Orlando Furioso Canto 4 - Poem by Ludovico Ariosto
The old Atlantes suffers fatal wreck,
Foiled by the ring, and young Rogero freed,
Who soars in air till he appears a speck,
Mounted upon the wizard's winged steed.
Obediant to the royal Charles's beck,
He who had followed Love's imperious lead,
Rinaldo, disembarks on British land,
And saves Genevra, doomed to stake and brand.
Though an ill mind appear in simulation,
And, for the most, such quality offends;
'Tis plain that this in many a situation
Is found to further beneficial ends,
And save from blame, and danger, and vexation;
Since we converse not always with our friends,
In this, less clear than clouded, mortal life,
Beset with snares, and full of envious strife.
If after painful proof we scarcely find
A real friend, through various chances sought,
To whom we may communicate our mind,
Keeping no watch upon our wandering thought;
What should the young Rogero's lady kind
Do with Brunello, not sincere, but fraught
With treasons manifold, and false and tainted,
As by the good enchantress truly painted?
She feigns as well with that deceitful scout;
(Fitting with him the father of all lies)
Watches his thievish hands in fear and doubt;
And follows every motion with her eyes.
When lo! a mighty noise is heard without!
"O mighty mother! king of heaven!" she cries,
"What thing is this I hear?" and quickly springs
Towards the place from whence the larum rings,
And sees the host and all his family,
Where, one to door, and one to window slips,
With eyes upturned and gazing at the sky,
As if to witness comet or eclipse.
And there the lady views, with wondering eye,
What she had scarce believed from other's lips,
A feathered courser, sailing through the rack,
Who bore an armed knight upon his back.
Broad were his pinions, and of various hue;
Seated between, a knight the saddle pressed,
Clad in steel arms, which wide their radiance threw,
His wonderous course directed to the west:
There dropt among the mountains lost to view.
And this was, as that host informed his guest,
(And true the tale) a sorcerer, who made
Now farther, now more near, his frequent raid.
"He, sometimes towering, soars into the skies;
Then seems, descending, but to skim the ground:
And of all beauteous women makes a prize,
Who, to their mischief, in these parts are found.
Hence, whether in their own or other's eyes,
Esteemed as fair, the wretched damsels round,
(And all in fact the felon plunders) hine;
As fearing of the sun to be descried.
"A castle on the Pyrenean height
The necromancer keeps, the work of spell."
(The host relates) "of steel, so fair and bright,
All nature cannot match the wonderous shell.
There many cavaliers, to prove their might,
Have gone, but none returned the tale to tell.
So that I doubt, fair sir, the thief enthralls
Or slays whoever in the encounter falls."
The watchful maid attends to every thing,
Glad at her heart, and trusting to complete
(What she shall compass by the virtuous ring)
The downfall of the enchanter and his seat.
Then to the host -- "A guide I pray thee bring,
Who better knows than me the thief's retreat.
So burns my heart. (nor can I choose but go)
To strive in battle with this wizard foe."
"It shall not need," exclaimed the dwarfish Moor,
"For I, myself, will serve you as a guide;
Who have the road set down, with other lore,
So that you shall rejoice with me to ride."
He meant the ring, but further hint forbore;
Lest dearly he the avowed should abide.
And she to him -- "Your guidance gives me pleasure."
Meaning by this she hoped to win his treasure.
What useful was to say, she said, and what
Might hurt her with the Saracen, concealed.
Well suited to her ends, the host had got
A palfrey, fitting for the road or field.
She bought the steed, and as Aurora shot
Her rosy rays, rode forth with spear and shield:
And maid and courier through a valley wind,
Brunello now before and now behind.
From wood to wood, from mount to mountain hoar,
They clomb a summit, which in cloudless sky
Discovers France and Spain, and either shore.
As from a peak of Apennine the eye
May Tuscan and Sclavonian sea explore,
There, whence we journey to Camaldoli.
Then through a rugged path and painful wended,
Which thence into a lowly vale descended.
