Jan 12, 2016

A Madrigal in Medieval Spanish

I don’t remember how the subject came up, perhaps Benito had his copy of the “100 Best Lyrical Poems of the Spanish Language” out in 2005 at Mayfair Manor when his sister-in-law’s husband Manuel Lopez was visiting and it triggered his memory, but there in the kitchen Manolo launched into a recitation of a poem and Benito chimed in.

 The poem they were reciting is a madrigal (a serranilla in Spanish) about a beautiful cowgirl (vaquera), horse-mounted I presume, that the writer encounters after getting lost on the road between the castles of Calatrava and Santa Maria in what is now the Cordoba province of Spain. I am guessing they learned it in school or at a university literature class.

The madrigal is known by its first line “Moza Tan Hermosa” (“Girl So Beautiful”), the only poem in Medieval Spanish in the book. It was one of the first poems ever written down in Spanish, predating the famous “Song of El Cid.”  Every stanza ends with the same refrain, which they would loudly emphasize with relish.

I have it here below. It is written in Medieval Spanish but if you know Spanish and pronounce it out loud you can understand it. The funny looking “ç” is pronounced like “z”, the “x” like the Spanish “j”.  Many leading “F”s of medieval Spanish words mutated to silent “H”s so Fermosa is now Hermosa, Finojosa is now Hinojosa (a small village in rural Cordoba province) and Fablar is now Hablar.

Since the only way I can fully understand written Spanish is to translate it to English first, I provide you with my translation. Thickly romantic, I found it, like the sonnets I studied in school way back when.

Íñigo López de Mendoza, Marqués de Santillana (1398–1458)
Moça tan fermosa
Non vi en la frontera,
Como una vaquera
De la Finojosa.

Faciendo la vía
Del Calatraveño
A Sancta María,
Vençido del sueño
Por tierra fragosa
Perdí la carrera,
Do vi la vaquera
De la Finojosa.

En un verde prado
De rosas e flores,
Guardando ganado
Con otros pastores,
La vi tan graciosa
Que apenas creyera
Que fuese vaquera
De la Finojosa.
Non creo las rosas
De la primavera
Sean tan fermosas
Nin de tal manera,
Fablando sin glosa,
Si antes sopiera
D’aquella vaquera
De la Finojosa.

Non tanto mirara
Su mucha beldat,
Porque me dexara
En mi libertad.
Mas dixe: «Donosa
(Por saber quién era)
¿Dónde es la vaquera
De la Finojosa?...»

Bien como riendo,
Dixo: «Bien vengades;
Que ya bien entiendo
Lo que demandades:
Non es desseosa
De amar, nin lo espera,
Aquessa vaquera
De la Finojosa».

Girl so beautiful, I saw you in the countryside in the form of a cowgirl from Hinojosa.

 Following the road from the Calatraveño to Santa Maria, defeated  by lack of sleep and rough terrain, I lost my way and saw the cowgirl from Hinojosa.

On a green pasture with roses and flowers, guarding cattle with other herders, I saw her—so graceful—that I could hardly believe she was a cowgirl from Hinojosa.

I don’t believe springtime roses are as beautiful, nor in their way as lustrous as I previously thought when compared to that cowgirl from Hinojosa.

I could not risk continuing to behold such beauty, for it left me in danger of losing my freedom. “Young lady,” I asked (to learn more about her), “from where is the cowgirl from Hinojosa?”

Smiling she said, “Greetings to you; I understand what you are seeking: She has no desire for love, nor will she accept it, that cowgirl from Hinojosa.”

You can hear medieval Spanish in the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. Also, on the Spanish soundtrack to Star Wars Episode 1, Yar Yar Binks speaks in medieval Spanish.