Jugando estaba el rey moro    y aun al ajedrez un día,

Todays’s poem is another Spanish ballad going back to the wars of Reconquest between the Spanish and the Moors in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as Spanish forces gradually took back territory taken by the Moors after their invasion of Spain in 711, keeping most of the peninsula for over 500 years. This poem tells the story of a game of chess between the Moorish king and a leader of the Spaniards, with significant territories being wagered on the outcome of the game. Gripping stuff…

Jugando estaba el rey moro y aun al ajedrez un día,
con aquese buen Fajardo con amor que le tenía.
Fajardo jugaba Lorqa y el moro rey Almería;
jaque le dio con el roque, el alférez le prendía.

A grandes voces dice el moro: -La villa de Lorqa es mía.
Allí hablara Fajardo, bien oiréis lo que decía:
-Calles, calles, señor rey, no toméis la tal porfía,
que aunque me la ganases, ella no se te daría.
Caballeros tengo dentro que te la defenderían.

Allí hablara el rey moro bien oiréis lo que decía:
-No juguemos más Fajardo, ni tengamos más porfía;
que sois tan buen caballero que todo el mundo os temía”.

So the scene is set with the Moorish king playing a game of chess with the Spaniard, Fajardo. They are good friends, apparently. As a wager, Fajardo puts up the town of Lorca, and the Moorish king gambles Almeria, a major coastal city north of Malaga. There is a somewhat mysterious sequence of moves, it reads as if the Moorish king puts Fajardo in check with his rook, and then Fajardo’s knight takes the rook (but maybe it is the other way around). Anyway, the Moor claims victory in the game and the town of Lorca. But Fajardo is defiant, warning the king that even if he ahs won the town in the game of chess, the town will be defended by Fajardo’s knights who are in the town. At that the Moorish king says they should not play again or challenge each other as Fajardo is such a good knight that everybody fears him.

I doubt that this is a true incident, but the poem brings home the spirit of the Spanish side in defending their territories and also the interactions and camaraderie that could exist between leaders on both sides. History mostly remembers Moorish Spain as being the kingdom of Granada or the Caliphate of Cordoba, in southern Spain, but from the invasion in 711, right up until the battle of Naves de Tolosa in 1211, the Moors ruled territories as far north as The Cordillera Cantabrica, including such major cities as Toledo and Valladolid.

The Poetry Dude


Posé comme un défi tout près d’une montagne,

This poem by Theophile Gautier, written around the middle of the nineteenth century splendidly describes the imposing and forbidding bulk of the Escorial, that huge palace cum monastery built for Philip 2nd of Spain as a place from which he could both rule the country and find the calm and solitude to worship God. It is indeed a massive set of buildings, seemingly impenetrable and quite gloomy, a sense which Gautier captures well here. The poem and the place only come alive when the poet sees some swallows flying around the rooftop at the end of the poem.

Théophile GAUTIER   (1811-1872)

Posé comme un défi tout près d’une montagne,
L’on aperçoit de loin dans la campagne
Le sombre Escurial, à trois cents pieds du sol,
Soulevant sur le coin de son épaule énorme,
Éléphant monstrueux, la coupole difforme ;
Débauche de granit du Tibère espagnol.

Jamais vieux Pharaon, au flanc d’un mont d’Égypte,
Ne fit pour sa momie une plus noire crypte ;
Jamais sphinx au désert n’a gardé plus d’ennui ;
La cigogne s’endort au bout des cheminées ;
Partout l’herbe verdit les cours abandonnées ;
Moines, prêtres, soldats, courtisans, tout a fui !

Et tout semblerait mort, si du bord des corniches,
Des mains des rois sculptés, des frontons et des niches,
Avec leurs cris charmants et leur folle gaîté,
Il ne s’envolait pas des essaims d’hirondelles,
Qui, pour le réveiller, agacent à coups d’ailes
Le géant assoupi qui rêve éternité !…


From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/theophile_gautier/l_escurial.html&gt;


This poet really belongs in the Romantic tradition, using poetry of landscape or poetry of place to evoke a sense of atmosphere or mystery. You can see similarities with some of the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, who did the same type of thing.

