THERE is no nation in the world, however exalted or however degraded, but is in possession of some peculiar poetry. If the Chinese, the Hindoos, the Greeks, and the Persians, those splendid and renowned races, have their moral lays, their mythological epics, their tragedies, and their immortal love songs, so also have the wild and barbarous tribes of Soudan, and the wandering Esquimaux, their ditties, which, however insignificant in comparison with the compositions of the former nations, still are entitled in every essential point to the name of poetry; if poetry mean metrical compositions intended to soothe and recreate the mind fatigued by the cares, distresses, and anxieties to which mortality is subject.

The Gypsies too have their poetry. Of that of the Russian Zigani we have already said something. It has always been our opinion, and we believe that in this we are by no means singular, that in nothing can the character of a people be read with greater certainty and exactness than in its songs. How truly do the warlike ballads of the Northmen and the Danes, their DRAPAS and KOEMPE-VISER, depict the character of the Goth; and how equally do the songs of the Arabians, replete with homage to the one high, uncreated, and eternal God, 'the fountain of blessing,' 'the only conqueror,' lay bare to us the mind of the Moslem of the desert, whose grand characteristic is religious veneration, and uncompromising zeal for the glory of the Creator.

And well and truly do the coplas and gachaplas of the Gitanos depict the character of the race. This poetry, for poetry we will call it, is in most respects such as might be expected to originate among people of their class; a set of Thugs, subsisting by cheating and villainy of every description; hating the rest of the human species, and bound to each other by the bonds of common origin, language, and pursuits. The general themes of this poetry are the various incidents of Gitano life and the feelings of the Gitanos. A Gypsy sees a pig running down a hill, and imagines that it cries 'Ustilame Caloro!' (62) - a Gypsy reclining sick on the prison floor beseeches his wife to intercede with the alcayde for the removal of the chain, the weight of which is bursting his body - the moon arises, and two Gypsies, who are about to steal a steed, perceive a Spaniard, and instantly flee - Juanito Ralli, whilst going home on his steed, is stabbed by a Gypsy who hates him - Facundo, a Gypsy, runs away at the sight of the burly priest of Villa Franca, who hates all Gypsies. Sometimes a burst of wild temper gives occasion to a strain - the swarthy lover threatens to slay his betrothed, even AT THE FEET OF JESUS, should she prove unfaithful. It is a general opinion amongst the Gitanos that Spanish women are very fond of Rommany chals and Rommany. There is a stanza in which a Gitano hopes to bear away a beauty of Spanish race by means of a word of Rommany whispered in her ear at the window.

Amongst these effusions are even to be found tender and beautiful thoughts; for Thugs and Gitanos have their moments of gentleness. True it is that such are few and far between, as a flower or a shrub is here and there seen springing up from the interstices of the rugged and frightful rocks of which the Spanish sierras are composed: a wicked mother is afraid to pray to the Lord with her own lips, and calls on her innocent babe to beseech him to restore peace and comfort to her heart - an imprisoned youth appears to have no earthly friend on whom he can rely, save his sister, and wishes for a messenger to carry unto her the tale of his sufferings, confident that she would hasten at once to his assistance. And what can be more touching than the speech of the relenting lover to the fair one whom he has outraged?

'Extend to me the hand so small,

Wherein I see thee weep,

For O thy balmy tear-drops all

I would collect and keep.'

This Gypsy poetry consists of quartets, or rather couplets, but two rhymes being discernible, and those generally imperfect, the vowels alone agreeing in sound. Occasionally, however, sixains, or stanzas of six lines, are to be found, but this is of rare occurrence. The thought, anecdote or adventure described, is seldom carried beyond one stanza, in which everything is expressed which the poet wishes to impart. This feature will appear singular to those who are unacquainted with the character of the popular poetry of the south, and are accustomed to the redundancy and frequently tedious repetition of a more polished muse. It will be well to inform such that the greater part of the poetry sung in the south, and especially in Spain, is extemporary. The musician composes it at the stretch of his voice, whilst his fingers are tugging at the guitar; which style of composition is by no means favourable to a long and connected series of thought. Of course, the greater part of this species of poetry perishes as soon as born. A stanza, however, is sometimes caught up by the bystanders, and committed to memory; and being frequently repeated, makes, in time, the circuit of the country. For example, the stanza about Coruncho Lopez, which was originally made at the gate of a venta by a Miquelet, (63) who was conducting the said Lopez to the galleys for a robbery. It is at present sung through the whole of the peninsula, however insignificant it may sound to foreign ears:-

'Coruncho Lopez, gallant lad,

A smuggling he would ride;

He stole his father's ambling prad,

And therefore to the galleys sad

Coruncho now I guide.'

The couplets of the Gitanos are composed in the same off-hand manner, and exactly resemble in metre the popular ditties of the Spaniards. In spirit, however, as well as language, they are in general widely different, as they mostly relate to the Gypsies and their affairs, and not unfrequently abound with abuse of the Busne or Spaniards. Many of these creations have, like the stanza of Coruncho Lopez, been wafted over Spain amongst the Gypsy tribes, and are even frequently repeated by the Spaniards themselves; at least, by those who affect to imitate the phraseology of the Gitanos. Those which appear in the present collection consist partly of such couplets, and partly of such as we have ourselves taken down, as soon as they originated, not unfrequently in the midst of a circle of these singular people, dancing and singing to their wild music. In no instance have they been subjected to modification; and the English translation is, in general, very faithful to the original, as will easily be perceived by referring to the lexicon. To those who may feel disposed to find fault with or criticise these songs, we have to observe, that the present work has been written with no other view than to depict the Gitanos such as they are, and to illustrate their character; and, on that account, we have endeavoured, as much as possible, to bring them before the reader, and to make them speak for themselves. They are a half-civilised, unlettered people, proverbial for a species of knavish acuteness, which serves them in lieu of wisdom. To place in the mouth of such beings the high-flown sentiments of modern poetry would not answer our purpose, though several authors have not shrunk from such an absurdity.

