Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato

Book II: Canto IX: Fortune's Tresses

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2022, All Rights Reserved.

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Boiardo: Orlando Innamorato: Book II, Canto IX

Book II: Canto IX: 1-4: Orlando pursues Morgana the Fay

Listen now, and pay heed to my advice,

All you who yearn for a courtier’s place:

If you seize not Fortune’s tresses, in a trice,

She’ll but scorn you, and turn aside her face.

Blink not: she never gives her blessing twice,

Shrink not: if her ill frown denies you grace,

But, closing your ears to what others say,

Care not whom you serve, yet serve alway.

Why blame Fortune, you who curse her so,

Saying the fault is hers, the pain your own?

The moment comes but once, as I well know,

And, indeed, that truth in my tale is shown,

For, while fair Morgana slept, Orlando

Failed to seize her forelock, though all alone

She slumbered midst the flowers by the fount,

Which, to a harsh pursuit, thus doomed the Count.

He was so pained and wearied by the chase,

That every step was torment, while the Fay

Fled before him, and never turned her face.

The wind blew harshly at his back always;

The plants lost all their leaves, at the base;

Stems were stripped to the core; ne’er a ray

Of sunlight shone; all the wild creatures fled,

As rain poured from the dark clouds overhead.

O’er stony slopes, through many a gloomy dale,

Along perilous paths, the Count was drawn.

Swollen torrents coursed downwards midst the gale,

Within which trees, and turf, and rocks, were borne,

And, in the dark and shadowy woods, the wail

And the roar of the winds that thrashed and tore

The branches, filled the air, and shook the ground,

And hurled their splintered fragments all around.

Book II: Canto IX: 5-9: And is, in turn, pursued by Penitence

The Count ran on, indifferent to the storm;

Bent on catching Morgana, at the last,

But his ill-luck grew, for a female form

Now emerged from a cave, as he sped past.

Her face was pale, her clothes seemed to conform

To its greyish colour, of a clay-like cast,

Her body lean; and with a whip she flailed

At her back and shoulders, and cried, and wailed.

Weeping, the poor wretch beat at her frame,

As if constrained to do so by some law;

From morn to eve, obliged to do that same,

And thrash away, despite the scars she bore.

The Count, troubled, sought to know her name:

‘I am Penitence, who go, thus, pained and sore,

Shorn of all pleasure, happiness, and ease.

I ever follow those whom Fortune flees.

And, therefore, I shall keep you company,

You, who let Morgana sleep, in the field,

And you’ll be beaten and be whipped by me

As long as your chase lasts, and ne’er be healed.

Your strength will aid you not, nor bravery,

Unless to patience you yourself shall yield.’

Milone’s son replied, at once, to this:

‘Why, patience is ever the coward’s dish.

Waste not your efforts on annoying me,

For patient I shall never be, I’m sure.

Reproach me, and you’ll find but misery,

While serve me well and twill reward you more,

That is, if you will bear me company,

O’er this desert, that ne’er a flower bore.’

Thus, Orlando answered, while Morgana,

Sped on ahead, her lead growing larger.

So, ending their rapid conversation,

The Count set himself to pursue the Fay

And, with ardour and determination,

Win the challenge, or perish on the way;

While she of whom I gave a description,

Penitence, followed him without delay;

Her every wrathful gesture and action

Like to chasing a dog from the kitchen.

Book II: Canto IX: 10-15: Whom he fails to deter

Reaching Orlando, with her whip clutched tight,

She beat at his back, unconscionably.

Much annoyed, and greatly troubled, the knight

Turned, with an ill look, and shouted loudly:

‘I’m not so base, nor e’er so filled with spite,

As to slay a helpless woman, but, truly,

If I catch you, and seize you by the hair

You’ll find yourself a mile high in the air!’

Penitence, indifferent to the matter,

Said naught, and paid him but little heed.

Orlando then attacked her in anger,  

And flicked his open hand, with force and speed,

Towards the woman’s left cheek; however,

Twas if as he lashed the breeze, or, indeed,

A shower of rain, or a dense bank of mist.

