translated by Alan Steinle. Introduction and translation copyright ©2020 by Alan Steinle.

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Poetry is that which is worth translating. The poem dies when it has no place to go.
—Eliot Weinberger

My life has been the poem I would have writ,
But I could not both live and utter it.
—Henry David Thoreau

Jorge Manrique (1440-1479) was the last important poet of the Spanish Middle Ages. The full title of his 480-line magnum opus is “Las coplas de Jorge Manrique por la muerte de su padre” [“Jorge Manrique’s Stanzas on the Death of his Father”]. Manrique’s poem is a tribute to his late father and a meditation on the transient nature of life. His father’s full title was Count of Paredes, Rodrigo Manrique, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago. He died of cancer when he was seventy. Jorge Manrique followed in his father’s footsteps by fighting for the Catholic sovereigns, and he died at the age of thirty-nine in a battle.

Manrique’s poem deals with common themes of the Middle Ages: the transitory nature of life, the vanity of riches and pleasure, the inevitability of death, and the importance of Jesus. Steeped in the Catholic and secular ideas of his time, he was able to couch these ideas in language that people could both admire and relate to. His delivery was elegant and memorable, and his poem is still well known in Spain.

While the Spanish language includes both stressed and unstressed syllables, each polysyllabic word has one and only one stressed syllable. Thus, Spanish, with its many polysyllabic words, is not suitable for accentual-syllabic verse. Instead, syllabic verse is used, in which the total number of syllables in a line is counted, without regard to the stresses. However, there is some flexibility when counting syllables. For example, when one word ends with a vowel sound and the following word begins with vowel sound, the last and first syllables of the two words can be combined and counted as one syllable. Thus, “este hombre” (“this man”) can be counted as three or four syllables (the “h” is not pronounced in Spanish).

Manrique wrote this poem in a type of verse called pie quebrado (“broken foot”). In Manrique’s usage, two eight-syllable lines are followed by one four-syllable line. This sequence of three lines is used four times to form a douzain (twelve-line stanza) with this many syllables per line: 8-8-4-8-8-4-8-8-4-8-8-4, for a total of 80 syllables. He rhymed the stanza abcabcdefdef. This stanza, or copla, eventually became known as the copla manriqueña because he popularized it. His poem has forty stanzas of this type.

Here is the first stanza of Manrique’s poem (with modernized Spanish spelling) and a literal translation (with syllables in parentheses):

Recuerde el alma dormida,
avive el seso y despierte
cómo se pasa la vida,
cómo se viene la muerte
__tan callando;
cuán presto se va el placer,
cómo después de acordado
__da dolor,
cómo a nuestro parecer,
cualquiera tiempo pasado
__fue mejor.

Arouse the sleeping soul, (6)
revive the brain and wake up (7)
__contemplating (4)
how life passes (4)
how death approaches (5)
__so quietly; (4)
how quickly pleasure leaves; (6)
how, after we recall it, (7)
__it gives us pain; (4)
how it seems to us (5)
any past time (4)
__was better. (3)

The literal English translation contains 59 syllables, which is 74% of the 80 nominal syllables in the original Spanish stanza. As you can see, it takes fewer syllables in English, as compared with Spanish, to express the same idea. This is because, on average, English words are shorter than Spanish words.

Manrique’s poem was translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the nineteenth century. This is what Wikipedia has to say about his translation: “However, the Longfellow translation has been criticized as not being faithful to the original. Longfellow’s translation is considerably more florid than the original.”

Besides being “florid,” Longfellow’s translation contains some extra words and redundancies. In my opinion, this is a result of Longfellow’s using the same number of syllables as in the Spanish. Let’s look at his translation of the first stanza:

O let the soul her slumbers break, (8)
Let thought be quickened, and awake; (8)
Awake to see (4)
How soon this life is past and gone, (8)
And death comes softly stealing on, (8)
How silently! (4)

Swiftly our pleasures glide away, (8)
Our hearts recall the distant day (8)
With many sighs; (4)
The moments that are speeding fast (8)
We heed not, but the past,-the past, (8)
More highly prize. (4)

As we can see, Longfellow used the same number of syllables as in the original Spanish, but he added a blank line in the middle of the stanza and changed the rhyme scheme to aabccb ddeffe. Due to the fact that English words are shorter than Spanish words, on average, he had to use filler words, and he ended up creating some redundancies: “be quickened, and awake; / Awake,” “past and gone,” “speeding fast,” and “the past,-the past.”

