Agramant breaks the pact, is overthrown,
And forced fair France for Afric to forego.
Meanwhile Astolpho in Biserta’s town
Having with numerous host besieged the foe,
By hazard there arrives bold Milo’s son,
To whom the duke, instructed how to do,
Restores his wits. At sea does Dudon meet
King Agramant, and sore annoys his fleet.
Than that fell woe which on Rogero weighs
Harder, and bitterer pain forsooth is none,
Which upon flesh and more on spirit preys:
For of two deaths there is no scaping one.
Him, if in strife o’erlaid, Rinaldo slays,
Bradamant, if Rinaldo is outdone:
For if he killed her brother, well he knew
Her hate, than death more hateful, would ensue.
Rinaldo, unimpeded by such thought,
Strove in all ways Rogero to o’erthrow;
Fierce and despiteous whirled his axe, and sought
Now in the arms, now head, to wound the foe.
Rogero circled here and there, and caught
Upon his weapon’s shaft the coming blow;
And, if ever smote, aye strove to smite
Where he should injure least Montalban’s knight.
To most of them that led the paynim bands,
But too unequal seemed the fierce assay.
Too slowly young Rogero plied his hands;
Too well Rinaldo kept the Child at bay.
With troubled face the king of Afric stands:
He sighed, and breathless gazed upon the fray;
And all the blame of that ill counsel flung
On King Sobrino’s head, from whom it sprung.
Meanwhile the weird Melissa, she — the font
Of all that wizards or enchanters know —
Had by her art transformed her female front,
And taken Argier’s mighty shape; in show
And gesture she appeared as Rodomont,
And seemed, like him, in dragon’s hide to go:
Such was her belied sword and such her shield;
Nor aught was wanting which he wore afield.
She towards Troyano’s mournful son did guide,
In form of courser, a familiar sprite,
And with a troubled visage loudly cried,
“My liege, this is too foul an oversight,
A stripling boy in peril yet untried,
Against a Gaul, so stout and famed in fight,
Your champion in so fierce a strife to make;
Where Afric’s realm and honour are at stake.
“Let not this battle be pursued, my lord,
In that ‘twould cost our Moorish cause too dear.
Let sin of broken faith and forfeit word
Fall upon Rodomont! take thou no fear!
Let each now show the metal of his sword,
Each for a hundred stands when I am here.”
So upon Agramant this counsel wrought,
That king pressed forward without further thought.
He, thinking that the monarch of Algiers
Is with him, of the pact has little care;
And would not rate a thousand cavaliers
So high, if handed in his aid they were.
Hence steeds reined-in and spurred, hence levelled spears
Are seen in one short instant here and there.
Melissa, when the hosts are mixed in fight
By her false phantoms, vanishes from sight.
The champions two, that, against all accord,
Against all faith, disturbed their duel see,
No longer strive in fight, but pledge their word
— Yea, put aside all hostile injury —
That they, on neither part, will draw the sword,
Until they better certified shall be
Who broke the pact, established by that twain,
Young Agramant, or aged Charlemagne.
They sweat anew, the king who had o’erthrown
That truce, and broken faith, as foe to treat.
The field of combat is turned upside down;
Some hurry to the charge, and some retreat.
Who most deserved disgrace, who most renown,
Was seen, on both hands, in the selfsame feat;
All ran alike: but, ‘mid that wild affray,
These ran to meet the foe, those ran away.
As greyhound in the slip, that the fleet hare
Scowering about and circling him discerns,
Nor with the other dogs a part can bear
(For him the hunter holds), with anger burns;
Torments himself and mourns in his despair,
And whines, and strives against the leash, by turns;
Such till that moment had the fury been
Of Aymon’s daughter and the martial queen.
They till that hour upon the spacious plain,
Had watched so rich a prize throughout the day;
And, as obliged by treaty to refrain
From laying hands upon the costly prey,
Had sore lamented and had grieved in vain,
Gazing with longing eyes on that array.
Now seeing truce and treaty broke, among
The Moorish squadrons they rejoicing sprung.
