The Coplas on the Death
of His Father,
the Grand-Master of
Let from its dream the soul awaken,
And reason mark with open eyes
The scene unfolding,—
How lightly life away is taken,
How cometh Death in stealthy guise,— 5
At last beholding;
What swiftness hath the flight of pleasure
That, once attained, seems nothing more
Than respite cold;
How fain is memory to measure 10
Each latter day inferior
To those of old.
Beholding how each instant flies
So swift, that, as we count, 'tis gone
Beyond recover, 15
Let us resolve to be more wise
Than stake our future lot upon
What soon is over.
Let none be self-deluding, none,—
Imagining some longer stay 20
For his own treasure
Than what today he sees undone;
For everything must pass away
In equal measure.
Our lives are fated as the rivers
That gather downward to the sea
We know as Death;
And thither every flood delivers
The pride and pomp of seigniory
Thither, the rivers in their splendor;
Thither, the streams of modest worth,—
The rills beside them;
Till there all equal they surrender;
And so with those who toil on earth, 35
And those who guide them.
I turn me from the praise and singing
Of panegyrists, and the proud
Old poets' stories;
I would not have them hither bringing 40
Their artful potions that but cloud
His honest glories;
On Him Alone I lay my burden—
Him only do I now implore
In my distress,— 45
Who came on earth and had for guerdon
The scorn of man that did ignore
This world is but a highway going
Unto that other, the abode 50
Without a sorrow;
The wise are they who gird them, knowing
The guideposts set along that road
We start with birth upon that questing;
We journey all the while we live,
Our goal attaining
The day alone that brings us resting,
When Death shall last quiétus give
To all complaining.
This were a hallowed world indeed,
Did we but give it the employ
That was intended;
For by the precepts of our Creed
We earn hereby a life of joy 65
When this is ended.
The Son of God Himself on earth
Came down to raise our lowly race
Unto the sky;
Here took upon Him human birth; 70
Here lived among us for a space;
And here did die.
Behold what miserable prize—
What futile task we set upon,
Whilst greed awakes us! 75
And what a traitor world of lies
Is this, whose very gifts are gone
Ere Death o'ertakes us!
Some through increasing age deprived,
Some by unhappy turn of fate 80
Destroyed and banished,
Some, as with blight inherent rived
At topmost of their branching state,
Have failed and vanished.
Yea, tell me shall the lovely blason,
The gentle freshness and contour
Of smiling faces,—
The blush and pallor's sweet occasion,—
Of all—shall one a truce secure
From Time's grim traces?
The flowing tress, the stature slender,
The corporal litheness, and the strength
Of gallant youth,—
All, all,—to weariness surrender
As o'er them falls the shadow's length 95
Of age in truth.
Of fair Don Juan the king that ruled us,—
Of those hight heirs of
What are the tidings?
Of him, whose courtly graces schooled us, 100
Whom song and wisdom smiled upon,
Where the abidings?
The jousts and tourneys where vaunted
With trappings, and caparison,
And armor sheathing,— 105
Were they but phantasies that taunted,—
But blades of grass that vanished on
A summer's breathing?
What of the dames of birth and station,
Their head-attire, their sweeping trains, 110
Their vesture scented?
What of that gallant conflagration
They made of lovers' hearts whose pains
And what of him, that troubadour
Whose melting lutany and rime
Was all their pleasure?
Ah, what of her who danced demure,
And trailed her robes of olden time
So fair a measure?
And then, Don Alvaro, Grand-Master
And Constable, whom we have known
When loved and dreaded,—
What need to tell of his disaster,
Since we behold him overthrown 125
And swift beheaded!
His treasures that defied accounting,
His manors and his feudal lands,
His boundless power,—
What more than tears were their amounting? 130
What more than bonds to tie his hands
At life's last hour?
And he, the shield and knightly pastor
Of honest folk, beloved by all
The unoffending,— 135
Don Roderic Manrique, Master
Him brave unending!
Not here behooves to chant his praises
Or laud his valor to the skies, 140
Since none but knows them;
Nor would I crave a word that raises
His merit higher than the prize
The world bestows them.
O what a comrade comrades found him!
Unto his henchmen what a lord!
And what a brother!
What foeman for the foes around him!
His peer as Master of the Sword
There was no other!
