Lou samedi a soir fat la semainne,

This is an anonymous French poem, which looks like it may be from the mid to late medieval era, when knights and nobles would ravish peasant girls in the villages, despite their reputation for chivalry. The tale here is made more poignant by the circumstance that twin sisters in the village, Gaiete and Oriour, end up separated by the arrival of the noble young knight, Gerairs.

Like many poems of this period, it is a ballad which tells a story, capturing the readers attention and admiration with narrative as well as poetic qualities. The three line stanzas carry forward the narrative momentum, while the repeated two-line refrain binds the ballad together and provides a moral message.


Gaiete et Oriour

Lou samedi a soir fat la semainne,
Gaiete et Oriour, serors germainnes,
Main et main vont bagnier a la fontainne.
Vante l’ore et li rainme crollent:
Ki s’antraimment soweif dorment.

L’anfes Gerairs revient de la cuitainne,
S’ait chosit Gaiete sor la fontainne,
Autre ses bras l’ait pris, soueif l’a strainte.
Vante l’ore et li rainme crollent:
Ki s’antraimment soweit dorment.

«Quant avras, Orriour, de l’ague prise,
Reva toi an arriere, bien seis la ville;
Je remainra Gerairt, ke bien me priset».
Vante l’ore et li rainme crollent:
Ki s’antraimment soweit dorment.

Or s’an vat Oriour, stinte et marrie;
Des euls s’an vat plorant, de cuer sospire,
Cant Gaie sa seror n’anmoinnet mie.
Vante l’ore et li rainme crollent :
Ki s’antraimment soweit dorment.

«Laise, fait Oriour, com mar fui nee!
J’ai laxier ma serour an la vallee.
L’anfes Gerairs l’anmoine an sa contree»
Vante l’ore et li rainme crollent :
Ki s’antraimment soweit dorment.

L’anfes Gerais at Gaie s’an sont torniet
Lor droit chemin ont pris vers sa citeit :
Tantost com il i vint, l’ait espouseit.
Vante l’ore et li rainme crollent:
Ki s’antraimment soweit dorment.


So it is a Saturday evening at the end of the week and the twin sisters, Gaiete and Oriour, go to the spring to bathe, presumably after a long hard day of village chores. But then the knight Gerairs arrives from jousting practice, sees the girls bathing, chooses Gaiete and takes her in his arms. Gaiete tells Oriour to return to the village when she has finished bating, since she knows she will not escape from Gerair’s arms. Oriour leaves, crying and sighing, for she knows she will not see her sister again. At the village, Oriour cries out that she wishes she had never been born, as she has left her sister alone with Gerair who will take Gaiete back to his own country. In the final stanza, Gerair and Gaiete leave for the city, and straight away Gerair marries her – I think this is a euphemism for has his way with her, rather than providing an unlikely romantic happy ending.

The refrain, repeated at the end of every verse, goes something like this, The wind will blow and the branches will break, those who love each other would like to sleep – it is the sisters Gaiete and Oriour who love each other and they would have been better off sleeping rather than going to both at the spring.

The Poetry Dude

Que no quiero amores

This is an anonymous ballad od somewhat indeterminate vintage as far as I can tell, but it may well have been written at a time when Spain and England were close allies and the educated classes travelled between the two countries. Perhaps it might have been around the time of King Henry 8th’s marriage with Katherine of Aragon in the early 1500s, or the marriage of Henry’s elder daughter, Queen Mary 1st, with Philip 2nd of Spain. Anyway the poem may be the lament of a noble courtier sent to London as part of the entourage surrounding one of the royal parties, and who has been told that he can get married to an English girl. This is his anguished response – I don’t want to fall in love in England, there are much nicer girls at home in Spain…


Que no quiero amores
en Ingalaterra,
pues otros mejores
tengo yo en mi tierra

No quiero ni estimo
ser favorecido;
de amores me eximo,
qu’es tiempo perdido
seguir a Cupido
en Ingalaterra,
pues otros mejores
tengo yo en mi tierra.

¿Que favores puede
darme la fortuna,
por mucho que ruede
el sol ni la luna,
ni mujer alguna
en Ingalaterra,
pues otros mejores
tengo yo en mi tierra?

Que cuando allá vaya,
a fé yo lo fío,
Buen galardon haya
del servicio mío;
que son desvarío
los de Ingalateterra,
pues otros mejores
tengo yo en mi tierra.

My theory is that this poem was composed before our courtier departed from Spain – when in London he would have found there are plenty of nice English girls, as there are still are.

For a similar sentiment in more modern culture, compare the 60s song California Girls by the Beach Boys.

The Poetry Dude

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

Cercada tiene a Baeza — ese arráez Andalla Mir,

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.
Best to all
The Poetry Dude

Sing cuckóu, nou! Sing cuckóu!

