Que por mayo era, por mayo

This ballad must go back to the 1300s or 1400s, so, in one sense, it is like a time machine, transporting us to the mediaeval world. But in another sense, it is completely timeless. “El Romance del Prisionero”, the prisoner’s song, could tell the experience of any prisoner, at any time, who suffers despair and misery at the loss of liberty and contact with the world.
Que por mayo era, por mayo,
cuando hace la calor,
cuando los trigos encañan
y están los campos en flor;
cuando los enamorados
van a servir al amor.
Sólo yo, triste y cuitado,
vivo en aquesta prisión
sin saber cuándo es de día
ni cuándo las noches son,
sino por una avecilla
que me cantaba al albor.
Matómela un ballestero,
déle Dios mal galardón.

From <http://www.letraslibres.com/revista/letrillas/que-por-mayo-era-por-mayo&gt;

The prisoner is shut in his cell in springtime when the fields are full of flowers and lovers are frolicking. You can feel his isolation and despair. A songbird singing is his only joy, and helps him distinguish day from night. But a crossbowman shoots the bird, and he is plunged back into dark isolation.

This poem is simple, moving and timeless – it sticks in the mind and moves the heart.


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