What precious counsel 'mid the knowing!
What grace amid the courtly bower!
What prudence rare!
What bounty to the vanquished showing!
How 'mid the brave in danger's hour 155
A lion there!
He left no weighty chests of treasure,
Nor ever unto wealth attained
Nor store excelling;
To fight the Moors was all his pleasure 160
And thus his fortresses he gained,
Demesne, and dwelling.
Amid the lists where he prevailed
Fell knights and steeds into his hands
Through fierce compression, 165
Whereby he came to be regaled
With vassals and with feudal lands
In fair possession.
Ask you how in his rank and station
When first he started his career 170
Himself he righted?
Left orphan and in desolation
His brothers and his henchmen dear
He held united.
And ask you how his course was guided
When once his gallant deeds were famed
And war was ended?
His high contracting so provided
That broader, as his honors claimed,
His lands extended.
And these, the proud exploits narrated
In chronicles to show his youth
And martial force,
With triumphs equal he was fated
To re-affirm in very sooth 185
As years did course.
Then for the prudence of his ways,
For merit and in high award
Of service knightly,
His dignity they came to raise 190
Till he was Master of the Sword
Finding his father's forts and manors
By false intruders occupied
And sore oppressed, 195
With siege and onslaught, shouts and banners,
His broad-sword in his hand to guide,
And for our rightful king how well
He bore the brunt of warfare keen 200
In siege and action,
Let Portugal's poor monarch tell,
Or those who in Castile have been
Among his faction.
Then having risked his life, maintaining
The cause of justice in the fight
For law appointed,
With years in harness spent sustaining
The royal crown of him by right
His lord anointed,
With feats so mighty that Hispania
Can never make account of all
In number mortal,—
Unto his township of Ocaña
Came Death at last to strike and call 215
Against his portal:
“Good Cavalier,”—he cried,—“divest you
Of all this hollow world of lies
And soft devices;
Let your old courage now attest you, 220
And show a breast of steel that vies
In this hard crisis!
“And since of life and fortune's prizes
You ever made so small account
For sake of honor, 225
Array your soul in virtue's guises
To undergo this paramount
Assault upon her!
“For you, are only half its terrors
And half the battles and the pains 230
Your heart perceiveth;
Since here a life devoid of errors
And glorious for noble pains
To-day it leaveth;
“A life for such as bravely bear it
And make its fleeting breath sublime
In right pursuing,
Untainted, as is their's who share it
And put their pleasure in the grime
Of their undoing;
“The life that is The Everlasting
Was never yet by aught attained
Save meed eternal;
And ne'er through soft indulgence casting
The shadow of its solace stained 245
With guilt infernal;
“But in the cloister holy brothers
Besiege it with unceasing prayer
And hard denial;
And faithful paladins are others 250
Who 'gainst the Moors to win it bear
With wound and trial.
“And since, O noble and undaunted,
Your hands the paynim's blood have shed
In war and tourney,— 255
Make ready now to take the vaunted
High guerdon you have merited
For this great journey!
“Upon this holy trust confiding,
And in the faith entire and pure 260
You e'er commended,
Away,—unto your new abiding,
Take up the Life that shall endure
When this is ended!”
Respondeth the Grand-Master
“Waste we not here the final hours
This puny life can now afford
My mortal being;
But let my will in all its powers
Conformable approach the Lord
And His decreeing.
“Unto my death I yield, contenting
My soul to put the body by
In peace and gladness;
The thought of man to live, preventing
God's loving will that he should die, 275
Is only madness.”
O Thou who for our weight of sin
Descended to a place on earth
And human feature;
Thou who didst join Thy Godhead in 280
A being of such lowly worth
As man Thy creature;
Thou who amid Thy dire tormenting
Didst unresistingly endure
Such pangs to ease us; 285
Not for my mean deserts relenting,
But only on a sinner poor,
Have mercy, Jesus!
And thus, his hopes so nobly founded,
His senses clear and unimpaired 290
So none could doubt him,—
With spouse and offspring fond surrounded,
His kinsmen and his servants bared
And knelt around him,—
He gave his soul to Him who gave it,
(May God in heaven ordain it place
And share of glory!)
And left our life as balm to save it,
And dry the tears upon our face!
His deathless story.