This is as much a song as a poem. It comes from the mid-13th century, and is usually know either as the Cuckoo Song, or as Summer is i-comen in. It is still performed today by folk singers and the like

Sing cuckóu, nou! Sing cuckóu!
Sing cuckóu! Sing cuckóu nou!

Somer is y-comen in,
Loudë sing, cuckóu!
Growëth sed and blowëth med
And springth the wodë nou
Sing cuckóu!

Ewë bletëth after lamb,
Lowth after cálve cóu;
Bullok stertëth, bukkë vertëth,
Merye sing, cuckóu!
Cuckóu, cuckóu,

Wél singést thou, cuckóu,
Ne swik thou never nou!

From <http://interestingliterature.com/2015/01/26/10-short-medieval-poems-everyone-should-read/&gt;

The poem celebrates the arrival of summer by exhorting the cuckoo to sing and sing loud. Other lines of the poem call attention to growth of plants and trees, sheep with their lambs, cows with their calves, the bullock rampant – and all the time the cuckoo sings merrily.

On this You Tube you can hear it being sung

The Poetry Dude

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

-¡Abenámar, Abenámar,  moro de la morería,

From the front line of conflict opposing Christian Spain to Muslim Spain in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries there arose a great body of anonymous ballads recounting the events, characters and cultural divides of the time. In this ballad, a moor made captive by the Christian side recounts the wonders of the moorish capital, the city of Granada, inspiring admiration, envy and desire on the part of the Christian king. I am supposing that the king, don Juan, who figures in this poem might be Juan II of Castile, who reigned in the first half of the fifteenth century


-¡Abenámar, Abenámar,  moro de la morería,
el día que tú naciste  grandes señales había!
Estaba la mar en calma,  la luna estaba crecida,
moro que en tal signo nace  no debe decir mentira.

Allí respondiera el moro,  bien oiréis lo que diría:
-Yo te lo diré, señor,  aunque me cueste la vida,
porque soy hijo de un moro  y una cristiana cautiva;
siendo yo niño y muchacho  mi madre me lo decía
que mentira no dijese,  que era grande villanía:
por tanto, pregunta, rey,  que la verdad te diría.
-Yo te agradezco, Abenámar,  aquesa tu cortesía.
¿Qué castillos son aquéllos?  ¡Altos son y relucían!

-El Alhambra era, señor,  y la otra la mezquita,
los otros los Alixares,  labrados a maravilla.
El moro que los labraba  cien doblas ganaba al día,
y el día que no los labra,  otras tantas se perdía.
El otro es Generalife,  huerta que par no tenía;
el otro Torres Bermejas,  castillo de gran valía.
Allí habló el rey don Juan,  bien oiréis lo que decía:
-Si tú quisieses, Granada,  contigo me casaría;
daréte en arras y dote  a Córdoba y a Sevilla.
-Casada soy, rey don Juan,  casada soy, que no viuda;
el moro que a mí me tiene  muy grande bien me quería.

From <http://www.los-poetas.com/g/roman.htm&gt;

The first stanza describes the favourable signs at the birth of the Moorish captive, Abenamar, foretelling that he would be someone exceptional, and that he is a moor who can be trusted, despite being on the wrong side, from the point of view of the Christians who originated this ballad. He was born at the time of a calm sea and a full moon.

And then in the second stanza, Abenamar reveals that he is the son of a Moor and a Christian captive, presumably held as a slave-girl, and that it was his mother who brought him up to tell the truth. This anecdote doubly reinforces the message of moral superiority for the Christian side, firstly reminding listeners that the Moors held Christian slaves and secondly asserting that, despite circumstances, the Christians maintained their commitment to faith and truth. Having established these credentials, the Christian king asks Abenamar about the castles they can see in the distance from their camp.

In the third stanza, Abenamar describes the wonders of the city of Granada, the Alhambra, the mosque, the Generalife and so on. You can visit these today and be reminded of the great Islamic civilization that was established in southern Spain for over 750 years, until they were finally defeated in 1492. The buildings and gardens of Granada are truly wonderful, even today. The king’s reply to Abenamar is interesting, he refers to the city of Granada as a woman and says he would marry her, and give as dowry the other great cities of the south, Cordoba and Sevilla, Marriage, is of course a metaphor for possession. The final two lines of the ballad go completely into the realm of metaphor, as they consist of the city of Granada replying to the king that she is already married to a great moor who loves her well. And of course, the Christian side knew that it would not be easy to conquer Granada, which turned out to be true as it was the last stronghold of Moorish Spain which fell to the Christians 40 or 50 years after the time of Juan II.

Ballads like this are a wonderful window on history and remind us of the great events of the past. Really interesting.

The Poetry Dude