Marphisa piercing her first victim’s breast,
(Two yards beyond his back the lance did pass)
In briefer time than ’tis by me exprest,
Broke with her sword four helms which flew like glass;
No less did Bradamant upon the rest;
But them her spear reduced to other pass.
All touched by that gold lance she overthrew;
Doubling Marphisa’s score; yet none she slew.
They witness to each others’ exploits are,
(Those maids to one another are so near)
Then, whither fury drives, the martial pair,
Dividing, through the Moorish ranks career.
Who could each several warrior’s name declare,
Stretched on the champaign by that golden spear?
Or reckon every head Marphisa left
Divided by her horrid sword, or cleft?
As when benigner winds more swiftly blow,
And Apennine his shaggy back lays bare,
Two turbid torrents with like fury flow,
Which, in their fall, two separate channels wear,
Uproot hard rocks, and mighty trees which grow
On their steep banks, and field and harvest bear
Into the vale, and seem as if they vied
Which should do mightiest damage on its side:
So those high-minded virgin warriors two,
Scowering the field in separate courses, made
Huge havock of the Moors; whom they pursue
One with couched lance, and one with lifted blade.
Hardly King Agramant his Africk crew
From flight, beneath his royal banners stayed:
In search of Rodomont, he vainly turned;
Nor tidings of the missing warrior learned.
He at his exhortation (so he trowed)
Had broke the treaty made in solemn wise,
To witness which the gods were called aloud;
Who then so quick vanished from his eyes:
Nor sees he King Sobrino; disavowed
By King Sobrino is the deed, who flies
To Arles, and deems that day some vengeance dread
Will fall on Agramant’s devoted head.
Marsilius too is fled into the town:
So has that monarch holy faith at heart.
’Tis hence, that feebly King Troyano’s son
Resists the crew, that war on Charles’s part,
Italians, English, Germans; of renown
Are all; and, scattered upon every part,
Are mixed the paladins, those barons bold,
Glittering like jewels on a cloth of gold;
And, with those peers, is more than one confest
As perfect as is earthly cavalier,
Guide the savage, that intrepid breast,
And those two famous sons of Olivier.
I will not now repeat what I exprest
Of that fierce, daring female twain whilere;
Who on the field so many Moors extend,
No number is there to the slain or end.
But, putting this affray some while aside,
Without a pinnace will I pass the sea.
To them of France so fast I am not tied,
But that Astolpho should remembered be:
Of the grace given him by his holy guide
I told erewhile, and told (it seems to me)
Branzardo and the king of Algaziers
Against the duke had mustered all their spears.
Such as the monarchs could in haste engage,
Raked from all Africa, that host contained;
Whether of fitting or of feeble age:
Scarce from impressing women they refrained,
Resolved his thirst of vengeance to assuage,
Agramant twice his Africa had drained.
Few people in the land were left, and they
A feeble and dispirited array.
So proved they; for the foe was scarce in view,
Before that levy broke in panic dread:
Like sheep, their quailing bands Astolpho slew,
Charging at his more martial squadrons’ head;
And with the slain filled all that champaign; few
Into Biserta from the carnage fled.
A prisoner valiant Bucifar remained;
The town in safety King Branzardo gained;
More grieved as Bucifaro’s loss alone,
Than had he lost the rest in arms arrayed.
Wide and in want of ramparts is the town;
And these could ill be raised without his aid.
While fain to ransom him, he thinks upon
The means, and stands afflicted and dismayed,
He recollects him how the paladin,
Dudon, has many a month his prisoner been.
Him under Monaco, upon the shore,
In his first passage, Sarza’s monarch took.
Thenceforth had been a prisoner evermore
Dudon, who was derived of Danish stock.
The paladin against the royal Moor
Branzardo thought, in this distress, to truck;
And knowing through sure spy, Astolpho led
The Nubians, to that chief the offer sped.
A paladin himself, Astolpho knows
He gladly ought a paladin to free;
And when that case the Moorish envoy shows,
To King Branzardo’s offer does agree.
