Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  From the Spanish. Coplas de Manrique

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.


From the Spanish. Coplas de Manrique

OH let the soul her slumbers break,

Let thought be quickened, and awake;

Awake to see

How soon this life is past and gone,

And death comes softly stealing on,

How silently!

Swiftly our pleasures glide away,

Our hearts recall the distant day

With many sighs;

The moments that are speeding fast

We heed not, but the past,—the past,

More highly prize.

Onward its course the present keeps,

Onward the constant current sweeps,

Till life is done;

And, did we judge of time aright,

The past and future in their flight

Would be as one.

Let no one fondly dream again,

That Hope and all her shadowy train

Will not decay;

Fleeting as were the dreams of old,

Remembered like a tale that ’s told,

They pass away.

Our lives are rivers, gliding free

To that unfathomed, boundless sea,

The silent grave!

Thither all earthly pomp and boast

Roll, to be swallowed up and lost

In one dark wave.

Thither the mighty torrents stray,

Thither the brook pursues its way,

And tinkling rill.

There all are equal; side by side

The poor man and the son of pride

Lie calm and still.

I will not here invoke the throng

Of orators and sons of song,

The deathless few;

Fiction entices and deceives,

And, sprinkled o’er her fragrant leaves,

Lies poisonous dew.

To One alone my thoughts arise,

The Eternal Truth, the Good and Wise,

To Him I cry,

Who shared on earth our common lot,

But the world comprehended not

His deity.

This world is but the rugged road

Which leads us to the bright abode

Of peace above;

So let us choose that narrow way,

Which leads no traveller’s foot astray

From realms of love.

Our cradle is the starting-place,

Life is the running of the race,

We reach the goal

When, in the mansions of the blest,

Death leaves to its eternal rest

The weary soul.

Did we but use it as we ought,

This world would school each wandering thought

To its high state.

Faith wings the soul beyond the sky,

Up to that better world on high,

For which we wait.

Yes, the glad messenger of love,

To guide us to our home above,

The Saviour came;

Born amid mortal cares and fears,

He suffered in this vale of tears

A death of shame.

Behold of what delusive worth

The bubbles we pursue on earth,

The shapes we chase

Amid a world of treachery!

They vanish ere death shuts the eye,

And leave no trace.

Time steals them from us, chances strange,

Disastrous accident, and change,

That come to all;

Even in the most exalted state,

Relentless sweeps the stroke of fate;

The strongest fall.

Tell me, the charms that lovers seek

In the clear eye and blushing cheek,

The hues that play

O’er rosy lip and brow of snow,

When hoary age approaches slow,

Ah, where are they?

The cunning skill, the curious arts,

The glorious strength that youth imparts

In life’s first stage;

These shall become a heavy weight,

When Time swings wide his outward gate

To weary age.

The noble blood of Gothic name,

Heroes emblazoned high to fame,

In long array;

How, in the onward course of time,

The landmarks of that race sublime

Were swept away!

Some, the degraded slaves of lust,

Prostrate and trampled in the dust,

Shall rise no more;

Others, by guilt and crime, maintain

The scutcheon, that, without a stain,

Their fathers bore.

Wealth and the high estate of pride,

With what untimely speed they glide,

How soon depart!

Bid not the shadowy phantoms stay,

The vassals of a mistress they,

Of fickle heart.

These gifts in Fortune’s hands are found;

Her swift revolving wheel turns round,

And they are gone!

No rest the inconstant goddess knows,

But changing, and without repose,

Still hurries on.

Even could the hand of avarice save

Its gilded baubles, till the grave

Reclaimed its prey,

Let none on such poor hopes rely;

Life, like an empty dream, flits by,

And where are they?

Earthly desires and sensual lust

Are passions springing from the dust,

They fade and die;

But, in the life beyond the tomb,

They seal the immortal spirit’s doom


The pleasures and delights, which mask

In treacherous smiles life’s serious task,

What are they all

But the fleet coursers of the chase,

And death an ambush in the race,

Wherein we fall?

No foe, no dangerous pass, we heed,

Brook no delay, but onward speed

With loosened rein;

And, when the fatal snare is near,

We strive to check our mad career,

But strive in vain.

Could we new charms to age impart,

And fashion with a cunning art

The human face,

As we can clothe the soul with light,

And make the glorious spirit bright

With heavenly grace,

How busily each passing hour

Should we exert that magic power!

What ardor show,

To deck the sensual slave of sin,

Yet leave the freeborn soul within,

In weeds of woe!

Monarchs, the powerful and the strong,

Famous in history and in song

Of olden time,

Saw, by the stern decrees of fate,

Their kingdoms lost, and desolate

Their race sublime.

Who is the champion? who the strong?

Pontiff and priest, and sceptred throng?

On these shall fall

As heavily the hand of Death,

As when it stays the shepherd’s breath

Beside his stall.

