In the infernal pit Astolpho hears
Of Lydia’s woe, by smoke well-nigh opprest.
He mounts anew, and him his courser bears
To the terrestrial paradise addrest.
By John advised in all, to heaven he steers;
Of some of his lost sense here repossest,
Orlando’s wasted wit as well he takes,
Sees the Fates spin their threads, and earthward makes.
O fierce and hungry harpies, that on blind
And erring Italy so full have fed!
Whom, for the scourge of ancient sins designed,
Haply just Heaven to every board has sped.
Innocent children, pious mothers, pined
With hunger, die, and see their daily bread,
— The orphan’s and the widow’s scanty food —
Feed for a single feast that filthy brood.
Too foul a fault was his, who did unclose
That cave long shut, and made the passage free,
From whence that greediness, that filth arose,
Our Italy’s infection doomed to be.
Then was good life extinguished, and repose
So banished, that with strife and poverty,
With fear and trouble, is she still perplext,
And shall for many a future year be vext:
Till she her sons has shaken by the hair,
And from Lethaean sloth to life restored;
Exclaiming, “Will none imitate that pair,
Zethes and Calais, with avenging sword
Rescue from claws and stench our goodly fare,
And cleanse and glad anew the genial board.
As they king Phineus from those fowls released,
And England’s peer restored the Nubian’s feast?”
Hunting those hideous birds, that cavalier
Aye scared them with the bugle’s horrid sound;
Till at the mountain-cave his long career
He closed, and ran the monstrous troop to ground:
Attentive to the vent he held his ear,
And in that troubled cavern heard rebound,
Weeping and wailing, and eternal yell;
Proof certain that its entrance led to hell.
Astolpho doubts if he within shall wend,
And see those wretched ones expelled from day;
Into the central pit of earth descend,
And the infernal gulfs around survey.
“Why should I fear, that on my horn depend
For certain succour?” (did the warrior say)
“Satan and Pluto so will I confound,
And drive before me their three-headed hound.”
He speedily his winged horse forsook;
(Him to a sapling near at hand he ties)
The cavern entered next; but first he took
His horn, whereon the knight in all relies.
Not far has he advanced before a smoke,
Obscure and foul, offends his nose and eyes.
Ranker than pitch and sulphur is the stench,
Yet not thereat does good Astolpho blench.
But as he more descends into that lair,
So much he finds the smoke and vapour worse;
And it appears he can no further fare;
Nay, backward must retrace his way parforce.
Lo! something (what he knows not) he in air
Espies, that seems in motion, like a corse,
Upon whose wasted form long time had beat
The winter’s rain and summers scorching heat.
In that dim cavern was so little light,
— Yea, well-nigh might be said that light was none —
Nought sees or comprehends the English knight
What wavers so, above that vapour dun:
For surer proof, a stroke or two would smite
With his good faulchion Otho’s valiant son:
Then deemed that duke it was a spirit, whom
He seemed to strike amid the misty gloom.
When him a melancholy voice addressed;
“Ah! without harming other, downward wend.
Me but too sore the sable fumes molest,
Which hither form the hellish fires ascend.”
Thereat the duke, amazed, his steps represt,
And to the spirit cried: “So may Heaven send
A respite from the vapours that exhale,
As thou shalt deign to tell thy mournful tale!
“And to be known on earth shouldst thou be fain,
Thee will I satisfy.” To him the sprite:
So sweet it seems to me, in fame again
Thus to return into the glorious light,
My huge desire such favour to obtain,
Forces my words from me in my despite,
Constraining me to tell the things ye seek;
Though ’tis annoyance and fatigue to speak.
“Lydia, the child of Lydia’s king, am I,
To proud estate and princely honours born,
Condemned by righteous doom of God on high
In murky smoke eternally to mourn:
Because a kindly lover’s constancy
I, while I lived, repaid with spite and scorn.
With countless others swarm these grots below,
For the same sin, condemned to the same woe.
“Yet lower down, harsh Anaxarete
Suffers worse pain where thicker fumes arise;
Heaven changed her flesh to stone, and here to be
Tormented, her afflicted spirit sties:
In that unmoved she, hung in air, could see
A lover vest by her barbarities.
Here Daphne learns how rashly she had done
In having given Apollo such a run.”
