Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto

Canto 29

Argument

Isabel makes the paynim take her head,

Rather than he his wicked will should gain;

Who, having his unhappy error read,

Seeks to appease his wounded spirit in vain.

He builds a bridge, and strips those thither led;

But falls from it with Roland the insane;

Who thence, of him regardless, endlong speeds,

And by the road achieves prodigious deeds.

I

O feeble and unstable minds of men!

How quickly our intentions fluctuate!

All thoughts we lightly change, but mostly when

These from some lover’s quarrel take their date.

But now, so wroth I saw that Saracen

With woman, so outrageous in his hate,

I weened not only he would ill assuage,

But never more would calm, his amorous rage.

II

That which he rashly uttered to your blame,

Ye gentle dames, does so my spirit grieve,

Till I his error teach him, to his shame,

He shall no quarter at my hands receive;

So him with pen and page will I proclaim,

That, whosoever reads me, shall believe

He had better held — aye, better bit, his tongue,

Than ever have your sex with slander stung.

III

But that in this the witless infidel

Spake as a fool, the event demonstrates clear:

Even now, with dagger drawn, that paynim fell

In fury on all women whomsoe’er.

Next him so touched one look of Isabel,

She quickly made his fickle purpose veer;

For her, scarce seen, and to that warrior strange,

He would his Doralice already change;

IV

And, as new love the king did heat and goad,

He moved some arguments of small avail,

To shake her stedfast spirit, which abode

Wholly with God; but he, her shield and mail,

That hermit, lest she from the better road

Should wander, and her chaste intention fail,

With stronger arguments with him contended,

And still, as best he could, the dame defended.

V

The king, who long had taxed himself to bear

The monk’s bold sermon to his sore displeasure,

And vainly bade him to his cell repair

Anew, without that damsel, at his leisure,

Yet seeing he would still his patience dare,

Nor peace with him would keep, nor any measure,

Upon that preacher’s chin his right-hand laid,

And whatsoe’er he grasped, as rudely flayed.

VI

And (so his fury waxed) that, as it were

With tongs, he griped his neck, and after he

Had whirled him once or twice about in air,

Dismist him form his hand towards the sea.

I say not — know not, what befel him there:

Many the rumours are, and disagree.

One says he burst upon a rock’s rude bed,

And lay one shapeless jelly, heels and head.

VII

He fell into the sea, by one is said,

Distant three miles and more; and, in that sound,

He having prayer, and Ave vainly made,

Because he knew not how to swim, was drowned.

Others report a Saint bestowed his aid,

And dragged him with a visible hand aground.

Whichever be the reading of this mystery,

Of him I speak no further in mine history.

VIII

Cruel King Rodomont, when from his side

He had removed the prating eremite,

With visage less disturbed, again applied

To that sad lady, heartless with affright;

And, in the language used by lovers, cried,

She was his very heart, his life, his light,

She was his comfort, and his dearest hope;

With all such words as have that common scope.

IX

And now, so temperate showed that infidel,

‘Twould seem that he no violence designed,

The gentle semblance of fair Isabel,

Enamoured him, so tamed his haughty mind;

And, though he might that goodly kernel shell,

The paynim would not pass beyond the rhind,

Who that its favour would be lost, believed,

Unless ’twere as a gift from her received;

X

And by degrees so thought to mould the dame

To his desires. She in that lone retreat

And savage, open to his evil aim,

And like a mouse, beneath Grimalkin’s feet,

Had liefer found herself i’ the midst of flame;

And ever on one thought her fancy beat:

If any mode, if any way, remained

To scape that wilful man, untouched, unstained.

XI

Sad Isabella in her mind is bent

To slay herself with her own hand, before

That fell barbarian compass his intent;

And be the means to make her wrong so sore

That cavalier, by cruel Fortune spent,

Within her loving arms, to whom she swore

With mind to him devoted, his to be,

Vowing to Heaven perpetual chastity.

XII

She sees that paynim monarch’s passion blind

Increasing still, nor what to do she knows;

Well knows what foul intention is behind,

Which she is all too feeble to oppose:

Yet moving many matters in her mind,

Finds out at last a refuge for her woes,

And means to save her chastity from shame,

(How I shall say) with clear and lasting fame.