As a side note, the Escorial is still well worth visiting for anybody who is in Madrid or its vicinity and has a day to spare. Certainly the buildings are imposing and somewhat forbidding, but there are some outstanding art treasures on display.

The Poetry Dude

Geniuses of countless nations

Today’s poem is from Ogden Nash, generally thought of as a comic poet, in which he gently mocks the pretensions of conventional love poetry while recognising that it can be tied to real feelings. And it is a sonnet, so he may be also poking fun at that ubiquitous verse form, very often used for love poems by Shakespeare and many others. The Reprise of the title is a nod to the incredibly long tradition of this kind of thing.

by Ogden Nash

Geniuses of countless nations
Have told their love for generations
Till all their memorable phrases
Are common as goldenrod or daisies.

Their girls have glimmered like the moon,
Or shimmered like a summer moon,
Stood like a lily, fled like a fawn,
Now the sunset, now the dawn,

Here the princess in the tower
There the sweet forbidden flower.
Darling, when I look at you

Every aged phrase is new,
And there are moments when it seems
I’ve married one of Shakespeare’s dreams.

From <http://www.poemslovers.com/love_poems/classic_love_poems/poems/9431.html&gt;

So the first10 lines mock the countless generations of poets who have trotted out cliched imagery of being in love, but then the revelation comes to the poet in the eleventh line when he actually looks at his loved one and sees that those tired metaphors actually come to life when someone is really in love. So poetry is useful, after all. Pretty neat, that.

The Poetry Dude

Changeons propos, c’est trop chanté d’amours,

As usual a poem from Marot both surprises and amuses us. He must have been such fun to be around, in the court of sixteenth century France. What a catching beginning to the poem – let’s change the subject we have had too many love songs, so now let us sing of the scythe, and he does indeed mean that sharp, curved horticultural instrument used to cut grass, trim hedges and multiple other uses of which the main one celebrated here by Marot is its use to prune vines and thus contribute to the production of fine wine.

Changeons propos, c’est trop chanté…

Changeons propos, c’est trop chanté d’amours,
Ce sont clamours, chantons de la serpette:
Tous vignerons ont à elle recours,
C’est leur secours pour tailler la vignette;
Ô serpillette, ô la serpillonnette,
La vignollette est par toy mise sus,
Dont les bons vins tous les ans sont yssus!
Le dieu Vulcain, forgeron des haultz dieux,
Forgea aux cieulx la serpe bien taillante,
De fin acier trempé en bon vin vieulx,
Pour tailler mieulx et estre plus vaillante.
Bacchus la vante, et dit qu’elle est seante
Et convenante à Noé le bon hom
Pour en tailler la vigne en la saison.
Bacchus alors chappeau de treille avoit,
Et arrivoit pour benistre la vigne;
Avec flascons Silenus le suyvoit,
Lequel beuvoit aussi droict qu’une ligne;
Puis il trepigne, et se faict une bigne;
Comme une guigne estoit rouge son nez;
Beaucoup de gens de sa race sont nez.

From <http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=10834&gt;

And it is the will of the Gods that the scythe should be used by the vine-growers since Vulcan forged its blade, Bacchus blessed it while wearing his straw hat and pronounced it fit for Noah to use to trim his vines (who knew Noah had time to grow vines as well as building hs Ark and rounding up animals?) Silenus followed after Bacchus with his cup, getting it filled and refilled until he fell over flat on his face. He was the first of many to have a red nose induced by drinking wine. So long-live the scythe.

If Marot had lived in the 20th century he would surely have enjoyed and perhaps included a reference to the adventures of Asterix the Gaul in which the druid makes plentiful use of his scythe to harvest the ingredients of his magic potion, so much sough after by Asterix, Obelix and the other villagers to help them resist the Romans.

The Poetry Dude

Nin fea nin fermosa

I recently came across Sem Tob by chance while looking into Spanish mediaeval poems. He was a fourteenth century Spanish rabbi who wrote poems of morality. Here we have an example which enumerates popular proverbs or sayings. It can be compared with Francois Villon’s Ballade des Proverbes of roughly the same period (posted here on June 7th 2015). It is as much fun to look at the archaic word forms as to recognise which of these sayings has survived to the present day.., and, of course, to be included in a poem like this they most likely already had a very long history.


