The Song of Berterretche


The medieval Bereterretxe ballad or «kantore» is probably the best known throughout the Basque Country. Versions of it have been recorded by singers and are available on records, but its success may also be put down to the daramtism of the subject and the quality of the text. Handed down orally from generation to generation, this composition tells the story of one of many episodes of the fight between rival clans. The crime that is denounced in the ballad took place between 1434 and 1449, and was ordered by the Count of Lerin. 



        anonymous , XV century



The alder has not pith,

nor does the reed have bark.

I did not think that noblemen spoke lies.


The valley of Andoze,

oh the long valley!

Though it be weaponless thrice has it pierced my heart.


Berterretche from his bed

speaks low to the maidservant:

«Go see if there are men in sight.»


Straightway the maid told him

what she had seen,

Three dozen men going from door to door.


From his window

Berterretche greets my Lord Count

And offers him a hundred cows and their bull.


Treacherously spoke then

my Lord Count:

«Come to the door Berterretche, you shall return forthwith.»


Mother, give me my shirt,

perchance the one that I shall never cast off.

Those who live will remember the dawn that follows Easter.»


Oh the haste of Mari-Santz

as she sped past Bostmendieta!

On her two knees she entered the house of Buztanobi at Lacarry.


«O young Master of Buztanobi,

my beloved brother,

Without your aid my son is lost.»


«Be silent my sister,

I beg you do not weep;

If your son lives he is gone to Mauleon.»


Oh the haste of Mari-Santz

to the door of my Lord Count!

«Alas! my Lord Count, where have you my fine son?»


«Have you sons

other than Berterretche?

He lies dead over by Ezpeldoi; you who are alive go tend him.»


Oh, the men of Ezpeldoi;

they of little understanding,

Who having the dead so near knew nothing of it!


The daughter of Ezpeldoi,

she whom they call Margarita,

Gathers up the blood of Berterretche in handfulls.


Oh, what fine linen there is

to be washed at the house of Ezpeldoi!

Of the shirts of Berterretche they say there are three dozen.



Translation: Rodney Gallop


© Translation: Rodney Gallop    

Basquepoetry is a project of the Susa publishing house for the diffusion of Basque poetry