These couplets have been collected in Estremadura and New Castile, in Valencia and Andalusia; the four provinces where the Gitano race most abounds. We wish, however, to remark, that they constitute scarcely a tenth part of our original gleanings, from which we have selected one hundred of the most remarkable and interesting.

The language of the originals will convey an exact idea of the Rommany of Spain, as used at the present day amongst the Gitanos in the fairs, when they are buying and selling animals, and wish to converse with each other in a way unintelligible to the Spaniards. We are free to confess that it is a mere broken jargon, but it answers the purpose of those who use it; and it is but just to remark that many of its elements are of the most remote antiquity, and the most illustrious descent, as will be shown hereafter. We have uniformly placed the original by the side of the translation; for though unwilling to make the Gitanos speak in any other manner than they are accustomed, we are equally averse to have it supposed that many of the thoughts and expressions which occur in these songs, and which are highly objectionable, originated with ourselves. (64)


Unto a refuge me they led,

To save from dungeon drear;

Then sighing to my wife I said,

I leave my baby dear.

Back from the refuge soon I sped,

My child's sweet face to see;

Then sternly to my wife I said,

You've seen the last of me.

O when I sit my courser bold,

My bantling in my rear,

And in my hand my musket hold,

O how they quake with fear.

Pray, little baby, pray the Lord,

Since guiltless still thou art,

That peace and comfort he afford

To this poor troubled heart.

The false Juanito, day and night,

Had best with caution go,

The Gypsy carles of Yeira height

Have sworn to lay him low.

There runs a swine down yonder hill,

As fast as e'er he can,

And as he runs he crieth still,

Come, steal me, Gypsy man.

I wash'd not in the limpid flood

The shirt which binds my frame;

But in Juanito Ralli's blood

I bravely wash'd the same.

I sallied forth upon my grey,

With him my hated foe,

And when we reach'd the narrow way

I dealt a dagger blow.

To blessed Jesus' holy feet

I'd rush to kill and slay

My plighted lass so fair and sweet,

Should she the wanton play.

I for a cup of water cried,

But they refus'd my prayer,

Then straight into the road I hied,

And fell to robbing there.

I ask'd for fire to warm my frame,

But they'd have scorn'd my prayer,

If I, to pay them for the same,

Had stripp'd my body bare.

Then came adown the village street,

With little babes that cry,

Because they have no crust to eat,

A Gypsy company;

And as no charity they meet,

They curse the Lord on high.

I left my house and walk'd about,

They seized me fast and bound;

It is a Gypsy thief, they shout,

The Spaniards here have found.

From out the prison me they led,

Before the scribe they brought;

It is no Gypsy thief, he said,

The Spaniards here have caught.

Throughout the night, the dusky night,

I prowl in silence round,

And with my eyes look left and right,

For him, the Spanish hound,

That with my knife I him may smite,

And to the vitals wound.

Will no one to the sister bear

News of her brother's plight,

How in this cell of dark despair,

To cruel death he's dight?

The Lord, as e'en the Gentiles state,

By Egypt's race was bred,

And when he came to man's estate,

His blood the Gentiles shed.

O never with the Gentiles wend,

Nor deem their speeches true;

Or else, be certain in the end

Thy blood will lose its hue.

From out the prison me they bore,

Upon an ass they placed,

And scourg'd me till I dripp'd with gore,

As down the road it paced.

They bore me from the prison nook,

They bade me rove at large;

When out I'd come a gun I took,

And scathed them with its charge.

My mule so bonny I bestrode,

To Portugal I'd flee,

And as I o'er the water rode

A man came suddenly;

And he his love and kindness show'd

By setting his dog on me.

Unless within a fortnight's space

Thy face, O maid, I see;

Flamenca, of Egyptian race,

My lady love shall be.

Flamenca, of Egyptian race,

If thou wert only mine,

Within a bonny crystal case

For life I'd thee enshrine.

Sire nor mother me caress,

For I have none on earth;

One little brother I possess,

And he's a fool by birth.

Thy sire and mother wrath and hate

Have vow'd against me, love!

The first, first night that from the gate

We two together rove.

Come to the window, sweet love, do,

And I will whisper there,

In Rommany, a word or two,

And thee far off will bear.

A Gypsy stripling's sparkling eye

Has pierced my bosom's core,

A feat no eye beneath the sky

Could e'er effect before.

Dost bid me from the land begone,

And thou with child by me?

Each time I come, the little one,

I'll greet in Rommany.

With such an ugly, loathly wife

The Lord has punish'd me;

I dare not take her for my life

Where'er the Spaniards be.

O, I am not of gentle clan,

I'm sprung from Gypsy tree;

And I will be no gentleman,

But an Egyptian free.

On high arose the moon so fair,

The Gypsy 'gan to sing:

I see a Spaniard coming there,

I must be on the wing.

This house of harlotry doth smell,

I flee as from the pest;

Your mother likes my sire too well;

To hie me home is best.

The girl I love more dear than life,

Should other gallant woo,

I'd straight unsheath my dudgeon knife

And cut his weasand through;

Or he, the conqueror in the strife,

The same to me should do.

Loud sang the Spanish cavalier,

And thus his ditty ran:

God send the Gypsy lassie here,

And not the Gypsy man.

At midnight, when the moon began

To show her silver flame,

There came to him no Gypsy man,

The Gypsy lassie came.

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