Orlando Furioso, by Lodovico Ariosto

Canto 44

Argument

Rinaldo his sister to the Child hath plight,

And to Marseilles is with the warrior gone:

And having crimsoned wide the field in fight,

Therein arrives King Otho’s valiant son.

To Paris thence: where to that squadron bright

Is mighty grace and wonderous honour done.

The Child departs, resolved on Leo’s slaughter,

To whom Duke Aymon had betrothed his daughter.

I

In poor abode, mid paltry walls and bare,

Amid discomforts and calamities,

Often in friendship heart united are,

Better than under roof of lordly guise,

Or in some royal court, beset with snare,

Mid envious wealth, and ease, and luxuries;

Where charity is spent on every side,

Nor friendship, unless counterfeit, is spied.

II

Hence it ensues that peace and pact between

Princes and peers are of such short-lived wear.

To-day king, pope, and emperor leagued are seen,

And on the marrow deadly foemen are.

Because such is not as their outward mien

The heart, the spirit, that those sovereigns bear.

Since, wholly careless as to right or wrong,

But to their profit look the faithless throng.

III

Though little prone to friendship is that sort,

Because with those she loveth not to dwell,

Who, be their talk in earnest or in sport,

Speak not, except some cozening tale to tell;

Yet if together in some poor resort

They prisoned are by Fortune false and fell,

What friendship is they speedily discern;

Though years had past, and this was yet to learn.

IV

In his retreat that ancient eremite

Could bind his inmates with a faster noose,

And in true love more firmly them unite,

Than other could in domes where courtiers use;

And so enduring was the knot and tight,

That nothing short of death the tie could loose.

Benignant all the hermit found that crew;

Whiter at heart than swans in outward hue.

V

All kind he found them, and of courteous lore;

Untainted with iniquity, in wise

Of them I painted, and who nevermore

Go forth, unless concealed in some disguise.

Of injuries among them done before

All memory, by those comrades buried lies:

Nor could they better love, if from one womb

And from one seed that warlike band had come.

VI

Rinaldo more than all that lordly train

Rogero graced and lovingly caressed;

As well because be on the listed plain

Had proved the peer so strong in martial gest,

As that he was more courteous and humane

Than any knight that e’er laid lance in rest:

But much more; that to him on many a ground

By mighty obligation was he bound.

VII

The fearful risk by Richardetto run

He knew, and how Rogero him bested;

What time the Spanish monarch’s hest was done,

And with his daughter he was seized in bed;

And how he had delivered either son

Of good Duke Buovo (as erewhile was said)

From Bertolagi of Maganza’s hand,

His evil followers, and the paynim band.

VIII

To honour and to hold Rogero dear,

Him, Sir Rinaldo thought, this debt constrained;

And that he could not so have done whilere,

The warlike lord was sorely grieved and pained;

When one for Africk’s monarch couched the spear,

And one the cause of royal Charles maintained:

Now he Rogero for a Christian knew,

What could not then be done he now would do.

IX

Welcome, with endless proffers, on his side,

And honour he to good Rogero paid.

The prudent sire that in such kindness spied

An opening made for more, the pass assayed:

“And nothing else remains,” that hermit cried,

“Nor will, I trust, my counsel be gainsaid)

But that, conjoined by friendship, you shall be

Yet faster coupled by affinity.

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X

“That from the two bright progenies, which none

Will equal in illustrious blood below,

A race may spring, that brighter than the sun

Will shine, wherever that bright sun may glow;

And which, when years and ages will have run

Their course, will yet endure and fairer show,

While in their orbits burn the heavenly fires:

So me, for your instruction, God inspires.”

XI

And his discourse pursuing still, the seer

So spake, he moves Rinaldo by his rede

To give his sister to the cavalier;

Albeit with either small entreaties need.

Together with Orlando, Olivier

The counsel lauds, and would that union speed:

King Charles and Aymon will, he hopes, approve,

And France will welcome wide their wedded love.

XII

So spake together peer and paladine:

Nor knew that Aymon, with King Charles’ consent,

Unto the Grecian emperor Constantine

To give his gentle daughter had intent;

Who for young Leo, of his lofty line

The heir and hope, to crave the maid had sent.

Such warmth the praises of her worth inspired,

With love of her unseen was Leo fired.

