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Poems of Ana Rossetti

A Note from the Translator

I discovered only recently that Ana Rossetti (1950-) was the pen name of Ana María Bueno de la Peña, who also writes children’s books, along with operettas, novels and diverse prose works. I have been a fan of her work for years and have enjoyed getting close to her texts and getting to know them better. I think she should be more widely read and it would be wonderful to achieve that through a bilingual version of a collection of her poetry. With unique and varied voices, Ana Rossetti’s poetry forms an important part of the youthful Spanish avant-garde movida, which had its epicenter in Madrid (often referred to as the movida madrileña), but quickly expanded nationwide. The movement was popularizedas the country transitioned to democracy from the dictatorship which ended with the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, and began creating a new Spanish identity. Spaniards, even politicians, were supportive of the movement in an attempt to modernize Spain.

The radical and often hedonistic cultural revolution boomed in the 1980s and incorporated many genres of art including music, film, visual arts and literature. Radio airwaves all over Spain played music which quickly spread the movement. Within the music scene some of the most important musicians were Alaska y los pegamoides, Hombres G, and now internationally famous director Pedro Almodovar, who sang, wrote and started creating films during la movida.

Within Francoist Spain, which lasted from 1939-1975, the people and artistic expression was repressed, sexually as well as politically. Women were not allowed a job, driver’s license, or a bank account without the express permission of their husbands or male family members. Publications were heavily censored and restricted, “art” was often used to further the goals of the fascist regime. “Commercial popular culture in all its forms was perceived as useful to the regime because, […] it was seen as pacificatory, offering malnourished and unhappy Spaniards a form of–ostensibly depoliticized–‘escapist’ entertainment” (Graham, 238). In the outpouring of artistic expression of the movida nothing was truly sacred, instead of escapism they discussed political and social issues which had been silenced under Franco. Rossetti creates art as part of a dialog about and with the ever-changing world around her.

Ana Rossetti’s collection of poetry, Yesterday (1988), contains poems written for other publications and earlier works, including a prize winning publication in 1980 (for which she won the Premio Gules). She is included among some of the very first movida artists. Her poetry is erotically charged and transgressive, especially after the male dominated 1960s, but even within the revolutionary atmosphere of Madrid’s literary community which was still heavily dominated by male artists (though female musician Alaska is the first name which comes to mind when discussing music). She criticizes capitalism and the boom of commercialism, patriarchal society, as well as religion, which had a powerful place in Francoist Spain. Many of her poems are erotic/homoerotic and some have a lyric voice which can be read as queer. She criticizes the objectification and sexualization of female bodies throughout historical literature, using patriarchist and patriarchal themes, often shifting the gaze to objectify a male figure, giving agency to the female or male speaker in what one article calls “equal opportunity objectification.” She plays a lot with familiar voices from the past, especially those of mystic and profane love poems.

Some poems are originally titled in English or reference international branding or songs, like “Calvin Klein, Underdrawers,” “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” and “Chico Wrangler” which expose the commercialization, coming from outside of Spain, and the sexualization and almost pornographic advertisements which were appearing in Spain. She revises the Petrarchan style, used famously in poems from Spain’s “Golden Era” in the 16th and 17th centuries by Garcilaso, Lope de Vega and Quevedo, and depict a silent female figure without agency. She inverts these roles. Ana Rossetti especially echoes the styles of Golden Era religious and/or mystic female poets like Teresa of Ávila, Cecilia del Nacimiento and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, especially focused on religious aspects. As Pablo García Baena writes in his introduction to the original, her poems go “del oratorio al boudoir galante solo un paso, un pequeño paso de chapines de tacón rojo y borla de avestruz sobre pieles salvajes” [from the chapel to the coquettish boudoir in just one step, a small step in red heeled chapines[i] with ostrich tassels over wild animal skins] (12). Connecting the past and present, she ironically uses tropes easily recognized by the Spanish reader to discuss multiple themes and figuring into the stylistic values of la movida, which “made fun of authority (whether Franco, parents, religion, or local government); it used and abused cultural clichés such as bulls, flamenco dancers, bourgeois taste; and it imbued a sense of meaning […] real or imagined–through the use of metaphor and irony” (Dent Coad, 377).

There are nuances in the play with gender and words that I attempted to pull through into the English translation, which allow for a queer reading of many poems, leaving the lyric voice and at times its object of desire purposely vague. With the allusions to other poets and poems, songs, historical figures; I tried to be brief in my endnotes when I found it essential to the understanding of the verse. The original book is prefaced by Pablo García Baena, an Andalucian poet who beautifully introduces her poems in his own poetic manner (and I would love to translate it in the future, as it works well to poetically add some background). I developed a deeper reading of these fantastically shocking, exceptionally multilayered poems through many readings and a few discussions with university professors and colleagues. The original was not published with footnotes, allusions or much historical background or any explanations apart from an introduction that requires some unpacking and study. So, much of what I pull into my translation is my own reading of Ana Rossetti’s wonderful poetry. Because of the complexity of her poetry, I found myself spending a lot of time with the Real Academia Española de la Lengua dictionary and a Merriam-Webster thesaurus and dictionary. I hope I have been faithful to the tone and captivating style of Ana Rossetti’s work, but this is a work in progress and one with which I am not sure I will ever completely finish.

[i] chapines are both modern flamenco shoes, similar to tap dancing shoes and shoes from the 15th century worn by women in Spain and mentioned in poetry from the era

The Blue Water Hyacinth

(Valencian version)

Once upon a time and time again there was a king who had three sons to whom he said he would give the crown to the one who brought him the blue water hyacinth. The three sons threw themselves into the search, each on his own path to find it out in the wide world.

The youngest found the flower and contentedly stuck it into his sock in case he encountered his brothers so they would not see it. In the middle of a dry stream his brothers found him and they knew that he had the flower on him and one said to the other, “What shall we do to take it from him and win ourselves the crown?”