I speak not of the Trojan name,

Neither its glory nor its shame

Has met our eyes;

Nor of Rome’s great and glorious dead,

Though we have heard so oft, and read,

Their histories.

Little avails it now to know

Of ages passed so long ago,

Nor how they rolled;

Our theme shall be of yesterday,

Which to oblivion sweeps away,

Like days of old.

Where is the King, Don Juan? Where

Each royal prince and noble heir

Of Aragon?

Where are the courtly gallantries?

The deeds of love and high emprise,

In battle done?

Tourney and joust, that charmed the eye,

And scarf, and gorgeous panoply,

And nodding plume,

What were they but a pageant scene?

What but the garlands, gay and green,

That deck the tomb?

Where are the high-born dames, and where

Their gay attire, and jewelled hair,

And odors sweet?

Where are the gentle knights, that came

To kneel, and breathe love’s ardent flame,

Low at their feet?

Where is the song of Troubadour?

Where are the lute and gay tambour

They loved of yore?

Where is the mazy dance of old,

The flowing robes, inwrought with gold,

The dancers wore?

And he who next the sceptre swayed,

Henry, whose royal court displayed

Such power and pride;

Oh, in what winning smiles arrayed,

The world its various pleasures laid

His throne beside!

But oh, how false and full of guile

That world, which wore so soft a smile

But to betray!

She, that had been his friend before,

Now from the fated monarch tore

Her charms away.

The countless gifts, the stately walls,

The royal palaces, and halls,

All filled with gold;

Plate with armorial bearings wrought,

Chambers with ample treasures fraught

Of wealth untold;

The noble steeds, and harness bright,

And gallant lord, and stalwart knight,

In rich array,

Where shall we seek them now? Alas!

Like the bright dewdrops on the grass,

They passed away.

His brother, too, whose factious zeal

Usurped the sceptre of Castile,

Unskilled to reign;

What a gay, brilliant court had he,

When all the flower of chivalry

Was in his train!

But he was mortal; and the breath

That flamed from the hot forge of Death

Blasted his years;

Judgment of God! that flame by thee,

When raging fierce and fearfully,

Was quenched in tears!

Spain’s haughty Constable, the true

And gallant Master, whom we knew

Most loved of all;

Breathe not a whisper of his pride,

He on the gloomy scaffold died,

Ignoble fall!

The countless treasures of his care,

His villages and villas fair,

His mighty power,

What were they all but grief and shame,

Tears and a broken heart, when came

The parting hour?

His other brothers, proud and high,

Masters, who, in prosperity,

Might rival kings;

Who made the bravest and the best

The bondsmen of their high behest,

Their underlings;

What was their prosperous estate,

When high exalted and elate

With power and pride?

What, but a transient gleam of light,

A flame, which, glaring at its height,

Grew dim and died?

So many a duke of royal name,

Marquis and count of spotless fame,

And baron brave,

That might the sword of empire wield,

All these, O Death, hast thou concealed

In the dark grave!

Their deeds of mercy and of arms,

In peaceful days, or war’s alarms,

When thou dost show,

O Death, thy stern and angry face,

One stroke of thy all-powerful mace

Can overthrow.

Unnumbered hosts, that threaten nigh,

Pennon and standard flaunting high,

And flag displayed;

High battlements intrenched around,

Bastion, and moated wall, and mound,

And palisade,

And covered trench, secure and deep,

All these cannot one victim keep,

O Death, from thee,

When thou dost battle in thy wrath,

And thy strong shafts pursue their path


O World! so few the years we live,

Would that the life which thou dost give

Were life indeed!

Alas! thy sorrows fall so fast,

Our happiest hour is when at last

The soul is freed.

Our days are covered o’er with grief,

And sorrows neither few nor brief

Veil all in gloom;

Left desolate of real good,

Within this cheerless solitude

No pleasures bloom.

Thy pilgrimage begins in tears,

And ends in bitter doubts and fears,

Or dark despair;

Midway so many toils appear,

That he who lingers longest here

Knows most of care.

Thy goods are bought with many a groan,

By the hot sweat of toil alone,

And weary hearts;

Fleet-footed is the approach of woe,

But with a lingering step and slow

Its form departs.

And he, the good man’s shield and shade,

To whom all hearts their homage paid,

As Virtue’s son,

Roderic Manrique, he whose name

Is written on the scroll of Fame,

Spain’s champion;

His signal deeds and prowess high

Demand no pompous eulogy,

Ye saw his deeds!

Why should their praise in verse be sung?

The name, that dwells on every tongue,

No minstrel needs.

To friends a friend; how kind to all

The vassals of this ancient hall

And feudal fief!

To foes how stern a foe was he!

And to the valiant and the free

How brave a chief!

What prudence with the old and wise:

What grace in youthful gayeties;

In all how sage!

