In the highest heavens trombones sound

On earth things are not quite so fine.

Mickle fickleness: I still have not translated anything of Jan van Bakel’s extraordinary collection of letters written by Flemish soldiers in Napoleon’s armies, as promised. Here, however, is a literal, lazy re-translation of a chunk of the translation by Hendrik de Vries of Spanish song texts which appeared under the title Coplas. Zeven Honderd strijdliederen, kerkelijke liederen, passieliederen, spreuken, vermaningen, beschuldigingen, soldaten en gevangenis-liederen….van het Spaansche Volk (Couplets. Seven hundred battle songs, church songs, passion songs, proverbs, admonitions, accusations, soldiers’ and prison songs) in Amsterdam in 1935. The virgin is Santa María del Pilar, Zaragoza’s secret weapon against Napoleonic imperialism, and the imagery will be familiar to anyone acquainted with such things in these parts:

There is no woman like Maria,
No flag like the Spanish,
No love like a mother’s,
No light like that of day.

Trombones sound
In the highest heavens:
Who Maria crown.

My mother asked me
Who I love.
I said: the Holy Virgin,
My queen.

Swarms of grenades
Fly over the Ebro-stream.
The Virgin still protects us
Under her mantle seam.

The Virgin on her pillar said
That she will not a Frenchwoman be
But into battle will lead
At the head of the Aragonese.

Hurrah for Zaragoza!
Long live Aragon!

That’s quite enough of all that rubbish. The trombone has never struck us as a particularly Spanish or seraphic instrument, and we don’t know what the original of this was, although it shouldn’t be too difficult to track down. Some say that the Latin cōpÅ­la infected the Spanish copla via a floozy-woozy French couplet while others blame a promiscuous Provençal cobla. We will not let all that bother us unduly and will go and drink a glass of beer instead. Its friends are getting lonely down there.

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