“Of hosts of ingrate women in this cell
Confined, it would be tedious to recite,
If, one by one, I upon these should dwell;
So many, their amount is infinite.
‘Twould be more tedious of the men to tell,
Whose base ingratitude due pains requite;
And whom, in a more dismal prison pent,
Smoke blinds, and everlasting fires torment.
“Since to belief soft woman is more prone,
He that deceives her, merits heavier pain;
To Theseus and to Jason this is known,
And him that vexed of old the Latian reign,
And him that of his brother Absalon
Erewhile provoked the pestilent disdain,
Because of Thamar; countless is the horde
Of those who left a wife or wedded lord.
“But, rather of my state than theirs to shew,
And sin which brought me hither:— I was fair,
But so much haughtier was than fair of hue,
I know not if I ever equalled were:
Nor which was most excessive of the two,
My pride of beauty, could to thee declare.
Though it is certain, Pride but took its rise
In that rare loveliness which pleased all eyes.
“There lived a Thracian knight, for warlike skill
And prowess, upon earth without a peer;
Who, voiced by many a worthy witness still,
The praises of my matchless charms did hear.
So that, of forethought and his own free will,
Fixed all his love on me that cavalier;
Weening this wife that I, upon my part,
Should for his valour duly prize his heart.
“He came to Lydia, and by faster tie
Was fettered at my sight; and there enrolled
Amid my royal father’s chivalry,
In mickle fame increased that baron bold.
His feats of many a sort, and valour high
Would make a tale too tedious to be told;
With what his boundless merit had deserved,
If a more grateful master he had served.
“Pamphylia, Caria, and Cilicia’s reign,
Through him, my father brought beneath his sway,
Who never moved a-field his martial train,
But when that warrior pointed out the way:
He, when he deemed he had deserved such gain,
Pressed close the Lydian king, upon a day,
And craved me from the monarch as his wife,
As meed of all that booty made in strife.
“Rejected of the monarch was the peer,
Who was resolved his child should highly wed;
Not him who was a simple cavalier;
Who, saving valour, was with nought bested.
For on my father, bent on gain and gear
And avarice, of all vice the fountain-head,
Manners and merit for as little pass,
As the lute’s music on the lumpish ass.
“Alcestes, he of whom I speak (so hight
That warrior), when he sees his suit denied,
Repulsed by one, by whom he had most right
To think that he should most be gratified,
Craves his discharge, and threatens he this slight
Will make the Lydian monarch dear abide.
The Armenian, an old rival of my sire,
And mortal for, he sought with this desire;
“And so the monarch urged, he made him rear
His banner, and attack my sire; and, through
His famous feats, that Thracian cavalier
Was named the captain of the invading crew.
For the Armenian sovereign, far and near,
All things (so said the knight) he would subdue;
But claiming as his share, when all was won,
My sovereign beauties for the service done.
“I ill to you the mischief could express
Alcestes did us in that war; o’erthrown
By him four armies were, and he in less
Than one short twelvemonth left us neither town,
Not tower, save one, where cliffs forbade access:
’Twas here my sire, amid those of his own
Whom most he loved, took refuge, in his need,
With all the wealth he could collect with speed.
“Us in this fortilage the knight attacked,
And shortly to such desperation drave,
That gladly would the king have made a pact,
To yield me for his consort, yea his slave,
With half our realm, if certain by that act
Himself from every other loss to save;
Right sure he otherwise should forfeit all,
And, after, die in bonds, a captive thrall.
“Before this happened, to try every way
Of remedy the Lydian king was bent;
And thither, where Alcestes’ army lay,
Me, the first cause of all the mischief, sent.
To yield my person to him as a prey
I with intention to Alcestes went;
To bid him take what portion of our reign
He pleased, and pacify his fierce disdain.
“When of my coming that good knight does know,
Me he encounters pale and trembling sore:
‘Twould seem a vanquished man’s a prisoner’s brow,
He, rather than a victor’s semblance, bore.
I who perceive he loves, address not now
The warrior as I was resolved before.
My vantage I descry, and shift my ground,
To fit the state wherein that knight was found.
“To curse the warrior’s passion I begun,
And of his crying cruelty complained,
Since foully by my father had he done,
And me would have by violence constrained;
Who with more grace my person would have won,
Nor waited many days, had he maintained
His course of courtship, as begun whilere.
