Posts Tagged ‘Spanish Music’














So el encina:             

So el encina, encina,
so el encina.

Yo me iba, mi madre,
a la romería;
por ir más devota
fui sin compañía;
so el encina.

Por ir más devota
fin sin compañía;
tomé otro camino,
dejé el que tenía;
so el encina.

Halléme perdida
en una montiña,
echéme a dormir
al pie del encina,
so el encina.

A la media noche
recordé, mezquina;
halléme en los brazos
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Pesóme, cuitada
de que amanecía
porque yo gozaba
del que más quería,
so el encina.

Muy biendita sía
la tal romería;
so el encina.







Under the Ilex

Beneath the ilex, the ilex
beneath the ilex

I was going, Mother,
on a pilgrimage
so as to be more devout
I was without companions.

So as to be more devout
I was without companions
I took another road
I left the one I was on
under the ilex.

I found myself lost     
on a mountain
I prepared to sleep
at the foot of the ilex

At midnight
I remember – woe is me –
I found myself in the arms
of the one I love best
under the ilex

To my chagrin, I was left
at the break of dawn,
for I had been delighting
in the one I love best
under the ilex

Most blessed be
such a pilgrimage
under the ilex.

Translation Dia Tsung






















Quercus ilex is the Mediterranean Oak, also called the Holm Oak, Holly Oak, Ilex, Evergreen Oak, Scarlet Oak, Bloody Oak and Prickly Oak.  It shares the name ‘Ilex’ with Holly, probably because like the Holly, it is evergreen. How the same tree could be referred to as ‘evergreen’ and ‘scarlet’ is a minor mystery, but solved by the entomologists, who tell us that the scarlet berries, which give the oak its name, are made by an insect – the kerm beetle – who feeds on the oak leaves and produces a scarlet ‘berry,’ which is the source of a scarlet dye highly prized by the ancients and used for royal robes and  buskins. The berries themselves were said to possess aphrodisiac properties, and perhaps this could have been intended by the anonymous poet as another oblique suggestion pertaining to the midnight tryst.  Coincidentally, one of the most famous XV century composers of villancicos was Juan Encina – and I wonder if  it is possible that it was he who wrote the poem.

When I first read this poem, I immediately felt that the Ilex tree held a significance beyond its being merely a convenient shelter for a young girl on a pilgrimage, who had lost her way.  Two references jumped out at me, the first by Ovid, and the second by Robert Graves. According to Graves, the Holm Oak stands for the eighth month of the druid calendar and the letter ‘T’ in the druidic tree alphabet. The letter ‘T’ signifies the cross, or the gibbet and has connotations of human sacrifice in the old religion, although here, happily it is only her virginity – and not the virgin herself – which is ‘sacrificed.’

These things suggest to me that our girl set off on her romantic adventure around midsummer – a warm time of year, perfect for a ‘pilgrimage’ in the mountains, particularly if one also has to sleep outdoors.

Ovid tells us that Artemis the wild huntress and her virgin band of hamdryades cooled themselves  at midday in a pool hidden by a thicket of Ilex. When the women disrobed before entering the water, one of the Goddess’s companions, Callisto the princess of Arcadia, was seen to be pregnant. She was expelled from the group for her indiscretion, and was later turned into a bear by Hera. She can be seen in the night sky as one of the stars in the always bright constellation of Ursa Major.

Acorns were also thought to be the food of the Arcadians (who were the descendants of Callisto’s son Arkas) – and bears.  Callisto was of course seduced by Zeus, and she may not have been completely willing, since there is little to suggest that the women Zeus ravished consented in any way, and not surprisingly these seductions had little to do with either love or romance.

I felt intuitively that the poem was about a virgin with her first lover – which the Arcadian episode appeared to support. The young girl in the villancico, under the pretext of going on a pilgrimage, appears to have turned in a different direction, with the intention of keeping an assignation with her lover. But even if the meeting had not been planned (improbable but possible,) her apparently religious motivation turns out to have  had a decidedly secular outcome.

The girl has  contrived a good  cover story for her sly ‘accidentally on purpose’ rendezvous,  and is careful to appear blameless when she  returns home and recounts the details of her ‘pilgrimage’ to her mother. She couches  it in terms of a ‘mishap,’ which, is designed to preserve her innocence, if not her modesty.

It seems evident to me she is an adventuresome girl – intelligent, enterprising – and bold enough to wish to travel alone.  She experiences her life in  concrete terms – of  external events, circumstances and she gives us no advance notice of her own intentions. She expresses no doubts or fears or speculations, and this absence of interiority gives the poem  much of its straightforwardness, clarity and honesty.

The girl seems to have planned her journey so as to reach the Ilex tree at dusk, and was prepared to wait there alone in the thickening darkness  until her lover came to meet her.

In older times, Midsummer was after all, the time for romantic revelry and magical evocations. Even Shakespeare capitalised on the associations of this uncanny season to provide the context of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Even the word ‘midsummer’ has something quite magical about it, and saying the words ‘summer night’ alone can cast the first tinge of a spell upon a previously clear mind.

I wondered about the landscape of this poem – and the image that formed in my mind was of a scrubby hillside dotted with clumps of Ilex, with one tree that stood apart from the others. This was the place chosen by our girl for her assignation. Was there a moon? Was the night dark? could she see the sky through the branches and watch as the summer constellations  wheeled their arcs across the heavens?  She must have had a simple supper – probably consisting of bread and olives and perhaps some cheese. Was there a stream nearby where she could refresh herself and take a drink?  She must have sat there quietly in the darkness, with her cloak drawn close about her, listening to the insects and waiting until midnight.

Though the Italian translation of this poem suggests a male paramour, the Spanish does not. Accustomed habits of interpretation would have her lover be a male – but I do not feel constrained by habitual interpretations, and in my mind, she waits for another girl. She must have strained her ears listening for a footfall, and then a voice.

The meeting is described as a fiat – at midnight she suddenly finds herself in the arms of ‘the one she loves best.’ Everything just ‘happened,’ with no apparent agency on her part. But Summer nights are brief, and when dawn comes lovers, despite their reluctance to do so, must separate. When the sky begins to colour she is alone again – the pilgrimage is finished, and she must go back home.

What were her thoughts on the way home? Was this her only encounter? We hope not, because she is still a young girl when she tells her mother about the pilgrimage, being careful to not incriminate herself, and yet unable to suppress her sense of joy and exultation. Not all love-stories have happy endings, but somehow the sheer effrontery that went into the planning and execution of this meeting lets me believe that there were other meetings – other pilgrimages – and that in this way at least, her hopes and aspirations for love found their fulfillment.
















Italian Translation

Sotto il leccio, leccio     
sotto il leccio

Andavo, madre,
in pellegrinaggio:
per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
sotto il leccio.


Per andare più devota
andai senza compagnia,
presi un’altra strada
lasciai il percorso che fui.

Mi smarrii ai piedi
di una montagna,
mi misi a dormire
ai piedi del leccio.

A mezzanotte
mi svegliai,
misera, mi trovai
tra le braccia
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.


Mi dispiacque, misera,
che albeggiava,
perché godevo
di chi amavo di più,
sotto il leccio.

Benedetto sia
questo pellegrinaggio,
sotto il leccio.



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