When I started translating this poem last year (2019), I used the same number of syllables per line as the original, but I wrote my translation in blank verse. I translated fifteen stanzas before I decided that it was not worthwhile to continue with the translation. Here is how I translated the first stanza:

Awaken now the sleeping soul; (8)
arouse the silent, dormant mind, (8)
__and contemplate (4)
how life has passed us by today, (8)
how death has crept into our lives (8)
__so quietly; (4)
how quickly pleasure turns away; (8)
how, after we are sated well, (8)
__the aching comes; (4)
how everything about the past, (8)
from viewing now, appears to us (8)
__as better times. (4)

In addition to containing no rhymes (and thus making it dull to read), that first translation of mine also contained many extra words (e.g., “sated well”).

This year (2020), I decided to start translating the poem again with a new method. While I used iambic meter, as before, I shortened the eight-syllable lines to six syllables, and I rhymed only the short lines: xxaxxaxxbxxb. Thus, my stanzas contained 64 syllables, or 80% of the 80 syllables in the original. This made my translation tighter, more fluent, and more readable. Since I didn’t rhyme every line, I was able to focus on the meter and the meaning while still including some rhymes. While I still had to include some extra words to fill out the lines, I tried not to wander too far from the expressed or implied meaning of the original poem. Here is my first stanza with the new method:

Arouse your sleeping soul, (6)
Revive your brain, wake up (6)
__And you will see (4)
How life goes by so fast, (6)
How death creeps up on us (6)
__So quietly; (4)
How pleasures quickly fade, (6)
And when we think of them (6)
__We feel malaise; (4)
How always it appears (6)
That former times comprised (6)
__Much better days. (4)

When you read my complete translation below, I recommend that you pause after reading the first trimeter line, then read the next trimeter line with the following dimeter line, like this:

Arouse your sleeping soul, [pause/breathe]
Revive your brain, wake up
__And you will see [pause/breathe]
How life goes by so fast, [pause/breathe]
How death creeps up on us
__So quietly; [pause/breathe]


I would like to acknowledge J. M. Cohen (1903-1989) for his prose translation of the poem. When I didn’t understand the Spanish of the original poem, I consulted his literal translation.


Chandler, Richard E. and Schwartz, Kessel. A New History of Spanish Literature (Revised Edition). Louisiana State University Press. 1991.

Cohen, J. M. (editor). The Penguin Book of Spanish Verse. Penguin Books. 1988.

Preminger, Alex and Brogan, T. V. F. (editors). The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton University Press. 1993.

Ward, Philip (editor). The Oxford Companion to Spanish Literature. Oxford University Press. 1978.