He struck at her form, but naught did resist.

The Count’s swift blow had harmed her not at all,

And she still snapped her whip at his back.

Orlando, having hoped she’d cease or fall,

Stunned by the failure of his swift attack,

And beaten thus, and angered, thought to maul

Her with blows, that but little force did lack.

Yet twas like to pounding, in a mortar,

Naught more solid than a pint of water.

After he’d sought to deal with her in vain,

This woman who but seemed a mere shadow,

He left her, and took up the trail again,

For twas Morgana he sought to follow.

Yet as he laboured away, in some pain,

Penitence seemed fresh strength to borrow,

Striking him so fiercely with her whip

That he turned, again, to strike her on the lip.

Yet, as before, Orlando failed to land

His blow upon that insubstantial thing.

He tried to abandon her, out of hand,

And chase Morgana, that bird on the wing,

Yet, to his lasting shame, could not command

The absence of the whip and its fierce sting.

Since the Count had done all that he could do,

He clenched the bit, and hunted her anew.

‘It if pleases God, or else the Devil,

That I show patience, then patience I’ll show.

Yet the very taste of it is evil,

And that’s a thing that all the world should know!

What madness has led me to such trouble?

What wild fantasy has enthralled me so?

How then, and when, and where, did I enter

This trap? Am I the Count or some other?’

Book II: Canto IX: 16-20: He catches Morgana and demands the key to her prison

So, he cried, taking up the chase once more,

Following the enchantress as she fled,

Trampling the briars, o’er the thorny floor,

And leaving a broad trail, where’er she led.

He drew nearer, had caught her he was sure,

But, yet again, away the Faery sped.

Though he must soon o’ertake her, he believed,

She ‘scaped his grasp, he found himself deceived.

Oh, the many times he thought he’d caught her,

Now grasping at her clothes, now her person!

But well-nigh abandoned hope for, ever,

She vanished, a whirl of white and crimson.

At last, for but a moment however,

She turned to glance at him, as though she’d won,

God, and Good-Fortune, for once, on his side,

And he seized the tress that her brow did hide.

At once, the weather changed, the darkened air

Cleared swiftly, till the heavens looked serene.

The mountain slope, all strewn with stones, and bare

But for briars, and spiny thorns, now was green,

With shrubs, and trees, and flowers; a sweet affair.

Penitence, ere she vanished from the scene,

Curbed her whip, her face sweeter than before,

As she addressed the Count, but one time more:

‘Come, sir knight, and attend to Fortune’s tress,

That you’ve grasped, and are twisting in your hand,

Take care to keep your balance, wariness

Is required to hold tight, you understand.

Tis when she’s standing quiet and motionless,

That your must clasp it like an iron band,

Lest she escapes, for only fools trust her;

The maid’s inconstant, and faithless, ever.’

Thus, spoke Penitence, so pallid of face,

And once she’d said all that she had to say,

She returned to the cave, her dwelling-place,

To whip herself, and weep both night and day.

The Count turned to Morgana, apace,

And addressed the fair maid, without delay,

Speaking threateningly, then courteously,

Demanding, of the Fay, the prison key.

Book II: Canto IX: 21-25: Which she grants him, with a warning

The Faery, with false seeming, and a smile,

Said: ‘Awaiting your pleasure, cavalier

Are all the folk that dwelt with me awhile;

All yours are they, and I, it would appear.

Yet leave with me the knight that others style

Monodante’s son, the lad to me is dear;

Ziliante, I mean; or take me too,

For, should I lose him, my days will prove few.

That fair youth has wounded me to the core;  

He is all my good, and my true desire,

I beg you, by your worth below, therefore

And the true God, if you e’er did aspire

To love a lady, on whatever shore,

Take not my lover, whom I love entire,  

From out my garden; you may have the rest,

And let them, by you, with freedom be blessed.’

Orlando answered her: ‘Grant me the key,

And I swear the lad will remain with you,

Since your desire him so; and yet with me

You shall go, for I need to find, anew,

Some path to reach your garden, that is free

Of those sharp thorns, and skies of darksome hue;

So, hand me the prison key, if you please,

And your love you’ll enjoy in peace and ease.’