To king and all of us so passing dear;
“And if the honest suit he hoped to gain
Had been at first rejected by my sire,
’Twas, he was somedeal of a churlish vein,
Nor ever yielded to a first desire;
He should not therefore, restive to the rein,
Have left his goodly task, so prompt to ire;
Sure, passing aye from good to better deed,
In little time to win the wished-for meed;
“And if my father would not have been won,
To him I would so earnestly have prayed,
That he my lover should have made his son;
Nay, had my royal sire my suit gainsayed,
For him in secret that I would have done,
Wherewith he should have deemed himself appaid:
But since, it seemed, he other means designed,
Never to love him had I fixed my mind;
“And, though I sought him, at my father’s hest,
And pious love for him had been my guide,
He might be sure, not long should be possest
The bliss that I, in my despite, supplied;
For the red blood should issue from my breast
As soon as his ill will was satisfied
On this my wretched person, which alone
He so by brutal force should make his own.
“With these, and words like these, I moved the peer,
When I such puissance in myself espied;
And him so contrite made, in desert drear,
Was never seen a saint more mortified.
Before my feet the doleful cavalier
Fell down, and snatched a poniard from his side;
Which, he protested, I parforce should take,
And for so foul a sin my vengeance slake.
“To push my mighty victory to an end
I scheme, when him I see in such distress,
And give him hopes he may even yet pretend
That I deservedly his love should bless,
If he his ancient error will amend,
Will of his realm my father repossess,
And will in future time deserve my charms
By love and service, not by force of arms.
“So promised he to do; and set me free,
And let me, as I came, untouched, depart;
Nor even to kiss my lips he ventured; see
If he is yoked securely, if his heart
Love has well touched with the desire of me,
If he for him need feather other dart!
He seeks the Armenian, why by pact should take
Whatever spoil the conquering armies make;
“And him, as best he might, would fain persuade
To leave to Lydia’s monarch his domain,
Upon whose wasted lands his host had preyed,
And rest content with his Armenian reign.
— He would not hear of this (the monarch said,
With cheers with fury swolen) nor would refrain
From pressing Lydia’s king with armed band,
So long as he possessed a palm of land;
“And if the knight, when a vile woman sues,
His purpose shift, let him the evil bear:
He will not, for the warrior’s asking, lose
What he has hardly conquered in a year.
Alcestes to the king his suit renews,
And next complains, that he rejects his prayer.
At length the Thracian fires, and threatens high,
By love or force the monarch shall comply.
“So kindling anger waxed between the two,
It urged them from ill words to worser deed:
Upon the king his sword Alcestes drew;
Though thousands aid the monarch in his need,
And, in despite of all, their sovereign slew;
And made that day as well the Armenian bleed,
Backed by the Thracians’ and Cilicians’ aid
And other followers, by the warrior paid.
“His conquest he pursued, and, at his cost,
Without expense to us, in less than one
Short month, the kingdom by my father lost
Restored; and, to repair the mischief done,
(Beside spoil given) he conquered with his host,
— Taxing or taking what his arms had won —
Armenia and Cappadocia which confine;
And scowered Hyrcania to the distant brine.
“Him not to greet with triumphs, but to slay,
Returning from that warfare, we intend;
But, fearing failure, our design delay
In that we find too many him befriend.
Feeding him aye with hope from day to day,
I for the Thracian warrior love pretend:
But first declare my will that he oppose
And prove his valour on our other foes;
“And him, now sole, now ill accompanied,
On strange and perilous emprize I speed;
Wherein a thousand knights might well have died;
But all things happily with him succeed:
For Victory was ever on his side;
And oft with horrid foes of monstrous breed,
With Giants and with Lestrigons, who brought
Damage in our domains, the warrior fought.
Nor Juno, nor Eurystheus, in such chase
Ever renowned Alcides vext so sore,
In Erymanth, Nemaea, Lerna, Thrace,
Aetolia, Africa, by Tyber’s shore,
By Ebro’s sunny bank, or other place,
As (hiding murderous hate, while I implore)
I exercise my lover still in strife,
With the same fell design upon his life.
“Unable to achieve my first intent,
I on a scheme of no less mischief fall:
Through me, all deemed his friends by him are shent,
Who thus bring down on him the hate of all.