The other replied, “Kill him.”

And so, that is what they did, burying him in the sand afterward.

Since there were two of them and only one flower, they tossed a coin to see who would win and luck favored the eldest. Pleased, he went home and when he arrived he gave the flower to his father. The King declared him the heir to the crown.

At that moment, a shepherd passed by the place where the youngest brother was buried and saw a white reed coming out of the ground there. He pulled it out and made a flute with it. He played it and it said:

   Play, play, dear shepherd 
and go forth from this land
for the flower of the blue hyacinth, 
they took my life in a river of sand.

He played this flute as he passed the palace of the King who, having heard the flute, came out and called out to the shepherd and said, “Come up and play me that flute, I want to hear it.”

The shepherd entered and he played the flute which repeated its song. The King ordered his sons be called up and he had the shepherd to tell him where he had gotten that flute. The shepherd took them to the place where he had found the flute and the King said to his sons, “Are you the ones who took your brother’s life?”

But they said they had not.

Their father ordered the sand be dug up in that place and they found the youngest alive and well, only missing a finger which had been left poking out when they buried him and it had been that which had served as a flute and the father gave the crown to his youngest son and punished his brothers.

He lived and reined for many years, always missing one finger.

The story now penned, comes to the end, like smoke through the chimney its verses wend.

The Girl with Three Husbands

I love this story. It’s short and fun. I hope you enjoy it!!

by Stacey Christian

There was a father who had a very beautiful daughter, though she was quite headstrong and stubborn. Three suitors presented themselves each even more handsome than the other and asked for his daughter’s hand; to which he replied that he would give his blessing and would ask his daughter which of them she preferred.

            He did just that and the daughter replied she preferred all three.

            “But míja, that cannot be.”

            “I choose all three,” the young lady answered.

            “Speak with reason, woman,” her father retorted. “To which of the three do I give a ‘yes’?”

            “To all three,” she replied again; there was no way to talk her out of it.

            The poor father went, dejectedly, and told the three suitors that his daughter wanted all three; but as that was not possible, that he had determined that the suitors should go forth into the world, search out and bring back something unique and so, he who brings back the best and most rare would be the one to marry his daughter.

            They set forth straightaway, each his own way, and after a long while they were once again reunited somewhere beyond the seas, in far off lands, none of them having found anything beautiful and unique. As they went through these tribulations, without giving up on procuring that for which they quested, the first suitor to arrive came upon an old man who asked if he would like to buy a mirror.

            He answered that he did not, saying that that tiny ugly mirror would not serve him at all.

            So, the vendor explained that that mirror held great virtue, which was that through it one could see whomever the owner desired; and assuring himself of its truth, he bought it for what the vendor asked.

            The one who had arrived second, while walking down a street came across the same old man, who asked him if he would like to buy a small tincture.

            “For what would a tincture serve me,” he asked the old man.

            “Lord knows,” he responded, “you see, this tincture has great virtue, which is the ability to resuscitate the dead.”

            At that very moment, a funeral procession came past. He went to the casket, tipped a drop of the tincture in the mouth of the deceased who then got up agreeable and alert, and bore his own coffin home. This was seen by the second suitor who bought the tincture from the old man for the price he asked.

            Meanwhile, the third suitor who was wandering along the seashore caught up in his worries, saw a large ark arrive riding on a very large wave. As it came closer to the beach, it opened and an infinite number of passengers jumped out onto dry land.

            The last one, who was an old man, came up to him and asked if he would like to buy that ark.

            “What would I want it for,” responded the suitor, “it is not fit for anything but firewood.”

            “No, sir,” replied the old man, “for it possess a great virtue, which is that in a few short hours it carries its owner, and those who travel with him, where they would like to go and where they desire; this is true, you can see for yourself, sir, these passengers here a few short hours ago found themselves on the shores of Spain.”

            The gentleman verified this and bought the ark for what the owner asked.

            The next day, the three of them gathered together and each one recounted, quite contentedly, that he had finally found what he desired, and so, would be returning to Spain.

The first suitor explained how he had bought a mirror in which one could see, simply by desiring it, the absent person who they wished to see; and he presented his mirror to prove this, desiring to see the girl they all courted. But what a shock when they saw her stretched out in a coffin, dead!

            “I have got a tincture,” exclaimed he who had purchased the small bottle, “which will revive her; but by the time we reach her she will be buried and food for worms.”

            “Well, I have got an ark,” said he who bought the boat, “which, in a few hours, will have us in Spain.”

by Stacey Christian via procreate

             So, they ran to the ark and in a few hours jumped out onto terra firma and walked to the village where they found the father of their betrothed. They found him deeply disconsolate over the death of his daughter, whose body was still present.

They asked him to take them to see her, and when they were in the room with the casket, the one with the tincture, tipped a few droplets onto the lips of the deceased, who rose up from her coffin agreeable and beaming, and turning to her father, said, “Do you see, father, how I needed all three?”

Ending of “The Knights of the Fish”

Here is the final installation of the tale of the brave Knights of the Fish! I hope you enjoy it! For more about this story, read on afterward! 

Let us go now to the other Knight of theFish, who had continued travelling and who came to stop in Madrid. As he entered the gates there, the soldiers came to attention, the drums beat a royal march, and many servants of the palace surrounded him, telling him that the princess was falling to pieces in tears as his absence grew longer, afraid that some misfortune had befallen him in the cursed bewitched castle of Albatroseus.

            “Doubtless,” thought the Knight, “madam has taken me for my brother, who, it seems, was blessed with quite good luck. We shall keep quiet and see how this all turns out.”

            They took him almost triumphantly to the palace, and it is easy to play the part of one who is the object of so much affection and gifts from the king and the princess.

            “So, you went to the castle?” asked the latter.

            “Yes, yes,” he responded.

            “And what did you see?”