XIII

To him hath Aymon answered: he, alone,

Cannot conclude thereon in other sort,

Until he first hath spoken with his son,

Rinaldo, absent then from Charles’s court;

Who with winged haste, he deems, will thither run,

And joy in kinsman of such high report;

But from the high regard he bears his heir,

Can nought resolve till thither he repair.

XIV

Now good Rinaldo, of his father wide,

And of the imperial practice knowing nought,

Promised his beauteous sister as a bride,

Upon his own, as well as Roland’s thought

And the others, harboured in that cell beside;

But most of all on him the hermit wrought;

And by such marriage, ’twas the peer’s belief,

He could not choose but pleasure Clermont’s chief.

XV

That day and night, and of the following day

Great part, with that sage monk the warriors spent;

Scarce mindful that the crew their coming stay,

Albeit the wind blew fair for their intent,

But these, impatient at their long delay,

More than one message to the warriors sent;

And to return those barons urged so sore,

Parforce they parted from the hermit hoar.

XVI

The Child who, so long banished, had not stayed

From the lone rock, whereon the waters roared,

His farewell to that holy master made,

Who taught him the true faith: anew with sword

Orlando girt his side, and with the blade,

Frontino and martial Hector’s arms restored;

As knowing horse and arms were his whilere,

As well as out of kindness to the peer;

XVII

And, though the enchanted sword with better right

Would have been worn by good Anglantes’ chief,

Who from the fearful garden by his might

Had won the blade with mickle toil and grief,

Than by Rogero, who that faulchion bright

Received with good Frontino, from the thief,

He willingly thereof, as with the rest,

As soon as asked, the warrior repossest.

XVIII

The hermit blessings on the band implores:

They to their bark in fine return; their sails

Give to the winds, and to the waves their oars;

And such clear skies they have and gentle gales,

Nor vow nor prayer the patron makes; and moors

His pinnace in the haven of Marseilles.

There, safely harboured, let the chiefs remain,

Till I conduct Astolpho to that train.

XIX

When of that bloody, dear-brought victory

The scarcely joyful tale Astolpho knew,

He, seeing evermore fair France would be

Secure from mischief from the Moorish crew,

Homeward to send the king of Aethiopy

Devised, together with his army, through

The sandy desert, by the self-same track,

Through which he led them to Biserta’s sack.

XX

Erewhile restored, in Afric waters ride

Sir Dudon’s ships which did the paynims rout;

Whose prows (new miracle!) and poop, and side,

As soon as all their sable crews are out,

Are changed anew to leaves; which far and wide,

Raised by a sudden breeze, are blown about;

And scattered in mid-air, like such light gear,

Go eddying with the wind, and disappear.

XXI

Home, horse and foot, the Nubian host arraid

By squadrons, all, from wasted Africk go;

But to their king, first, thanks Astolpho paid,

And said, he an eternal debt should owe;

In that he had in person given him aid

With all his might and main against the foe.

The skins Astolpho gave them, which confined

The turbid and tempestuous southern wind.

XXII

I say, enclosed in skins that wind he gave,

Which in such fury blows at noon, on high

I moves the shifting plain in many a wave,

And fills the eddying sand the troubled sky,

To carry with them, and from scathe to save

Their squadrons, lest the dusty whirlwind fly;

And bids them, when arrived at home, unnoose

The bladder’s vent, and let their prisoners loose.

XXIII

When they have lofty Atlas passes won,

The horses that the Nubian riders bear,

Turpin relates, are changed at once to stone;

So that the steeds return to what they were.

But it is time the Duke to France was gone;

Who having thus provided, in his care,

For the main places in the Moorish land,

Made the hippogryph anew his wings expand;

XXIV

He reached Sardinia at one flight and shear,

Corsica from Sardinia; and then o’er

The foaming sea his venturous course did steer,

Inclining somewhat left the griffin’s soar.

In the sea-marshes last his light career

He stopt, on rich Provence’s pleasant shore:

Where to the hyppogryph by him is done

What was erewhile enjoined by sainted John.

XXV

To him the charge did sainted John commit,

When to Provence by that winged courser borne,

Him nevermore with saddle or with bit

To gall, but let him to his lair return.

Already had the planet, whither flit

Things lost on earth, of sound deprived his horn:

For this not only hoarse but mute remained,

As soon as the holy place Astolpho gained.

