The Poetry of the Spanish Moors, Selections
While the scientific leadership of the Moors faded with the breaking of their
military unity in the twelfth century, they still retained in some of their smaller
kingdoms, and especially in that of Granada, a high degree of culture. The love of beauty
and the spirit of romance were strong among all the Spanish Moors; and so their poetry
continued long after science failed them. Poetry indeed became their main expression.
Granada, the last of all their Spanish kingdoms, did not fall before the advancing
Christians until 1492. Then, as our histories have so often told, Ferdinand and Isabella,
the Christian rulers of Spain, conducted a holy war for the destruction of Granada. Its
last fortress surrendered, and its people withdrew to Africa. There, according to a
characteristically dreamy legend, they still retain the keys of their mansions in Granada,
treasuring them up for the day of their triumphant return.
Of the Moorish poetry which survived the fall of Granada, much was preserved by the
Spaniards themselves and in the Spanish language. The victors knew how to value the spirit
of the vanquished; and ballads of Moorish origin, telling of Moorish loves, long remained
popular in Spain. The authors of most of these have been forgotten. The text of some of
the best known of them is given here.
Verses To My Daughters
With jocund heart and cheerful brow
I used to hail the festal morn---
How must Mohammed greet it now?---
A prisoner helpless and forlorn.
While these dear maids in beauty's bloom,
With want opprest, with rags o'erspread,
By sordid labors at the loom
Must earn a poor, precarious bread.
Those feet that never touched the ground,
Till musk or camphor strewed the way,
Now bare and swoll'n with many a wound,
Must struggle through the miry clay.
Those radiant cheeks are veiled in woe,
A shower descends from every eye,
And not a starting tear can flow,
That wakes not an attending sigh.
Fortune, that whilom owned my sway,
And bowed obsequious to my nod,
Now sees me destined to obey,
And bend beneath oppression's rod.
Ye mortals with success elate,
Who bask in hope's delusive beam,
Attentive view Mohammed's fate,
And own that bliss is but a dream.
---Prince Mohammed Ben Abad
Serenade To My Sleeping Distress
Sure Harut's potent spells were breathed
Upon that magic sword, thine eye;
For if it wounds us thus while sheathed,
When drawn, 'tis vain its edge to fly.
How canst thou doom me, cruel fair,
Plunged in the hell of scorn to groan?
No idol e'er this heart could share,
This heart has worshiped thee alone.
---Ali Ben Abad
When I sent you my melons, you cried out with scorn,
They ought to be heavy and wrinkled and yellow;
When I offered myself, whom those graces adorn,
You flouted, and called me an ugly old fellow.
The Bull-Fight Of Gazul
King Almanzor of Granada, he hath bid the trumpet sound,
He hath summoned all the Moorish lords, from the hills and plains around;
From vega and sierra, from Betis and Xenil,
They have come with helm and cuirass of gold and twisted steel.
'Tis the holy Baptist's feast they hold in royalty and state,
And they have closed the spacious lists beside the Alhambra's gate;
In gowns of black and silver laced, within the tented ring,
Eight Moors to fight the bull are placed in presence of the King.
Eight Moorish lords of valor tried, with stalwart arm and true,
The onset of the beasts abide, as they come rushing through;
The deeds they've done, the spoils they've won, fill all with hope and trust,
Yet ere high in heaven appears the sun they all have bit the dust.
Then sounds the trumpet clearly, then clangs the loud tambour,
Make room, make room for Gazul---throw wide, throw wide the door;
Blow, blow the trumpet clearer still, more loudly strike the drum,
The Alcaide of Algava to fight the bull doth come.
And first before the King he passed, with reverence stooping low,
And next he bowed him to the Queen, and the Infantas all a-row;
Then to his lady's grace he turned, and she to him did throw
A scarf from out her balcony, 'twas whiter than the snow.
With the life-blood of the slaughtered lords all slippery is the sand,
Yet proudly in the center hath Gazul ta'en his stand;
And ladies look with heaving breast, and lords with anxious eye,
But firmly he extends his arm---his look is calm and high.