            “I shall not allow myself to say a word about it until I return there again.”

            “Are you thinking, perchance, of going back to that cursed castle on your own just to never return from it again?”


            When they went to bed, the Knight put his sword on the bed.

            “But, why?” asked the princess.

            “Because I have made a promise not to sleep in bed until I have returned once more to Albatroseus.”

            And the next day he mounted his saddled steed and headed toward the enchanted castle, afraid that some misfortune had befallen his brother.

Photo by Pixabay on

            He called at the castle doors and through the portcullis appeared the fiendish nose of the old woman, which looked like a fish spear. But, as soon as she had seen the knight her nose went pale, because it seemed to her that the dead had been resurrected, and she ran, invoking the object of her devotion, Beelzebub, making him promises to eat however many pears and apples he presented her if he freed her from this vision of flesh and bone escaped from the mansion of the dead.

            “Madam senectitude,” shouted the recently arrived, “has a knight dresses like this not passed through here? He did, I guess.”

            “Yess, yess, yess,” responded the echoes.

            “And what have you done with this knight, so courteous and so skilled?”

            “Killed! Killed!” howled the echoes.

            Hearing this and seeing that the old woman was fleeing, the Knight of the Fish could not control himself. He ran after her and completely ran her through with his sword; and as there was so much wind and the old woman so thin and weightless, she began to spin around the tip of the sword like a pinwheel.

            “Where is my brother, fallacious old traitor, beldam of the devil?” asked the knight.

            “I shall tell you, sir,” responded the witch, “but, as I am going to die and am dizzy from spinning against my will; I will not say until you have resurrected me.”

            “And how am I to perform such a miracle, deceitful witch?”

            “Go to the garden,” responded the old woman. “Cut evergreens, eternal flowers, red hot cat’s tails, and dragon’s blood; with these flowers make a coction in the cauldron and with it prepare a bath into which you shall place me.”

            And saying this, the old woman died without so much as an amen.

            The knight did just as the old woman had ordered, who was effectively resurrected and uglier than ever, because her nose, which did not fit into the cauldron, remained dead and so pallid that it looked like the trunk of an elephant.

            So, she told the knight exactly where his brother was.

            He went down into the abyss, where he found the latter and many other victims of the scoundrel Berberisca, and he began putting one after another into the cauldron and they all were coming back to life; and as they were resurrected the echo that was their voice would come cheerfully, taking possession of their throats, and the first thing they all said was, “Cursed old woman! Pitiless Berberisca! Heartless evildoer!”

            As he had done with these hidalgos, the knight did the same with many beautiful young women who had been taken by the dragon, who was the son of the old woman, and each of the ladies gave thanks to the Knight of the Fish and their hand to one of the resurrected hidalgos; and the Scoundrel Berberisca, seeing this, died once more of envy and ire. 

While I really love the playful tone, especially in regard to the appearance of the old woman, the literary scholar in me is always analyzing as she reads. This old woman, evil and cruel, is made into a villain not only by her deeds, but because she is elderly and not beautiful like the virginal maidens the dragon has taken. She is also not a Christian, impure and worshiping the devil. She is a “Berber,” the name itself making her the villain, which demonstrates the religious bigotry which existed and still exists in Spain, stemming back to at least the late 15th century expulsion of Muslims. Though they are not visually obvious as non-Christians, for it is not a matter of race, many characters from stories have distinct features which render them grotesque and they function as the opposition to the pure, virtuous, Christian protagonists. This strong Christian undertone fits within a hegemonic ideal in which conservative Spaniards like Cecilia Böhl believed. 

Monserat Joffre, in a paper about the short story and Fernán Caballero, describes her as being fascinated with popular stories, those which came from the voices of rural countrymen. The legend of listening and copying the stories from people in the Andalusian countryside  is likely to be, at least partly, untrue. Like the Brothers Grimm, she claimed to compile and gather stories unedited, but her talent for portraying the customs of the common people, and writing multiple voices points to the possibility the she wrote the stories herself. And while the theme of noble Christian knights versus evil-doing non-Christians fits within the time period, it also represents a long history in Spain, and the classic knight errant from the legendary Cid (11th C.) to the knights like Amadís de Gaula (14th C.) who, among others, inspired Don Quixote to ride out into the Mancha.

One of the most interesting knights, to me, is Sant Jordi (Saint George) who is the Saint of Catalonia. Just like the Knights of the Fish, he saved a damsel from the evil clutches of a dragon who demanded yearly sacrifices to appease him. Sant Jordi is celebrated each year on April 23 in a similar way to Saint Valentine’s day, with roses and books exchanged as gifts. There are illustrated children’s books featuring this brave knight. So, it seems the appreciation of knights errant, and saving damsels in distress seems not to have faltered with the years, but simply adapted to the times, changing to give us damsels who save dragons, or themselves, and tales which represent modern ideals. There are many fascinating tales of knights, including the one above, and I look forward to seeing how they take shape in the minds of future storytellers. And if you have not read it yet, Don Quixote is one of the most fascinating and wonderful books about knights and knight errantry in the world. Each time I read it I learn so many new things about it, the world in which it was written, the world around me, and myself. 

Second installation of “The Knights of the Fish”

Sorry for the long wait for this continuation of the story. It has been a long week of quality time with family and fighting a relentlessly beastly cold. I have finished the translation, but I did not want to overwhelm the blog with super long posts, so here is the second installment and I will finish it with a third. I find myself thinking of Don Quixote and his chivalric novels when I read this. Not coincidentally, the 19th century in Spain was one that looked to the Golden Age of literature (the Age of Don Quixote) as a model for how to be a good Spaniard. The author, Cecilia Böhl/Fernán Caballero, was conservative and patriotic, and it is rendered quite explicitly in this tale.

