haughty Charlemagne, 
And thus upon their swords are sworn the faithful sons of Spain. 

"Free were we born," 'tis thus they cry, "though to our King we owe 
The homage and the fealty behind his crest to go; 
By God's behest our aid he shares, but God did ne'er command, 
That we should leave our children heirs of an enslaved land. 

"Our breasts are not so timorous, nor are our arms so weak, 
Nor are our veins so bloodless, that we our vow should break, 
To sell our freedom for the fear of Prince or Paladin, 
At least we'll sell our birthright dear, no bloodless prize they'll win. 

"At least King Charles, if God decrees he must be lord of Spain, 
Shall witness that the Leonese were not aroused in vain; 
He shall bear witness that we died, as lived our sires of old, 
Nor only of Numantium's pride shall minstrel tales be told. 

"The Lion that hath bathed his paws in seas of Lybian gore, 
Shall he not battle for the laws and liberties of yore? 
Anointed cravens may give gold to whom it likes them well, 
But steadfast heart and spirit bold Alphonso ne'er shall sell." 

 - John Gilderoy Lockhart, "The March of Bernardo del Carpio," from Ancient Spanish Ballads, Historical and Romantic (1823). J.G. Lockhart's richly-illustrated Ancient Spanish Ballads, which has roughly the form of a modern coffee-table book, purports to be a collection of poems translated from the Spanish; many are, but take artistic license to translate loosely - often very loosely! - into a product more in keeping with Victorian poetics than those of the Spanish romancero tradition.

"The March of Bernardo del Carpio" is one of a small handful of poems in Lockhart's book for which I have yet to identify a Spanish original, even despite having looked for one (because I like the English poem and would love to read a Spanish original if it exists). It also doesn't really read like a genuine Spanish folk ballad to me (for instance, the first line of the final stanza is highly improbable, since apostrophic references to heraldry or to any putative place of origin for the Moors are both infrequent at best in the Romancero), but this wouldn't be out of character for a genuine Lockhart translation. I thus currently believe this to be an entirely original composition by Mr. Lockhart, but it is one which evidences a great deal of familiarity with the authentic Spanish tradition on which it draws as well as demonstrating Lockhart's own talents as a poet in the tradition of his own era.

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