Dudon from prison loosed, his thanks bestows;
And whatsoe’er pertains to land or sea,
Bestirs him to accomplish, in accord
With his illustrious chief, the English lord.
Astolpho leading such a countless band
As might have well seven Africas opprest,
And recollecting ’twas the saint’s command,
Who upon him whilere imposed the quest,
That fair Provence and Aquamorta’s strand
He from the reaving Saracen should wrest,
Made through his numerous host a second draught
Of such as least inapt for sea he thought;
And filling next as full as they could be
His hands with many different sorts of leaves,
Plucked from palm, olive, bay and cedar tree,
Approached the shore, and cast them on the waves.
Oh blessed souls! Oh great felicity!
O grace! which rarely man from God receives;
O strange and wondrous miracle, which sprung
Out of those leaves upon the waters flung!
They wax in number beyond all esteem;
Becoming crooked and heavy, long, and wide.
Into hard timber turn and solid beam,
The slender veins that branch on either side:
Taper the masts; and, moored in the salt stream,
All in a thought transformed to vessels, ride;
And of as diverse qualities appear,
As are the plants, whereon they grew whilere.
It was a miracle to see them grown
To galliot, galley, frigate ship, and boat;
Wondrous, that they with tackling of their own,
Are found as well as any barks afloat.
Nor lack there men to govern them, when blown
By blustering winds — from islands not remote —
Sardinia or Corsica, of every rate,
Pilot and patron, mariner and mate.
Twenty-six thousand were the troop that manned
Those ready barks of every sort and kind.
To Dudon’s government, by sea or land
A leader sage, the navy was consigned;
Which yet lay anchored off the Moorish strand,
Expecting a more favourable wind,
To put to sea; when, freighted with a load
Of prisoners, lo! a vessel made the road.
She carried those, whom at the bridge of dread,
— On that so narrow place of battle met —
Rodomont took, as often has been said.
The valiant Olivier was of the set,
Orlando’s kin, and, with them, prisoners led,
Were faithful Brandimart and Sansonet,
With more; to tell whereof there is no need;
Of German, Gascon, or Italian seed.
The patron, yet unweeting he should find
Foes in the port, here entered to unload;
Having left Argier many miles behind,
Where he was minded to have made abode;
Because a boisterous, overblowing, wind
Had driven his bark beyond her destined road;
Deeming himself as safe and welcome guest,
As Progne, when she seeks her noisy nest.
But when, arrived, the imperial eagle spread,
And pards and golden lilies he descries,
With countenance as sicklied o’er by dread,
He stands, as one that in unwary guise,
Has chanced on fell and poisonous snake to tread,
Which, in the grass, opprest with slumber lies;
And, pale and startled, hastens to retire
From that ill reptile, swoln with bane and ire.
But no retreat from peril is there here,
Nor can the patron keep his prisoners down:
Him thither Brandimart and Olivier,
Sansonet and those others drag, where known
And greeted are the friends with joyful cheer,
By England’s duke and Danish Ogier’s son;
Who read that he who brought them to that shore
Should for his pains be sentenced to the oar.
King Otho’s son kind welcome did afford
Unto those Christian cavaliers, as said:
Who — honoured at his hospitable board —
With arms and all things needful were purveyed.
His going, for their sake, the Danish lord
Deferred, who deemed his voyage well delayed,
To parley with those peers, though at the cost
Of one or two good days, in harbour lost.
Of Charles, and in what state, what order are
The affairs of France they gave advices true;
Told where he best could disembark, and where
To most advantage of the Christian crew.
While so the cavaliers their news declare,
A noise is heard; which ever louder grew,
Followed by such a fierce alarm withal,
As to more fears than one gave rise in all.
The duke Astolpho and the goodly throng,
That in discourse with him were occupied,
Armed in a moment, on their coursers sprung,
And hurried where the Nubians loudest cried;
And seeking wherefore that wide larum rung,
Now here, now there — those warlike lords espied
A savage man, and one so strong of hand,
Naked and sole he troubled all that band.
The naked savage whirled a sapling round,
So hard, so heavy, and so strong of grain,
That every time the weapon went to ground,
Some warrior, more than maimed, opprest the plain.