Keep an eye to the echoing voices, which were quite a challenge to translate. There is one spot that just had me stumped and I had to fudge it a little, which is the close but not quite exact sounds of cared for and careful. Otherwise, I am pretty proud of my work on this one. For more historical background, see the footnote. I hope you enjoy it!

And now we move on, to a few days after their marriage, when the husband said to the wife that he would like to see all of the palace, which was so big that it occupied a league of land. And so it went,and they took three days to see it. On the fourth day, they went up to the rooftop terraces. The knight admired the view. And what views, my friend! You have never seen anything like it, nor have I. All of Spain could be seen, even out to the Moors, and to the emperor of Morocco, who was crying over his friend the dragon.

            “Which castle is that,” asked the Knight of the Fish, “that you can see far off in the distance, there, so isolated and so somber?”

            “That is,” responded the princess, “the Castle of Albatroseus, which is enchanted and no one can undo the spell, no one who has tried has returned.”

            The knight fell silent hearing these reasons; but since he was valiant and daring, the very next morning, without even touching the ground, he mounted his steed, grabbed his lance, called to his hound, and headed off toward the castle.

            The castle was such that it gave chills just in seeing it. Gloomier than a stormy night, more foreboding than a villain’s gaze, and more noiseless than a corpse. But the Knight of the Fish only knew fear by its name and not experience, and he only turned his back on his defeated enemies; so, he took up his cornet or bugle and played a sonata.

            His playing awoke all the sleeping echoes of the castle and the crags, which repeated in chorus, now closer, now further off, now muted, now more hollow, the sounds of the sonata. But in the castle, no one moved.

            “Hey, castle!” shouted the knight. “Is there no one to attend to a knight who seeks shelter? Does this castle not have a governor, ancient coat of arms, nor page boy to relieve me?”

            “Leave me! Leave me! Leave me!” the echoes cried out.

            “I should leave?” said the Knight of the Fish. “I do not back down, no matter the number of deeds to rectify!”

            “Aye! Aye! Aye!” moaned/howled the echoes. The knight seized his lance and struck a forceful blow against the door.

            The portcullis opened then and out poked the tip of a long nose which sat between the sunken eyes and the sunken mouth of an old woman uglier than the Devil.

Photo by Pixabay on

            “What do you want, reckless troublemaker?” she asked with a ragged voice.

            “To come in,” answered the knight. “Can I not, perchance, enjoy some rest here on this summer afternoon? Yes or no?”

            “No, no, no,” said the echoes.

            The knight had lifted his visor because the heat was strong, and in seeing how good-looking he was, she said to him, “Come in, and do not fear, handsome squire, for you will be looked after and well cared for.”

            “Careful! Careful!” advised the echoes.

            But the knight entered, saying, “I only fear God, and there I fare well.”

            “Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!” whispered the echoes.

            “So, old mother…”

            “My name is Doña Berberisca,” the old woman interrupted the knight, very irritated,“and I am the lady of Albatroseus.”

            “Atrocious! Atrocious!” shouted the echoes.

            “Would you shut up, cursed chatter boxes?” exclaimed Doña Berberisca, furiously. “I am at your service,” she continued, curtseying for the knight, “and if you want, I will be your wife and you can live with me here as a bajá[1].”

            “Ha, ha, ha, ha!” laughed the echoes.

            “I should marry you, madam, who is a hundred years old? You are crazy and oblivious.”

            “Yes, yes” said the echoes.

            “What I want,” continued the knight, “is to capture this castle and be gone once I have completed this examen.”

            “Amen!Amen!” whispered the echoes in Latin.  Doña Berberisca, pockmarked and rotten to the core, threw a pugnacious look at the Knight of the Fish, and adjuring him to follow her, showed him the castle, in which he saw many things; but he could not recount them because the guileful Berberisca led him down a dark passageway, where there was a trap, into which he fell and disappeared into an abyss and his voice went with the echoes, which were the voices of many other bizarre and courteous knights that the devious Berberisca had punished in the same way for having disregarded her venerable powers.  

Photo by Kenneth C. on


[1] Del DLE: En el imperio otomano, alto funcionario, virrey o gobernador; en algunos países musulmanes, título honorífico. Del árabe bāšā, y este del turco paşa. TRANSLATION: From the Dictionary of the Spanish Language (Diccionario del Lengua Española) bajá is defined as a high-ranking official, viceroy, or governor in the Ottoman Empire. In some Muslim countries, it is an honorific. It comes from the Arabic bāšā, and that from the Turkish paşa.

I believe Caballero uses this term to place the story in a period more suitable to knights, and knight errantry, when the Iberian Peninsula was under Moorish rule (roughly from the 8thcentury through the reign of the Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabell, who took over the last emirate in Granada in 1492). I chose to leave the word bajá as it linguistically reflects this history and works very well for the echoes to echo laughter in response. 

The Knights of the Fish

This has been a challenging translation. It is still very much a work in progress, but I wanted to share it. Part of the challenge will not appear until the next installation, and that is the use of echoing parts of words which create interesting word play. Another challenge is the historical aspects of the story. The allusions and settings may not be immediately familiar to all readers. Let me give a very brief historical note to place the story and its characters. 

The epoch of the knights errant ended centuries before this story was put on the page. Its theme places the story around the 15th century in Spain, during which Spain was under Arab or Moorish rule. The Iberian Peninsula was called al-Andalus in classical Arabic and the area that is now Spain was occupied by a mixed group of Muslim (Berbers/Imazighen and Arabs) and Christian people and, as you may have guessed, they did not always get along. Spanish Knights of legend were always Christian noblemen, or brave soldiers who had gained their status through gallant deeds. Their counterparts, the villains, were usually not Christian. That is the case in this story as well, with these brave young knights and the Christians of Madrid. However, since it specifically names the city of Madrid, and the fountain in the Puerta del Sol, it is more likely to be from around the 17th century, since that fountain was not finished until 1625. This story of knight errantry is reminiscent of those stories which drove Don Quijote to his madness and desire to right the wrongs of the world, with the first novel from 1605 and the second in 1615. Knight errantry itself was out of fashion, but the novel suggests that the stories were certainly still popularly read.  