XIII

She cried unto that paynim, foul to see,

Already threatening her with word and act,

And now devoid of all that courtesy,

Which he in the beginning did enact,

“If thou mine honour wilt ensure to me,

Beyond suspicion, I, upon this pact,

Will upon thee bestow what shall o’erpay,

By much, that honour thou wouldst take away.

XIV

“For pleasure, which endures so brief a space,

Wherewith this ample world does so o’errun,

Reject not lightly a perpetual grace,

A real joy, to be postponed to none.

Of women everywhere of pleasing face

A hundred and a thousand may be won;

But none beside me, or few others, live

Who can bestow the boon which I can give.

XV

“I know, and on my way a herb did view,

And nearly know where I on this could light,

Which, being boiled with ivy and with rue,

Over a fire with wood of cypress dight,

And squeezed, when taken from the caldron, through

Innocent hands, affords a juice of might,

Wherewith whoever thrice his body laves,

Destructive steel or fire securely braves.

XVI

“If thrice therewith he bathe himself, I say,

His flesh no weapon for a month shall score:

He once a month must to his body lay

Mine unction, for its virtue lasts not more:

This liquor can I make, and will today,

And thou today shalt also prove my lore:

And well, I trust, thou shalt more grateful be,

Than were all Europe won today by thee.

XVII

“In guerdon for this present, I request

That thou to me upon thy faith wilt swear,

Thou never wilt my chastity molest

In word or deed.” So spake that damsel fair;

And Rodomont who heard, again represt

His evil will: for so he longed to bear

A charmed life, that readily he more

Than Isabel of him demanded swore;

XVIII

And will maintain his promise, till the fact

Vouched of that wondrous water shall appear;

And force himself, meanwhile, to do no act,

To show no sign of violence; but the peer

Resolves he will not after keep the pact,

As one who holds not God or saint in fear;

And to that king, regardless of his oath,

All lying Afric yields in breach of troth.

XIX

Argier’s perfidious king to Isabel

More than a thousand times assurance swore,

In case that water rendered him what fell

Achilles and what Cygnus were of yore.

She, aye by beetling cliff and darksome dell,

Away from city and from farm, a store

Of herbs collected, nor this while e’er

Abandoned by the paynim cavalier.

XX

When herbs enow by them in many a beat,

With or without their roots, collected were,

At a late hour, the twain to their retreat

Betook them; and, throughout night’s remnant, there,

That paragon of continence did heat

What simples she had culled, with mickle care,

While to those mysteries and her every deed

The pagan, present still, gave curious heed;

XXI

Who, wearing out the weary night in sport,

— He and those followers that with him remained —

Had suffered thirst in such a grievous sort,

From the fierce fire in that small cave contained,

That drinking round, in measure full or short,

Of Graecian wine two barrels had they drained;

A booty which those squires who served the Moor,

From travellers seized a day or two before.

XXII

To Argier’s warlike king, unused to wine,

(Cursed, and forbidden by his law, esteemed)

The liquor, tasted once, appeared divine,

Sweeter than nectar or than manna seemed:

He, quaffing largely, now of Ishmael’s line

The sober use deserving censure deemed.

So fast their cups with that good wine they fill,

Each reveller’s head is whirling like a mill.

XXIII

Meanwhile that lady from the fire does lift

The pot, wherein she cooked those herbs, and cries

To Rodomont: “In proof I not adrift

Have launched the words I spake, in random guise,

— By that, which can the truth form falsehood sift,

Experience, which can make the foolish wise,

Even now the thing shall to thyself be shown,

Not on another’s body, but my own.

XXIV

“I first will trial make” (that lady said)

“Of this choice liquor with rare virtue blest;

Lest haply thou shouldst harbour any dread

That mortal poison form these herbs be prest.

With this will I anoint myself, from head

Downwards below the naked neck and breast.

Then prove on me thy faulchion and thine arm,

And prove if one can smite, the other harm.”

XXV

She washed, as said, and gladly did decline

Her neck to that unthinking pagan’s brand;

Unthinking, and perhaps o’ercome by wine,

Which neither helm, nor mail, nor shield withstand,

That brutish man believed her, and, in sign

Of faith, so struck with cruel steel and hand,

That her fair head, erewhile Love’s place of rest,

He severed from the snowy neck and breast.