A rock from that deep valley's centre springs;
Bright walls of steel about its summit go:
And this as high that airy summit flings,
As it leaves all the neighbouring cliffs below.
He may not scale the height who has not wings,
And vainly would each painful toil bestow.
"Lo! where his prisoners!" Sir Brunello cries,
"Ladies and cavaliers, the enchanter sties."
Scarped smooth upon four parts, the mountain bare
Seemed fashioned with the plumb, by builder's skill
Nor upon any side was path or stair,
Which furnished man the means to climb the hill.
The castle seemed the very nest and lair
Of animal, supplied with plume and quill.
And here the damsel knows 'tis time to slay
The wily dwarf, and take the ring away.
But deems it foul, with blood of man to stain
Unarmed and of so base a sort, her brand;
For well, without his death, she may obtain
The costly ring; and so suspends her hand.
Brunello, off his guard, with little pain,
She seized, and strongly bound with girding band:
Then to a lofty fir made fast the string;
But from his finger first withdrew the ring.
Neither by tears, nor groans, nor sound of woe,
To move the stedfast maid the dwarf had power:
She down the rugged hill descended slow,
Until she reached the plain beneath the tower.
Then gave her bugle breath, the keep below,
To call the castled wizard to the stower:
And when the sound was finished, threatening cried,
And called him to the combat and defied.
Not long within his gate the enchanter stayed,
After he heard the voice and bugle ring.
Against the foe, who seemed a man, arrayed
In arms, with him the horse is on the wing.
But his appearance well consoled the maid,
Who, with small cause for fear, beheld him bring
Nor mace, nor rested lance, nor bitting sword,
Wherewith the corselet might be bruised or gored.
On his left arm alone his shield he took,
Covered all o'er with silk of crimson hue;
In his right-hand he held an open book,
Whence, as the enchanter read, strange wonder grew:
For often times, to sight, the lance he shook;
And flinching eyelids could not hide the view;
With tuck or mace he seemed to smite the foe:
But sate aloof and had not struck a blow.
No empty fiction wrought by magic lore,
But natural was the steed the wizard pressed;
For him a filly to griffin bore;
Hight hippogryph. In wings and beak and crest,
Formed like his sire, as in the feet before;
But like the mare, his dam, in all the rest.
Such on Riphaean hills, though rarely found,
Are bred, beyond the frozen ocean's bound.
Drawn by enchantment from his distant lair,
The wizard thought but how to tame the foal;
And, in a month, instructed him to bear
Saddle and bit, and gallop to the goal;
And execute on earth or in mid air,
All shifts of manege, course and caracole;
He with such labour wrought. This only real,
Where all the rest was hollow and ideal.
This truth by him with fictions was combined,
Whose sleight passed red for yellow, black for white:
But all his vain enchantments could not blind
The maid, whose virtuous ring assured her sight:
Yet she her blows discharges at the wind;
And spurring here and there prolongs the fight.
So drove or wheeled her steed, and smote at nought,
And practised all she had before been taught.
When she sometime had fought upon her horse,
She from the courser on her feet descends:
To compass and more freely put in force,
As by the enchantress schooled, her wily ends.
The wizard, to display his last resource,
Unweeting the defence, towards her wends.
He bares the shield, secure to blind his foe,
And by the magic light, astonished, throw.
The shield might have been shown at first, nor he
Needed to keep the cavaliers at bay;
But that he loved some master-stroke to see,
Achieved by lance or sword in single fray.
As with the captive mouse, in sportive glee,
The wily cat is sometimes seen to play;
Till waxing wroth, or weary of her prize,
She bites, and at a snap the prisoner dies.
To cat and mouse, in battles fought before,
I liken the magician and his foes;
But the comparison holds good no more:
For, with the ring, the maid against him goes;
Firm and attentive still, and watching sore,
Lest upon her the wizard should impose:
And as she sees him bare the wondrous shield,
Closes her eyes and falls upon the field.