XXVI

Thence to Marseilles he came; and came the day

Orlando, and Rinaldo, and Olivier

Arrived therein, upon their homeward way,

With good Sobrino, and the better peer,

Rogero: not so triumphs that array,

Touched by the death of him, their comrade dear,

As they for such a glorious victory won

— But for that sad disaster — would have done.

XXVII

Of the kings slain upon the paynim part,

The news from Sicily to Charles were blown,

Sobrino’s fate, and death of Brandimart;

Nor less of good Rogero had been shown.

Charles stood with jocund fate and gladsome heart,

Rejoicing he had from his shoulders thrown

The intolerable load whereof the weight

Will for long time prevent his standing straight.

XXVIII

To honour those fair pillars that sustain

The state — the holy empire’s corner-stone —

The nobles of his kingdom Charlemagne

Dispatched, to meet the knights, as far as Saone;

And from his city with his worthiest train,

King, duke, and her, the partner of his throne,

Issued amid a fair and gorgeous band

Of noble damsels, upon either hand.

XXIX

The emperor Charles with bright and cheerful brow,

Lords, paladins and people, kinsmen, friends,

Fair love to Roland and the others show.

Mongrana and Clermont’s cry the welkin rends.

No sooner, mid that kind and festal show,

The interchange of fond embracements ends,

Than Roland and his friends Rogero bring,

And mid those lords present him to the king;

XXX

And him Rogero of Risa’s son declare,

And vouch in valour as his father’s peer,

“Witnesses of his worth our squadrons are,

They best can tell his prowess with the spear.”

Meanwhile, the noble and the lovely pair,

Marphisa and gentle Bradamant appear.

This runs to fold Rogero to her heart;

More coy, that other stands somedeal apart.

XXXI

The emperor bids Rogero mount again,

Who from his horse had lit, in reverence due;

And, side by side, with him his courser rein;

Nor aught omits that monarch which may do

The warrior honour, mid his martial train:

How the true faith he had embraced he knew;

Of all instructed by that band before;

When first those paladins set foot ashore.

XXXII

With pomp triumphal and with festive cheer

The troop returns within the city-walls:

With leaves and garlands green the streets appear,

And tapestried all about with gorgeous palls.

Of herbs and flowers a mingled rain, where’er

They wend, upon the conquering squadron falls,

Which with full hands from stand and window throw

Damsel and dame upon the knights below.

XXXIII

At every turn, in various places are,

Of sudden structure arch and trophy high,

Whereon Biserta’s sack is painted fair,

Ruin and fire, and feat of chivalry:

Scaffolds, upraised for different sports elsewhere

And merrimake and stage-play meet the eye;

And, writ with truth, above, below, between,

To THE EMPIRE’S SAVIOURS, everywhere is seen.

XXXIV

With sound of shrilling pipe and trumpet proud,

And other festive music, laughter light,

Applause and favour of the following crowd,

Which scarce found room, begirt with dames and knight,

The mighty emperor, mid those greetings loud.

Before the royal palace did alight:

Where many days he feasted high in hall

His lords, mid tourney, mummery, mask and ball.

XXXV

His son to Aymon on a day made known

His sister he would make Rogero’s bride;

And, before Olivier and Milo’s son,

Her to the Child by promise had affied;

Who think with him that kindred is there none

Wherewith to league themselves, on any side,

For valour or nobility of blood,

Better than his; nay, none so passing good.

XXXVI

Duke Aymon heard his heir with some disdain;

That, without concert with him, and alone

He dared to plight his daughter, whom he fain

Would marry to the Grecian emperor’s son;

And not to him that has no kingly reign,

Nay has not ought that he can call his own;

And should not know, how little nobleness

Is valued without wealth; how virtue less.

XXXVII

But Beatrice, his wife, with more despite

Arraigns her son, and calls him arrogant;

And moves each open way and hidden sleight

To break Rogero’s match with Bradamant;

Resolved to tax her every means and might

To make her empress of the wide Levant.

Firm in his purpose is Montalban’s lord,

Nor will in ought forego his plighted word.

XXXVIII

Beatrice who believes the highminded fair

Is at her hest, exhorts her to reply,

Rather than she will be constrained to pair

With a poor knight, she is resolved to die;

Nor, if this wrong she from Rinaldo bear

Will she regard her with a mother’s eye:

Let her refuse and keep her stedfast course;

For her free will Rinaldo cannot force.

