When United States Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin was a young poet, Ezra Pound advised him to “read seeds / not twigs.” Since the ballads of Spain are among the essential seeds of Western literature, Merwin set out to read them as closely as possible—through the act of translating them. The result was Spanish Ballads.
Originally published in 1961 as a mass-market paperback—and dedicated to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes—Merwin’s translations show a dedication to form, staying true to “the economy and dramatic tradition which abound in the romances.”
For Spanish Ballads—long out of print and newly reissued as a Copper Canyon Press Classic—W.S. Merwin selected representative examples of every kind of ballad: from episodic narratives to unusual “wonder-mongering” songs. Grouped by kind and arranged in chronological order, these poems provide an essential key to Spanish culture from the late Middle Ages to the twentieth century.
“Merwin has been the principal heir to the tradition Pound established in English translation… These translations have a pristine quality and lack of literary affectation that make you sure Merwin’s choices would have been Pound’s… [Spanish Ballads] certainly serves as a reminder of the vital influence of Ezra Pound and W.S. Merwin himself in making English a vehicle for the poetic voices of other languages.” —Hudson Review
“For a translator to be faithful and readable, as Mr. Merwin always is, is no small achievement, and this selection of his translations is certainly one of the most readable and enjoyable volumes to appear in a long time.” —New York Times
“Merwin has proven himself a wise and talented translator throughout Spanish Ballads, maintaining some of the form of the romances while opting for content in English rather than the rhythm and assonance of the Spanish.” —Coldfront
“This impressive anthology of poetry truly lives up [to] the claim of ‘classic’ with W.S. Merwin’s magnificent verse and deftly skilled writing… Spanish Ballads is an original representation showcasing the last few centuries of Spain’s poetic literature and legacy.” —Wisconsin Bookwatch