This is the first half of the story I have translated. Interestingly, it could have stopped here, with a happily ever after, but the story continues on for another 5 pages, including more daring deeds and overcoming obstacles, an enchanted castle, the most wicked enchantress (a Berber), and as the classic trope requires, rescuing beautiful damsels. 

Please enjoy the first installment of The Knights of the Fish!

            Once upon a time and time again there was a poor cobbler whose work earned himnothing, and so he decided to buy a net and set out as a fisherman. He fishedfor many days and pulled out nothing buy crabs and old shoes, more than he hadseen in all his days as a cobbler. Finally, he thought, “Today is the last dayI fish. If I pull in another empty net, I shall go and hang myself.” He tossedthe nets and this time they pulled in Saint Peter’s[1]fish. Satisfied, the cobbler had in his hand the lovely fish said this (who itseemed was not quite as reserved as those of his species tend to be), “Take meto your house; cut me into eight pieces and cook me with salt and pepper,cinnamon and clove, laurel leaves and mint leaves. Feed two pieces to yourwife, two to your mare, two to your dog, and the other two you will plant inyour garden.” From this something eminently antiparliamentary is deduced andconfirmed (we are sorry that we could not hide it), and it is that those whospeak little inspire more faith and confidence in their words than those whospeak a lot.

            Nine months later his wife gave birth to two boys, his mare two colts, his dog two puppies, and in the garden two lances sprouted which flowered with two bluecoats of arms with a silver fish in the center.

            All prospered marvelously in good company and love, in a way that after time passed, two gallant dashing riders sat atop two proud steeds, followed by twobrave hounds, with two straight lances, and two brilliant shields.

            The brothers were so extremely similar that they were called The Double Knight; and each wanting, as was just, to maintain his individuality, they decided to part ways so each would stand out in his own right, which is why, after a long hug, one rode into the West Wind and theother into the East Wind.

            After a few days journey the first arrived to Madrid and found the royal town mixing the drops of their bitter tears with the pure sweet waters of their dear Manzanares River. Everyone was crying, even the Mariblanca de la Puerta del Sol[2]. Our dashing lad asked what was the cause for such desolation and discovered that every year a fierce dragon, son of an infernal old woman, took a beautiful young lady and that year misfortunate luck had chosen the princess, the perfectly noble and beauteous daughter of the king.

By Louis Meunier – Unknown, Public Domain, wikimedia

            The knight immediately asked where he would find the princess and they answered that a quarter of a league away she awaited the beast who would show at high noon to take his prisoner.

            The young man went to verify the place indicated and found the princess in a sea of tears and shaking head to toe.

            “Run!” yelled the princess to the Knight of the Fish when she saw him coming. “Run, reckless fellow, the monster is coming and sire, if he sees you, poor sire!”  

            “I will not go,” answered the bizarre knight, “because I have come to save you, madam.”

            “Save me? How, for, it is not possible?”

            “There, we shall see,” answered the valiant champion. “Are there Germans here?”

            “Yes sir,” responded the princess, surprizedly, “why ever do you ask?”

            “You shall see.”

            And, galloping off he headed toward the inconsolable town, returning shortly after with an immense mirror which he had purchased in a German shop. He leaned itagainst a tree trunk, covered it with princess’s veil, and put her in front of it, telling her that when the beast was close she should pull back the veil andhide behind the mirror. Having said this, he placed himself behind a nearbyfence.

            It did not take long for the fierce dragon to appear and slowly approach the beauty, eyeing her with such insolence and such nerve that all he needed was a monocle to match other less frightening underhanded characters. Once he was close, the princess, according to the plans laid by the Knight of the Fish, pulled away the veil; and passing behind the mirror, disappeared from the amorous gaze of the fierce dragon who was left stupefied finding those desirous eyes gazing upon a dragon just like him. He knit his brown together; his rival did the same. His eyes became a brilliant red like two rubies; his adversary did not hesitate to follow suit. With this, his fury swelled and he bristled his scales like a porcupine raised its quills; those of the other dragon did the same. He opened his tremendous mouth, which would have been unique to his species wereit not for the other, far from intimidation, opened an identical mouth. Furious, the dragon pounced on his intrepid rival, giving himself such a greatwallop on the head against the great mirror he was left dazed. He had broken the mirror and in each shard he could see a part of his body, so he assumed that with that earth shaking hit he had split himself into pieces too.

            The knight took advantage of that moment of dizziness and surprise, and coming out from his hiding place with his loyal hound and sure lance, he slayed the dragon, as he would have slayed hundreds more if he had needed to.

            Imagine the joy and uproar of the Madrilenians, who are cheerful people, when they saw the Knight of the Fish arrive carrying the princess on horseback, happy as a lark, and the dragon tied by the tail pulled by the spirited steed, who did so with such a proud and amusing air as if the tail were the cloak of a Knightly Order.

            It was collectively agreed that such a feat could not be repaid to the Knight of the Fish except with the pale hand of the princess; and there was a wedding, there was a banquet, there were bullfights and jousting, and I came and went and no one gave me a hard time.

Sant Jordi (San Jorge/Saint George) in Montserrat, Spain

[1]Fernán Caballero notes: If the etymology of this name does not reveal any devout religious sentiment, nor a lovely poetic idea, as usually occurs in these popular inspirations; it at least proves one thing, and that is that the Spanish, whom the biblical English societies qualify as ignorant of religious materials, know from memory the Holy Gospel and could go teach those who accuse them of ignorance with lively voices.