The Thracian leader never more content
Than to obey, whatever be the call,
Is at my bidding ever prompt to smite,
Without regarding who or what the wight.
“When I perceive that, through the warrior’s mean,
Extinguished is my father’s every foe;
And, conquered by himself, that knight is seen
— Friendless, through us — I now the masque forego;
What I, from him, beneath a flattering mien,
Had hitherto concealed, I plainly show;
— What deep and deadly hate by bosom fired,
And that I but to work his death desired.
“Then, thinking if such course I should pursue,
That public shame would still the deed attend,
(For men too well my obligations knew,
And would be prompt my cruelty to shend.)
Meseemed enough to drive him from my view,
So that he should no more my eyes offend:
Nor would I more address or see the peer,
Nor letter would receive or message hear.
“This my ingratitude in him such pain
At length produced, that mastered by his woe,
After entreating mercy long in vain,
He sickened sore and sank beneath the blow.
For pain which fits my sin, dark fumes now stain
My cheek, and with salt rheum mine eyes o’erflow.
Thus in eternal torment shall I dwell;
For saving mercy helpeth not in hell.”
Since wretched Lydia spake no more, the peer
Would fain discern if more in torment lay;
But, those false ingrates’ curse, the darkness drear
So waxed before him, and obscured the way,
That not one inch advanced the cavalier;
Nay, back parforce returns that warrior; nay,
Himself from that increasing smoke to save,
Makes for the mouth of the disastrous cave.
The motion of his quickly shifting feet
More savours of a run than walk or trot.
Thus mounting the ascent in swift retreat,
Astolpho sees the outlet of the grot;
Where, through the darkness of that dismal seat
And those foul fumes, a dawn of daylight shot;
He from the cavern, sorely pained and pined,
Issues at last, and leaves the smoke behind;
And next to bar the way against that band,
Whose greedy bellies so for victual crave,
Picks stones, and trees lays level with his brand,
Which charged with pepper or amomum wave;
And what might seem a hedge, with busy hand,
As best he can, constructs before the cave;
And so succeeds in blocking that repair,
The harpies shall no more revisit air.
While in that cave Astolpho did remain,
The fumes that from the sable pitch arose,
Not only what appeared to sight did stain;
But even so searched the flesh beneath his clothes,
He sought some cleansing stream, long sought in vain;
But found at length a limpid till, which rose
Out of a living rock, within that wood,
And bathed himself all over in the flood.
Then backed the griffin-horse, and soared a flight
Whereby to reach that mountain’s top he schemes,
Which little distant, with its haughty height,
From the moon’s circle good Astolpho deems;
And, such desire to see it warms the knight,
That he aspires to heaven, nor earth esteems.
Through air so more and more the warrior strains,
That he at last the mountain-summit gains.
Here sapphire, ruby, gold, and topaz glow,
Pearl, jacinth, chrysolite and diamond lie,
Which well might pass for natural flowers which blow,
Catching their colour from that kindly sky.
So green the grass! could we have such below,
We should prefer it to our emerald’s dye.
As fair the foliage of those pleasant bowers!
Whose trees are ever filled with fruit and flowers.
Warble the wanton birds in verdant brake,
Azure, and red, and yellow, green and white.
The quavering rivulet and quiet lake
In limpid hue surpass the crystal bright.
A breeze, which with one breath appears to shake,
Aye, without fill or fall, the foliage light,
To the quick air such lively motion lends,
That Day’s oppressive noon in nought offends;
And this, mid fruit and flower and verdure there,
Evermore stealing divers odours, went;
And made of those mixt sweets a medley rare,
Which filled the spirit with a calm content.
In the mid plain arose a palace fair,
Which seemed as if with living flames it brent.
Such passing splendour and such glorious light
Shot from those walls, beyond all usage bright.
Thither where those transparent walls appear,
Which cover more than thirty miles in measure,
At ease and slowly moved the cavalier,
And viewed the lovely region at his leisure;
And deemed — compared with this — that sad and drear,
And seen by heaven and nature with displeasure,
Was the foul world, wherein we dwell below:
So jocund this, so sweet and fair in show!
Astound with wonder, paused the adventurous knight,
When to that shining palace he was nigh,
For, than the carbuncle more crimson bright,
It seemed one polished stone of sanguine dye.
