Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Ballad of Guibour - Frédéric Mistral

At Arles in the Carlovingian days,
        By the swift Rhone water,
A hundred thousand on either side,
Christian and Saracen, fought till the tide
        Ran red with the slaughter.

May God forefend such another flood
        Of direful war!
The Count of Orange on that black morn
By seven great kings was overborne,
        And fled afar,

Whenas he would avenge the death
        Of his nephew slain.
Now are the kings upon his trail;
He slays as he flies: like fiery hail
        His sword-strokes rain.

He hies him into the Aliscamp,—
        No shelter there!
A Moorish hive is the home of the dead,
And hard he spurs his goodly steed
        In his despair.

Over the mountain and over the moor
        Flies Count Guillaume;
By sun and by moon he ever sees
The coming cloud of his enemies;
        Thus gains his home.

Halts and lifts at the castle gate;
        A mighty cry,
Calling his haughty wife by name;
“Guibour, Guibour, my gentle dame,
        Open! ’T is I!

“Open the gate to thy Guillaume!
        Ta’en is the city
By thirty thousand Saracen,
Lo, they are hunting me to my den:
        Guibour, have pity!”

But the countess from the rampart cried,
        “Nay, chevalier,
I will not open my gates to thee;
For, save the women and babes,” said she,
        “Whom I shelter here,

“And the priest who keeps the lamps alight,
        Alone am I.
My brave Guillaume and his barons all
Are fighting the Moor by the Aliscamp wall,
        And scorn to fly!”

“Guibour, Guibour, it is I myself!
        And those men of mine
(God rest their souls!) they are dead,” he cried,
“Or rowing with slaves on the salt sea-tide.
        I have seen the shine

“Of Arles on fire in the dying day;
        I have heard one shriek
Go up from all the arenas where
The nuns disfigure their bodies fair
        Lest the Marran wreak

“His brutal will. Avignon’s self
        Will fall to-day!
Sweetheart, I faint; oh, let me in
Before the savage Mograbin
        Fall on his prey!”

“I swear thou liest,” cried Guibour,
        “Thou base deceiver!
Thou art perchance thyself a Moor
Who whinest thus outside my door;—
        My Guillaume, never!

“Guillaume to look on burning towns
        And fired by—thee!
Guillaume to see his comrades die,
Or borne to sore captivity,
        And then to flee!

“He knows not flight! He is a tower
        Where others fly!
The heathen spoiler’s doom is sure,
The virgin’s honor aye secure,
        When he is by!”

Guillaume leapt up, his bridle set
        Between his teeth,
While tears of love and tears of shame
Under his burning eyelids came,
        And hard drew breath,

And seized his sword and plunged his spurs
        Right deep, and so
A storm, a demon, did descend
To roar and smite, to rout and rend
        The Moorish foe.

As when one shakes an almond-tree,
        The heathen slain
Upon the tender grass fall thick,
Until the flying remnant seek
        Their ships again.

Four kings with his own hand he slew,
        And when once more
He turned him homeward from the fight,
Upon the drawbridge long in sight
        Stood brave Guibour.

“By the great gateway enter in,
        My lord!” she cried;
And might no further welcome speak,
But loosed his helm, and kissed his cheek,
        With tears of pride.

Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914)
Translated by Harriet Waters Preston

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