Verses on the Death of His Father

I. I.
Recuerde el alma dormida, Arouse your sleeping soul,
avive el seso y despierte Revive your brain, wake up
__contemplando __And you will see
cómo se pasa la vida, How life goes by so fast,
cómo se viene la muerte How death creeps up on us
__tan callando; __So quietly;
cuán presto se va el placer, How pleasures quickly fade,
cómo después de acordado And when we think of them
__da dolor, __We feel malaise;
cómo a nuestro parecer, How always it appears
cualquiera tiempo pasado That former times comprised
__fue mejor. __Much better days.
Pues si vemos lo presente The present times will go
cómo en un punto se es ido Within a second’s tick,
__y acabado, __An hour’s chimes,
si juzgamos sabiamente, And if we judge with sense,
daremos lo no venido The future will be seen
__por pasado. __Like former times;
No se engañe nadie, no, So do not be deceived;
pensando que ha de durar Don’t think that future things
__lo que espera __Will come to stay;
más que duró lo que vio, Those things will not endure;
pues que todo ha de pasar They all must disappear
__por tal manera. __The selfsame way.
Nuestras vidas son los ríos Our lives are like the streams
que van a dar en la mar, That flow into the sea
__que es el morir: __And terminate;
allí van los señoríos, That’s where the manors go—
derechos a se acabar They meet their end and they
__y consumir; __Disintegrate;
allí los ríos caudales; Just as the rivers large,
allí los otros medianos The medium and small
__y más chicos, __Go to the sea,
y llegados son iguales, We all arrive as one,
los que viven por sus manos As workers in the field
__y los ricos. __Or rich and free.
Dejo las invocaciones I will not here invoke
de los famosos poetas The poets, speakers, all
__y oradores; __Who entertain;
no curo de sus ficciones, I don’t care for their tales;
que traen yerbas secretas They bring with them the scent
__sus sabores. __Of Mary Jane;
A Aquel sólo me encomiendo, I give myself to Him,
Aquel sólo invoco yo Invoking only Him
__de verdad, __With verity;
que en este mundo viviendo, He lived within the world;
el mundo no conoció The world did not accept
__su deidad. __His deity.
V. V.
Este mundo es el camino This world’s the way we go
para el otro, que es morada To heaven’s realm, a place
__sin pesar; __Without dismay;
mas cumple tener buen tino We need to walk the path
para andar esta jornada With sense and wisdom lest
__sin errar. __We go astray;
Partimos cuando nacemos, We set out when we’re born,
andamos mientras vivimos, We walk the path of life,
__y llegamos __Then we arrive;
al tiempo que fenecemos; We pass away from here
así que, cuando morimos, And enter into rest,
__descansamos. __Though still alive.
Este mundo bueno fue This world is counted good
si bien usásemos dél, If we have used it well,
__como debemos, __Just as we ought;
porque, según nuestra fe, According to our faith,
es para ganar aquel We will obtain the world
__que atendemos. __That we have sought;
Y aun aquel Hijo de Dios, The Son of God came down
para subirnos al cielo, To do His work and raise
__descendió __Us to His side;
a nacer acá entre nos Among us He was born,
y a vivir en este suelo He lived upon the earth,
__do murió. __And then He died.
Si fuese en nuestro poder If it were in our means
tornar la cara hermosa To bring a lovely face
__corporal, __To flesh again,
como podemos hacer As we can make a soul
el alma tan gloriosa So glorious and like
__angelical, __The angels’ kin,
¡qué diligencia tan viva With such great diligence
tuviéramos toda hora, Would we attempt to place
__y tan presta __Some fleshly clothes
en componer la cautiva, Upon the humble slave
dejándonos la señora And let his master go
__descompuesta! __To decompose!
Ved de cuán poco valor The things that we pursue
son las cosas tras que andamos And chase with reckless speed
__y corremos, __Have little worth;
que, en este mundo traidor, In this unfaithful world,
aun primero que muramos We lose some things before
__las perdemos. __We leave the earth;
De ellas deshace la edad, Some things decline through age,
de ellas casos desastrados And some by chance descend
__que acaecen, __Into decay;
de ellas, por su calidad, The quality of some
en los más altos estados Departs its highest state
__desfallecen. __And falls away.
Decidme, la hermosura, Now tell me, in the end,