XXVI

This made three bounds, and thence in accents clear

Was heard a voice which spake Zerbino’s name,

To follow whom, escaping Sarza’s peer,

So rare a way was taken by the dame.

Spirit! which nobly didst esteem more dear

Thy plighted faith, and chaste and holy name,

(Things hardly known, and foreign to our time)

Than thine own life and thine own blooming prime!

XXVII

Depart in peace, O spirit blest and fair!

— So had my verses power! as evermore

I would assay, with all that happy care,

Which so adorns and points poetic lore!

And, as renowned should be thy story rare,

Thousands and thousands of long years and more!

— Depart in peace to radiant realms above,

And leave to earth the example of thy love!

XXVIII

His eyes from heaven did the Creator bend,

At the stupendous and unequalled feat,

And said: “I thee above that dame commend.

Whose death drove Tarquin from his royal seat;

And I to register a law intend,

‘Mid those which ages change not as they fleet,

Which — I attest the inviolable river —

Unchanged through future times, shall last for ever.

XXIX

“I will that all, in every future age,

Who bear thy name, be blest with genius high;

Be courteous, gentle, beautiful, and sage,

And to the real pitch of honour fly.

That to their glory the historic page

They may with worthy argument supply;

So that for aye Parnassus’ hill and well

Shall ring with Isabel and Isabel.”

XXX

So spake the Sire; and cleared the ambient air,

And hushed beyond its wont the heaving main.

To the third heaven her chaste soul made repair,

And in Zerbino’s arms was locked again.

On earth, with shame and sorrow for his share,

That second Breuse sans pity did remain;

Who, when digested was the maddening bowl,

Lamented sore his error, sad at soul.

XXXI

That placated, or in some content,

The sainted soul of Isabel might be;

That, if to death that damsel he had shent,

He might at least revive her memory,

He, as a means to compass his intent,

Would turn into a tomb that church, where he

Inhabited, and where she buried lies;

To you shall be related in what wise.

XXXII

In all parts round about this chosen site,

For love or fear, he master-masons found;

And, making full six thousand men unite,

Stript of their heavy stones the mountains round,

And raised a fabric ninety yards in height,

From its extremest summit to the ground;

And he within its walls the church enclosed;

Wherein entombed the lovers twain reposed.

XXXIII

This nearly imitates that pile beside

Old Tyber’s stream, by Adrian built; and nigh

The sepulchre, will he a tower provide,

Wherein he purposes some time to lie.

A narrow bridge, and only two yards wide,

He flung across the stream which rolled fast by.

Long, but so scanty is that bridge, with pain

The narrow pass two coursers can contain;

XXXIV

Two coursers, that abreast have thither made,

Or else, encountering, on that causeway meet:

Nor any where was ledge or barricade,

To stay the horses’s fall, who lost his feet.

He wills that bridge’s toll be dearly paid

By Christian or by Moor, who pass his seat;

For with a thousand trophies, arms, and vest,

That damsel’s tomb is destined to be drest.

XXXV

Within ten days, or shorter time, was placed

The bridge, whose arch across the stream was dight;

But not that pile and tower with equal haste

Were so conducted to their destined height.

Yet was the last so high, a sentry paced

Its top, who, whensoever any knight

Approached the bridge, was wont his lord to warn,

Sounding a signal on his bugle-horn.

XXXVI

Whereat he armed, and issued for the stower,

Now upon one and now the other side:

For when a warrior pricked towards the tower,

Him from the adverse bank that king defied:

The bridge affords the field their steeds must scour;

And, should one but a little swerve aside,

(Peril unparalleled!) the horse will go

Into the deep and dangerous stream below.

XXXVII

The pagan had imagined, as a pain,

That, risking oft to tumble in the course,

Head-first into that stream, where he must drain

Huge draughts of water in his fall, parforce,

He would assoil and cleanse him from that stain,

Whereof excess in wine had been the source;

As if what ill wine prompts to do or say,

Water, as well as wine, could wash away.