Not that the shining metal could offend,
As wont those others, from its cover freed;
But so the damsel did, to make descend
The vain enchanter from his wondrous steed.
Nor was in ought defeated of her end;
For she no sooner on the grassy mead
Had laid her head, than wheeling widely round,
The flying courser pitched upon the ground.
Already cased again, the shield was hung,
By the magician, at his sadle bow.
He lights and seeks her, who like wolf among
The bushes, couched in thicket, waits the roe;
She without more delay from ambush sprung,
As he drew near, and grappled fast the foe.
That wretched man, the volume by whose aid
He all his battles fought, on earth had laid:
And ran to bind her with a chain, which he,
Girt round about him for such a purpose, wore;
Because he deemed she was no less to be
Mastered and bound than those subdued before.
Him hath the dame already flung; by me
Excused with reason, if he strove not more.
For fearful were the odds between that bold
And puissant maid, and warrior weak and old!
Intending to behead the fallen foe,
She lifts her conquering hand; but in mid space,
When she beholds his visage, stops the blow,
As if disdaining a revenge so base.
She sees in him, her prowess has laid low,
A venerable sire, with sorrowing face;
Whose hair and wrinkles speak him, to her guess,
Of years six score and ten, or little less.
"Kill me, for love of God!" (afflicted sore,
The old enchanter full of wrath did cry).
But the victorious damsel was not more
Averse to kill, than he was bent to die.
To know who was the necromancer hoar
The gentle lady had desire, and why
The tower he in that savage place designed,
Doing such outrage foul to all mankind.
"Nor I, by malice moved, alas! poor wight,"
(The weeping necromancer answer made,)
"Built the fair castle on the rocky height,
Nor yet for rapine ply the robber's trade;
But only to redeem a gentle knight
From danger sore and death, by love was swayed;
Who, as the skies foreshow, in little season,
Is doomed to die a Christian, and by treason.
"The sun beholds not 'twixt the poles, a Child
So excellent as him, and passing fair;
Who from his infancy, Rogero styled,
(Atlantes I) was tutored by my care.
By love of fame and evil stars beguiled,
He follows into France Troyano's heir.
Him, in my eyes, than son esteemed more dear,
I seek to snatch from France and peril near.
"I only built the beauteous keep to be
Rogero's dungeon, safely harboured there;
Who whilom was subdued in fight by me,
As I to-day had hoped thyself to snare,
And dames and knights, and more of high degree,
Have to this tower conveyed, his lot to share,
That with such partners of his prison pent,
He might the loss of freedom less lament.
"Save they should seek to break their dungeon's bound,
I grant my inmates every other pleasure.
For whatsoever in the world is found,
Search its four quarters, in this keep I treasure;
(Whatever heart can wish or tongue can sound)
Cates, brave attire, game, sport, or mirthful measure.
My field well sown, I well had reaped my grain.
But that thy coming makes my labour vain.
"Ah! then unless thy heart less beauteous be
Than thy sweet face, mar not my pious care;
Take my steel buckler, this I give to thee,
And take that horse, which flies so fast in air,
Nor meddle with my castle more; or free
One or two captive friends, the rest forbear --
Or (for I crave but this) release them all,
So that Rogero but remain my thrall.
"Or if disposed to take him from my sight,
Before the youth be into France conveyed,
Be pleased to free my miserable sprite
From its now rotted bark, long decayed."
"Prate as thou wilt, I shall restore the knight
To liberty," replied the martial maid,
"Nor offer shield and courser to resign,
Which are not in thy gift, -- already mine.
"Nor were they thine to take or to bestow,
Would it appear that such exchange were wise;
Thou sayest to save him from what stars foreshow,
And cheat an evil influence of the skies
Rogero is confined. Thou canst not know,
Or knowing, canst not change his destinies:
For, if unknown an ill so near to thee,
Far less mayest thou another's fate foresee.
"Seek not thy death from me; for the petition
Is made in vain; but if for death thou sigh,
Though the whole world refused the requisition,
A soul resolved would find the means to die.
