Ferocity, two poems from Moorish Spain

Long ago, I used to haunt college libraries, looking for obscure legends and tales from the Middle Ages.  In 1975 I was in library school at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  I found the following prose poems and thought they were striking enough to translate and arrange in English.  You will see some archaic English forms, and I used them because the Spanish I was translating was rather archaic in its own form.

I am going through some of my old papers and salvaging everything I ever wrote that I don’t think was total garbage.  I fear that  these translations don’t do much for my legend as a game writer, but I was always more than a one trick pony.  I write fiction, poetry, essays, biography, criticism, and nonsense.

Two Poems of the Hero, Suar Ben Hamdun

by Said Ben Suleiman Ben Gudi

(fl. 890 A.D.  in Arabic Spain)

found and arranged by Kenneth E. St. Andre

(Suar Ben Hamdun and Said Ben Suleiman Ben Gudi were two rebel captains fighting against their lawful king, Abdallah Ben Muhamad in late 9th century Arabic Spain.  After the death of Suar, Ben Gudi quarreled with the rebel leader and nearly slew the traitor.  He then returned to the service of the king where he was held in much honor for his abilities as both warrior and poet.)

In Victory

Already the dust has inspired terror in the hearts of our foes.

The whole heaven has become darkened,

And the vast cloud uprises itself with menacing frown.

See!

From the power of our lances they turn in fear.

Trembling, they show us their backs,

And the hot sword quenches its thirst in the blood of the flying!

Ah, the dark drops!

Rain all crimson!

They moisten the dust of the plains.

How they fly!

Hill and valley are all too close for them.

Yea, too close!

And we bring them back now, breathless,

And loaded with chains.

See!  See the pale slaves, how they shake at our gaze,

How the fears of their hearts blanch their cheeks

As they throng the dark way ‘neath the feet

Of our horses and slaves.

Ask of the hero Ben Hamdun how went the glad fight!

Suar shall tell how the edge of our swords mowed the heads

And tore forth from the turbans their jewels of pride.

Ask of Alhambra’s brave son, when the moment had come

To his wish, how he  plunged on the ranks of the foe,

As do eagles that rush from their rocks–nay!

As mountains that fall on the plains,

And turn all to the dust of the grave.

Thus has God done to the false ones that fled from our banners.

Over all came the dark wheel of Fate that none living may flee,

And behold they are not!

Even the trace of their lives is no more;

They are now as if they never had been.

Us and ours did they combat with wiles,

With the craft of the coward and slave.

Horsemen and footmen alike, with vile arts and machines

They assailed us.
But the sons of Adnan and of Cahtan!  What marvels they work!

Their leaders are lions in fury that pounce on their prey–

Red lightning the flash of their swords!

And the guerdon they seek, those high chieftains,

Is the glory that hallows the brave!

See!  See!

Tis the noblest of Captains–

Tis Ben Hamdun whose blood-dripping blade now flashes

Aloft through the heat!

And mark!

With the noblest and highest he has sprung to the summit of all!

In Defeat

The sword of the hero is broken!

O hills of Elvira, you saw him laid low!

Yea, the weapon whose flash has brought tears to the brightest of eyes;

Yea, the lanes that clothed you in mourning,

Ye fairest of maids,

They lie broken and low.

He presented one cup when he came to the noble and the lowly–

To the master and the slave did he give it.

That cup!  Twas of death!

For his weapon never failed.

He has gone, and with him there fell thousands–

Yea, and those of our best!

For thousands avail not to fill up the place of the lost

When the lost is as Suar Ben Hamdun,

The pride of his race.

And of ours, one lance shall be but poorly rejpaid by the foe with their thousand–

But poorly!

The fight is never equal between us, save when we take tens for each life that we give.

But we quench the fierce drought of our swords

In the blood of their hearts,

And the bright sheen departs

In the river of crimson that flows as we ride o’er the slain.

Or say that Dark Fortune has frowned

And has humbled the ranks of the brave.

Do their columns not waver?  Yea, do they!

The craven foe falls to the dust!

Now hear Abi Sidqui:

“Of slaves doth the blood ever rise up in redness. *

Vile fluid, in vain is it spilt!”

But the blood of our brethren cries vengeance,

Though deep in the grave!

_______________________________________________

*  The poet here alludes to an Arabian superstition, according to which blood, if noble, when spilt and unavenged, rises up redly and with an aspect of freshness, however long it may have been dried, when they whose duty it was to avenge it appear.

________________________________________________

Both of these poems were taken from Conde’s HISTORY OF THE ARABS IN SPAIN, c. 1854, in Spanish, translated, modernized, and arranged by Kenneth E. St. Andre, May 20, 1975.  I was a bit more formal about my name back when I was only 28 years old.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 24, 2012 at 2:55 am | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent work. Better than any i have done.

  2. Posted March 25, 2012 at 4:11 am | Permalink | Reply

    I like the picture combined with the poems. The imagery of two soldiers fighting on a personal scale plays well against the poems of two armies battling. When armies battle it is too easy to forget the individuals’ contribution and loss.

    Kindest Regards
    Mhegrrrim Skulltosser

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