XXXIX

Silent stands mournful Bradamant, nor dares

Meanwhile her lady-mother’s speech gainsay;

To whom such reverence, and respect, she bears,

She thinks no choice is left but to obey.

Yet a foul fault it in her eyes appears,

If what she will not do, she falsely say:

She will not, for she cannot; since above

All guidance, great or small, is mighty Love.

XL

Deny she dared not, nor yet seem content;

So, sighed and spake not; but — when uncontrolled

She could — she gave her secret sorrow vent,

While from her eyes the tears like billows rolled;

A portion of the pains that her torment,

Inflicting on her breast and locks of gold:

For this she beat, and those uptore and brake;

And thus she made lament, and thus she spake.

XLI

“Ah! shall I will what she wills not, by right

More sovereign mistress of my will than I?

Hers shall I hold so cheaply, so to slight

A mother’s will, my own to satisfy?

Alas! what blemish is so foul to sight

In damsel? What so ill, as to affy

Myself to husband, reckless of her will,

Which ’tis my duty ever to fulfil?

XLII

“Wo worth the while! and shall I then to thee

By filial love be forced to be untrue,

O my Rogero, and surrender me

To a new hope, a new love, and a new

Desire; or rather from those ties break free,

From all good children to good parents due;

Observance, reverence cast aside; and measure

My duty by my happiness, my pleasure?

XLIII

“I know, alas! what I should do; I know

That which a duteous daughter doth behove;

I know; but what avails it, if not so

My reason moves me as my senses move;

If she retires before a stronger foe;

Nor can I of myself dispose, for Love;

Nor think how to dispose; so strict his sway;

Nor, saving as he dictates, do and say?

XLIV

“Aymon and Beatrice’s child, the slave

Of Love am I; ah! miserable me!

I from my parents am in hope to have

Pardon and pity, if in fault I be:

But, if I anger Love, whose prayer shall save

Me from his fury, till one only plea,

Of mine the Godhead shall vouchsafe to hear;

Nor doom me dead as soon as I appear?

XLV

“Alas! with long and obstinate pursuit,

To our faith to draw Rogero have I wrought;

And finally have drawn; but with what boot,

If my fair deed for other’s good be wrought?

So yearly by the bee, whose labour’s fruit

Is lost for her, is hive with honey fraught.

But I will die ere I the Child forsake,

And other husband than Rogero take.

XLVI

“If I shall not obey my father’s hest,

Nor mothers, I my brother’s shall obey,

Of greater wisdom far than them possest;

Nor Time hath made that warrior’s wit his prey;

And what he wills by Roland is profest;

And, one and the other, on my side are they;

A pair more feared and honoured far and wide

Than all the members of my house beside.

XLVII

“If them the flower of Clermont’s noble tree,

The glory and the splendor all account;

If all believe our other chivalry

They, more than head o’ertops the foot, surmount;

Why would I Aymon should dispose of me,

Rather than good Rinaldo and the Count?

I should not; so much less, as not affied

To Leo, and Rogero’s promised bride.”

XLVIII

If cruel thoughts the afflicted maid torment,

Rogero’s mind enjoys not more repose;

For albeit those sad tidings have not vent

Yet in the city, he the secret knows.

He o’er his humble fortunes makes lament

Which his enjoying such a good oppose;

As unendowed with riches or with reign,

Dispensed so widely to a worthless train.

XLIX

Of other goods which Nature’s hand supplies,

Or which acquired by man’s own study are,

He such a portion in himself espies,

Such and so large was never other’s share:

In that, no beauty with his beauty vies;

In that, resistance to his might is rare.

The palm by none from him can challenged be,

In regal splendour, magnanimity.

L

But they at whose disposal honours lie,

Who give at will, and take away renown;

The vulgar herd; and from the vulgar I,

Except the prudent man, distinguished none;

Nor emperor, pope, nor king, is raised more high

Than these by sceptre, mitre, or by crown,

Nor save by prudence; save by judgement, given

But to the favoured few by partial Heaven;

LI

This vulgar (to say out what I would say)

Which only honours wealth, therewith more smit

Than any worldly thing beside, nor they

Aught heed or aught esteem, ungraced with it,

Be beauty or be daring what it may,

Dexterity or prowess, worth, or wit,

Or goodness — yet more vulgar stands confest

In that whereof I speak than in the rest.

