For today’s poem we go back to mediaeval Spain and a ballad of the wars between the Castilian Spaniards and the Moors who had conquered most of the country in the early 700s. I love the way these seem mere fragments but they capture the intensity of a moment and really draw you in to a distant time and place.
The subject of this is the siege of Baeza a town in southern Spain. Part of the early Moorish conquest, it was captured back by the Spaniards in the mid 1200s. This poem is about events about 100 years later in the mid 1300s, when the Moors are besieging the town with the Spaniards trying to defend it. (As a side note, most people think of the hundred years war as about the longest of sustained conflicts in Europe, but the struggle for supremacy in Spain lasted almost 800 years, from the Moorish invasion in 712 until the fall of Granada in 1492. That’s about 50 generations who nothing but war…
Romance del cerco de Baeza de Anónimo
Cercada tiene a Baeza — ese arráez Andalla Mir,
con ochenta mil peones, — caballeros cinco mil.
Con él va ese traidor, — el traidor de Pero Gil.
Por la puerta de Bedmar — la empieza de combatir;
ponen escalas al muro, — comiénzanle a conquerir;
ganada tiene una torre, — no le pueden resistir,
cuando de la de Calonge — escuderos vi salir.
Ruy Fernández va delante, — aquese caudillo ardil,
arremete con Andalla, — comienza de le ferir,
cortado le ha la cabeza, — los demás dan a fuir.
The Moorish general, Andalla Mir has surrounded Baeza with 80000 foot soldiers and 5000 cavalry, and also has enlisted the services of a Spanish renegade, Pedro Gil. In three lines the poem has described the situation and the strength of the attacking forces. The rest of the ballad tells the story of how the attack plays out – in only eight lines, a marvel of compression, economy and focus which only serves to heighten the impact of the narrative. It is specific about which city gates saw the most important action – the strongest assault was at the Bedmar gate, where the Moors put up scaling ladders and managed to capture a fortified tower. Then at the Calonge gate, the defenders make a sortie, led by Ruy Fernandez – who attacks and kills Andalla Mir, and cuts off his head. At this, all the other attackers flee.
And that is the end of the ballad. There is no preamble and no aftermath, just the critical moment. The language is direct and forceful, a wonderful illustration that “old” poetry doesn’t have to be hard or inaccessible to the modern reader. I really enjoy these poems.
As a footnote to today’s post, especially for those who have been following this blog for a while, this will be the last of the daily poems, at least for a while. When I started this blog, almost at the end of September 2014, I set out to post and comment on a poem a day for a year. This was to reacquaint myself with some of the poetry languishing on my bookshelf; and also as an occupation while I was out of work, having been laid off earlier in 2014. I think I have achieved both objectives, and have now been back to work, gainfully employed in a job which is very interesting, I have less time to select and reflect on the poems I like. I will post from time to time, firstly a recap on the most popular poets and poems posted here during that year, and then irregularly, perhaps a few times a month, I will post a poem that gets my attention. Thaks for following, and please check back in from time to time.