“El son de las hojas”: Five tree poems from Renaissance Spain

De los álamos vengo, madre,
de ver cómo los menea el aire.

De los álamos de Sevilla,
de ver a mi linda amiga.

De los álamos vengo, madre,
de ver cómo los menea el aire.

*

I come from the aspens, Mother,
from watching them tremble in the breeze.

From the aspen trees of Seville,
where I saw my beautiful lover.

I come from the aspens, Mother,
from seeing how they tremble in the breeze.

**

Tres morillas me enamoran
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

Tres morillas tan garridas
iban a coger olivas,
y hallábanse cogidas
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

Y hallábanse cogidas
y tornaban desmaí­das
y las colores perdidas
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

Tres moricas tan lozanas,
tres moricas tan lozanas
iban a coger manzanas
en Jaén:
Axa y Fátima y Marién.

*

Three Moorish girls caught my eye
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Three fine-looking Moorish girls
went out to pluck olives from the tree
and got themselves plucked
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Got themselves plucked
and returned in a tizzy,
all their color gone
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

Three very lively Moorish girls,
Three very lively Moorish girls
went out to pick apples
in Jaén:
Axa and Fátima and Marién.

**

Las mis penas, madre,
de amores son.

Salid, mi señora,
de s’ol naranjale,
que sois tan fermosa
quemarvos ha el aire
de amores, sí­.

*

These troubles I’m having, Mother,
are all from love.

Come out, my lady,
from under the orange grove,
for you are so beautiful
that the very air, I swear,
will ignite with love.

**

So ell encina, encina,
so ell encina.

Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romerí­a;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañí­a:
so ell encina.

Por ir más devota
fui sin compañí­a.
Tomé otro camino
dejé el que tení­a:
so ell encina.

Halléme perdida
en una montaña,
echéme a dormir
al pie dell encina:
so ell encina.

A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más querí­a:
so ell encina.

Pesóme cuitada
de que amanecí­a,
porque yo gozaba
del que más querí­a:
so ell encina.

Muy bendita sí­a
la tal romerí­a:
so ell encina.

*

Beneath the holly oak, the holly oak,
beneath the holly oak.

I was going around
on pilgrimage, Mother,
and to show my full devotion,
I went alone,
beneath the holly oak.

To show my full devotion,
I went alone.
I took another road,
and left the one I was on,
beneath the holly oak.

I found I had lost my way
on the mountainside,
so I lay down to sleep
at the foot of a holly oak,
beneath the holly oak.

In the middle of the night,
I woke up, all miserable,
and found myself in the arms
of the one I love the best,
beneath the holly oak.

Poor me! I was so sorry
when morning came,
because I’d been enjoying
the one I love the best,
beneath the holly oak.

Oh blessed be
that pilgrimage
beneath the holly oak.

**

Con el viento murmuran,
madre, las hojas;
y al sonido me duermo
bajo su sombra.

Sopla un manso viento
alegre y suave,
que mueve la nave
de mi pensamiento;
dame tal contento
que me parece
que el cielo me ofrece
bien a deshora;
y al sonido me duermo
bajo su sombra.

Si acaso recuerdo
me hallo entre las flores,
y de mis dolores
apenas me acuerdo;
de vista las pierdo
del sueño vencida,
y dame la vida
el son de las hojas;
y al sonido me duermo
bajo su sombra.

*

The leaves murmur
in the wind, Mother,
and lull me to sleep
in their shade.

A breeze blows
soft and light,
moving the ship
of my thoughts.
It makes me feel
so content, it’s as if
I’ve been given
an advance taste
of heaven,
lulled to sleep
in their shade.

If I happen to wake,
I find myself
among flowers,
scarce able to recall
my cares —
lost to sight,
vanquished by dreaming —
and the sound of the leaves
brings me to life,
lulled to sleep
in their shade.

***

NOTES

These are all anonymous lyrics from the 15th and 16th centuries, translated with the help of a dictionary. I’m no scholar, but based on Cola Franzen’s translations in Poems of Arab Andalusia (City Lights, 1989), among other lines of evidence, I can only suppose that the vivid natural imagery in the Castillian cancioneros reflects strong Mozarabic influence. The association of trees with paradise and seduction seems especially Arab to me.

Tres morillas / Three Moorish girls

I resisted the urge to translate “tan lozanas” as “hot and spicy,” but somehow the racist stereotype of the vivacious, sexually available, brown-skinned southerner feels all too familiar.

So ell encina / Beneath the holly oaks

This song is in a woman’s voice.

The holly oak, or holm oak, Quercus ilex, sports leathery, evergreen leaves and “forms a picturesque rounded head, with pendulous low-hanging branches.” The Wikipedia article also says it’s one of the three best trees under which to grow truffles.