Above a hundred dead are strewed around;
Nor more defence the routed hands maintain;
Save that a war of distant parts they try;
For there is none will wait the champion nigh.
Astolpho, Brandimart, the Danish knight,
Hastening towards that noise with Olivier,
Remain astounded at the wondrous might
And courage, which in that wild man appear.
When, posting thither on a palfry light,
Is seen a damsel, clad in sable gear.
To Brandimart in haste that lady goes,
And both her arms about the warrior throws.
This was fair Flordelice, whose bosom so
Burned with the love of Monodantes’ son,
She, when she left him prisoner to his foe
At that streight bridge, had nigh distracted gone.
From France had she past hither — given to know —
By that proud paynim, who the deed had done,
How Brandimart, with many cavaliers,
Was prisoner in the city of Algiers.
When now she for that harbour would have weighed,
An eastern vessel in Marseilles she found,
Which thither had an ancient knight conveyed:
Of Monodantes’ household; a long round
To seek his Brandimart that lord had made,
By sea, and upon many a distant ground.
For he, upon his way, had heard it told,
How he in France should find the warrior bold.
She knowing old Bardino in that wight,
Bardino who from Monodantes’ court
With little Brandimart had taken flight,
And reared his nursling in THE SYLVAN FORT;
Then hearing what had thither brought the knight,
With her had made him loosen from the port;
Relating to that elder, by what chance
Brandimart had to Africk passed from France.
As soon as landed, that Biserta lies
Besieged by good Astolpho’s band, they hear;
That Brandimart is with him in the emprize,
They learn, but learn not as a matter clear.
Now in such haste to him the damsel flies,
When she beholds her faithful cavalier,
As plainly shows her joy; which woes o’erblown
Had made the mightiest she had ever known.
The gentle baron no less gladly eyed
His faithful and beloved consort’s face;
Her whom he prized above all things beside;
And clipt and welcomed her with loving grace;
Nor his warm wishes would have satisfied
A first, a second, or a third embrace,
But that he spied Bardino, he that came
From France, together with that faithful dame.
He stretched his arms, and would embrace the knight;
And — wherefore he was come — would bid him say:
But was prevented by the sudden flight
Of the sacred host, which fled in disarray,
Before the club of that mad, naked wight,
Who with the brandished sapling cleared his way.
Flordelice viewed the furious man in front;
And cried to Brandimart, “Behold the count!”
At the same time, withal, Astolpho bold
That this was good Orlando plainly knew,
By signs, whereof those ancient saints had told,
In the earthly paradise, as tokens true.
None of those others, who the knight behold,
The courteous baron in the madman view;
That from long self-neglect, while wild he ran,
Had in his visage more of beast than man.
With breast and heart transfixed with pity, cried
Valiant Astolpho — bathed with many a tear —
Turning to Danish Dudon, at this side,
And afterwards to valiant Olivier;
“Behold Orlando!” Him awhile they eyed,
Straining their eyes and lids; then knew the peer;
And, seeing him in such a piteous plight,
Were filled with grief and wonder at the sight.
So grieve and so lament the greater part
Of those good warriors, that their eyes o’erflow.
“ ’Tis time” (Astolpho cried) “to find some art
To heal him, not indulge in useless woe”;
And from his courser sprang: bold Brandimart,
Olivier, Sansonet and Dudon so
All leap to ground, and all together make
At Roland, whom the warriors fain would take.
Seeing the circle round about him grow,
Levels his club that furious paladin,
And makes fierce Dudon feel (who — couched below
His buckler — on the madman would break in)
How grievous is that staff’s descending blow;
And but that Olivier, Orlando’s kin,
Broke in some sort its force, that stake accurst
Had shield and helmet, head and body burst.
It only burst the shield, and in such thunder
Broke on the casque, that Dudon prest the shore:
With that, Sir Sansonet cut clean asunder
The sapling, shorn of two cloth-yards and more,
So vigorous was that warrior’s stroke, while under
His bosom, Brandimart girt Roland sore
With sinewy arms about his body flung;
And to the champion’s legs Astolpho clung.