XXXVIII

Soon thitherward flocked many a cavalier;

Some who pursued the beaten road and plain;

Since for way-faring men, who southward steer,

No straighter lay for Italy or Spain:

Their courage and their honour, held more dear

Than life, excited others of the train;

And all, where they had hoped the meed of strife,

Had lost their arms, and many arms and life.

XXXIX

If those he conquers are of pagan strain,

He is content to take their arms and vest:

And of those first arrived the titles plain

Are written, and their arms suspended rest.

But he in prison pens the christened train,

(‘Twould seem) to be to Argier’s realm addrest.

Not yet was brought that building to a head

When thitherward the crazed Orlando sped.

XL

It chanced Orlando, in his furious mood,

Came thither where that foaming river ran;

Where Rodomont beside the mighty flood

Was hurrying on his work; nor yet were done

The tower and tomb, the bridge, scarce finished, stood:

Here — save his casque was open — Ulien’s son

Steeled cap-a-pee, stood ready armed for fight,

When to the bridge approached Anglantes’ knight.

XLI

Orlando running thus his wild career,

The barrier tops, and o’er the bridge would fly,

But sullen Rodomont, with troubled cheer,

Afoot, as he that tower is standing nigh,

For he disdains to brandish sword or spear,

Shouts to him from afar with threatening cry,

“Halt! thou intrusive churl and indiscreet,

Rash, meddling, saucy villain, stay thy feet!

XLII

“Only for lord and cavalier was made,

And not for thee, dull slave, that bridge was meant.”

To this no heed insane Orlando paid,

But, fixt upon his purpose, forward went.

“This madman must I school,” the paynim said,

And was approaching with the fell intent

Him into that deep river to dispatch,

Nor deeming in such foe to find his match.

XLIII

This while, a gentle damsel sought the place

That towards that bridge across the river rode,

Richly arraid and beautiful of face,

Who sage reserve in her demeanor showed.

’Tis she that, of her Brandimart in chase,

(If you remember, sir,) through every road

And place her lover seeks in anxious wise,

Excepting Paris, where the warrior lies.

XLIV

When Flordelice that bridge and tower was near,

(So was by name the wandering damsel hight)

Grappling with Roland stood the Sarzan peer,

And would into that river pitch the knight.

She, conversant with Brava’s cavalier,

The miserable county knew aright;

And mighty marvel in that dame it raised

To see him rove, a naked man and crazed.

XLV

She stopt, the issue of that strife to know,

Wherein those two so puissant warriors vied.

His opposite by might and main to throw,

Into the stream each doughty champion tried.

“How can a fool such mighty prowess show?”

Between his teeth, the furious paynim cried.

And, shifting here and there, was seen to strain,

Brimfull of pride, and anger, and disdain.

XLVI

This hand and now that other he puts out,

To take new hold, where he his vantage spies;

Now within Roland’s legs, and now without,

Locks his right foot or left, in skilful wise;

And thus resembles, in that wrestling bout,

The stupid bear, who in his fury tries

The tree, from whence he tumbled, to o’erthrow;

Deeming it sole occasion of his woe.

XLVII

Roland, whose better wit was lost withal,

I know no where, and who used force alone;

That utmost force, to which this earthly ball

Haply affords few paragons, or none,

Let himself backwards in that struggle fall,

Embracing as he stood with Ulien’s son.

Together in the foaming stream they sank;

High flashed the wave, and groaned the echoing bank.

XLVIII

Quickly the stream asunder bore the pair.

Roland was naked, and like fish could swim,

Here shot his feet, his arms extended there,

And gained the bank; nor, when upon the brim,

Halted to mark if his adventure were

Achieved with praise or shame: in evil trim,

The pagan, by his arms impeded sore,

With heavier pain and trouble, toiled ashore.

XLIX

Along the bridge which spanned that foaming tide

Did Flordelice meantime securely pace,

And, having vainly sought on every side

Brandimart’s bearing, since nor iron case

Nor vest of his she anywhere espied,

She hoped to find the knight in other place.

But here return we of the count to tell,

Who left behind him stream, bridge tower, and cell.

L

’Twere phrensy of his every frantic feat

To promise the relation, one by one;

So many and many, — should I these repeat,

I know not when my story would be done.