la gentil frescura y tez How grace and freshness both
__de la cara, __Depart the face;
el color y la blancura, When age descends on us,
cuando viene la vejez, Does pink or pallor leave
__¿cuál se para? __Its former place?
Las mañas y ligereza The body’s strength entails
y la fuerza corporal The skillful lightness of
__de juventud, __The youthful age;
todo se torna graveza But flesh becomes a weight
cuando llega al arrabal When, at the end, we reach
__de senectud. __The final stage.
X. X.
Pues la sangre de los godos, The strength of Gothic blood,
y el linaje, y la nobleza Their proud nobility
__tan crecida, __And vaunted line,
¡por cuántas vías y modos By many ways and means,
se sume su gran alteza Their great ascent in life
__en esta vida! __Would soon decline!
Unos, por poco valer, And some of little worth,
¡por cuán bajos y abatidos How far down can descend
__que los tienen! __Their own repute!
Y otros por no tener, And some maintain their lives
con oficios no debidos With wretched jobs because
__se mantienen. __They’re destitute.
Los estados y riqueza, And who can doubt that wealth
que nos dejen a deshora And status can depart
__¿quién lo duda? __At any time?
No les pidamos firmeza, We don’t expect that fate
pues que son de una señora Will favor us, for luck
__que se muda, __Turns on a dime;
que bienes son de Fortuna, And Fortune’s favors spin;
que revuelven con su rueda They come and go upon
__presurosa, __Her rapid wheel;
la cual no puede ser una, She has no constancy;
ni ser estable ni queda We can’t predict today
__en una cosa. __What she will deal.
Pero digo que acompañen But all these things remain
y lleguen hasta la huesa Beside the one who takes
__con su dueño: __Them to the grave;
por eso no nos engañen, But let’s not be deceived,
pues se va la vida apriesa, For life is but a dream
__como sueño. __We cannot save;
Y los deleites de acá And all the pleasures here
son, en que nos deleitamos, That we enjoy soon end
__temporales, __By time’s decree;
y los tormentos de allá, And all the torments there
que por ellos esperamos, That we await endure
__eternales. __Eternally.
Los placeres y dulzores The pleasures and delights
de esta vida trabajada This weary world bestows
__que tenemos, __Hold us in thrall;
¿qué son sino corredores, They are but passageways,
y la muerte la celada While death becomes the trap
__en que caemos? __In which we fall;
No mirando a nuestro daño, We do not stop to think
corremos a rienda suelta Of danger on the way—
__sin parar; __We run apace;
des que vemos el engaño And when we see the trick
y queremos dar la vuelta, And want to turn around
__no hay lugar. __There isn’t space.
Esos reyes poderosos The mighty kings of old
que vemos por escrituras Of which we read in books
__ya pasadas, __Earned great renown;
con casos tristes llorosos By sad and gloomy fate,
fueron sus buenas venturas The fortunes that they made
__trastornadas; __Turned upside down;
así que no hay cosa fuerte, For popes and kings and lords,
que a papas y emperadores There is no worldly strength
__y prelados, __That’s ironclad;
así los trata la Muerte And Death treats each of them
como a los pobres pastores The same way that it treats
__de ganados. __A shepherd lad.
Dejemos a los troyanos, Let’s leave the Trojan deeds
que sus males no los vimos, And not recount the wars
__ni sus glorias; __They might have won;
dejemos a los romanos, Let’s leave the Roman fame,
aunque oímos y leímos Although we read the tales
__sus historias; __That men have spun;
no curemos de saber Forget the ages past;
lo de aquel siglo pasado, Don’t open up the books
__qué fue de ello; __That we all know;
vengamos a lo de ayer, Let’s look at yesterday;
que también es olvidado It is forgotten just
__como aquello. __Like long ago.
¿Qué se hizo el rey don Juan? What happened to King Juan,
Los infantes de Aragón The sons of Aragon,
__¿qué se hicieron? __Those princely men?
¿Qué fue de tanto galán? What happened to the youths
¿Qué fue de tanta invención And all the things that they
__como trajeron? __Invented then?
Las justas y los torneos, The tournaments and games,
paramentos, bordaduras, The needlework, the crests
__y cimeras, __The jousters wore—
¿fueron sino devaneos? Were they but vain pursuits?
¿qué fueron sino verduras Were they but chaff upon
