translations by Alan Steinle

Translator’s Note: This poem (“Tres cosas”) was originally written in Spanish by Baltasar del Alcázar (1525-1606). I have translated the poem into English and have retained the abba rhyme and the eight-syllable lines.


Three Things

I’m a prisoner to all these,
and I’m as happy as a clam:
the beautiful Agnes, smoked ham,
and of course, the eggplants with cheese.

Agnes and I are such lovers,
that I must say that I adore
her, and I equally abhor
her pretty peers, and all others.

Agnes drove me mad with unease,
until, one day, she cooked for me
what I didn’t ever foresee:
my smoked ham and eggplants with cheese.

‘Twas Agnes who first made me whole,
but now I can’t even decide,
for they have all equally vied,
and none has won over my soul.

In flavor, measure, and weight these
I cannot differentiate,
I love Agnes and ham—but wait—
I also love eggplants with cheese.

Agnes has quite a pretty face,
the ham has a flavor to please,
but both the eggplants and the cheese
come from a special Spanish place.

And everyone who judges sees
that my passions are all the same,
as one in my heart they became:
Agnes, ham, and eggplants with cheese.

But at least in this, my concern,
my passion for lovely flavors,
Agnes will give me her favors
and will be less inclined to spurn.

For if she ever disagrees,
if reason doesn’t change her mind,
in my house, at least I can find
some smoked ham and eggplants with cheese.


Tres cosas

Tres cosas me tienen preso
de amores el corazón,
la bella Inés, el jamón,
y berengenas con queso.

Esta Inés, amantes, es
quien tuvo en mí tal poder,
que me hizo aborrecer
todo lo que no era Inés.

Trájome un año sin seso,
hasta que en una ocasión
me dio a merendar jamón
y berengenas con queso.

Fue de Inés la primer palma;
pero ya júzgase mal
entre todos ellos cuál
tiene más parte en mi alma.

En gusto, medida y peso
no le hallo distinción:
ya quiero Inés, ya jamón,
ya berengenas con queso.

Alega Inés su beldad,
el jamón que es de Aracena,
el queso y la berenjena
la española antigüedad.

Y está tan en fiel el peso,
que, juzgado sin pasión,
todo es uno, Inés, jamón
y berengenas con queso.

A lo menos este trato
destos mis nuevos amores
hará que Inés sus favores
me los venda más barato.

Pues tendrá por contrapeso
si no hiciere la razón,
una lonja de jamón
y berengenas con queso.



Translator’s Note: This poem (“A Roma sepultada en sus ruinas”) was written in Spanish by Frascisco de Quevedo y Villegas (1580-1645). In my English translation, I have changed the original rhyme scheme (abba abba cdc dcd) to a similar rhyme scheme (abba cddc efe fef). I have also used iambic pentameter, which does not exist in Spanish poetry.


To Rome, Buried in its Ruins

The pilgrim looks for Rome but finds just gloom,
In Rome one cannot find the Roman halls,
In utter ruins are her boasted walls,
The Aventine supplies its own dark tomb.

The Palatine has fallen from its reign,
The medals, worn away by use and time,
Appear to be a battle’s dross and grime,
Insignias of Rome that bear a stain.

The Tiber is the only lasting sign,
Its waters washed, but now they bury Rome,
It mourns the Roman fall and her decline.

Oh Rome! Your glory lapsed and we bemoan
The fact that greatness cannot be enshrined;
The current stays, but stable things have flown.


A Roma sepultada en sus ruinas

Buscas en Roma a Roma ¡oh peregrino!
y en Roma misma a Roma no la hallas:
cadáver son las que ostentó murallas,
y, tumba de sí propio, el Aventino.

Yace, donde reinaba, el Palatino;
y limadas del tiempo las medallas,
más se muestran destrozo a las batallas
de las edades, que blasón latino.

Sólo el Tíber quedó; cuya corriente,
si ciudad la regó, ya sepultura
la llora con funesto son doliente.

¡Oh Roma!, en tu grandeza, en tu hermosura
huyó lo que era firme, y solamente
lo fugitivo permanece y dura.



Alan Steinle is a writer, editor, and Spanish translator. He lives in Washington state.

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9 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    It’s hard to translate a formal, metrical poem from a foreign language while retaining as much as one can of the rhyme scheme and the meter. These ones are done quite well, as far as my reading knowledge of the language goes. But I would like to hear what some of our members who are fluent in Spanish have to say about them. Joseph MacKenzie, who is skilled in seventeenth-century Spanish, might have some excellent comments.

    • Alan

      I would also like to hear their opinions. I am not a native Spanish speaker. Of course, my translations are not word for word. Instead, they attempt to capture the principal ideas and moods of the poems.

  2. C.B. Anderson


    As a foodie, I found the first translation delectable, especially intermingled with the promise of succulent lamb. As a metricist, I especially admire your adherence to the original form. But I wonder: Is this an example of light verse from the 16th century. The playfulness is obvious, but the seriousness can only be inferred.

    The second poem is a bit more serious, and the translation, I think, stands well as an original composition.

    • Alan

      According to Wikipedia, “[Baltasar del Alcázar’s] poetry was about life and love, most of it spiced with a keen sense of humor.” I remember reading somewhere else that some of his poetry was “bawdy,” perhaps in the vein of Chaucer.

      I don’t understand where the idea of “lamb” came from. Is that a typo for “ham”? I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t find ham or lamb very tasty, myself. However, eggplants (“aubergines” in British English) with cheese would be good.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The dish that Baltasar is calling “berengenas con queso” is most likely a Spanish version of the Italian “melanzane palmagiate,” or fried eggplant slices laid in an overlapping roof-tile pattern, with Parmesan cheese sprinkled in between the layers. This dish is mistakenly called “eggplant Parmesan” in America, based on the misreading of the word “palmagiate” (which means “layered in an overlapping manner”) as if it were “parmesana” (which simply refers to the Parmesan cheese).

        In Italy, and among Italian-Americans, the dish is frequently an accompaniment to a meat dish, or served with diced fried ham sprinkled between the layers. So we can assume that Baltasar’s poem is based on a real culinary experience.

        I have made melanzane palmagiate many times. It is a labor-intensive dish, which to be done properly usually takes two or three days. The eggplants must be peeled, sliced carefully, floured, dipped in eggwash and breadcrumbs, fried nicely on both sides. and left to cool. A well-seasoned tomato and meat sauce must be prepared. Ham must be cut, diced, and fried lightly in garlic-scented olive oil. Fresh Parmesan cheese must be grated, and mozzarella cheese shredded. Then the entire thing must be put together, layer by layer, and finally baked until bubbling in a hot oven. To be really great, it should be left covered or refrigerated for a day, and then slowly re-heated the next day before serving.

        Also, have it with fresh Italian bread and a full-bodied red wine, either Burgundy or Chianti or a strong Spanish rioja.

  3. David Watt


    I thoroughly enjoyed your translations.

    In the first poem, the culinary delights are further enhanced by a sprinkling of humor.

    C.B. was correct in saying that the second poem could well stand as an original composition. I would certainly accept it as such in the absence of the Spanish prior art.

  4. Alan

    Joseph S. Salemi:

    Thank you for your knowledgeable addition. That’s definitely a lot of information about “eggplants with cheese.” While I might enjoy eating the dish that you describe, I don’t think I’m enough of a gourmet to go to the effort to make it myself.


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