But ope thy gates to give thy guests dismission
Before thine hand the knot of life untie."
So spake the scornful dame with angry mock,
Speeding her captive still towards the rock.
Round by the conqueror with the chain he bore,
Atlantes walked, the damsel following nigh,
Who trusted not to the magician hoar,
Although he seemed subdued in port and eye.
Nor many paces went the pair, before
They at the mountain's foot the cleft espy,
With steps by which the rugged hill to round;
And climb, till to the castle-gate they wound:
Atlantes from the threshold, graved by skill,
With characters and wondrous signs, upturned
A virtuous stone, where, underneath the sill,
Pots, with perpetual fire and secret, burned.
The enchanter breaks them; and at once the hill
To an inhospitable rock is turned.
Nor wall nor tower on any side is seen,
As if no castle there had ever been.
Then from the lady's toils the wizard clears
His limbs, as thrush escapes the fowler's snare;
With him as well his castle disappears,
And leaves the prisoned troop in open air;
From their gay lodgings, dames and cavaliers,
Unhoused upon that desert, bleak and bare.
And many at the freedom felt annoy,
Which dispossessed them of such life of joy.
There is Gradasso, there is Sacripant,
There is Prasildo, noble cavalier,
Who with Rinaldo came from the Levant;
Iroldo, too, Prasildo's friend sincere.
And there, at last, the lovely Bradamant
Discerns Rogero, long desired and dear;
Who, when assured it was that lady, flew
With joyful cheer to greet the damsel true;
As her he prized before his eyes, his heart,
His life; from that day cherished when she stood
Uncasqued for him, and from the fight apart;
And hence an arrow drank her virgin blood.
'Twere long to tell who launched the cruel dart,
And how the lovers wandered in the wood;
Now guided by the sun, and now benighted,
Here first since that encounter reunited.
Now that the stripling sees her here, and knows
Alone she freed him from the wizard's nest,
He deems, his bosom with such joy overflows,
That he is singly fortunate and blest.
Thither, where late the damsel conquered, goes
The band, descending from the mountain's crest;
And finds the hippogryph, who bore the shield,
But in its case of crimson silk concealed.
To take him by the rein the lady there
Approached, and he stood fast till she was nigh,
Then spread his pinions to the liquid air,
And at short distance lit, half-mountain high:
And, as she follows him with fruitless care,
Not longer flight nor shorter will he try.
'Tis thus the raven, on some sandy beach,
Lures on the dog, and flits beyond his reach.
Gradasso, Sacripant, Rogero, who
With all those other knights below were met,
Where'er, they hope he may return, pursue
The beast, and up and down, each pass beset.
He having led those others, as he flew,
Often to rocky height, and bottom wet,
Among the rocks of the moist valley dropt,
And at short distance from Rogero stopt.
This was Atlantes the enchanter's deed,
Whose pious wishes still directed were,
To see Rogero from his peril freed:
This was his only thought, his only care;
Who for such end dispatched the winged steed,
Him out of Europe by this sleight to bear.
Rogero took his bridle, but in vain;
For he was restive to the guiding rein.
Now the bold youth from his Frontino flings
(Frontino was his gentle courser hight)
Then leaps on him who towers in air, and stings
And goads his haughty heart with rowels bright.
He runs a short career; then upward springs.
And through mid ether soars a fairer flight
Than hawk, from which the falconer plucks away
In time the blinding hood, and points her prey.
When her Rogero the fair dame discerned,
In fearful peril, soar so high a strain,
She stood long space amazed, ere she returned
To her right judgement, and sound wits again:
And what she erst of Ganymede had learned,
Snatched up to heaven from his paternal reign,
Feared might befall the stripling, born through air,
As gentle as young Ganymede and fair.
She on Rogero looks with stedfast eyes
As long as feeble sight can serve her use;
And in her mind next tracks him through the skies,
When sight in vain the cherished youth pursues.