Three bulls against the knight are loosed, and two come roaring on,
He rises high in stirrup, forth stretching his rejon;
Each furious beast upon the breast he deals him such a blow
He blindly totters and gives back, across the sand to go.
"Turn, Gazul, turn!" the people cry---the third comes up behind,
Low to the sand his head holds he, his nostrils snuff the wind;
The mountaineers that lead the steers, without stand whispering low,
"Now thinks this proud alcayde to stun Harpado so?
From Guadiana comes he not, he comes not from Xenil,
From Glaudalarif of the plain, or Barves of the hill;
But where from out the forest burst Xarama's waters clear,
Beneath the oak-trees was he nursed, this proud and stately steer.
Dark is his hide on either side, but the blood within doth boil,
And the dun hide glows, as if on fire, as he paws to the turmoil.
His eyes are jet, and they are set in crystal rings of snow;
But now they stare with one red glare of brass upon the foe.
Upon the forehead of the bull the horns stand close and near,
From out the broad and wrinkled skull, like daggers they appear;
His neck is massy, like the trunk of some old knotted tree,
Whereon the monster's shaggy mane, like billows curled, ye see.
His legs are short, his hams are thick, his hoofs are black as night,
Like a strong flail he holds his tail in fierceness of his might;
Like something molten out of iron, or hewn from forth the rock,
Harpado of Narama stands, to bide the alcayde's shock.
Now stops the drum---close, close they come---thrice meet, and thrice give back;
The white foam of Harpado lies on the charger's breast of black---
The white foam of the charger on Harpado's front of dun---
Once more advance upon his lance---once more, thou fearless one!
Once more, once more;---in dust and gore to ruin must thou reel---
In vain, in vain thou tearest the sand with furious heel---
In vain, in vain, thou noble beast, I see, I see thee stagger,
Now keen and cold thy neck must hold the stern alcayde's dagger!
They have slipped a noose around his feet, six horses are brought in,
And away they drag Harpado with a loud and joyful din.
Now stoop thee, lady, from thy stand, and the ring of price bestow
Upon Gazul of Algava, that hath laid Harpado low.
The Zegri's Bride
Of all the blood of Zegri, the chief is Lisaro,
To wield rejon like him is none, or javelin to throw;
From the place of his dominion, he ere the dawn doth go,
From Alcala de Henares, he rides in weed of woe.
He rides not now as he was wont, when ye have seen him speed
To the field of gay Toledo, to fling his lusty reed;
No gambeson of silk is on, nor rich embroidery
Of gold-wrought robe or turban---nor jeweled tahali.
No amethyst nor garnet is shining on his brow,
No crimson sleeve, which damsels weave at Tunis, decks him now;
The belt is black, the hilt is dim, but the sheathed blade is bright;
They have housened his barb in a murky garb, but yet her hoofs are light.
Four horsemen good, of the Zegri blood, with Lisaro go out;
No flashing spear may tell them near, but yet their shafts are stout;
In darkness and in swiftness rides every armed knight---
The foam on the rein ye may see it plain, but nothing else is white.
Young Lisaro, as on they go, his bonnet doffeth he,
Between its folds a sprig it holds of a dark and glossy tree;
That sprig of bay, were it away, right heavy heart had he---
Fair Zayda to her Zegri gave that token privily.
And ever as they rode, he looked upon his lady's boon.
"God knows," quoth he, "what fate may be---I may be slaughtered soon;
Thou still art mine, though scarce the sign of hope that bloomed whilere,
But in my grave I yet shall have my Zayda's token dear."
Young Lisaro was musing so, when onward on the path,
He well could see them riding slow; then pricked he in his wrath.
The raging sire, the kinsmen of Zayda's hateful house,
Fought well that day, yet in the fray the Zegri won his spouse.
"My earrings! my earrings! they've dropped into the well,
And what to say to Muca, I can not, can not tell."
'Twas thus, Granada's fountain by, spoke Albuharez' daughter
"The well is deep, far down they lie, beneath the cold blue water---
To me did Muca give them, when he spake his sad farewell,
And what to say when he comes back, alas! I can not tell.
