Quien hubiese tal ventura sobre las aguas del mar,

Here is a mediaeval Spanish romance, anonymous of course, and part of a rich folk tradition of such poems or songs. Usually they tell of the deeds of great knights, or episodes from the wars between The Spanish and the Moorish people who lived in much of southern Spain for almost 700 years in mediaeval times. This piece is slightly different as it has more mystical or religious overtones. The Count Arnaldos of the title is not really the protagonist of the piece, more a witness.

Romance del Conde Arnaldos

!Quien hubiese tal ventura sobre las aguas del mar,
como hubo el conde Arnaldos la manana de San Juan! –
Con un falcon en la mano, la caza iba a cazar
vio venir una galera que a tierra quiere llegar.
Las velas traia de seda, la ejarcia de un cendal,
marinero que la manda diciendo viene un cantar
que la mar facia en calma los vientos hace amainar,
las peces que andan n’el hondo arriba los haces andar
las aves que andan volando n’el mastel las faz’ posar
alli fablo el conde Arnaldos bien oreis lo que dira:
“Por Dios te ruego marinero digasme ora ese cantar.”
Respondiole el marinero tal respuesta le fue a dar:
“Yo no digo esta cancion sino a quien comigo va:
Yo no digo esta cancion sino a quien comigo va.”

From <http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=17833&gt;

The Count is out hunting with his falcon by the coast, when he sees a ship approaching land. Right away the focus is on unusual features of this mysterious ship – silken sails, and a sailor singing a song which appears to calm the sea, make the wind drop, attract the fish to the surface and make birds settle on the mast. There is clearly some supernatural phenomenon going on, and I think this is a strong hint of the religious overtones to this poem. The Count naturally cries out to the sailor to ask him about the song, and gets the reply that only those who go with the sailor can learn the song. It looks like the sailor is supposed to be Jesus and the poem is talking about the need for faith in order to access peace and revelation.

Religion was a central part of most people’s lives at this time, and so it is not surprising that this theme comes up even in these folk poems. The hints of transcendance give it a haunting beauty which makes this poem stand out as a fine example of this genre.

The Poetry Dude


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