And still renewing tears, and groans, and sighs,
Will not afford her sorrow peace or truce.
After the knight had vanished from her view,
Her eyes she on the good Frontino threw.
And lest the courser should become the prey
Of the first traveller, who passed the glen,
Him will not leave; but thence to bear away
Resolves, in trust to see his lord again.
The griffin soars, nor can Rogero stay
The flying courser; while, beneath his ken,
Each peak and promontory sinks in guise,
That he discerns not flat from mountain-rise.
After the hippogryph has won such height,
That he is lessened to a point, he bends
His course for where the sun, with sinking light,
When he goes round the heavenly crab, descends;
And shoots through air, like well-greased bark and light,
Which through the sea a wind propitious sends.
Him leave we on his way, who well shall speed,
And turn we to Rinaldo in his need.
Day after day the good Rinaldo fares,
Forced by the wind, the spacious ocean through;
Now westward borne, and now toward the Bears;
For night and day the ceaseless tempest blew.
Scotland at last her dusky coast uprears,
And gives the Caledonian wood to view;
Which, through its shadowy groves of ancient oak,
Oft echoes to the champion's sturdy stroke.
Through this roves many a famous cavalier,
Renowned for feat in arms, of British strain;
And throng from distant land, or country near,
French, Norse, of German knights, a numerous train.
Let none, save he be valiant, venture here,
Where, seeking glory, death may be his gain.
Here Arthur, Galahalt, and Gauvaine fought,
And well Sir Launcelot and Tristram wrought.
And other worthies of the table round;
(Of either table, whether old or new)
Whose trophies yet remain upon the ground;
Proof of their valiant feats, Rinaldo true
Forthwith his armour and Bayardo found,
And landed on the woody coast: The crew
He bade, with all the haste they might, repair
To Berwick's neighbouring port, and wait him there.
Without a guide or company he went
Through that wide forest; choosing now this way,
Now that, now other, as it might present
Hope of adventurous quest or hard assay:
And, ere the first day's circling sun is spent,
The peer is guested in an abbey gray:
Which spends much wealth in harbouring those who claim
Its shelter, warlike knight or wandering dame.
The monks and abbot to Mount Alban's peer
A goodly welcome in their house accord;
Who asked, but not before with savoury cheer
He amply had his wearied strength restored,
If in that tract, by errant cavalier,
Often adventurous quest might be explored,
In which a man might prove, by dangerous deed,
If blame or glory were his fitting meed.
They answered, in those woods he might be sure
Many and strange adventures would be found;
But deeds, there wrought, were, like the place, obscure,
And, for the greater part, not bruited round.
"Then seek (they said) a worthier quest, secure
Your works will not be buried underground.
So that the glorious act achieved, as due,
Fame may your peril and your pain pursue.
"And if you would your warlike worth assay,
Prepare the worthiest enterprize to hear,
That, e'er in times of old or present day,
Was undertaken by a cavalier.
Our monarch's daughter needs some friendly stay,
Now sore bested, against a puissant peer:
Lurcanio is the doughty baron's name,
Who would bereave her both of life and fame.
"Her he before her father does pursue,
Perchance yet more for hatred than for right;
And vouches, to a gallery she updrew
A lover, seen by him, at dead of night.
Hence death by fire will be the damsel's due,
Such is our law, unless some champion fight
On her behalf, and, ere a month go by,
(Nigh spent) upon the accuser prove the lie.
"Our impious Scottish law, severe and dread,
Wills, that a woman, whether low or high
Her state, who takes a man into her bed,
Except her husband, for the offence shall die.
Nor is there hope of ransom for her head,
Unless to her defence some warrior hie;
And as her champion true, with spear and shield,
Maintain her guiltless in the listed field.
"The king, sore grieving for Geneura bright,
For such is his unhappy daughter's name,
Proclaims by town and city, that the knight
Who shall deliver her from death and shame,
He to the royal damsel will unite,
With dower, well suited to a royal dame;
So that the valiant warrior who has stood
In her defence, be come of gentle blood.
