Romance: a Love Stronger than Death
Count Childe when he was a lover
Crossed over the seas as a child;
He took his horse down to water
On the morning of St John.
His horse was still there drinking
He started singing his sweet song.
All the birds in the sky flying
Stopped to listen in mid flight,
And the walker out there walking
Quite forgot what he was about,
The sailor out on the sea sailing
Found his boat retracing its path.
The queen was working that morning
And her daughter was fast asleep.
-Get up, dear child of the dawning,
Arise from your comfortable bed.
You will hear a mermaid singing
So sweetly from over the sea.
-That is no mermaid, my mother,
Singing that beautiful song.
No, that is Count Childe in his loving
Longing to die for me, for love.
Who could put a price on him singing
Such a song, so soulful and sad?
-If for your love he is pining
Then let his singing be damned!
And so that he never enjoys it
I’m sending for him to be killed.
-If you order him killed, my mother,
Buried together we must be.
He died at the stroke of midnight;
When the morning cock crowed, died she.
As the king and queen’s one daughter
At the altar buried was she;
As he was the son of a count
They buried him some way behind.
White roses grew where she was buried
Hawthorn flowers came from his tomb.
One grew up and grew the other
Both of them will intertwine
The tendrils that cross space and meet
Give firm embraces each to each
And those crossing the space but missing
Keep sighing and longing to reach.
The queen was full of dark envy
And ordered them both to be cut;
The servant tasked to cut them
Could not stop his crying the while.
From her side was born a heron
From his a peregrine, strong.
Both fly through the sky together
Together they fly through the sky.
This Ballad comes from the Flor Nueva de Romances Viejas of Ramón Menéndez Pidal (Austral: Madrid, 1938). I love the fairy tale world of ballads and they bring on a sentiment of nostalgia. This is partly to do with the reminiscences of childhood stories they evoke, but also because the poetry I first started reading as a teenager was heavily influenced by balladeers. My memory is not so good, but it seems to me that ballads were taken altogether more seriously by Auden and Graves than they are nowadays. That all adds to the nostalgia.
Menéndez Pidal belongs to an older generation of Spanish intellectual. In the universities now it would probably be highly unfashionable to confess an affection for people of his musty, old calibre but, as a sentimentalist, I find the old-fashioned enjoyment he shows rather appealing, even when I can see the merits of more systematic studies. He does not hold back from putting value judgements on the page and he wears his formidable learning rather lightly so that I feel he would be someone rather fun to have a coffee with and chat about poems.
There are a couple of things I wanted to point out about this poem. In the original it is the Conde Niño who is then called a niño again in the second line. I have translated the Conde Niño as Count Childe with that echo of Byron in there just for the fun of it. The lines about the walker walking remind me of the famous lines by Machado, so I am going to put the two versions here in Spanish so that you can make your own mind up:
Caminante que camina
Olvida su caminar