__de las eras? __The threshing floor?
¿Qué se hicieron las damas, What happened to the girls,
sus tocados, sus vestidos, Their pretty hats and robes,
__sus olores? __Their lovely scents?
¿Qué se hicieron las llamas What happened to the sparks
de los fuegos encendidos And all the ardent flames
__de amadores? __That love foments?
¿Qué se hizo aquel trovar, What happened to the sound
las músicas acordadas Of people playing from
__que tañían? __A music score?
¿Qué se hizo aquel danzar, What happened to the dance
aquellas ropas chapadas And all the pretty clothes
__que traían? __The ladies wore?
Pues el otro heredero, That Don Enrique, heir,
don Enrique, ¡qué poderes What worldly power he
__alcanzaba! __Had quickly gained!
¡Cuán blando, cuán halaguero The pleasures of the world,
el mundo con sus placeres How fast and easily
__se le daba! __They were attained!
Mas verás cuán enemigo, But you will see how mean
cuán contrario, cuán cruel How ruthless and opposed
__se le mostró, __They proved to him;
habiéndole sido amigo, Though once the world was kind,
¡cuán poco duró con él How quickly all its gifts
__lo que le dio! __Fled on a whim!
Las dádivas desmedidas, The boundless gifts of men,
los edificios reales The royal palaces
__llenos de oro, __So full of gold;
las vajillas tan fabridas, The shiny cups and bowls,
los enriques y reales The golden coins and all
__del tesoro, __The wealth untold;
los jaeces y caballos The trappings of the steeds,
de su gente, y atavíos The people’s finery
__tan sobrados, __All unconcealed—
¿dónde iremos a buscallos? Where can we find them now?
¿qué fueron sino rocíos What were they but the dew
__de los prados? __In yonder field?
Pues su hermano, el inocente His brother, Innocent,
que en su vida sucesor Who in his life was called
__se llamó, __The rightful heir,
¡qué corte tan excelente He had a splendid court;
tuvo, y cuánto gran señor His lords would follow him
__le siguió! __Near anywhere!
Mas como fuese mortal, But as a mortal man,
metiólo la Muerte luego Soon Death threw him upon
__en su fragua, __His anvil block;
¡O juicio divinal!: Oh, godly justice, when
cuando más ardía el fuego, You snuff out ardent flames
__echaste agua. __It’s such a shock!
Pues aquel gran condestable And that great constable,
maestre que conocimos He was a favorite
__tan privado, __And highly skilled;
no cumple que dél se hable, We shouldn’t say much more
sino sólo que lo vimos Except to say that we
__degollado. __All saw him killed;
Sus infinitos tesoros, His endless wealth and gold,
sus villas y sus lugares, His villages and towns
__su mandar, __Made him a chief;
¿qué le fueron sino lloros? What were they but a loss
¿qué fueron sino pesares When he departed with
__al dejar? __Regret and grief?
Pues los otros dos hermanos, Two other brothers ruled;
maestres tan prosperados Those masters prospered much,
__como reyes, __Like wealthy shahs;
que a los grandes y medianos And all their subjects were
trajeron tan sojuzgados Required to obey
__a sus leyes; __Their many laws;
aquella prosperidad And their prosperity
que tan alta fue subida Shot up so fast just like
__y ensalzada, __A branching sprout;
¿qué fue sino claridad, What was it but a light
que cuando más encendida That at its zenith was
__fue matada? __Put quickly out?
Tantos duques excelentes, So many splendid dukes,
tantos marqueses y condes, So many lords and counts
__y barones, __In their array—
como vimos tan potentes, We saw that they were strong;
di, Muerte, ¿dó los escondes O Death, where have you hid
__y traspones? __Them all away?
Y las sus claras hazañas And all those wondrous deeds
que hicieron en las guerras That they performed in wars
__y en las paces, __And during peace—
cuando tú, cruda, te ensañas, When you become enraged,
con tu fuerza las atierras You throw them down and break
__y deshaces. __Their body’s lease.
Las huestes innumerables, The host of fighting men,
los pendones y estandartes The pennants, standards, flags,
__y banderas, __And emblems bright;
los castillos impugnables, The castles, barricades,
los muros y baluartes The bulwarks made to stand
__y barreras, __Against a fight;
la cava honda chapada, A deep and filthy moat,
o cualquier otro reparo, Or any strong defense—
__¿qué aprovecha? __What can it do?
cuando tú vienes airada, When rage is in your mind,