O mighty wonder! O Daedalian sleight!
What fabric upon earth with this can vie?
Let them henceforth be silent, that in story
Exalt the world’s seven wonders to such glory!
An elder, in the shining entrance-hall
Of that glad house, towards Astolpho prest;
Crimson his waistcoat was, and white his pall;
Vermillion seemed the mantle, milk the vest:
White was that ancient’s hair, and white withal
The bushy beard descending to his breast;
And from his reverend face such glory beamed,
Of the elect of Paradise he seemed.
He, with glad visage, to the paladin,
Who humbly, from his sell had lighted, cries:
“O gentle baron, that by will divine
Have soared to this terrestrial paradise!
Albeit nor you the cause of your design,
Nor you the scope of your desire surmise,
Believe, you not without high mystery steer
Hitherward, from your arctic hemisphere.
“You for instruction, how to furnish aid
To Charles and to the Church in utmost need,
With me to counsel, hither are conveyed,
Who without counsel from such distance speed.
But, son, ascribe not you the journey made
To wit or worth; nor through your winged steed,
Nor through your virtuous bugle had ye thriven,
But that such helping grace from God was given.
“We will discourse at better leisure more,
And you what must be done shall after hear;
But you that, through long fast, must hunger sore,
First brace your strength with us, with genial cheer.”
Continuing his discourse, that elder hoar
Raised mighty wonder in the cavalier,
When he avouched, as he his name disclosed,
That he THE HOLY GOSPEL, had composed;
He of our Lord so loved, the blessed John;
Of whom a speech among the brethren went,
He never should see death, and hence the Son
Of God with this rebuke St. Peter shent;
In saying, “What is it to thee, if one
Tarry on earth, till I anew be sent?”
Albeit he said not that he should not die,
That so he meant to say we plain descry.
Translated thither, he found company,
The patriarch Enoch, and the mighty seer
Elias; nor as yet those sainted three
Have seen corruption, but in garden, clear
Of earth’s foul air, will joy eternity
Of spring, till they angelic trumpets hear,
Sounding through heaven and earth, proclaim aloud
Christ’s second advent on the silvery cloud.
The holy ancients to a chamber lead,
With welcome kind, the adventurous cavalier;
And in another then his flying steed
Sufficiently with goodly forage cheer.
Astolpho they with fruits of Eden feed,
So rich, that in his judgment ‘twould appear,
In some sort might our parents be excused
If, for such fruits, obedience they refused.
When with that daily payment which man owes,
Nature had been contented by the peer,
As well of due refreshment as repose,
(For all and every comfort found he here)
And now Aurora left her ancient spouse,
Not for his many years to her less dear,
Rising from bed, Astolpho at his side
The apostle, so beloved of God, espied.
Much that not lawfully could here be shown,
Taking him by the hand, to him he read.
“To you, though come from France, may be unknown
What there hath happened,” next the apostle said;
“Learn, your Orlando, for he hath foregone
The way wherein he was enjoined to tread,
Is visited of God, that ever shends
Him whom he loveth best, when he offends:
“He, your Orlando, at his birth endowed
With sovereign daring and with sovereign might,
On whom, beyond all usage, God bestowed
The grace, that weapon him should vainly smite,
Because he was selected from the crowd
To be defender of his Church’s right.
As he elected Sampson, called whilere
The Jew against the Philistine to cheer;
“He, your Orlando, for such gifts has made
Unto his heavenly Lord an ill return:
Who left his people, when most needing aid,
Then most abandoned to the heathens’ scorn.
Incestuous love for a fair paynim maid
Had blinded so that knight, of grace forlorn,
That twice and more in fell and impious strife
The count has sought his faithful cousin’s life.
“Hence God hath made him mad, and, in this vein,
Belly, and breast, and naked flesh expose;
And so diseased and troubled is his brain,
That none, and least himself, the champion knows,
Nebuchadnezzar whilom to such pain
God in his vengeance doomed, as story shows;
Sent, for seven years, of savage fury full,
To feed on grass and hay, like slavering bull.
“But yet, because the Christian paladine
Has sinned against his heavenly Maker less,
He only for three months, by will divine,
Is doomed to cleanse himself of his excess.
