“Alhambra” by Jorge Luis Borges

Qal‘at al-Ḥamra, known by the Spaniards as Alhambra, was a Moorish fortress and castle in Granada that was captured during the Catholic Reconquista.

Pleasant the voice of the water
to those wearied by black sand,
pleasant to the concave hand
the curving marble of the column,
pleasant the delicate labyrinths of water
among the lemon trees,
pleasant the music of zajal verse,
pleasant the love and pleasant the pleas
lifted to a God who stands alone,
pleasant the jasmine.

Vain the scimitar
before the long lances of the many,
vain to be the best.
Pleasant to feel or foresee, grieving king,
that your delights are goodbyes,
that the key will be denied you,
that the cross of the infidel will efface the moon,
that this pleasant evening will be the last.

—Translated by David Bowles
March 9, 2014

Original Spanish

Grata la voz del agua
a quien abrumaron negras arenas,
grato a la mano cóncava
el mármol circular de la columna,
gratos los finos laberintos del agua
entre los limoneros,
grata la música del zéjel,
grato el amor y grata la plegaria
dirigida a un Dios que está solo,
grato el jazmín.

Vano el alfanje
ante las largas lanzas de los muchos,
vano ser el mejor.
Grato sentir o presentir, rey doliente,
que tus dulzuras son adioses,
que te será negada la llave,
que la cruz del infiel borrará la luna,
que la tarde que miras es la última.

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