Orlando shook himself, and England’s knight,
Ten paces off, reversed upon the ground;
Yet loosed not Brandimart, who with more might
And better hold had clasped the madman round.
To Olivier, too forward in that fight,
He dealt so furious and so fell a wound,
With his clenched fist, that pale the marquis fell;
And purple streams from eyes and nostrils well;
And save his morion had been more than good,
Bold Olivier had breathed his last, who lies,
So battered with his fall, it seemed he wou’d
Bequeath his parting soul to paradise.
Astolpho and Dudon, that again upstood
(Albeit swoln were Dudon’s face and eyes)
And Sansonet, who plied so well his sword,
All made together at Anglantes’ lord.
Dudon Orlando from behind embraced,
And with his foot the furious peer would throw:
Astolpho and others seize his arms; but waste
Their strength in all attempts to hold the foe.
He who has seen a bull, by mastiffs chased
That gore his bleeding ears, in fury lowe,
Dragging the dogs that bait him there and here,
Yet from their tusks unable to get clear;
Let him imagine, so Orlando drew
Astolpho and those banded knights along.
Meanwhile upstarted Oliviero, who
By that fell fistycuff on earth was flung;
And, seeing they could ill by Roland do
That sought by good Astolpho and his throng,
He meditates, and compasses, a way
The frantic paladin on earth to lay.
He many a hawser made them thither bring,
And running knots in them he quickly tied;
Which on the count’s waist, arms, and legs, they fling;
And then, among themselves, the ends divide,
Conveyed to this or that amid the ring,
Compassing Roland upon every side.
The warriors thus Orlando flung parforce,
As farrier throws the struggling ox or horse.
As soon as down, they all upon him are,
And hands and feet more tightly they constrain:
He shakes himself, and plunges here and there;
But all his efforts for relief are vain.
Astolpho bade them hence the prisoner bear;
For he would heal (he said) the warrior’s brain.
Shouldered by sturdy Dudon is the load,
And on the beach’s furthest brink bestowed.
Seven times Astolpho makes them wash the knight;
And seven times plunged beneath the brine he goes.
So that they cleanse away the scurf and blight,
Which to his stupid limbs and visage grows.
This done, with herbs, for that occasion dight,
They stop his mouth, wherewith he puffs and blows.
For, save his nostrils, would Astolpho leave
No passage whence the count might air receive.
Valiant Astolpho had prepared the vase,
Wherein Orlando’s senses were contained,
And to his nostrils in such mode conveys,
That, drawing-in his breath, the county drained
The mystic cup withal. Oh wondrous case!
The unsettled mind its ancient seat regained;
And, in its glorious reasonings, yet more clear
And lucid waxed his wisdom than whilere.
As one, that seems in troubled sleep to see
Abominable shapes, a horrid crew;
Monsters which are not, and which cannot be;
Or seems some strange, unlawful thing to do,
Yet marvels at himself, from slumber free.
When his recovered senses play him true;
So good Orlando, when he is made sound,
Remains yet full of wonder, and astound.
Aldabelle’s brother, Monodantes’ son,
And him that on his brain such cure had wrought,
He wondering marked, but word he spake to none;
And when and how he was brought thither, thought.
He turned his restless eyes now up now down,
Nor where he was withal, imagined aught,
Marvelling why he there was naked cast,
And wherefore tethered, neck and heels, so fast.
Then said, as erst Silenus said — when seen,
And taken sleeping the cave of yore —
SOLVITE ME, with visage so serene,
With look so much less wayward than before,
That him they from his bonds delivered clean,
And raiment to the naked warrior bore;
All comforting their friend, with grief opprest
For that delusion which had him possest.
When to his former self he was recovered,
Of wiser and of manlier mind than e’er,
From love as well was freed the enamoured lord;
And she, so gentle deemed, so fair whilere,
And by renowned Orlando so adored,
Did but to him a worthless thing appear.
What he through love had lost, to reacquire
Was his whole study, was his whole desire.