LII

Rogero said: “If Aymon is disposed

An empress in his Bradamant to see,

Let not his treaty be so quickly closed

With Leo; let a year be granted me:

In that, meanwhile, I hope, by me deposed

Shall Leo with his royal father be,

And I, encircled with their forfeit crown,

Shall be for Aymon no unworthy son.

LIII

“But if he give without delay, as said,

His daughter to the son of Constantine,

If to that promise no regard be paid,

Which good Rinaldo and the paladine,

His cousin, erst before the hermit made,

The Marquis Olivier and King Sobrine,

What shall I do? such grievous wrong shall I

Endure, or, rather than endure it, die?

LIV

“What shall I do? her father then pursue,

On whom for vengeance this grave outrage cries?

I heed not that the deed is hard to do,

Or if the attempt in me is weak or wise:—

But presuppose that, with his kindred crew

Slain by my hand that unjust elder dies;

This will in nothing further my content;

Nay it will wholly frustrate my intent.

LV

“ ’Twas ever my intent, and still ’tis so

To have the love, not hatred, of that fair;

But should I Aymon slay, or bring some woe

By plot or practice, on his house or heir,

Will she not justly hold me as her foe,

And me, that foeman, as her lord forswear?

What shall I do, endure such injury?

Ah! no, by Heaven! far rather I will die.

LVI

“Nay die I will not; but with better right

Shall Leo die, who so disturbs my joy;

He and his unjust sire; less dear his flight

With Helen paid her paramour of Troy;

Nor yet in older time that foul despite,

Done to Proserpina, cost such annoy

To bold Pirithous, as for her I’ve lost

My grief of heart shall son and father cost.

LVII

“Can it be true, my life, that to forsake

Thy champion for this Greek should grieve not thee?

And could thy father force thee him to take,

Though joined thy brethren with thy sire should be?

But ’tis my fear that thou would’st rather make

Accord withal with Aymon than with me;

And that it seemeth better in thy sight

To wed with Caesar than with simple wight.

LVIII

“Can it be true that royal name should blind,

Imperial title, pomp and majesty,

And taint my Bradamant’s egregious mind,

Her mighty valour and her virtue high,

So that, as cheaper, she should cast behind

Her plighted faith, and from her promise fly?

Nor sooner she a foe to Love be made,

Than she no longer say, what once she said?”

LIX

These things Rogero said, and more beside,

Discoursing with himself, and in such strain

Oftentimes the afflicted warrior cried,

That stander-by o’erheard the knight complain,

And more than once his grief was signified

To her that was the occasion of his pain;

Who no less for his cruel woe, when known,

Lamented than for sorrows of her own.

LX

But most, of all the sorrows that were said

To vex Rogero, most it works her woe

To hear that he afflicts himself, in dread

Lest for the Grecian prince she him forego.

Hence this belief, this error, from his head

To drive, comfort on the knight bestow,

The trustiest of her bower-women, one day,

She to Rogero bade these words convey.

LXI

“Rogero, I what I was till death will be;

And be more faithful, if I can be more:

Deals Love in kindness or in scorn with me;

Hath doubtful Fortune good or ill in store;

I am a very rock of faith, by sea

And winds unmoved, which round about it roar

Nor I have changed for calm or storm, nor I

Will ever change to all eternity.

LXII

“Sooner shall file or chisel made of lead

To the rough diamond various forms impart,

Than any stroke, by fickle Fortune sped,

Or Love’s keen anger, break my constant heart:

Sooner return, to Alp, their fountain-head,

The troubled streams that from its summit part,

Than e’er, for change or chances, good or nought,

Shall wander from its way my stedfast thought.

LXIII

“All power o’er me have I bestowed on you,

Rogero; and more than others may divine:

I know that to a prince whose throne is new

Was never fealty sworn more true than mine;

Nor ever surer state, this wide world through,

By king or keysar was possest than thine.

Thou need’st not dig a ditch nor build a tower,

In fear lest any rob thee of that power.

LXIV

“For if thou hire no aids, assault is none,

But what thereon shall aye be made in vain;

Nor shall it be by any riches won:

So vile a price no gentle heart can gain:

Nor by nobility, nor kingly crown,

That dazzle so the silly vulgar train;

Nor beauty, puissant with the weak and light,

Shall ever make me thee for other slight.