todo lo pasas de claro Your arrows penetrate
__con tu flecha. __And pass right through.
Aquél de buenos abrigo, Now Don Rodrigo was
amado por virtuoso Much loved by people for
__de la gente, __His rectitude;
el maestre don Rodrigo The master was renowned
Manrique, tanto famoso For courage, fighting nerve,
__y tan valiente, __And fortitude;
sus grandes hechos y claros As for his acts and feats,
no cumple que los alabe, It wouldn’t be correct
__pues los vieron, __To harp on those;
ni los quiero hacer caros, I don’t wish to enlarge
pues el mundo todo sabe His deeds, for what he did
__cuáles fueron. __The whole world knows.
¡Qué amigo de sus amigos! A friend he was to friends!
¡Qué señor para criados A master to his kin
__y parientes! __And loyal aides!
¡Qué enemigo de enemigos! A foe to all his foes!
¡Qué maestre de esforzados A leader of the men
__y valientes! __With flashing blades!
¡Qué seso para discretos! A brain with all the shrewd!
¡Qué gracia para donosos! A jester with the wags,
__¡Qué razón! __And what a mind!
¡Qué benigno a los sujetos, He was a lion bold
y a los bravos y dañosos, To foes, but to his own
__un león! __He was so kind!
En ventura Octaviano, An Octavian in fortune,
Julio César en vencer A Caesar in the battles
__y batallar, __That he won;
en la virtud, Africano, A Scipio in virtue,
Aníbal en el saber A Hannibal in lore and
__y trabajar, __Work well done;
en la bondad un Trajano, A Trajan in his goodness,
Tito en liberalidad A Titus in largess
__con alegría, __And joyful youth;
en su brazo, Aureliano An Aurelian in strength,
Marco Atilio en la verdad An Atilius who kept
__que prometía. __His word of truth.
Antonio Pío en clemencia, A Pius in clemency,
Marco Aurelio en igualdad An Aurelius in his life
__del semblante, __Of stoicism;
Adriano en la elocuencia, A Hadrian in eloquence,
Teodosio en humanidad A Theodosius in good will
__y buen talante, __And optimism;
Aurelio Alejandro fue An Alexander in strictness,
en disciplina y rigor In discipline in war
__de la guerra, __And strength of hand;
un Constantino en la fe, A Constantine in faith,
Camilo en el gran amor A Camillus in his love
__de su tierra. __Of native land.
No dejó grandes tesoros, He didn’t leave great wealth;
ni alcanzó muchas riquezas, He didn’t win a lot
__ni vajillas, __Of trophy plates;
mas hizo guerra a los moros, But he repelled the Moors
ganando sus fortalezas And captured lands and towns
__y sus villas; __For potentates;
y en las lides que venció, In battles that he won,
muchos moros y caballos The Moors and horses fell
__se perdieron, __To him in war;
y en este oficio ganó And for his work they gave
las rentas y los vasallos Him income, vassals, and
__que le dieron. __A great deal more.
Pues por su honra y estado And how, in former times,
en otros tiempos pasados Did he defend his state
__¿cómo se hubo? __With strength and grace?
Quedando desamparado, Though unprotected with
con hermanos y criados His brothers and his aides,
__se sostuvo. __He held his place;
Después que hechos famosos And after all these feats
hizo en esta dicha guerra Of war, he was fulfilled
__que hacía, __When he returned;
hizo tratos tan honrosos, He made such righteous pacts
que le dieron aun más tierra That he was given more
__que tenía. __Than he had earned.
Estas sus viejas historias, Such were his youthful deeds,
que con su brazo pintó And after writing them
__en juventud, __He turned the page;
con otras nuevas victorias And he renewed them with
ahora las renovó Some recent victories
__en senectud. __In his old age;
Por su gran habilidad, By his great merits, by
por méritos y ancianía His time well spent, and by
__bien gastada, __Ability,
alcanzó la dignidad He earned a knightly rank,
de la gran caballería The Order of the Sword,
__de la Espada. __With dignity.
Y sus villas y sus tierras He found his towns and lands
ocupadas de tiranos Usurped by tyrants’ hands
__las halló, __And occupied;
mas por cercos y por guerras By sieges and by wars,
y por fuerza de sus manos By power he restored
__las cobró. __Them to his side;
Pues nuestro rey natural If work that he performed
si de las obras que obró Was good and served our true
__fue servido, __And rightful king,
dígalo el de Portugal, Let men of Portugal,
y en Castilla quien siguió Castile, and elsewhere say
__su partido. __That very thing.
Después de puesta la vida And after he had risked