Si bien la etimología de este nombre no encierra en sí ningún devote sentimiento religioso, ni tampoco una bella idea poética, como suele suceder en estas inspiraciones populares, prueba al menos una cosa, y es que los españoles aquienes califican las sociedades bíblicas inglesas de ignorantes en materias religiosas saben de memoria el Santo Evangelio y podrían ir a enseñárselo de viva voz a los que les acusan de ignorantes.

(Saint Peter is the patron saint of fishermen.)

[2]a white marble statue in the Puerta del Sol which has, despite the history of multiple incarnations of fountains in the same place, stood there since the early 17th Century

Once upon a time and time again…

Once upon a time and time again in a far off land…
(Florence, OR—my photo)

Fernán Caballero/Cecilia Böhl de Faber has an interesting way of beginning her stories. In English, we have a traditional start to a tale—Once upon a time…— and so exists the comparable classic commencement inSpanish—Érase una vez… or Había una vez… What is interesting about Caballero’s stories is that many begin “Érase una vez y vez;” literally translated, “There once was a time and time,” and which I have chosen to translate as “Once upon a time and time again…”

The unusual beginning had me wondering if it was a common occurrence only with Caballero’s tales, in Andalusian storytelling, or perhaps, broader 19th century Spain. This has led me on quite a journey! I have found examples in a book published in 1925, titled La mitología asturiana: Los dioses de la vida (Asturian Mythology: The Gods of Life) by Constantino Cabal, as well as in a collection of tales by Manuel Polo y Peyrolón from 1876. The latter has an introduction by Caballero herself! I cannot help but imagine she is speaking of her own experience as much as that of Polo y Peyrolón. Though she has said her tales are collected from through the oral tradition of storytelling, however these stories came to be on the page, it took ingenuity on her part to put them there. Caballero wrote,

Ciertamente que se necesita mucho ingenio para acumular lances y aventuras, para crear tipos fantásticos sin modelo, peripecias que sorprenden, asustan é indignan, y desenredar esa grande y enmarañada madeja; pero se necesita igualmente ingenio para formar con sencillísimos, cotidianos y á veces hasta triviales hechos, una historia interesante, tierna, y sobre todo esencialmente moral, y ver estas cualidades reunidas es lo perfecto, pues el aroma y la esencia saludable de la rosa no le quita nada á la hermosura de su color y de su follaje… ¡Así entendiesen todos los que cultivan la literatura amena, que su misión no es solo recrear y divertir, como la de los titiriteros, sino que lo que se imprime permanentemente en el papel, tiene una misión más alta y trascendental, y es una semilla que brotará en la mente de los que lo impreso lean!

Fernán Caballero, en su introducción a Costumbres populares de la sierra de Albarracín: cuentos originales por Manuel Polo y Peyrolón (1876) eBook linked here

Certainly, one needs a lot of ingenuity to gather predicamentsand adventures, to create fantastic characters without archetypes, the peripeteia[1] whichsurprise, shock and outrage, and untangle the great and tangled skein; but,likewise, one needs ingenuity to create with very simple, quotidian and attimes even trivial incidents, a story which is interesting, tender, and aboveall essentially moral, and to see these qualities reunited is perfection, as thearoma and wholesome perfume of a rose does not retract from the beauty of itscolor and foliage… And so, it could be understood by those who cultivate pleasingliterature, whose mission is not only to recreate and entertain, like that ofthe puppeteer, but what one prints permanently on the page, has a higher andmore transcendental mission, and is a seed which will sprout in the mind ofthose who read what has been printed!

My translation

Just this short note to the reader makes me want to devour all the pages of that book andreread Caballero’s collection! I love the imagery of planting a seed thatsprouts in the mind and her concern with a “transcendental mission.” I you arefeeling the same, fear not! I have more translated tales coming very soon!

[1] Webster defines it as “a sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation especially in a literary work.” I love this word because it is the same in both Spanish and English, as in both languages is comes from the Greek peripeteia, “from (assumed) Greek peripetos (verbal of Greek peripiptein to fall around, fall into, change suddenly, from peri- + piptein to fall) + Greek -eia –y” (

The Foolish Wolf and the Clever Fox / El lobo bobo y la zorra astuta

img_9628Once upon a time there was a fox who had two young kits. Near her house, which was a little shack, lived a wolf, her children’s godfather. One day she went over and saw that he had done many renovations on his house, making it look like a palace. Her neighbor invited her in to see it and she saw that it had a sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchen and even a pantry, which was very well stocked.

“Neighbor,” said the fox, “it looks like what you are missing is a jar of honey.”

“That is true,” answered the wolf.

And with perfect timing, a man came down the street calling, “Honeybee honey! Nectar of the flowers!” which the wolf bought, filling a jar saying to the fox that, after finishing work on his house, he would invite her to dinner and they would eat the honey. But the work was unending and the fox was drooling for the honey, she was dying to gobble it all up.

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One day she said to the wolf, “Neighbor, I have been invited to be the godmother at a baptism and I wondered if you, sir, would do me the favor of coming to my house and watching over my kits while I am away.”

The wolf accepted and the fox, instead of going to the baptism, got into the wolf’s house, ate a good portion of the honey, grabbed walnuts, hazelnuts, figs, pears, almonds, and as much as she could plunder; and then she went out to the pastures to cheerfully devour it all with some shepherds who gave her milk and cheese in return.

crackers dates delicious food
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When she arrived back at her house, the wolf said to her, “So, neighbor, how was the baptism?”

“Very nice,” responded the fox.

“And what is the baby’s name?”

Beginny,” replied the supposed godmother.

“Oh, what a name!” said the wolf.

“That one does not appear on the calendar. It is a lesser known saint[1],” responded the fox.

“And the sweets?” asked her neighbor.

“There was not a single one,” replied the fox.

“Oh, my Lord, what a baptism!” responded the wolf, scowling, “that is unheard of! I have stayed here all day like a nanny with the kits, much as I wanted to eat them, and you come back with empty paws. Well, I have had it!” And he went off, cross.