Romerí­as were annual pilgrimages to local or regional shrines associated with saints or the Virgin Mary, and were often quite festive events — a tradition that continues to this day.

Con el viento murmuran / The leaves murmur
This could be in the voice of either sex.
__________

The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will be at Hoarded Ordinaries on January 1. Send your tree-related links to zenmama (at) gmail (dot) com with “Festival of the Trees” in the subject line by December 30.

22 Comments


  1. Terrific. I love these and think you really capture the tone, the musicality and the knowing simplicity.

    Reply

  2. Coming from a professional translator, that’s really good to hear! Thanks.

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  3. These are wonderful and melodious, Dave; I especially like the holly oak.

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  4. Beautiful! Oddly, I felt the ones with the aspen and holly oak trees reminded me somehow of some old Finnish folk songs, though I can’t quite pin down which ones and why.

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  5. Thanks, Beth. Marja-Leena – I’d be interested in hearing more about specific parallels if you can think of them. I have a feeling that some of this taps into dim memories of pre-Christian European tree reverence.

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  6. what an impressive body of work,, not just the original poems mind you ,, but your translations,, and then the explanations you share as well,, this was an all together enjoyable experience for me thank you

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  7. Redolent of aspects of British folk lyrics too, particularly the referencing of trees as being agents of dreams. And, of course, Lorca’s in there too. Fascinating pieces, Dave, & beautifully rendered.

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  8. These are gorgeous. They have lost none of their music–I can hear it in my mind.

    Thanks for the explanations, too.

    I wish now for a recording to hear them sung in Spanish.

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  9. I love these old songs. I know how to sing one of them – the “tres morillas” one. Your translations are beautiful. I think to translate a poem one should be a poet first, and a scholar second. And you are a scholar too. Just look at all the research you did.

    I taught high school Spanish for years, and lived in Spain for a year, so these songs are close to my heart. It’s wonderful to see them here, translated for an English audience. Well done.

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  10. Thanks for these additional comments. It’s always nice to hear that a day’s work hasn’t gone unappreciated.

    Dick, while hunting for copies of the lyrics online (because, after all, it’s easier to copy and paste than to transcribe!), I discovered an alternate version of Tres morillas/tres moricas that had been collected (and possibly edited, I don’t know) by Lorca.

    …deb, here’s one: http://www.poesia-inter.net/canc0005.htm

    Christine – Nice to hear that from a Spanish teacher! I had three years of Spanish in high school, which serves me well enough for a passive understanding of the language. Spanish-speaking members of the extended family have helped keep it fresh, along with my love for poetry in the Spanish language.

    Reply

  11. Me gusta mucho, Dave, muchas gracias. Se puede sentir la voz del poeta desaparecido dentro de estas palabras nuevas y vivas.

    Just showing off but probably incorrectly.
    :)

    Reply

  12. I made myself read the Spanish too, although I don’t have any. I could hear them being sung, I love spanish Renaissance music, and went to check out Catherine Bott’s two versions of Tres Morillas/Moricas. In the Moricas ones the girls are sexy and gorgeous but also chaste and canny! Your translations are much nicer than the ones she gives.

    Reply

  13. You may not know any Spanish, but it sounds as if you’re way more cultured than me when it comes to music! I heard a recording of “Tres morillas” for the first time only after I’d posted these, and a friend emailed me a couple of mp3s.

    Glad you liked the translations.

    Reply


  14. Your contributions to Festival of Trees are always inventive and inspiring. I’d never heard these songs before and now need to find recordings. Thanks for adding more tree poems to my collection of favorites.

    Reply

  15. ¡Muy bueno! I like your translations, perfect. Many of the Spanish words would not be familiar to the Spaniards any more, ‘garridas’, ‘desmaídas’. Most Spaniards will understand a very sexual subtext in
    Tres morillas tan garridas
    iban a coger olivas,
    y hallábanse cogidas en Jaén

    ‘Coger, cogidas’ in many Spanish speaking countries, hmm, it is a verb forbidden to use in polite society, if you get what I mean.
    The version that I learn in school (!) said
    ‘e fallábanlas cogidas
    en Jaén’
    With its emphasis on the olives and not on the three girls it is a lot more tame.

    Reply

  16. Hey, thanks for stopping by. It sounds as if I guessed right about Tres Morillas/Moricas, then.

    Reply

  17. I came across two amazingly beautiful renditions of ‘So el encina’ on the youtube and was searching for a translation of the lyrics. Google led me here. I don’t know Spanish but your translation rings true, somehow. And the tune seems even more moving now. Thank you.

    Reply

    1. Hey, thanks for taking the time to comment. I’m glad you found the translation helpful.

      Reply

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