tantas veces por su ley His life so many times
__al tablero, __For justice’ sake,
después de tan bien servida And after serving well
la corona de su rey The crown of his true king,
__verdadero; __No one can make
después de tanta hazaña A tally of his deeds,
a que no puede bastar For if one counted them
__cuenta cierta, __There would be more;
en la su villa de Ocaña In his Ocaña town,
vino la Muerte a llamar Don Death arrived to knock
__a su puerta __Upon his door.
diciendo: «Buen caballero, He said, “Distinguished knight,
dejad el mundo engañoso Depart this world of fraud
__y su halago; __And its delights,
vuestro corazón de acero And with your heart of steel
muestre su esfuerzo famoso Confront with strength and calm
__en este trago; __Your present plight;
y pues de vida y salud You scorned your life and health
hicisteis tan poca cuenta All on account of your
__por la fama, __Good deeds and fame;
esfuércese la virtud Take virtue’s arm of strength;
por sufrir esta afrenta Endure this one affront
__que vos llama. __That calls your name.
«No se os haga tan amarga “Do not feel bitter now;
la batalla temerosa This battle comes with fear,
__que esperáis, __As you perceive;
pues otra vida más larga The other longer life
de fama tan gloriosa Of fame, so glory-filled,
__acá dejáis. __Is what you leave;
Aunque esta vida de honor Although that life of fame
tampoco no es eternal Is not eternal, nor
__ni verdadera, __Is it the true,
mas con todo es muy mejor It’s better than this life,
que la otra temporal, The mortal one with which
__perecedera. __You’re almost through.
«El vivir que es perdurable, “Eternal life is not
no se gana con estados Attained with worldly goods
__mundanales, __Or rich estates,
ni con vida deleitable, Nor with the pleasures that
en que moran los pecados Make up the hellish sins
__infernales, __Of reprobates;
mas los buenos religiosos The monks attain that life
ganánlo con oraciones With prayers, honest tears,
__y con lloros, __And passing woes;
los caballeros famosos The famous knights earn life
con trabajos y aflicciones With hard and painful work
__contra moros. __Against their foes.
Y pues vos, claro varón, “And since you, worthy knight,
tanta sangre derramasteis Destroyed the armies of
__de paganos, __Ungodly men,
esperad el galardón Expect the good reward
que en este mundo ganasteis That you have earned and be
__por las manos. __Assured within;
y con esta confianza And with that confidence,
y con la fe tan entera And with so strong a faith,
__que tenéis, __Endure your pain;
partid con buena esperanza, Depart with solid hope—
que esta otra vida tercera, The third and better life
__ganaréis.» __You will attain.”
«No gastemos tiempo ya “Let’s not waste any time
en esta vida mezquina In this ignoble life
__por tal modo, __To which men cling,
que mi voluntad está For now my will is one
conforme con la divina With God’s, and I consent
__para todo; __To everything;
y consiento en mi morir Agreeing to my death,
con voluntad placentera, I go with pleasant will
__clara y pura, __And don’t complain;
que querer hombre vivir For wishing still to live
cuando Dios quiere que muera When God wants you to die
__es locura.» __Would be insane.”
«Tú, que por nuestra maldad “You took a lowly name
tomaste forma servil And wore the humble flesh
__y bajo nombre, __Because we sinned;
Tú, que en tu divinidad You merged divinity
juntaste cosa tan vil With vile flesh to help
__como el hombre; __Us all transcend;
Tú, que tan grandes tormentos You suffered in Your flesh
sufriste sin resistencia Such torments and abuse
__en tu persona, __And agony;
no por mis merecimientos, Not for my worthiness,
mas por tu sola clemencia, But in your lenience,
__me perdona.» __Please pardon me.”
Así con tal entender, And with that final plea,
todos sentidos humanos With all his faculties
__conservados, __And still aware,
cercado de su mujer, Surrounded by his wife,
y de sus hijos y hermanos His siblings, children, aides,
__y criados, __And others there,
dio el alma a quien se la dio, He gave his soul to God
el cual la ponga en el cielo That he might walk in bliss
__en su gloria, __On streets of gold;
y aunque la vida murió, And though his soul is gone,
nos dejó harto consuelo By thinking of his life
__su memoria. __We are consoled.