LXV

“Thou hast no cause, amid thy griefs, to fear

My heart should ever bear new impress more:

So deeply is thine image graven here,

It cannot be removed: that my heart’s core

Is not of wax is proved; for Love whilere

Smote it a hundred times, not once, before

He by his blows a single scale displaced,

What time therein his hand thine image traced.

LXVI

“Ivory, gem, and every hard-grained stone

That best resists the griding tool, may break:

But, save the form it once hath taken, none

Will ever from the graver’s iron take.

My heart like marble is, or thing least prone

Beneath the chisel’s trenchant edge to flake:

Love this may wholly splinter, ere he may

Another’s beauty in its core enlay.”

LXVII

Other and many words with comfort rife,

And full of love and faith, she said beside;

Which might a thousand times have given him life,

Albeit a thousand times the knight had died:

But, when most clear of the tempestuous strife,

In friendly port these hopes appeared to ride,

These hopes a foul and furious wind anew

Far from the sheltering land to seaward blew.

LXVIII

In that the gentle Bradamant, who fain

Would do far more than she hath signified,

With wonted daring armed her heart again;

And boldly casting all respect aside,

One day stood up before King Charlemagne;

And, “Sire, if ever yet,” the damsel cried,

“I have found favour in your eyes for deed

Done heretofore, deny me not its meed;

LXIX

“And I entreat, before I claim my fee,

That you to me your royal promise plight,

To grant my prayer; and fain would have you see

That what I shall demand is just and right.”

“Thy valour, damsel dear, deserves from me

The boon wherewith thy worth I should requite”

(Charles answered), “and I to content thee swear,

Though of my kingdom thou should’st claim a share.”

LXX

“The boon for which I to your highness sue,

Is not to let my parents me accord

(Pursued the martial damsel) save he shew

More prowess than myself, to any lord.

Let him contend with me in tourney, who

Would have me, or assay me with the sword.

Me as his wife let him that wins me, wear;

Let him that loses me, with other pair.”

LXXI

With cheerful face the emperor made reply,

The entreaty was well worthy of the maid;

And that with tranquil mind she might rely,

He would accord the boon for which she prayed.

This audience was not given so secretly,

But that the news to others were conveyed;

Which on that very day withal were told

In the ears of Beatrice and Aymon old;

LXXII

Who against Bradamant with fury flame,

And both alike, with sudden anger fraught,

(For plainly they perceive, that in her claim

She for Rogero more than Leo wrought)

And active to prevent the damsel’s aim

From being to a safe conclusion brought,

Privily take her from King Charles’s court,

And thence to Rocca Forte’s tower transport.

LXXIII

A castle this, which royal Charlemagne

Had given to Aymon some few days before,

Built between Carcasson and Perpignan,

On a commanding point upon the shore.

Resolved to send her eastward, there the twain

As in a prison kept her evermore.

Willing or nilling, so must she forsake

Rogero, and for lord must Leo take.

LXXIV

The martial maid of no less modest vein

Than bold and full of fire before the foe,

Albeit no guard on her the castellain

Hath set, and she is free to come or go,

Observant of her sire, obeys the rein:

Yet prison, death, and every pain and woe

To suffer is resolved that constant maid

Before by her Rogero be betrayed.

LXXV

Rinaldo, who thus ravished from his hand,

By ancient Aymon’s craft his sister spied,

And saw he could no more in wedlock’s band

Dispose of her, by him in vain affied,

Of his old sire complains, and him doth brand,

Laying his filial love and fear aside:

But little him Rinaldo’s words molest;

Who by the maid will do as likes him best.

LXXVI

Rogero, bearing this and sore afraid

That he shall lose his bride; and Leo take,

If left alive, by force or love the maid,

Resolved within himself (but nothing spake)

Constantine’s heir should perish by his blade;

And of Augustus him a god would make.

He, save his hope deceived him and was vain,

Would sire and son deprive of life and reign.

LXXVII

His limbs in arms, which Trojan Hector’s were,

And afterwards the Tartar king’s, he steeled;

Bade rein Frontino, and his wonted wear

Exchanged, crest, surcoat and emblazoned shield.

On that emprize it pleased him not to bear

His argent eagle on its azure field.

White as a lily, was a unicorn

By him upon a field of crimson worn.

LXXVIII

He chose from his attendant squires the best,

And willed none else should him accompany;

And gave him charge, that ne’er by him exprest

Rogero’s name in any place should be;

Crost Meuse and Rhine, and pricked upon his quest

Through the Austrian countries into Hungary;

Along the right bank of the Danube made,

And rode an-end until he reached Belgrade.