Meanwhile Bardino told to Brandimart,
How Monodantes, his good sire, was dead,
And, on his brother, Gigliantes’ part,
To call him to his kingdom had he sped,
As well as from those isles, which most apart
From other lands, in eastern seas are spread,
That prince’s fair inheritance; than which
Was none more pleasant, populous, or rich.
He said, mid many reasons which he prest,
That home was sweet, and — were the warrior fain
To taste that sweet — he ever would detest
A wandering life; and Brandimart again
Replies, through all that war, he will not rest
From serving Roland and King Charlemagne;
And after, if he lives to see its end,
To his own matters better will attend.
Upon the following day, for Provence steer
The shipping under Danish Dudon’s care;
When with the duke retired Anglantes’ peer,
And heard that lord the warfare’s state declare:
Then prest with siege Biserta, far and near,
But let good England’s knight the honour wear
Of every vantage; while Astolpho still
In all was guided by Orlando’s will.
The order taken to attack the town
Of huge Biserta, when, and on what side;
How, at the first assault, the walls are won,
And with Orlando who the palm divide,
Lament not that I now shall leave unshown,
Since for short time I lay my tale aside.
In the meanwhile, how fierce an overthrow
The Moors received in France, be pleased to know.
Well nigh abandoned was their royal lord
In his worst peril; for to Arles again
Had gone, with many of the paynim horde,
The sage Sobrino and the king of Spain;
Who, for the deemed the land unsafe, aboard
Their barks sought refuge, with a numerous train,
Barons and cavaliers, that served the Moor;
Who moved by their example put from shore.
Yet royal Agramant the fight maintains;
But when he can no longer make a stand,
Turns from the combat, and directly strains
For Arles, not far remote, upon the strand.
Him Rabican pursues, with flowing reins,
Whom Aymon’s daughter drives with heel and hand.
Him would she slay, through whom so often crost,
That martial maid had her Rogero lost.
Marphisa by the same desire was stirred,
Who had her thoughts on tardy vengeance placed,
For her dead sire; and as she fiercely spurred,
Made her hot courser feel his rider’s haste.
But neither martial maid, amid that herd
Of flying Moors, so well the monarch chased,
As to o’ertake him in his swift retreat,
First into Arles, and then aboard his fleet.
As two fair generous pards, that from some crag
Together dart, and stretch across the plain;
When they perceive that vigorous goat or stag,
Their nimble quarry, is pursued in vain,
As if ashamed they in that chase did lag,
Return repentant and in high disdain:
So, with a sigh, return those damsels two,
When they the paynim king in safety view:
Yet therefore halt not, but in fury go
Amid that crowd, which flies, possest with dread;
Feeling, now here, now there, at every blow,
Many that never more uprear their head.
To evil pass was brought the broken foe;
For safety was not even for them that fled:
Since Agramant, a sure retreat to gain,
Bade shut the city-gate which faced the plain;
And bade on Rhone break all the bridges down.
Unhappy people, ever held as cheap
— Weighed with the tyrant’s want who wears a crown —
As worthless herd of goats or silly sheep!
These in the sea, those in the river drown;
And those with blood the thirsty fallows steep.
The Franks few prisoners made, and many slew;
For ransom in that battle was for few.
Of the great multitude of either train,
Christened or paynim, killed in that last fight,
Though in unequal parts (for, of the slain,
By far more Saracens were killed in flight,
By hands of those redoubted damsels twain),
Signs even to this day remain in sight:
For, hard by Arles, where sleeps the lazy Rhone,
The plain with rising sepulchres is strown.
Meanwhile his heavy ships of deepest draught
King Agramant had made put forth to sea,
Leaving some barks in port — his lightest craft —
For them that would aboard his navy flee:
He stays two days, while they the stragglers waft,
And, for the winds are wild and contrary,
On the third day, to sail he give command,
In trust to make return to Africk’s land.