"My earrings! my earrings! they were pearls in silver set,
That when my Moor was far away, I ne'er should him forget,
That I ne'er to other tongue should list, nor smile on other's tale,
But remember he my lips had kissed, pure as those earrings pale---
When he comes back, and hears that I have dropped them in the well,
Oh, what will Muca think of me, I can not, can not tell.
"My earrings! my earrings! he'll say they should have been,
Not of pearl and of silver, but of gold and glittering sheen,
Of jasper and of onyx, and of diamond shining clear,
Changing to the changing light, with radiance insincere---
That changeful mind unchanging gems are not befitting well---
Thus will he think---and what to say, alas! I can not tell.
"He'll think when I to market went, I loitered by the way;
He'll think a willing ear I lent to all the lads might say;
He'll think some other lover's hand, among my tresses noosed,
From the ears where he had placed them, my rings of pearl unloosed;
He'll think, when I was sporting so beside this marble well,
My pearls fell in---and what to say, alas! I can not tell.
"He'll say, I am a woman, and we are all the same;
He'll say I loved when he was here to whisper of his flame---
But when he went to Tunis my virgin troth had broken,
And thought no more of Muca, and care not for his token.
My earrings! my earrings! O luckless, luckless well,
For what to say to Muca, alas! I can not tell.
"I'll tell the truth to Muca, and I hope he will believe---
That I thought of him at morning, and thought of him at eve;
That, musing on my lover, when down the sun was gone,
His earrings in my hand I held, by the fountain all alone;
And that my mind was o'er the sea, when from my hand they fell,
And that deep his love lies in my heart, as they lie in the well."
The Lamentation For Celin
At the gate of old Granada, when all its bolts are barred,
At twilight at the Vega gate there is a trampling heard;
There is a trampling heard, as of horses treading slow,
And a weeping voice of women, and a heavy sound of woe.
"What tower is fallen, what star is set, what chief come these bewailing?"
"A tower is fallen, a star is set. Alas! alas for Celin!"
Three times they knock, three times they cry, and wide the doors they throw;
Dejectedly they enter, and mournfully they go;
In gloomy lines they mustering stand beneath the hollow porch,
Each horseman grasping in his hand a black and flaming torch;
Wet is each eye as they go by, and all around is wailing,
For all have heard the misery. "Alas! alas for Celin!"---
Him yesterday a Moor did slay, of Bencerraje's blood,
'Twas at the solemn jousting, around the nobles stood;
The nobles of the land were by, and ladies bright and fair
Looked from their latticed windows, the haughty sight to share;
But now the nobles all lament, the ladies are bewailing,
For he was Granada's darling knight. "Alas! alas for Celin!"
Before him ride his vassals, in order two by two,
With ashes on their turbans spread, most pitiful to view;
Behind him his four sisters, each wrapped in sable veil,
Between the tambour's dismal strokes take up their doleful tale;
When stops the muffled drum, ye hear their brotherless bewailing,
And all the people, far and near, cry--- "Alas! alas for Celin!"
Oh! lovely lies he on the bier, above the purple pall,
The flower of all Granada's youth, the loveliest of them all;
His dark, dark eyes are closed, his rosy lip is pale,
The crust of blood lies black and dim upon his burnished mail,
And evermore the hoarse tambour breaks in upon their wailing,
Its sound is like no earthly sound--- "Alas! alas for Celin!"
The Moorish maid at the lattice stands, the Moor stands at his door,
One maid is wringing of her hands, and one is weeping sore---
Down to the dust men bow their heads, and ashes black they strew
Upon their broidered garments of crimson, green, and blue---
Before each gate the bier stands still, then bursts the loud bewailing,
From door and lattice, high and low--- "Alas! alas for Celin!"
An old, old woman cometh forth, when she hears the people cry;
Her hair is white as silver, like horn her glazéd eye.
'Twas she that nursed him at her breast, that nursed him long ago;
She knows not whom they all lament, but soon she well shall know.
With one deep shriek she through doth break, when her ears receive their wailing---
"Let me kiss my Celin ere I die--- Alas! alas for Celin!"
From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New
York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by
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© Paul Halsall, August 1998