Nor yet with other scope did your design
Of wending hither the Redeemer bless,
But that through us the mode you should explore,
Orlando’s missing senses to restore.
“ ’Tis true to journey further ye will need,
And wholly must you leave this nether sphere;
To the moon’s circle you I have to lead,
Of all the planets to our world most near,
Because the medicine, that is fit to speed
Insane Orlando’s cure, is treasured here.
This night will we away, when over head
Her downward rays the silver moon shall shed.”
In talk the blest apostle is diffuse
On this and that, until the day is worn:
But when the sun is sunk i’ the salt sea ooze,
And overhead the moon uplifts her horn,
A chariot is prepared, erewhile in use
To scower the heavens, wherein of old was borne
From Jewry’s misty mountains to the sky,
Sainted Elias, rapt from mortal eye.
Four goodly coursers next, and redder far
Than flame, to that fair chariot yokes the sire;
Who, when the knight and he well seated are,
Collects the reins; and heavenward they aspire.
In airy circles swiftly rose the car,
And reached the region of eternal fire;
Whose heat the saint by miracle suspends,
While through the parted air the pair ascends.
The chariot, towering, threads the fiery sphere,
And rises thence into the lunar reign.
This, in its larger part they find as clear
As polished steel, when undefiled by stain;
And such it seems, or little less, when near,
As what the limits of our earth contain:
Such as our earth, the last of globes below,
Including seas, which round about it flow.
Here doubly waxed the paladin’s surprize,
To see that place so large, when viewed at hand;
Resembling that a little hoop in size,
When from the globe surveyed whereon we stand,
And that he both his eyes behoved to strain,
If he would view Earth’s circling seas and land;
In that, by reason of the lack of light,
Their images attained to little height.
Here other river, lake, and rich champaign
Are seen, than those which are below descried;
Here other valley, other hill and plain,
With towns and cities of their own supplied;
Which mansions of such mighty size contain,
Such never he before of after spied.
Here spacious hold and lonely forest lay,
Where nymphs for ever chased the panting prey.
He, that with other scope had thither soared,
Pauses not all these wonder to peruse:
But led by the disciple of our Lord,
His way towards a spacious vale pursues;
A place wherein is wonderfully stored
Whatever on our earth below we lose.
Collected there are all things whatsoe’er,
Lost through time, chance, or our own folly, here.
Nor here alone of realm and wealthy dower,
O’er which aye turns the restless wheel, I say:
I speak of what it is not in the power
Of Fortune to bestow, or take away.
Much fame is here, whereon Time and the Hour,
Like wasting moth, in this our planet prey.
Here countless vows, here prayers unnumbered lie,
Made by us sinful men to God on high:
The lover’s tears and sighs; what time in pleasure
And play we here unprofitably spend;
To this, of ignorant men the eternal leisure,
And vain designs, aye frustrate of their end.
Empty desires so far exceed all measure,
They o’er that valley’s better part extend.
There wilt thou find, if thou wilt thither post,
Whatever thou on earth beneath hast lost.
He, passing by those heaps, on either hand,
Of this and now of that the meaning sought;
Formed of swollen bladders here a hill did stand,
Whence he heard cries and tumults, as he thought.
These were old crowns of the Assyrian land
And Lydian — as that paladin was taught —
Grecian and Persian, all of ancient fame;
And now, alas! well-nigh without a name.
Golden and silver hooks to sight succeed,
Heaped in a mass, the gifts which courtiers bear,
— Hoping thereby to purchase future meed —
To greedy prince and patron; many a snare,
Concealed in garlands, did the warrior heed,
Who heard, these signs of adulation were;
And in cicalas, which their lungs had burst,
Saw fulsome lays by venal poets versed.
Loves of unhappy end in imagery
Of gold or jewelled bands he saw exprest;
Then eagles’ talons, the authority
With which great lords their delegates invest:
Bellows filled every nook, the fume and fee
Wherein the favourites of kings are blest:
Given to those Ganymedes that have their hour,
And reft, when faded is their vernal flower.
O’erturned, here ruined town and castle lies,
With all their wealth: “The symbols” (said his guide)
“Of treaties and of those conspiracies,
Which their conductors seemed so ill to hide.”