Benignant to the serf and slave,

He showed the base and falsely brave

A lion’s rage.

His was Octavian’s prosperous star,

The rush of Cæsar’s conquering car

At battle’s call;

His, Scipio’s virtue; his, the skill

And the indomitable will

Of Hannibal.

His was a Trajan’s goodness, his

A Titus’ noble charities

And righteous laws;

The arm of Hector, and the might

Of Tully, to maintain the right

In truth’s just cause;

The clemency of Antonine,

Aurelius’ countenance divine,

Firm, gentle, still;

The eloquence of Adrian,

And Theodosius’ love to man,

And generous will;

In tented field and bloody fray,

An Alexander’s vigorous sway

And stern command;

The faith of Constantine; ay, more,

The fervent love Camillus bore

His native land.

He left no well-filled treasury,

He heaped no pile of riches high,

Nor massive plate;

He fought the Moors, and, in their fall,

City and tower and castled wall

Were his estate.

Upon the hard-fought battle-ground,

Brave steeds and gallant riders found

A common grave;

And there the warrior’s hand did gain

The rents, and the long vassal train,

That conquest gave.

And if of old his halls displayed

The honored and exalted grade

His worth had gained,

So, in the dark, disastrous hour,

Brothers and bondsmen of his power

His hand sustained.

After high deeds, not left untold,

In the stern warfare which of old

’T was his to share,

Such noble leagues he made that more

And fairer regions than before

His guerdon were.

These are the records, half effaced,

Which, with the hand of youth, he traced

On history’s page;

But with fresh victories he drew

Each fading character anew

In his old age.

By his unrivalled skill, by great

And veteran service to the state,

By worth adored,

He stood, in his high dignity,

The proudest knight of chivalry,

Knight of the Sword.

He found his cities and domains

Beneath a tyrant’s galling chains

And cruel power;

But, by fierce battle and blockade,

Soon his own banner was displayed

From every tower.

By the tried valor of his hand,

His monarch and his native land

Were nobly served;

Let Portugal repeat the story,

And proud Castile, who shared the glory

His arms deserved.

And when so oft, for weal or woe,

His life upon the fatal throw

Had been cast down;

When he had served, with patriot zeal,

Beneath the banner of Castile,

His sovereign’s crown;

And done such deeds of valor strong,

That neither history nor song

Can count them all;

Then, on Ocaña’s castled rock,

Death at his portal came to knock,

With sudden call,

Saying, “Good Cavalier, prepare

To leave this world of toil and care

With joyful mien;

Let thy strong heart of steel this day

Put on its armor for the fray,

The closing scene.

“Since thou hast been, in battle-strife,

So prodigal of health and life,

For earthly fame,

Let virtue nerve thy heart again;

Loud on the last stern battle-plain

They call thy name.

“Think not the struggle that draws near

Too terrible for man, nor fear

To meet the foe;

Nor let thy noble spirit grieve,

Its life of glorious fame to leave

On earth below.

“A life of honor and of worth

Has no eternity on earth,

’T is but a name;

And yet its glory far exceeds

That base and sensual life, which leads

To want and shame.

“The eternal life, beyond the sky,

Wealth cannot purchase, nor the high

And proud estate;

The soul in dalliance laid, the spirit

Corrupt with sin, shall not inherit

A joy so great.

“But the good monk, in cloistered cell,

Shall gain it by his book and bell,

His prayers and tears;

And the brave knight, whose arm endures

Fierce battle, and against the Moors

His standard rears.

“And thou, brave knight, whose hand has poured

The life-blood of the Pagan horde

O’er all the land,

In heaven shalt thou receive, at length,

The guerdon of thine earthly strength

And dauntless hand.

“Cheered onward by this promise sure,

Strong in the faith entire and pure

Thou dost profess,

Depart, thy hope is certainty,

The third, the better life on high

Shalt thou possess.”

“O Death, no more, no more delay;

My spirit longs to flee away,

And be at rest;

The will of Heaven my will shall be,

I bow to the divine decree,

To God’s behest.

“My soul is ready to depart,

No thought rebels, the obedient heart

Breathes forth no sigh;

The wish on earth to linger still

Were vain, when ’t is God’s sovereign will

That we shall die.

“O thou, that for our sins didst take

A human form, and humbly make

Thy home on earth;

Thou, that to thy divinity

A human nature didst ally

By mortal birth,

“And in that form didst suffer here

Torment, and agony, and fear,

So patiently;

By thy redeeming grace alone,

And not for merits of my own,

Oh, pardon me!”

As thus the dying warrior prayed,

Without one gathering mist or shade

Upon his mind;

Encircled by his family,

Watched by affection’s gentle eye

So soft and kind;

His soul to Him who gave it rose;

God lead it to its long repose,

Its glorious rest!

And, though the warrior’s sun has set,

Its light shall linger round us yet,

Bright, radiant, blest.