En París está doña Alda,   la esposa de don Roldán,

Today we have a nice piece from two cultures – a mediaeval Spanish ballad dealing with a story from French tradition. It belongs to the family of tales about Roland, the French lord who met his end fighting a rearguard action in the Pyrenees against Muslim invaders at the battle of Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles in Spanish). These tales were collected n the French Chanson de Roland and show up in many other French and Spanish verses of the late mediaeval age.

This ballad focusses on one small aspect of the tale – Roland’s wife or betrothed, waiting in Paris, has a premonitory dream about the disaster and then learns of Roland’s death.

Read this aloud – that is how it was intended, the poem has a fine rhythm and a vocabulary which carries the story along, using repetition for emphasis and continuity.


En París está doña Alda,   la esposa de don Roldán,
trescientas damas con ella   para la acompañar:
todas visten un vestido,   todas calzan un calzar,
todas comen a una mesa,   todas comían de un pan,
si no era doña Alda,   que era la mayoral;
las ciento hilaban oro,   las ciento tejen cendal,
las ciento tañen instrumentos   para doña Alda holgar.
Al son de los instrumentos   doña Alda dormido se ha;
ensoñado había un sueño,   un sueño de gran pesar.
Recordó despavorida   y con un pavor muy grande;
los gritos daba tan grandes   que se oían en la ciudad.
Allí hablaron sus doncellas,   bien oiréis lo que dirán:
—¿Qué es aquesto, mi señora?   ¿quién es el que os hizo mal?
—Un sueño soñé, doncellas,   que me ha dado gran pesar:
que me veía en un monte   en un desierto lugar:
do so los montes muy altos   un azor vide volar,
tras dél viene una aguililla   que lo ahínca muy mal.
El azor, con grande cuita,   metióse so mi brial,
el aguililla, con gran ira,   de allí lo iba a sacar;
con las uñas lo despluma,   con el pico lo deshace.
Allí habló su camarera,   bien oiréis lo que dirá:
—Aquese sueño, señora,   bien os lo entiendo soltar:
el azor es vuestro esposo   que viene de allén la mar,
el águila sedes vos,   con la cual ha de casar,
y aquel monte es la iglesia,   donde os han de velar.
—Si así es, mi camarera,   bien te lo entiendo pagar.
Otro día de mañana   cartas de fuera le traen:
tintas venían por dentro,   de fuera escritas con sangre,
que su Roldán era muerto   en caza de Roncesvalles.

From <http://www.poesi.as/indx0005.htm&gt;

There are three clear sections to the ballad. In the first section, which is the first nine lines, we get a description of dona Alda and her 300 ladies in waiting in Paris, eating bread at a table, sewing and weaving, playing music and singing to entertain dona Alda until she sleeps. The scene is of a luxurious court, with plenty and a life of leisure.

So in the second section, dona Alda wakes from her sleep with loud cries of distress which could be heard all over the city. When her ladies gather round to comfort her, Alda recounts her dream, or nightmare. She was on a remote mountain and saw an eagle hunting a small goshawk . The goshawk takes refuge in dona Alda’s skirt, but the eagle pulls it out and tears it to pieces with its beak. On hearing the dream one of the ladies interprets it as meaning that dona Alda is the eagle and Roland is the goshawk, and she will hunt him down and marry him when he gets back from the wars. The mountain would be the church where they will get married. The reader and listener knows differently of course, and the third section confirms the premonition.

The brief third section consists of the last three lines. A letter arrives in an envelope covered with blood – Roland has been killed at Roncesvalles.

The impact of the news is magnified by the simplicity of its telling – there is no description of Alda’s reaction, of what happens next or of any of the surrounding circumstances. The ballad focusses in sharply on the death of Roland and he fact that Alda was so in love with him that the truth was revealed to her in the dream. Even for ladies of wealth and status, there is no hiding place from grief and suffering.

The Poetry Dude


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