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

Introductory to Spain

The Phantom Horsemen

By Magnus Sabiston

(From Granada)

THAT day from Cordova came word,

Confused, of what had there occurred,

Which no one understood aright,—

Each told a version of his own;

And, when at last the truth was known,

All talked about that wondrous flight;

Some saw the Moor, and some the knight,

And some had seen two men in fight;

And, though to tell were nothing loath,

Knew not if one was killed or both.

Some said they fought not, but were lost

As a deep mountain stream they crossed;

Others affirmed that in despair

The Moslem leaped his horse in air,

Where a deep chasm broke the path,

To ’scape his fierce pursuer’s wrath;

And that the knight, in headlong course,

Unable to restrain his horse,

While pressing close upon his foe,

Fell also in the gulf below.

Some, howe’er, there be who say

They were seen at break of day

Near Penillo, in their flight,—

Two shadowy forms that mocked the sight.

For, they say, the Evil One

Helped the Moor his fate to shun;

And Our Lady, when he prayed,

To the knight gave equal aid:

Thus, no more mere flesh and blood,

Man and horse as spirits rode;

And the Moslem still doth fly

From the vengeful Christian nigh.

’T is said he pressed him hard and sore

As the plain they traversed o’er,

Till, at last, he had to seek

Refuge on the mountain peak.

From Alhama’s rocky height—

Lofty as an aerie’s site,

On a giddy precipice,

Overlooking an abyss,

In whose dreadful depths you scan

The foaming torrent of Marchan—

They were noticed in their flight,

Speeding for the southern side,

Where the Velez pours its tide.

From Malaga the two were seen,

The Christian still pursuing keen;

And, as they passed the castle gate

Where Julian’s daughter met her fate,

The guard upon the lofty wall

Heard the Moor derisive call,

In loud, insulting tone, the name

Of that unhappy maid whose shame

Is coupled with the woes of Spain.

By Monardo now he flies,

Where the Red Sierras rise;

Again the mocking Moslem jeers,

And the maddened Christian hears

A shout, like demon-laugh from far,—

“El Feri de Ben Estepar!”

By Ronda next, as legends say,

The spirit horsemen took their way;

Dashing amid its broken rocks

Like the wild goat that danger mocks.

’T is said they leaped the Guadalvin,

And that their hoof-prints long were seen

On the chasm’s dreadful brink,

Where the dark gulf doth deepest sink,

And the hidden stream doth flow

A hundred fathoms far below.

Leaving Zahara on the right,

The Moor to Arcos takes his flight;

And, still ahead, doth swiftly ride

Along the Guadalete’s side

To the Campiña of Xerez,—

That field where Spain found shame and death.

The air was filled with battle’s sound,

Two armies fought upon the ground;

A swarthy chief, with glowing eye,

His flashing scimitar waved high;

And his fierce, turbaned followers led

Against a Christian host which fled;

And soon the whole of that vast plain

Was strewed and covered with their slain.

The Moor triumphant waved his hand,

Again the Christian drew his brand,

And one more frenzied effort made

To reach him with the avenging blade.

The Moor sped on, and followed hard,

From all rest and case debarred,

Distant hills and plains he sought;

And wherever fight was fought

Which on Spain hath evil brought—

Since then, or in the days before,

From Cadiz to Cantabrian shore—

He would point, and mock his foe

With the visioned scene of woe.

And still they hold their ceaseless flight

Amid the haunted hills of Spain,—

Invisible to mortal sight,

And free from mortal wants and pain.

Ne’er pausing, on their course they sweep

Over despoblados wild;

Through barrancos dark and deep,

Where broken rocks like walls are piled;

Over dehesas lone and wide,

And where the rugged ramblas stray,

And up the steep Sierra’s side,

They still pursue their reckless way.

Swift as the cloud’s dark shadow flies

Across the sunlit plain below;

So, though unseen by mortal eyes,

The spirit horsemen come and go.

But the muleteer hath heard

Their hoofs amid the silent hills,

When sultry noon hath left unstirred

The drooping leaves and dried the rills.

And when the goat on giddy height

Stands gazing forth with fixéd eye,

Although invisible to sight,

The goatherd knows that they are nigh;

And when beside the gurgling stream

His noontide rest the traveller takes,

Perchance the raven’s dismal scream

His light but grateful slumber breaks,

He looks around, but all is still

Amid the lonely, lifeless waste,—

Only a stone rolls down the hill

No mortal hand nor foot displaced.

And when the wintry tempests howl,

And danger fills the midnight air,

And loudly shrieks the boding owl,

And the lone hermit kneels in prayer,

More fiercely on their wild career,

Pursuer and pursued sweep past;

And sometimes you can plainly hear

Their voices on the stormy blast.