LXXIX

Where Save into dark Danube makes descent,

And to the sea, increased by him, doth flow,

He saw the imperial ensigns spread, and tent

And white pavilion, thronged with troops below.

For Constantine to have that town was bent

Anew, late won by the Bulgarian foe.

In person, with his son, is Constantine,

With all the empire’s force his host to line.

LXXX

Within Belgrade, and through the neighbouring peak,

Even to its bottom which the waters lave,

The Bulgar fronts him; and both armies seek

A watering-place in the intermediate Save.

A bridge across that rapid stream the Greek

Would fling; the Bulgar would defend the wave;

When thither came Rogero; and engaged

Beheld the hosts in fight, which hotly raged.

LXXXI

The Greeks in that affray were four to one,

And with pontoons to bridge the stream supplied;

And a bold semblance through their host put on

Of crossing to the river’s further side.

Leo meanwhile was from the river gone

With covert guile; he took a circuit wide,

Then thither made return; his bridges placed

From bank to bank, and past the stream in haste.

LXXXII

With many horse and foot in battle dight,

Who nothing under twenty thousand rank,

Along the river rode the Grecian knight;

And fiercely charged his enemies in flank.

The emperor, when his son appeared in sight.

Leading his squadrons on the farther bank,

Uniting bridge and bark together, crost

Upon his part the stream with all his host.

LXXXIII

King Vatran, chief of the Bulgarian band,

Wise, bold, withal a warrior, here and there

Laboured in vain such onset to withstand,

And the disorder of his host repair;

When Leo prest him sore, and with strong hand

The king to earth beneath his courser bare;

Whom at the prince’s hest, for all to fierce

Is he to yield, a thousand faulchions pierce.

LXXXIV

The Bulgar host hath hitherto made head;

But when they see their sovereign is laid low,

And everywhere that tempest wax and spread,

They turn their backs where erst they faced the foe.

The Child, who mid the Greeks, from whom they fled,

Was borne along, beheld that overthrow,

And bowned himself their battle to restore,

As hating Constantine and Leo more.

LXXXV

He spurs Frontino, that in his career

Is like the wind, and passes every steed;

He overtakes the troop, that in their fear

Fly to the mountain and desert the mead.

Many he stops and turns; then rests his spear;

And, as he puts his courser to his speed,

So fearful is his look, even Mars and Jove

Are frighted in their azure realms above.

LXXXVI

Advanced before the others, he descried

A cavalier, in crimson vest, whereon

With all its stalk in silk and gold was spied

A pod, like millet, in embroidery done:

Constantine’s nephew, by the sister’s side,

He was, but was no less beloved than son:

He split like glass his shield and scaly rind;

And the long lance appeared a palm behind.

LXXXVII

He left the dead, and drew his shining blade

Upon a squadron, whom he saw most nigh;

And now at once, and now at other made;

Cleft bodies, and made hearts from shoulders fly.

At throat, at breast and flank the warrior laid;

Smote hand, and arm, and shoulder, bust, and thigh;

And through that champaign ran the reeking blood,

As to the valley foams the mountain-flood.

LXXXVIII

None that behold those strokes maintain their place;

So are they all bewildered by their fear.

Thus suddenly the battle changed its face:

For, catching courage from the cavalier,

The Bulgar squadrons rally, turn, and chase

The Grecian troops that fled from them whilere.

Lost was all order in a thought, and they

With all their banners fled in disarray.

LXXXIX

Leo Augustus on a swelling height,

Seeing his followers fly, hath taken post;

Where woeful and bewildered (for to sight

Nothing in all the country round is lost)

He from his lofty station eyes the knight,

Who with his single arm destroys that host;

And cannot choose, though so his prowess harms,

But praise that peer and own his worth in arms.

XC

He knew full well by ensignry displaid,

By surcoat and by gilded panoply,

That albeit to the foe he furnished aid,

That champion was not of his chivalry;

Wondering his superhuman deeds surveyed;

And now an angel seemed in him to see,

To scourge the Greeks from quires above descended,

Whose sins so oft and oft had heaven offended;

XCI

And, as a man of great and noble heart,

(Where many others would have hatred sworn)

Enamoured of such valour, on his part,

Would not desire to see him suffer scorn:

For one that died, six Grecians’ death less smart

Would cause that prince; and better had he borne

To lose as well a portion of his reign,

Than to behold so good a warrior slain.