Not long after, the fox again desperately craved the honey and used the same ruse to get the wolf out of his house, promising him that she would bring sweets from the baptism. With these pleasant words she convinced the wolf, and when she returned that evening after spending a nice day in the countryside and having eaten half of the honey, the wolf asked her what they had named the baby. She told him, “Halfi.”

“What a name!” said the wolf, who it would seem was rather foolish, “I have never heard a name like that in my life.”

“He is a Muslim saint,” she replied to her neighbor.

The wolf was quite convinced by this rubbish, and he asked about the sweets.

“I lay down for a spell to sleep under an olive tree. Along came some starlings and carried them off, one in each claw and another in their beaks,” responded the fox.

The wolf indignantly stormed off, cursing the starlings.

A little while later, the fox went to her neighbor with the same pretense.

“I will not go!” he said, “I have to sing a nursery rhyme to your kits to put them to sleep and I have no desire to spend the rest of my days as a babysitter, without you ever bringing back a single treat from the baptisms to which you are invited.”

But she was so silver-tongued and promised so winningly to bring sweets to her neighbor, that in the end she convinced the wolf to stay at her little shack.

When the fox returned, having eaten all of what was left of the honey, the wolf asked what they had named the baby, to which she responded, “Finishy.”

“What a name! I have never heard of it!” said the wolf.

“That saint does not like the sound of his own name,” responded the fox.

“But, the sweets?” asked her neighbor.

“The stone fire oven collapsed and they all burned up,” replied the fox.

The wolf got was outraged, saying, “Neighbor, I hope that all the sweets that your supposed god-children Beginny, Halfi, and Finishy put in their mouths turn to pebbles.”

Some time passed, and the fox said to the wolf, “Neighbor, it has come time to make good on your promise. Your house is renovated and you have to make me the dinner you promised.”

The wolf, who was still irritated, did not want to do so; but in the end, he allowed himself to be cajoled and he put together the feast for the fox.

When it came time for dessert, he brought out the honey jar, as promised, and as he carried it he said, “my, how light this jar is! Honey weighs so little!” But, when he removed the lid, he was dumbfounded to see it empty.

“What is this?” he said.

“What does it look like!” replied the fox. “You have eaten it all so as not to have to give me any!”

“I did not even taste it,” said the wolf.

“What!? And what is more, you cannot even remember.”

“I am telling you, I did no such thing, dang it!  What has happened is that you, ma’am, have robbed me and that your three god-children Beginny, Halfi, and Finishy, have been beginning, halfway through, and finishing with my honey.”

“What are you on about? You ate all the honey so you would not have to share with me, and on top of that you raise false testimony? Edacious sweet-toothed slanderer, how do you not hang your muzzle in shame, sir?”

“I did not eat it, darn it! The one who ate it was you, madam, you liar, you are a devious scoundrel and a thief, and so I shall go to the lion and give testimony.”

“Listen now, neighbor, and do not be so hasty,” said the fox. “While slumbering in the sun, the one who ate the honey will sweat it out. Did you not know this?”

“I did not,” said the wolf.

“Well, it is very true,” persisted the fox. “Let us take a nap in the sun, and when we wake up, the one whose belly sweats honey will prove to be the very one who ate the honey.”

They agreed, then, and lay down to sleep in the sun.

As soon as the fox heard her neighbor snore, she got up, scraped the bottom of the jar and spread his belly with the honey she had gathered. She licked her paws and went to sleep.

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When the wolf awoke and saw that his belly was covered in honey, he said, “Oh! I sweat honey! It is true, then, I ate it all. But I swear to you, neighbor, that I did not remember. Forgive me. The devil with it, let us make peace.”

[1] In cultures with catholic traditions, it is common to name children after one of the numerous saints and then to celebrate the day of their saint; for example, a child named Valentine would celebrate his or her saint’s day on Valentine’s Day. Children receive their “Christian name” at their baptism.

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Photo by Pixabay on

This made me hungry for honey and cheese. It made me think of one my favorite dessert in Catalonia, mel i mató (honey and mató cheese, a moist white cheese similar to ricotta).

One aspect which complicated the translation of this story was the relationship between the wolf and the fox. In the Spanish original, they refer to each other as compadre and comadre, which is the relationship between a parent and the godparent of their child. In the English speaking US culture, I could not find a term for this. We have adopted the term compadre to mean friend, but “friend” oversimplifies the relationship that exists in this story and many Spanish-speaking cultures between comadres/compadres. They coparent, hence the prefix co-. So, in the story I simply chose to say neighbor when they call each other compadre/comadre. They are, after all, neighbors and in the past the relationship between neighbors, sharing burdens and helping each other out, was quite similar to a coparenting relationship.

This story is a fun one—no nonchalant deaths or over gendered tropes)—though for me, the classic trope of the lobo bobo / stupid wolf is difficult to picture unless they are cartoons. Wolfs to me are regal and have wise eyes. Foxes, however, do seem quite astute and clever. Do you feel sorry for the wolf at the end? What do you think the moral is? Is there a moral?

Here is the original EL LOBO BOBO Y LA ZORRA ASTUTA

The Little Ant / La hormiguita

Here is the first story I translated. It is still a work in progress, I’d LOVE any suggestions you may have. I am posting my translation as well as the original which is available online from the Biblioteca Virtual Universal and although this version does not include the author’s own footnote, I have included it in my translation in both Spanish and English.

Raton_Perez_(Cuento)_pg_1 (1)The Little Ant/La hormiguita is the introduction of a famous character called Ratón Pérez, or Ratoncito Pérez, who most Spanish speakers worldwide will recognize as the Tooth Fairy. He sounds just adorable and there are statues, drawings, children’s books, and all sorts of homages to him all over (do yourself a favor and take a quick look at wikipedia or this google image search). Luis Coloma, a friend of Cecilia Böhl de Faber, wrote the children’s story which created his role as the tooth fairy. Böhl de Faber/Caballero’s story precedes it, and [SPOILER] like Grimm’s tales, it does not have quite the cute happy ending that little Ratón Pérez got with Coloma.