Sem Tob

Nin fea ni fermosa
En el mundo, aves
Pued hombre alcanzar cosa
Si non con su reves.
Quien antes non esparce
Trigo, non lo allega;
Si son tierra non yace
A espiga non llega.
Non se pued coger rosa
Sin pisar las espinas;
La miel es dulce cosa,
Mas tien agras vecinas.
La paz non se alcanza,
Si non con guerrear;
Non se gana folganca
Si non con el lazrar.
Mon ha noche sin dia,
Nin segar sin sembrar,
Nin caliente sin fria
Non reir sin llorar.
Non ha corto sin luengo,
Nin tarde sin aina,
Nin ha sin fumo fuego,
Nin sin somas farina.
Nin ganar sin perder,
Nin baxar sin alteza;
Salvo en Dios, poder
No lo ha sin flaqueza.

The first four lines set out the premise of the poem, that a man can’t have one thing without it opposite ie, there are always two sides to every question and unexpected consequences to every act. The rest of the poem goes through a number of examples of this universal truth, many of which are quite banal (you can’t have night without day, or heat without cold), and some of which are instantly recognisable today (there is no smoke without fire). I haven’t quite worked out ” Non se gana folganza Si non con el lazrar”, but I am sure it is wisdom worth knowing.

Enjoy this trip back to the 1300s

The Poetry Dude

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

ee cummings was the American poet who became famous by not using capital letters or punctuation. Perhaps this was a useful gimmick to get himself established, but it should not distract from the fact that his poems convey a genuinely strong poetic impact, using words well to capture an emotion or a moment in a powerful way. This example is a love poem, and reading it you get a great sense of the poet’s condition of being in love and his ability to express his feelings forcefully and directly.

i carry your heart with me

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

From <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/179622&gt;

The poem is a celebration of that period in a love affair when a lover is totally consumed by his lover, getting a sense of fulfilment and union which comes with the passion and intensity of a new love, or sometimes with the peace and understanding of a long-lived relationship. The lover’s hearts are joined, their every action is only important in the effect it has on the other, and the beauty of the world only impinges on their consciousness as a reflection of the beauty of their feelings for each other. This is the love of Romeo and Juliet, impossible perhaps, almost always fleeting, but the poet captures the feelings of that moment spectacularly.

The Poetry Dude

Rio de cristal, dormido

Today’s poem is from the early 20th century Spanish poet, Juan Ramon Jiménez, who was one of the really fine poets who emerged and flourished in the pre-Franco era, partly through mutual emulation. This is a poem describing a scene of natural beauty, perhaps a bit like a Microsoft wallpaper setting before its time. A crystalline river gurgling through a peaceful valley, a fitting background for restful meditation. It is indeed a magical place, full of enchantment, but at the end the poet introduces a note of wistful longing which brings a note of sadness.

Río de cristal, dormido
y encantado; dulce valle,
dulces riberas de álamos
blancos y de verdes sauces…
El valle tiene un ensueño
y un corazón sueña y sabe
dar con su sueño un son triste
de flautas y de cantares.
Río encantado; las ramas
soñolientas de los sauces,
en los remansos dormidos
besan los claros cristales.
Y el cielo es plácido y dulce,
un cielo bajo y flotante
que con su bruma de plata
va acariciando los árboles.
Mi corazón ha soñado
con la ribera y el valle,
y ha llegado hasta la orilla
dormida para embarcarse;
pero al pasar por la senda,
lloró de amor, con un aire
viejo, que estaba cantando
no sé quién por otro valle.

Juan Ramón Jiménez 
De Arias Tristes (1903)

From <http://pasionpoesias.blogspot.com/2009/10/rio-de-cristal-dormido.html&gt;

So at the end this is something of a sad poem. The first half describes the river, winding through the valley with beautiful willow trees along its banks, and a sky filled with a silvery mist caressing the trees. An idyllic scene indeed. But then the poet appears in the line beginning “Mi corazon…”, seeking out the river and its banks. But his heart is weeping for a lost love, and his love is in some other valley. The idyll is therefore incomplete, and external natural beauty cannot compensate for the poet’s aching heart.

The Poetry Dude