XCII

As baby, albeit its fond mother beat

And drive it forth in anger, in its fear

Neither to sire nor sister makes retreat;

But to her arms returns with fondling cheer:

So Leo, though Rogero in his heat

Slaughters his routed van and threats his rear,

Cannot that champion hate; because above

His anger is the admiring prince’s love.

XCIII

But if young Leo loved him and admired,

Meseems that he an ill exchange hath made;

For him Rogero loathed; nor aught desired

More than to lay him lifeless with his blade:

Him with his eyes he sought; for him inquired;

But Leo’s fortune his desire gainsayed;

Which with the prudence of the practised Greek,

Made him in vain his hated rival seek.

XCIV

Leo, for fear his bands be wholly spent,

Bids sound the assembly his Greek squadrons through:

He to his father a quick courier sent,

To pray that he would pass the stream anew;

Who, if the way was open, well content

Might with his bargain he; and with a few

Whom he collects, the Grecian cavalier

Recrost the bridge by which he past whilere.

XCV

Into the power o’ the Bulgars many fall,

Stalin from the hill-top to the river-side;

And they into their hands had fallen all,

But for the river’s intervening tide.

From the bridge many drop, and drown withal;

And many that ne’er turned their heads aside,

Thence to a distant ford for safety made;

And many were dragged prisoners to Belgrade.

XCVI

When done was that day’s fight, wherein (since borne

To ground the Bulgar king his life did yield)

His squadrons would have suffered scathe and scorn,

Had not for them the warrior won the field,

The warrior, that the snowy unicorn

Wore for his blazon on a crimson shield,

To him all flock, in him with joy and glee

The winner of that glorious battle see.

XCVII

Some bow and some salute him; of the rest

Some kist the warrior’s feet, and some his hand.

Round him as closely as they could they prest,

And happy those are deemed, that nearest stand;

More those that touch him; for to touch a blest

And supernatural thing believes the band.

On him with shouts that rent the heavens they cried,

To be their king, their captain, and their guide.

XCVIII

As king or captain them will he command

As liked them best, he said, but will not lay

On sceptre or on leading-staff his hand;

Nor yet Belgrade will enter on that day:

For first, ere farther flies young Leo’s band,

And they across the river make their way,

Him will he follow, nor forego, until

That Grecian leader he o’ertake and kill.

XCIX

A thousand miles and more for this alone

He thither measured, and for nought beside.

He saith; and from the multitude is gone,

And by a road that’s shown to him doth ride.

For towards the bridge is royal Leo flown;

Haply lest him from this the foe divide:

Behind him pricks Rogero with such fire,

The warrior calls not, nor awaits, his squire.

C

Such vantage Leo has in flight (to flee

He rather may be said than to retreat)

The passage open hath he found and free;

And then destroys the bridge and burns his fleet.

Rogero arrived not, till beneath the sea

The sun was hid; nor lodging found; his beat

He still pursued; and now shone forth the moon:

But town or village found the warrior none.

CI

Because he wots not where to lodge, he goes

All night, nor from his load Frontino frees.

When the new sun his early radiance shows,

A city to the left Rogero sees;

And there all day determines to repose,

As where he may his wearied courser ease,

Whom he so far that livelong night had pressed;

Nor had he drawn his bit, nor given him rest.

CII

Ungiardo had that city in his guard,

Constantine’s liegeman, and to him right dear;

Who, since upon the Bulgars he had warred,

Much horse and foot had sent that emperor; here

Now entered (for the entrance was not barred)

Rogero, and found such hospitable cheer,

He to fare further had no need, in trace

Of better or of more abundant place.

CIII

In the same hostelry with him a guest

Was lodged that evening a Romanian knight;

Present what time the Child with lance in rest

Succoured the Bulgars in that cruel fight;

Who hardly had escaped his hand, sore prest

And scared as never yet was living wight;

So that he trembled still, disturbed in mind,

And deemed the knight of the unicorn behind.

CIV

He by the buckler knew as soon as spied

The cavalier, whose arms that blazon bear,

For him that routed the Byzantine side;

By hand of whom so many slaughtered were.

He hurried to the palace, and applied

For audience, weighty tidings to declare;

And, to Ungiardo led forthwith, rehearsed

What shall by men in other strain be versed.

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