Serpents with female faces, felonies
Of coiners and of robbers, he descried;
Next broken bottles saw of many sorts,
The types of servitude in sorry courts.
He marks mighty pool of porridge spilled,
And asks what in that symbol should be read,
And hears ’twas charity, by sick men willed
For distribution, after they were dead.
He passed a heap of flowers, that erst distilled
Sweet savours, and now noisome odours shed;
The gift (if it may lawfully be said)
Which Constantine to good Sylvester made.
A large provision, next, of twigs and lime
— Your witcheries, O women! — he explored.
The things he witnessed, to recount in rhyme
Too tedious were; were myriads on record,
To sum the remnant ill should I have time.
’Tis here that all infirmities are stored,
Save only Madness, seen not here at all,
Which dwells below, nor leaves this earthly ball.
He turns him back, upon some days and deeds
To look again, which he had lost of yore;
But, save the interpreter the lesson reads,
Would know them not, such different form they wore.
He next saw that which man so little needs,
— As it appears — none pray to Heaven for more;
I speak of sense, whereof a lofty mount
Alone surpast all else which I recount.
It was as ’twere a liquor soft and thin,
Which, save well corked, would from the vase have drained;
Laid up, and treasured various flasks within,
Larger or lesser, to that use ordained.
That largest was which of the paladin,
Anglantes’ lord, the mighty sense contained;
And from those others was discerned, since writ
Upon the vessel was ORLANDO’S WIT.
The names of those whose wits therein were pent
He thus on all those other flasks espied.
Much of his own, but with more wonderment,
The sense of many others he descried,
Who, he believed, no dram of theirs had spent;
But here, by tokens clear was satisfied,
That scantily therewith were they purveyed;
So large the quantity he here surveyed.
Some waste on love, some seeking honour, lose
Their wits, some, scowering seas, for merchandise,
Some, that on wealthy lords their hope repose,
And some, befooled by silly sorceries;
These upon pictures, upon jewels those;
These on whatever else they highest prize.
Astrologers’ and sophists’ wits mid these,
And many a poet’s too, Astolpho sees.
Since his consent the apostle signified
Who wrote the obscure Apocalypse, his own
He took, and only to his nose applied,
When (it appeared) it to its place was gone;
And henceforth, has Sir Turpin certified,
That long time sagely lived king Otho’s son;
Till other error (as he says) again
Deprived the gentle baron of his brain.
The fullest vessel and of amplest round
Which held the wit Orlando erst possessed,
Astolpho took; nor this so light he found,
As it appeared, when piled among the rest.
Before, from those bright spheres, now earthward bound,
His course is to our lower orb addressed,
Him to a spacious palace, by whose side
A river ran, conducts his holy guide.
Filled full of fleeces all its chambers were,
Of wool, silk, linen, cotton, in their hue,
Of diverse dyes and colours, foul and fair.
Yarns to her reel from all those fleeces drew,
In the outer porch, a dame of hoary hair.
On summer-day thus village wife we view,
When the new silk is reeled, its filmy twine
Wind from the worm, and soak the slender line.
A second dame replaced the work when done
With other; and one bore it off elsewhere;
A third selected from the fleeces spun,
And mingled by that second, foul from fair.
“What is this labour?” said the peer to John;
And the disciple answered Otho’s heir,
“Know that the Parcae are those ancient wives,
That in this fashion spin your feeble lives.
“As long as one fleece lasts, life in such wise
Endureth, nor outlasts it by a thought.
For Death and Nature have their watchful eyes
On the hour when each should to his end be brought.
The choicest threads are culled for Paradise,
And, after, for its ornaments are wrought;
And fashioned from the strands of foulest show
Are galling fetters for the damned below.”
On all the fleeces that erewhile were laid
Upon the reel, and culled for other care,
The names were graved on little plates, which made
Of silver, or of gold, or iron, were,
These piled in many heaps he next surveyed;
Whence an old man some skins was seen to bear,
Who, seemingly unwearied, hurried sore,
His restless way retracing evermore.
That elder is so nimble and so prest,
That he seems born to run; he bears away
Out of those heaps by lapfulls in his vest
The tickets that the different names display.
Wherefore and whither he his steps addrest,
To you I shall in other canto say,
If you, in sign of pleasure, will attend,
With that kind audience ye are wont to lend.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05