Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Madness of Orlando
By Lodovico Ariosto (1474–1533)
From ‘Orlando Furioso,’ Canto 23

THE COURSE in pathless woods, which without rein
  The Tartar’s charger had pursued astray,
Made Roland for two days, with fruitless pain,
  Follow him, without tidings of his way.
Orlando reached a rill of crystal vein,        5
  On either bank of which a meadow lay;
Which, stained with native hues and rich, he sees,
And dotted o’er with fair and many trees.
The mid-day fervor made the shelter sweet
  To hardy herd as well as naked swain:        10
So that Orlando well beneath the heat
  Some deal might wince, opprest with plate and chain.
He entered for repose the cool retreat,
  And found it the abode of grief and pain;
And place of sojourn more accursed and fell        15
On that unhappy day, than tongue can tell.
Turning him round, he there on many a tree
  Beheld engraved, upon the woody shore,
What as the writing of his deity
  He knew, as soon as he had marked the lore.        20
This was a place of those described by me,
  Whither oft-times, attended by Medore,
From the near shepherd’s cot had wont to stray
The beauteous lady, sovereign of Catay.
In a hundred knots, amid these green abodes,        25
  In a hundred parts, their ciphered names are dight;
Whose many letters are so many goads,
  Which Love has in his bleeding heart-core pight.
He would discredit in a thousand modes,
  That which he credits in his own despite;        30
And would perforce persuade himself, that rind
Other Angelica than his had signed.
“And yet I know these characters,” he cried,
  “Of which I have so many read and seen;
By her may this Medoro be belied,        35
  And me, she, figured in the name, may mean.”
Feeding on such like phantasies, beside
  The real truth, did sad Orlando lean
Upon the empty hope, though ill contented,
Which he by self-illusions had fomented.        40
But stirred and aye rekindled it, the more
  That he to quench the ill suspicion wrought,
Like the incautious bird, by fowler’s lore,
  Hampered in net or lime; which, in the thought
To free its tangled pinions and to soar,        45
  By struggling is but more securely caught.
Orlando passes thither, where a mountain
O’erhangs in guise of arch the crystal fountain.
*        *        *        *        *
Here from his horse the sorrowing county lit,
  And at the entrance of the grot surveyed        50
A cloud of words, which seemed but newly writ,
  And which the young Medoro’s hand had made.
On the great pleasure he had known in it,
  This sentence he in verses had arrayed;
Which to his tongue, I deem, might make pretense        55
To polished phrase; and such in ours the sense:—
“Gay plants, green herbage, rill of limpid vein,
  And, grateful with cool shade, thou gloomy cave,
Where oft, by many wooed with fruitless pain,
  Beauteous Angelica, the child of grave        60
King Galaphron, within my arms has lain;
  For the convenient harborage you gave,
I, poor Medoro, can but in my lays,
As recompense, forever sing your praise.
“And any loving lord devoutly pray,        65
  Damsel and cavalier, and every one,
Whom choice or fortune hither shall convey,
  Stranger or native,—to this crystal run,
Shade, caverned rock, and grass, and plants, to say,
  ‘Benignant be to you the fostering sun        70
And moon, and may the choir of nymphs provide,
That never swain his flock may hither guide.’”
In Arabic was writ the blessing said,
  Known to Orlando like the Latin tongue,
Who, versed in many languages, best read        75
  Was in this speech; which oftentimes from wrong
And injury and shame had saved his head,
  What time he roved the Saracens among.
But let him boast not of its former boot,
O’erbalanced by the present bitter fruit.        80
Three times, and four, and six, the lines impressed
  Upon the stone that wretch perused, in vain
Seeking another sense than was expressed,
  And ever saw the thing more clear and plain;
And all the while, within his troubled breast,        85
  He felt an icy hand his heart-core strain.
With mind and eyes close fastened on the block,
At length he stood, not differing from the rock.
Then well-nigh lost all feeling; so a prey
  Wholly was he to that o’ermastering woe.        90
This is a pang, believe the experienced say
  Of him who speaks, which does all griefs outgo.
His pride had from his forehead passed away,
  His chin had fallen upon his breast below;
Nor found he, so grief-barred each natural vent,        95
Moisture for tears, or utterance for lament.
Stifled within, the impetuous sorrow stays,
  Which would too quickly issue; so to abide
Water is seen, imprisoned in the vase,
  Whose neck is narrow and whose swell is wide;        100
What time, when one turns up the inverted base,
  Toward the mouth, so hastes the hurrying tide,
And in the strait encounters such a stop,
It scarcely works a passage, drop by drop.
He somewhat to himself returned, and thought        105
  How possibly the thing might be untrue:
That some one (so he hoped, desired, and sought
  To think) his lady would with shame pursue;
Or with such weight of jealousy had wrought
  To whelm his reason, as should him undo;        110
And that he, whosoe’er the thing had planned,
Had counterfeited passing well her hand.