Yet some of his notorious deeds, and meet

For mention in my song, will I make known:

Nor will I not that wondrous one recount,

Near Thoulouse, on the Pyrenaean Mount.

LI

Much country had been traversed by the knight,

Urged by the furious rage which him misguides:

At last he reached the hill whose boundary height

Arragonese and neighbouring Frank divides.

Thither directing aye his course outright,

Where the descending sun his visage hides,

He reached a path upon the rugged steep,

Which overhung a valley dark and deep.

LII

Here he by chance encountered in mid road

Two youths, that wood men were, and drove before

An ass along that pathway, with a load

Of logs; they, marking well what scanty store

Of brain in poor Orlando’s head was stowed,

Called to the approaching knight, and threatened sore;

Bidding him stand aside, or else go back,

Nor to their hindrance block the common track.

LIII

To this address Orlando answered nought,

Save that his foot he to their beast applied,

Smote in mid-breast, which, with that vigour fraught,

— That force exceeding every force beside —

Tost him so hight, that the beholders thought

It was a bird in air which they descried.

The ass upon a mountain-summit fell,

Which rose above a mile beyond that dell.

LIV

Upon those youths next sprang the furious knight.

With better luck than wit, one woodman shear

From that tall cliff, twice thirty yards in height,

Cast himself headlong downward in his fear:

Him a moist patch of brambles, in his flight,

Received; and, amid grass and bushes, here,

From other mischief safe, the stripling lit,

And for some scratches in his face was quit.

LV

That other to a jutting fragment clung,

Who so to gain the higher steep would strive;

Because he hopes, if once those crags among,

To keep him from that fool he may contrive;

But by the feet Orlando, ere he sprung,

Seized him, who will not leave the wretch alive;

And stretching them as wide as he could strain,

So stretched his arms, he rent his prey in twain.

LVI

Even in such mode as often we descry

Falconer by heron or by puller do;

Whose entrails he plucks out, to satisfy

Merlin or falcon that the game pursue.

How happy was that other not to die!

Who risqued his neck in that deep bottom, who

Rehearsed the tale so often, Turpin heard,

And handed down to us the wondrous word.

LVII

These and more marvels does the count, who bends

His steps across that mountain to the plain;

And, seeking long a path, at length descends

Towards the south, upon the land of Spain.

His way along the beach he after wends,

Near Arragon, beside the rumbling main,

And, ever prompted by his phrensy rank,

Will make himself a dwelling on the bank,

LVIII

Where he somedeal may shun the noontide ray,

With dry and powdery sea-sand covered o’er;

And here, while so employed, upon their way

Arrives Angelica with her Medore,

Who, as you have been told in former lay,

Had from the hills descended on that shore.

Within a yard or less approached the fair,

Ere yet she of his presence was aware.

LIX

So different from himself was he to sight,

Nought of Orlando she in him surveyed:

For, from the time that rage possest his sprite,

He had gone naked forth in sun and shade.

Had he been born on hot Syene’s site,

Or sands where worship is to Ammon paid,

Or nigh those hills, whence Nile’s full waters spin,

Orlando had not borne a dingier skin.

LX

Nigh buried in their sockets are his eyes,

Spare in his visage, and as dry as bone:

Dishevelled is his hair in woeful wise,

With frightful beard his cheek is overgrown:

No sooner is he seen, than backward flies

Angelica, who, trembling sore, is flown:

She shrieking loud, all trembling and dismaid,

Betakes her to her youthful guide for aid.

LXI

When crazed Orlando was of her aware,

To seize the damsel he upsprang in haste;

So pleased the wretched count her visage fair,

So quickly was his mood inflamed: effaced

In him all ancient recollections are,

How she by him was whilom served and graced.

Behind her speech the count and hunts that dame,

As questing dog pursues the sylvan game.

LXII

The youth, that sees him chase his love who fled,

His courser spurs, and in pursuit is gone.

With naked faulchion after him he sped,

And cut and thrust at Roland as he run.

He from his shoulders hoped to cleave his head,

But found the madman’s skin as hard as bone;

Yea, harder far than steel, nor to be harmed;

So good Orlando at his birth was charmed.