Alan Steinle is a writer, editor, and Spanish translator. Originally from Oklahoma, he currently lives in Washington state. His website is

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9 Responses

  1. Mike Bryant

    I’m from the border town of Brownsville Texas and have a great appreciation of Spanish. The decisions you made on syllable count and rhyme scheme worked beautifully. One of the things I love about Spanish is the way that words flow so smoothly from one to the next. I believe that you have largely done that with your choice of words. You have definitely and deftly conveyed the meaning and spirit of the poem.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Alan, your translation and prefatory essay represent a major literary achievement. All of us associated with the SCP should consider ourselves honored that you chose this venue to publish your work. Although I am not qualified to comment on the matter of translation, I can affirm what Mike has said as to the English versions being delicate, polished and well-crafted poetry in its own right.

  3. El Cid E. W. Rubesa

    Mr. Steinle’s attempts at translating one of the remarkable works of Spanish literature here in the New Millennium, if not “a major literary achievement”, as Mr. Tweedie calls it, is a worthy attempt for several reasons, 1) his battle with syllable and meter (what I consider one of the major issues of our era), 2) his deconstruction of the lines into components, and 3) his choice.

  4. Jeremy Forsyth

    Hello Alan, thank you for this beautiful translation.
    I would love to reprint your translations of stanzas 3 and 5 in a free educational zine I am creating for an art exhibition. Could we connect regarding permissions for this? Thank you!

  5. Martin Smith

    This poem was included in a documentary about Castles in Spain that I had to translate. Those were the days before the internet and I shuddered at the task in hand. In desperation I went to the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) in Madrid and explained my predicament to the Librarian, who immediately granted me membership for a year. Down in the basement I was astonished to discover texts by Cervantes, Quevedo and Lope de Vega and many others about the poem. I had no idea how famous it was. Surely there had to be a translation. Then, after days, I did find a translation and a very good one it seemed to me and I gasped when I saw the signature of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I then consulted a bilingual Professor of Medieval Spanish who suggested corrections in the translation before I added my two cents worth. I wish I had kept the finished piece. I really appreciate what you have done here and again I am reminded that translation is such a personal thing. When I am stuck I go back to Borges.

  6. Alan

    I want to offer a belated “thank you” for the comments.

    When I translated this poem, I didn’t know that it was famous, but now I realize how quotable it is and how much it influenced later poets and authors.

    Maybe it should go without saying, but just because I translated the poem and recognize its historical importance, that doesn’t mean that I agree with all of the ideas presented in it. Some of the things that I agree with are the ideas that life is short, that temporal pleasures are not important and often lead to pain, that there is life after death, and that God exists.

    However, I don’t believe in war, and I don’t think there is anything in this world worth fighting for. The body and the things that support it are temporary and not things to be treasured. My treasure is in heaven, and since I believe that the soul is eternal, I don’t need to worry about how long my life in this world will last. If “life is but a dream / We cannot save,” then why spend time fighting for it and creating a nightmare? I don’t expect I’ll change anyone’s mind, but these are some of my beliefs.

  7. Mary Gardner

    Dear Alan,
    I am about three years late to your translation of my favorite poem. Thank you for this read. You were astute to forgo the original rhyme scheme and to rhyme only the third and sixth, and the ninth and twelfth lines. It makes the translation fluid and pleasing.

    • Alan Steinle

      Thanks, Mary. I’m glad you approve of my methodology. Since this is your favorite poem, am I right to conclude that you speak Spanish as a native or bilingual speaker?

      • Mary Gardner

        English is my first language. I studied Spanish in high school and found it natural and pleasant to the ear. It was taught with an emphasis on grammar.
        I can read and write Spanish, but cannot think and comprehend fast enough to carry on a conversation.

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