So, here is the first, and most well known story in Cuentos de encantamientoTales of Enchantment!

The Little Ant

Once upon a time, and time again, there was a little ant who was so exquisite, so put-together, and so hard-working that she was enchanting. One day, while sweeping the doorway to her house, she found a coin. She said to herself, “what should I do with this coin? Should I buy pine nuts? No, because I cannot crack them. Should I buy meringues? No, that is too indulgent.” She gave it more thought, and went to a shop, where she bought blush. Then, she washed, she fixed her hair, she got dressed up, she rouged her cheeks, and she set herself up in the window. Of course, as she was elegant and so fair, everyone who passed by fell in love with her. A bull came by and said, “Little ant, would you marry me?”

“And how would you woo me?” the little ant responded.

The bull began to bellow; the little ant covered her ears with both hands. “Be off with you,” she said to the bull, “for you startle me, you shock me, and you frighten me.”

The same happened with a dog who barked, a cat who meowed, a pig who grunted, and a rooster who cock-a’doodle-dooed. The little ant was disquieted by all of them; no one gained favor with her until a little mouse named Pérez[1] passed by, who knew how to win her heart, so finely and delicately that the little ant gave him her tiny black hand in marriage. They lived like two turtle doves, so happily, that the like has not been seen since the world began.img_8321

Bad luck had it that one day the little ant went alone to Mass, after putting a pot on the stove, which she left in the care of little Mouse Pérez, advising him, in her prudent way, not to stir the pot with the small spoon but instead to use the larger spoon. But little Mouse Pérez sealed his fate by doing the opposite of what his wife had told him. He grabbed the small spoon to stir the pot and so it happened just as she had forewarned. Little Mouse Pérez, in his clumsiness, fell down into the pot like a well, and there he drowned. When the little ant came home, she called at the door. Nobody responded or came to open it. So, she asked her neighbor to allow her to go in through the roof, but the neighbor did not want to let her. So, she had to call a locksmith to come unlock the door.

The little ant went straight to the kitchen, looked into the pot, and there he was. Oh, the heartache! Little Mouse Pérez, drowned, was floating around in the boiling broth. The little ant burst into bitter tears. A cacique bird flew over and asked, “Why are you crying?”

She responded, “Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot.”

“Well then I, little Cacique, shall cut off my beak.”

Then the Pigeon came and said, “Why have you cut off your beak, little cacique?”

“Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him.”

“Well, then, I, Pigeon, cut off my chin.”

The Dovecot said, “Why did you, pigeon, cut off your chin?”

“Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him; and the little Cacique cut off her beak and I, Pigeon, cut off my chin.”

“Then I, Dovecot, shall be upsot.”

The Clear Creek said, “why, Dovecot, have you been upsot?”

“Because little Mouse Peréz fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him; and the little Cacique cut off her beak and then the Pigeon cut off his chin, and I, Dovecot, have been upsot.”

“Then I, Clear Creek, am going to weep.”

The Princess Infanta came to fill her glass decanter. “Why, clear creek, have you begun to weep?”

“Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him; and the little Cacique cut off her beak and then the Pigeon, cut off his chin; and then the Dovecot, it came upsot and I, Clear Creek, began to weep.”

“Then I, Infanta, shall shatter my glass decanter.”

And I, who recount this tale, finish it with a wail, as little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him!

[1] Ratonpérez or Ratón Pérez or originally ratompérez, by Fernán Caballero, who in a footnote wrote “Ratompérez es un bichito gris muy inofensivo, tímido, que no hace ruido y solo sabe huir.” [Ratompérez is a very inoffensive, timid little gray creature, who makes no sound and only know how to flee.] A few years after the printing of this story, in 1890, creditied to Luis Coloma, a friend and colleague of Cecilia Böhl de Faber, Ratón Pérez became a Spanish mythical figure similar to that of the tooth fairy.

What an ending! This translation was particularly challenging because of the rhythm and rhyme and all the characters at the end. So much violence in such a measured beat, poetic and sad. I’d be interested to hear your take on this story. Is there a moral? Was he killed off for not going to Mass? For not listening to his wife? For ignoring good advice? And why was their door locked?

Enchanted Voices: Oral Tradition and the Compilation of Spanish Tales

As my very first post, I would like to share a short translation of which I am particularly proud. It is a “fabula” by Miguel Agustín Príncipe from the 1860s, with rhyming verses and a sarcastic and playful tone. I chose to begin with it because not only was it fun, yet difficult to translate, its theme is translation.

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Over the winter of 2018 I took on the project of translating the collected stories titled Cuentos de encantamiento, or Enchanted Tales, by Fernán Caballero (aka Cecilia Böhl de Faber) in a translation course mentored and guided by the talented translation and Spanish scholar Amanda Powell (who has published many wonderful translated works, especially Golden Age religious women’s writing—from Spanish to English–along with insightful history and literary analysis exposing us to the brilliant female minds often obscured by historical and current patriarchy). As I worked with the stories, I focused on maintaining the historical voices of the 19th century. Over the 10 week term I was able to translate a short fable/poem (above) and three short stories; “The Little Ant” (“La hormiguita”), “The Foolish Wolf and the Clever Fox” (“El lobo bobo y la zora astuta”), and “Bella-Flor.” I have set myself the goal of translating all of the 23 tales, all of which have varied voices, themes, and characters.

My hope is that there are others out there like me who adore the written word and storytelling who will enjoy reading these tales of enchantment. I also hope to share some historical background, though it may take research and some educated speculation as these lovely stories have been lost to the annals of time, unlike some of their male counterparts from other parts of the western world.