Royal Marsilius, in that fatal hour,
Fearing the costs will fall upon his Spain,
And that the clouds, which big with tempest lower,
In the end will burst upon his fields and grain,
Makes for Valentia; where he town and tower
Begins to fortify with mickle pain;
And for that war prepares, which after ends
In the destruction of himself and friends.
King Agramant his sails for Africk bent:
His barks ill-armed and almost empty go;
Empty of men, but full of discontent,
In that three-fourths had perished by the foe.
As cruel some, as weak and proud some shent
Their king, and (as still happens in like woe)
All hate him privily; but, for they fear
His fury, in his presence mute appear.
Yet sometimes two or three their lips unclose,
— Some knot of friends, where each on each relies —
And their pent choler and their rage expose:
Yet Agramant beneath the illusion lies,
That each will love and pity overflows;
And this befalls, because he still espies
False faces, hears but voices that applaud,
And nought but adulation, lies and fraud.
Not in Biserta’s port his host to land
Was the sage king of Africa’s intent,
Who had sure news that shore by Nubia’s band
Was held, but he so far above it meant
To steer his Moorish squadron, that the strand
Should not be steep or rugged for descent:
There would he disembark, and thence would aid
Forthwith his people, broken and dismaid.
But favoured not by his foul destiny
Was that intention, provident and wise;
Which willed the fleet, from leaves of greenwood tree,
Produced upon the beach in wondrous guise,
That, bound for France, now ploughed the foaming sea,
Should meet the king at night; that from surprise
In that dark, dismal hour, amid his crew
Worse panic and disorder might ensue.
Not yet to him have tidings been conveyed,
That squadrons of such force the billows plow:
Nor would he have believed in him who said,
A hundred barks had sprung from one small bough;
And hence for Africa the king had weighed,
Not fearing to encounter hostile prow;
Nor has he watchmen in his tops to spy,
And make report of what they hence descry.
’Twas so those ships, by England’s peer supplied
To Dudon, manned with good and armed crew,
Which see that Moorish fleet at eventide,
And that strange armament forthwith pursue,
Assailed them unawares, and, far, and wide,
Among those barks their grappling-irons threw,
And linked by chains, to their opponents clung,
When known for Moors and foemen by their tongue.
In bearing down, impelled by winds that blow
Propitious to the Danish chief’s intent,
Those weighty ships so shocked the paynim foe,
That many vessels to the bottom went;
Then, taxing wits and hands, to work them woe,
Them with fire, sword, and stones the Christians shent;
Which on their ships in such wide ruin pour,
Like tempest never vext the sea before.
Bold Dudon’s men, to whom unwonted might
And daring was imparted from on high,
(Since the hour was come the paynims to requite
For more than one ill deed,) from far and nigh,
The Moors so pestilently gall and smite,
Agramant finds no shelter; from the sky
Above, thick clouds of whistling arrows strike;
Around gleam hook and hatchet, sword and pike.
The king hears huge and heavy stones descend,
From charged machine or thundering engine sent,
Which, falling, poop and prow and broadside rend,
Opening to ravening seas a mighty vent;
And more than all the furious fires offend,
Fires that are quickly kindled, slowly spent,
The wretched crews would fain that danger shun,
And ever into direr peril run.
One headlong plunged, pursued by fire and sword,
And perished mid the waters, one who wrought
Faster with arms and feet, his passage oared
To other barque, already overfraught:
But she repulsed the wretch that fain would board;
Whose hand, which too importunately sought
To clamber, grasped the side, while his lopt arm
And body stained the wave with life-blood warm.
Him, that to save his life i’ the waters thought,
Or, at the worst, to perish with less pain,
(Since swimming profited the caitiff nought,
And he perceived his strength and courage drain)
To the hungry fires from which the refuge sought,
The fear of drowning hurries back again:
He grasps a burning plank, and in the dread
Of dying either death, by both is sped.
This vainly to the sea resorts, whom spear
Or hatchet, brandished close at hand, dismay;
For stone or arrow following in his rear,
Permit the craven to make little way.
But haply, while it yet delights your ear,
’Twere well and wisely done to end my lay,
Rather than harp upon the theme so long
As to annoy you with a tedious song.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05