Ode from the Spanish of Ferdinand de Herrera
ODE FROM THE SPANISH OF
FERDINAND DE HERRERA
Ferdinand de Herrera, surnamed the Divine, was a Spanish Poet, who lived in the age of Charles V, and is still considered by the Castilians as one of their classic writers. He aimed at the introduction of a new style into Spanish poetry, and his lyrics are distinguished by the sustained majesty of their language, the frequent recurrence of expressions and images, derived apparently from a fervent study of the prophetic books of Scripture; and the lofty tone of national pride maintained throughout, and justified, indeed, by the nature of the subjects to which some of these productions are devoted. This last characteristic is blended with a deep and enthusiastic feeling of religion, which rather exalts, than tempers, the haughty confidence of the poet, in the high destinies of his country. Spain is to him, what Judæa was to the bards who sung beneath the shadow of her palm trees; the chosen and favoured land, whose people, severed from all others by the purity and devotedness of their faith, are peculiarly called to wreak the vengeance of heaven upon the infidel. This triumphant conviction is powerfully expressed in his magnificent Ode on the Battle of Lepanto.
The impression of deep solemnity left upon the mind of the Spanish reader, by another of Herrera’s lyric compositions, will, it is feared, be very inadequately conveyed through the medium of the following translation:
KING SEBASTIAN OF PORTUGAL AND
HIS ARMY, IN AFRICA.
Voy de dolor, y canto de gemido, &c.
A voice of woe, a murmur of lament,
A spirit of deep fear and mingled ire,
Let such record the day, the day of wail,
For Lusitania’s bitter chastening sent!
She who hath seen her power, her fame expire,
And mourns them in the dust, uncrown’d and pale!
And let the awful tale
With grief and horror every realm o’er shade,
From Afric’s burning main
To the far seas in other hues array’d,
And the red limits of the Orient’s reign,
Whose nations, haughty, though subdued, behold
Christ’s glorious banner to the winds unfold.
Alas! for those, that in embattled power,
And vain array of chariots and of horse,
Oh, desart Libya! sought thy fatal coast!
And trusting not in Him, th’ eternal power
Of might and glory, but in earthly force,
Making the strength of multitudes their boast,
A flush’d and crested host,
Elate in lofty dreams of victory, trod
Their path of pride, as o’er a conquer’d land
Given for the spoil; nor rais’d their eyes to God;
And Israel’s Holy One withdrew his hand,
Their sole support–and heavily and prone
They fell, the car, the steed, the rider, all o’erthrown.
It came, the hour of wrath–the hour of woe,
Which to deep solitude and tears consign’d
The peopled realm, the realm of joy and mirth!
A gloom was on the heavens; no mantling glow
Announc’d the morn; it seem’d as Nature pin’d,
And boding clouds obscur’d the sunbeam’s birth;
And startling the pale earth,
Bursting upon the mighty and the proud,
With visitation dread,
Their crests th’ Eternal in his anger bow’d,
And rais’d barbarian nations o’er their head;
Th’ inflexible, the fierce, who seek not gold,
But vengeance on their foes, relentless, uncontrol’d.
Then was the sword let loose, the flaming sword
Of the strong Infidel’s ignoble hand.
Amidst that host, the pride, the flower, the crown,
Of thy fair Knighthood; and th’ insatiate horde,
Not with thy life content, oh! ruin’d land!
Sad Lusitania e’en thy bright renown,
Defaced and trampled down!
And broke, and scatter’d, as a torrent-flood,
Thy pomp of arms and banners:–till the sands
Became a lake of blood–thy noblest blood!
The plain a mountain of thy slaughter’d bands.
Strength on thy foes, resistless might was shed,
On thy devoted sons–amaze, and shame. and dread.
Are these the conquerors–these the lords of fight,
The warrior-men, the invincible, the fam’d,
Who shook the earth with terror and dismay,
Whose spoils were empires?–They, that in their might,
The haughty strength of savage nations tam’d,
And gave the spacious Orient realms of day,
To desolation’s sway,
Making the cities of imperial name
E’en as the desart-place?
Where now the fearless heart, the soul of flame,
Thus hath their glory clos’d its dazzling race
In one brief hour? Is this their valour’s doom,
On distant shores to fall, and find not e’en a tomb?
Once were they, in their splendor and their pride,
As an imperial cedar, on the brow
Of the great Lebanon! it rose, array’d
In its rich pomp of foliage, and of wide,
Majestic branches, leaving far below
All children of the forest. To its shades
The waters tribute paid,
Fostering its beauty. Birds found shelter there,
Whose flight is of the loftiest through the sky,
And the wild mountain-creatures made their lair
Beneath; and nations by its canopy
Were shadow’d o’er. Supreme it stood, and ne’er
Hath earth beheld a tree so excellently fair.
But all elated, on its verdant stem,
Confiding solely in its regal height,
It sour’d presumptuous, as for empire born;
And God for this remov’d its diadem,
And cast it from its regions of delight,
Forth to the spoiler, as a prey and scorn,
By the deep roots up-torn!
And lo! encumbering the proud hills it lay,
Shorn of its leaves, dismantled of its state;
While pale in fear, men hurried far away,
Who in its ample shade had found so late,
Their bower of rest; and Nature’s savage race
’Midst its great ruin, sought their dwelling place.
But thou, base Libya, thou, whose arid sand
Hath been a kingdom’s death-bed, where one fate
Clos’d her bright life and her majestic fame;
Though to thy feeble and barbarian hand
Hath fall’n the victory, be not thou elate!
Boast not thyself, though thine that day of shame,
Unworthy of a name!
Know, if the Spaniard in his wrath advance,
Arous’d to vengeance by a nation’s cry,
Pierc’d by his searching lance,
Then shalt thou expiate crime with agony,
And thine affrighted streams, to ocean's flood,
An ample tribute bear, of Afric’s Paynim blood.