With such vain hope he sought himself to cheat,
  And manned some deal his spirits and awoke;
Then prest the faithful Brigliadoro’s seat,        115
  As on the sun’s retreat his sister broke.
Not far the warrior had pursued his beat,
  Ere eddying from a roof he saw the smoke;
Heard noise of dog and kine, a farm espied,
And thitherward in quest of lodging hied.        120
Languid, he lit, and left his Brigliador
  To a discreet attendant; one undrest
His limbs, one doffed the golden spurs he wore,
  And one bore off, to clean, his iron vest.
This was the homestead where the young Medore        125
  Lay wounded, and was here supremely blest.
Orlando here, with other food unfed,
Having supt full of sorrow, sought his bed.
*        *        *        *        *
Little availed the count his self-deceit;
  For there was one who spake of it unsought:        130
The shepherd-swain, who to allay the heat
  With which he saw his guest so troubled, thought
The tale which he was wonted to repeat—
  Of the two lovers—to each listener taught;
A history which many loved to hear,        135
He now, without reserve, ’gan tell the peer.
“How at Angelica’s persuasive prayer,
  He to his farm had carried young Medore,
Grievously wounded with an arrow; where
  In little space she healed the angry sore.        140
But while she exercised this pious care,
  Love in her heart the lady wounded more,
And kindled from small spark so fierce a fire,
She burnt all over, restless with desire;
“Nor thinking she of mightiest king was born,        145
  Who ruled in the East, nor of her heritage,
Forced by too puissant love, had thought no scorn
  To be the consort of a poor foot-page.”
His story done, to them in proof was borne
  The gem, which, in reward for harborage,        150
To her extended in that kind abode,
Angelica, at parting, had bestowed.
*        *        *        *        *
In him, forthwith, such deadly hatred breed
  That bed, that house, that swain, he will not stay
Till the morn break, or till the dawn succeed,        155
  Whose twilight goes before approaching day.
In haste, Orlando takes his arms and steed,
  And to the deepest greenwood wends his way.
And when assured that he is there alone,
Gives utterance to his grief in shriek and groan.        160
Never from tears, never from sorrowing,
  He paused; nor found he peace by night or day:
He fled from town, in forest harboring,
  And in the open air on hard earth lay.
He marveled at himself, how such a spring        165
  Of water from his eyes could stream away,
And breath was for so many sobs supplied;
And thus oft-times, amid his mourning, cried:—
*        *        *        *        *
“I am not—am not what I seem to sight:
  What Roland was, is dead and under ground,        170
Slain by that most ungrateful lady’s spite,
  Whose faithlessness inflicted such a wound.
Divided from the flesh, I am his sprite,
  Which in this hell, tormented, walks its round,
To be, but in its shadow left above,        175
A warning to all such as trust in love.”
All night about the forest roved the count,
  And, at the break of daily light, was brought
By his unhappy fortune to the fount,
  Where his inscription young Medoro wrought.        180
To see his wrongs inscribed upon that mount
  Inflamed his fury so, in him was naught
But turned to hatred, frenzy, rage, and spite;
Nor paused he more, but bared his falchion bright,
Cleft through the writing; and the solid block,        185
  Into the sky, in tiny fragments sped.
Woe worth each sapling and that caverned rock
  Where Medore and Angelica were read!
So scathed, that they to shepherd or to flock
  Thenceforth shall never furnish shade or bed.        190
And that sweet fountain, late so clear and pure,
From such tempestous wrath was ill secure.
*        *        *        *        *
So fierce his rage, so fierce his fury grew,
  That all obscured remained the warrior’s sprite;
Nor, for forgetfulness, his sword he drew,        195
  Or wondrous deeds, I trow, had wrought the knight;
But neither this, nor bill, nor axe to hew,
  Was needed by Orlando’s peerless might.
He of his prowess gave high proofs and full,
Who a tall pine uprooted at a pull.        200
He many others, with as little let
  As fennel, wall-wort-stem, or dill uptore;
And ilex, knotted oak, and fir upset,
  And beech and mountain ash, and elm-tree hoar.
He did what fowler, ere he spreads his net,        205
  Does, to prepare the champaign for his lore,
By stubble, rush, and nettle stalk; and broke,
Like these, old sturdy trees and stems of oak.
The shepherd swains, who hear the tumult nigh,
  Leaving their flocks beneath the greenwood tree,        210
Some here, some there, across the forest hie,
  And hurry thither, all, the cause to see.
But I have reached such point, my history,
  If I o’erpass this bound, may irksome be.
And I my story will delay to end        215
Rather than by my tediousness offend.

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