LXIII

When on his back Orlando felt him beat,

He turned, and turning on his youthful foe,

Smote with clenched fist, and force which nought can meet,

— Smote on his horse’s head, a fearful blow;

And, with skull smashed like glass, that courser fleet

Was by the madman’s furious stroke laid low.

In the same breath Orlando turned anew,

And chased the damsel that before him flew.

LXIV

At speed Angelica impelled her mare.

And whipt and spurred her evermore; whom slow

She would esteem, albeit that palfrey were

Yet faster than a shaft dismist from bow:

Her ring she thought upon, and this the fair

Placed in her mouth; nor failed its virtue now;

For putting it between her lips, like light

Extinguished by a puff, she past from sight.

LXV

Was it through fear, or was she, while she stript

This from her finger, shaken in her seat;

Or was it rather, that her palfrey tript,

(For neither this nor that I surely weet)

Angelica, while ‘twixt her lips she slipt

The virtuous ring, and hid her visage sweet,

Her stirrups lost; and, tumbling form the sell,

Reversed upon the sand that lady fell.

LXVI

If but two inches short had fallen his prey,

Upon her would have pounced Orlando near;

Who would have crushed her in his furious way,

But that kind Fortune saved her from the peer.

Let her by other theft herself purvey

With other palfrey, as she did whilere;

For never will she have this courser more,

Who chased by swift Orlando scours the shore.

LXVII

Doubt not that she another will provide;

And follow we in mad Orlando’s rear;

Whose rage and fury nevermore subside,

Wroth that Angelica should disappear:

After that beast along the sands he hied,

Aye gaining on the mare in this career.

Now, now he touches her, and lo! The mane

He grasps, and now secures her by the rein.

LXVIII

Orlando seizes her with that delight

That other man might seize a damsel fair;

The bit and bridle he adjusts aright,

Springs on her back, and o’er the sea-beach bare

For many miles impels the palfrey’s flight,

Without repose or pause, now here, now there:

Nor ever sell or bridle be displaced,

Nor let her grass or heartening forage taste.

LXIX

As in this course to o’erleap a ditch he sought,

Head over heels, she with her rider went:

Nor harmed was he, nor felt that tumble aright;

But she, with shoulder slipt, lay foully shent.

Long how to bear her thence Orlando thought,

And in the end upon his shoulders hent.

He from the bottom climbed, thus loaded sore,

And carried her three bow-shots’ length and more.

LXX

Next, for he felt that weight too irksome grow,

He put her down, to lead her by the rein;

Who followed him with limping gait and slow,

“Come on,” Orlando cried, and cried in vain;

And, could the palfrey at a gallop go,

This ill would satisfy his mood insane.

The halter from her head he last unloosed,

Wherewith her hind off-foot the madman noosed.

LXXI

’Tis thus he comforts and drags on that mare,

That she may follow with more ease, so led;

Who whiles despoiled of flesh, and whiles of hair,

Is scathed by stones which that ill road o’erspread.

At length the misused beast, with wear and tear

Of the rude rocks, and suffering sore, lies dead.

Orlando nought the slaughtered mare regards,

Nor anywise his headlong course retards.

LXXII

To drag that palfrey ceased he not, though dead,

Continuing still his course towards the west,

And all this while sacked hamlet, farm, and stead,

Whenever he by hunger was distrest;

And aye to glut himself with meat, and bread,

And fruit, he every one by force opprest.

One by his hand was slain, one foully shent;

Seldom he stopt, and ever onward went.

LXXIII

As much, or little less, would do the knight

By his own love, did not that damsel hide;

Because the wretch discerns not black from white,

And harms where he would help. A curse betide

The wonder-working ring, and eke the wight

Who gave it to that lady, full or pride!

Since Roland, but for this, would venge the scorn

He and a thousand more from her had borne.

LXXIV

Would that of her Orlando were possest,

And of all women that are above ground!

For one and all are ingrates at the best,

Nor is in all an ounce of goodness found.

But it is meet I let my hearer rest

Ere my strained chords return a faltering sound,

And that he may less tedious deem the rhyme,

Defer my story till another time.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59