Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Death of Don Alonzo of Aguilar

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Holland: Vols. XIV–XV. 1876–79.

Spain: Sierra Nevada

The Death of Don Alonzo of Aguilar

By Spanish Ballad

  • Translated by J. G. Lockhart
  • The following ballad places the scene of Don Alonzo’s death in the Sierra Nevada. History places it in the Sierra Bermeja, “or chain of red mountains, lying near the sea, the savage rocks and precipices of which may be seen from Gibraltar.” Don Alonzo marched with his forces from Cordova, not from Granada. He was slain in single combat with the Moor El Feri of Ben Estepar. See the appendix to Irving’s Conquest of Granada.

  • FERNANDO, King of Arragon, before Grenada lies,

    With dukes and barons many a one, and champions of emprise;

    With all the captains of Castille that serve his lady’s crown,

    He drives Boabdil from his gates, and plucks the crescent down.

    The cross is reared upon the towers, for our Redeemer’s sake;

    The King assembles all his powers, his triumph to partake,

    Yet at the royal banquet there ’s trouble in his eye,—

    “Now speak thy wish, it shall be done, great King,” the lordlings cry.

    Then spake Fernando, “Hear, grandees! which of ye all will go,

    And give my banner in the breeze of Alpuxar to blow?

    Those heights along, the Moors are strong; now who, by dawn of day,

    Will plant the cross their cliffs among, and drive the dogs away?”

    Then champion on champion high, and count on count doth look;

    And faltering is the tongue of lord, and pale the cheek of duke;

    Till starts up brave Alonzo, the knight of Aguilar,

    The lowmost at the royal board, but foremost still in war.

    And thus he speaks: “I pray, my lord, that none but I may go;

    For I made promise to the Queen, your consort, long ago,

    That ere the war should have an end, I, for her royal charms,

    And for my duty to her grace, would show some feat of arms.”

    Much joyed the King these words to hear,—he bids Alonzo speed,—

    And long before their revel ’s o’er the knight is on his steed;

    Alonzo ’s on his milk-white steed, with horsemen in his train,—

    A thousand horse, a chosen band, ere dawn the hills to gain.

    They ride along the darkling ways, they gallop all the night;

    They reach Nevada ere the cock hath harbingered the light;

    But ere they ’ve climbed that steep ravine the east is glowing red,

    And the Moors their lances bright have seen, and Christian banners spread.

    Beyond the sands, between the rocks, where the old cork-trees grow,

    The path is rough, and mounted men must singly march and slow;

    There, o’er the path, the heathen range their ambuscado’s line,

    High up they wait for Aguilar, as the day begins to shine.

    There naught avails the eagle-eye, the guardian of Castille,

    The eye of wisdom, nor the heart that fear might never feel,

    The arm of strength that wielded well the strong mace in the fray,

    Nor the broad plate, from whence the edge of falchion glanced away.

    Not knightly valor there avails, nor skill of horse and spear,

    For rock on rock comes rumbling down from cliff and cavern drear;

    Down, down like driving hail they come, and horse and horsemen die,

    Like cattle whose despair is dumb when the fierce lightnings fly.

    Alonzo, with a handful more, escapes into the field,

    There like a lion stands at bay, in vain besought to yield;

    A thousand foes around are seen, but none draws near to fight;

    Afar with bolt and javelin they pierce the steadfast knight.

    A hundred and a hundred darts are hissing round his head;

    Had Aguilar a thousand hearts, their blood had all been shed;

    Faint and more faint he staggers upon the slippery sod,

    At last his back is to the earth, he gives his soul to God.

    With that the Moors plucked up their hearts to gaze upon his face,

    And caitiffs mangled where he lay the scourge of Afric’s race:

    To woody Oxijera then the gallant corpse they drew,

    And there upon the village-green they laid him out to view.

    Upon the village-green he lay as the moon was shining clear,

    And all the village damsels to look on him drew near;

    They stood around him all a-gaze, beside the big oak-tree,

    And much his beauty they did praise, though mangled sore was he.

    Now, so it fell, a Christian dame that knew Alonzo well

    Not far from Oxijera did as a captive dwell,

    And, hearing all the marvels, across the woods came she,

    To look upon this Christian corpse, and wash it decently.

    She looked upon him, and she knew the face of Aguilar,

    Although his beauty was disgraced with many a ghastly scar;

    She knew him, and she cursed the dogs that pierced him from afar,

    And mangled him when he was slain,—the Moors of Alpuxar.

    The Moorish maidens, while she spake, around her silence kept,

    But her master dragged the dame away,—then loud and long they wept;

    They washed the blood, with many a tear, from dint of dart and arrow,

    And buried him near the waters clear of the brook of Alpuxarra.