"But if within a month no knight appear,
Or coming, conquer not, the damsel dies.
A like emrpize were worthier of your spear
Than wandering through these woods in lowly guise.
Besides, the eternal trophy you shall rear,
You by the deed shall gain a glorious prize,
The sweetest flower of all the ladies fair
That betwixt Ind and Atlas' pillars are.
"And you with wealth and state shall guerdoned be,
So that you evermore may live content,
And the king's grace, if through your means he see
His honour raised anew, now well-nigh spent.
Besides, you by the laws of chivalry
Are bound to venge the damsel foully shent.
For she, whose life is by such treason sought,
Is chaste and spotless in the common thought."
Rinaldo mused awhile, and then replied,
"And must a gentle damsel die by fire,
Because she with a lover's wish complied,
And quenched within her arms his fond desire?
Cursed be the law by which the dame is tried!
Cursed he who would permit a doom so dire!
Perish (such fate were just!) who cruel proves!
Not she that life bestows on him who loves.
"Or true or false Geneura's tale of shame;
If she her lover blessed I little heed:
For this my praise the lady well might claim,
If manifest were not that gentle deed.
My every thought is turned to aid the dame.
Grant me but one to guide my steps, and lead
Quickly to where the foul accuser stands,
I trust in God to loose Geneura's bands.
"I will not vouch her guiltless in my thought,
In fear to warrant what is false; but I
Boldly maintain, in such an act is nought
For which the damsel should deserve to die;
And ween unjust, or else of wit distraught,
Who statutes framed of such severity;
Which, as iniquitous, should be effaced,
And with a new and better code replaced.
"If like desire, and if an equal flame
Move one and the other sex, who warmly press
To that soft end of love (their goal the same)
Which to the witless crowd seems rank excess;
Say why shall woman -- merit scathe or blame,
Though lovers, one or more, she may caress;
While man to sin with whom he will is free,
And meets with praise, not mere impunity?
"By this injurious law, unequal still,
On woman is inflicted open wrong;
And to demonstrate it a grievous ill,
I trust in God, which has been borne too long."
To good Rinaldo's sentence, with one will,
Deeming their sires unjust, assents the throng,
Their sires who such outrageous statute penned,
And king, who might, but does not, this amend.
When the new dawn, with streaks of red and white,
Broke in the east, and cleared the hemisphere,
Rinaldo took his steed and armour bright:
A squire that abbey furnished to the peer.
With him, for many leagues and miles, the knight
Pricked through the dismal forest dark and drear;
While they towards the Scottish city ride,
Where the poor damsel's cause is to be tried.
Seeking their way to shorten as they wound,
They to the wider track a path preferred;
When echoing through the gloomy forest round,
Loud lamentations nigh the road were heard.
Towards a neighbouring vale, whence came the sound,
This his Bayardo, that his hackney spurred;
And viewed, between two grisly ruffians there,
A girl, who seemed at distance passing fair.
But woe begone and weeping was the maid
As ever damsel dame, or wight was seen:
Hard by the barbarous twain prepared the blade,
To deluge with that damsel's blood the green.
She to delay her death awhile essayed,
Until she pity moved with mournful mien.
This when Rinaldo near approaching eyes,
He thither drives with threats and furious cries.
The ruffians turn their backs and take to flight
As soon as they the distant succour view,
And squat within a valley out of sight:
Nor cares the good Rinaldo to pursue.
To her approaching, sues Mount Alban's knight,
To say what on her head such evil drew;
And, to save time, commands his squire to stoop,
And take the damsel on his horse's croup.
And as the lady nearer he surveyed,
Her wise behaviour marked and beauty's bloom;
Though her fait countenance was all dismayed,
And by the fear of death o'erspread with gloom.
Again to know, the gentle knight essayed,
Who had prepared for her so fell a doom;
And she began to tell in humble tone
What to another canto I postpone.
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