Triste España

Posted on: 25 April 2020, by :

In the three weeks since this blog first considered the distressing loss of life from COVID-19 — focussing particularly on Italy: see Weep with songs of sadness — the crisis in Spain quickly became the second most acute in Europe, with 23,000 deaths attributed to the virus so far. Such large numbers represent an amount of grieving that is beyond our imagining and can leave us bewildered and growing numb to its misery. How do we even try to remember so many individuals and their suffering families as well as mourn for a whole country?

These two songs by the great poet-composer Juan del Encina (1468–1529) help to make that connection between mourning the unexpected death of an individual and expressing the pain and grief of the nation. The first, Triste España sin ventura, laments the premature death in 1497, at the age of 19, of Juan, Prince of Asturias, the only son of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon and heir to their kingdoms. His loss from an infection (probably tuberculosis) was a tragedy for all of Spain and for its European dynastic alliances. The second, Todos los bienes del mundo, reminds us to honour the true worth of the individual (their reputation and personal qualities), for after their death their worldy possessions mean nothing. Despite the funereal manner of the music in two of these three performances, poems like these, in the vernacular, belong in the secular realm and may be at odds with the official line of the Church about a loving God. Triste España sin ventura is remarkable for how Encina’s words represent the despair of the bereaved who cannot understand why their loved one was cruelly ‘taken’ by a God who had ‘made you happier so as better to hurt you’. There must be many thousands of people in Spain today, who, in their pain, share that inability to reconcile their shocking and unexpected loss with matters of faith.

Triste España sin ventura,
todos te deven llorar.
Despoblada d'alegría,
para nunca en ti tornar.

Tormentos, penas, dolores,
te vinieron a poblar.
Sembróte Dios de plazer
porque naciesse pesar.

Hízote la más dichosa
para más te lastimar.
Tus victorias y triunfos
ya se hovieron de pagar.

Pues que tal pérdida pierdes,
dime en qué podrás ganar.
Pierdes la luz de tu gloria
y el gozo de tu gozar.

Pierdes toda tu esperança,
no te queda qué esperar.
Pierdes príncipe tan alto,
hijo de Reyes sin par.

Llora, llora, pues perdiste
quien te havía de ensalçar.
En su tierna juventud
te lo quiso Dios llevar.

Llevóte todo tu bien,
dexóte su desear,
porque mueras, porque penes,
sin dar fin a tu penar.

De tan penosa tristura
no te esperes consolar.

Sad Spain without fortune,
everyone should weep for you.
Barren, devoid of happiness
that shall never return.

Storms, sorrows, pains
came and took residence in you.
God sowed pleasures in you
so pains would grow.

He made you happier
so as better to hurt you.
For your victories and achievements
you had to pay dearly.

Since you keep sustaining such losses,
tell me, what should you ever win?
You lose the light of your glory
and the joy of being joyful.

You lose all your hope,
and are left with nothing to hope for,
you lose so high a prince,
the son of peerless kings.

Cry, cry, for you lost
he who was to sing your praises.
In his tender youth
God saw fit to take him.

He took all good away from you,
and left you with his longing,
so you could die, so you could pine,
with no end to your grieving.

Of such pitiful sadness, 
hope not ever to gain relief.

Translation adapted from

Performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespérion XXI, directed by Jordi Savall (CD recording, 2004). The images are of the monastery of Santo Tomás, Ávila, where Prince Juan was entombed.

Todos los bienes del mundo 
Pasan presto y su memoria, 
Salvo la fama y la gloria. 

El tiempo lleva los unos, 
A otros fortuna y suerte. 
Y al cabo viene la muerte, 
Que no nos dexa ningunos. 

Todos los bienes fortunos 
Y de muy poca memoria, 
Salvo la fama y la gloria. 

La fama vive segura, 
Aunque se muera el dueño; 
Los otros bienes son sueño 
Y una çierta sepultura. 

La mejor y más ventura 
Pasa presto y su memoria, 
Salvo la fama y la gloria. 

Procuremos buena fama, 
que jamás nunca se pierde, 
árbol que siempre está verde 
y con el fruto en la rama.

Todo bien que bien se llama 
pasa presto y su memoria, 
salvo la fama y la gloria.
All the possessions in the world
and their memory pass quickly,
except reputation and glory.

Some are carried away by time,
others by fortune and luck,
and in the end death comes,
which leaves us with none.

All goods are from fortune
and of very short memory,
except fame and glory.

Fame survives safely
even if its owner dies;
the other goods are a dream
and [have] a certain grave.

The best and greatest venture
and its memory pass quickly,
except fame and glory.

Let us acquire good reputation,
which never, never is lost,
a tree that always is green
and with fruit on the branches.

All property that can be called good,
and its memory, passes quickly,
except fame and glory.

Translation adapted from

Performed by La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Hespérion XXI, directed by Jordi Savall (CD recording, 2000).

Performed by Collegium Musicum Madrid, recorded in January 2019.