What were they but dew from the meadows?

From Jorge Manrique‘s Verses on the Death of His Father (Coplas por la muerte de su padre). For all its fame in Spanish literature, this work seems sadly unattended to by English translators. The two verse renderings I can find are an old Longfellow that, borrowing a phrase from Sarah Caudwell, is more than a bit ’emancipated’ and a more recent online-only version by Alan Steinle. There’s also a prose by J.M. Cohen in The Penguin Book of Spanish Verse that I’ve not been able to check yet.

Here are the three opening stanzas from Steinle’s version plus the XIX since it has my favorite line of the poem. Steinle’s full version – from which I’ve also lifted this lovely side-by-side formatting – is available here. And Longfellow is here for comparison.

Recuerde el alma dormida,Arouse your sleeping soul,
avive el seso y despierteRevive your brain, wake up
__contemplando__And you will see
cómo se pasa la vida,How life goes by so fast,
cómo se viene la muerteHow death creeps up on us
__tan callando;__So quietly;
cuán presto se va el placer,How pleasures quickly fade,
cómo después de acordadoAnd when we think of them
__da dolor,__We feel malaise;
cómo a nuestro parecer,How always it appears
cualquiera tiempo pasadoThat former times comprised
__fue mejor.__Much better days.
Pues si vemos lo presenteThe present times will go
cómo en un punto se es idoWithin a second’s tick,
__y acabado,__An hour’s chimes,
si juzgamos sabiamente,And if we judge with sense,
daremos lo no venidoThe future will be seen
__por pasado.__Like former times;
No se engañe nadie, no,So do not be deceived;
pensando que ha de durarDon’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 pasarThey all must disappear
__por tal manera.__The selfsame way.
Nuestras vidas son los ríosOur 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 acabarThey meet their end and they
__y consumir;__Disintegrate;
allí los ríos caudales;Just as the rivers large,
allí los otros medianosThe medium and small
__y más chicos,__Go to the sea,
y llegados son iguales,We all arrive as one,
los que viven por sus manosAs workers in the field
__y los ricos.__Or rich and free.
Las dádivas desmedidas,The boundless gifts of men,
los edificios realesThe royal palaces
__llenos de oro,__So full of gold;
las vajillas tan fabridas,The shiny cups and bowls,
los enriques y realesThe golden coins and all
__del tesoro,__The wealth untold;
los jaeces y caballosThe trappings of the steeds,
de su gente, y atavíosThe people’s finery
__tan sobrados,__All unconcealed—
¿dónde iremos a buscallos?Where can we find them now?
¿qué fueron sino rocíosWhat were they but the dew
__de los prados?__In yonder field?

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