Morgana untied her dress, to left and right,

And took the key, which was solid silver,

From her breast, and handed it to the knight,

Without delay: ‘Go, fearlessly as ever

To the door with me, yet, employ no might

Against it, take care in your endeavour,

Break not the lock, I say, and with reason;

Do so, and you’ll plunge to my dark dungeon;

And every knight and lady will so fall,

And, thus, will be lost and doomed forever.

Not my arts, nor those of others could recall

You from those depths.’ The Count gave a shudder,

For that lock he knew oft defeated all

A man’s attempts, howe’er deft or clever;

For beneath the moon, there are few, truly,

That can wield Fortune’s key securely.

Book II: Canto IX: 26-31: He unlocks the door, and frees all but Ziliante

He kept a tight hold of Morgana’s hair,

And she led him to her garden, in the end,

Then they traversed the open country there,

And a path to the door did slowly wend.

Thanks to God, he oped the lock with care,

And a strange one it was, you may depend;

Yet he whom Fortune has in company,

Soon finds the proper way to wield the key.

Brandimarte, Rinaldo, and the rest,

Who’d been caught at the bridge o’er the river,

Had seen the Count, as o’er the field he pressed

While grasping Morgana’s hair, as ever.

Both Christians and Saracens addressed

Their god, their hands clasped tightly together,

Hoping, when they heard the portal’s key

Turn in the lock, that soon they would be free.  

Once the richly furnished door was open,

They all issued forth to the flowering field.

And Orlando sought the knight, there and then,

Morgana’s love for whom she had revealed.

He saw a youth, pale and fair, midst the men,

Delicate of face, blushes scarce concealed,

In both speech and action, sweet and happy;

He, thus, was named: the fair Ziliante.

The lad remained within; tears he did cry

On seeing that whole company depart,

While Orlando was greatly grieved thereby,

Though being bound by honour, for his part.

And yet a time will come when he will sigh,

Regret his oath, obtained by cunning art,

And be obliged to seek that place once more,

The youth from out that magic realm to draw.

There he left him, and with the others passed

Through the door to the garden, at their will.

Fair Ziliante wept and, to the last,

Cursed his misfortune, to be prisoned still.

The rest sped through the portal, un-harassed,

And next climbed the marble stair, until

Emerging from that dark and gloomy cave,

They re-surfaced; then Orlando the Brave,

Led them through the courtyard filled with treasure,

Where sat the golden king, and his council,

All encrusted with gems, in ample measure,

Rubies, diamond, and pearls, set there with skill.

All those who’d been prisoned, now, at leisure,

Admired the workmanship, and gazed at will,

But none dared stretch a hand to that store,

All afraid that they’d be spellbound, once more.

Book II: Canto IX: 32-41: Rinaldo attempts to depart with a golden chair

But Rinaldo, brave without a sword or lance,

Picked up a chair; twas wrought from solid gold.

He said: ‘I’ll bear this prize with me to France,

No finer have I seen than this I hold.

Twill guarantee I’ll find men, in advance,

A mercenary army strong and bold,

To squeeze each merchant, envoy, or fat priest,

And, once found, upon their riches we’ll feast.’

Orlando answered that he thought it base

To traipse about thus, burdened like a mule.

‘I recall a friar who thought it his place

To preach of abstinence, his golden rule

In life,’ Rinaldo said, ‘it brought men grace;

Yet he himself, I think, was no such fool,

For his own paunch was such, scarce a pace

Could he take without breathing hard a space.

And now you preach the same here, more or less,

A true member of his fraternity,

Praising fasting, while feasting to excess,

Devoted to your flock of geese, solely.

For gifts Charlemagne on you doth press,

And the Pope provides for you equally.

You’ve castles and towns without number,

You’re Lord of Anglante, Count of Brava;

While I’m so poor I’ve but a single Mount,

In all the word possess but Montalbano,

Scarce a bite to eat, naught to my account,

Unless I make some rich stranger my foe;

So, when Fortune pours forth wealth from the fount,

I help myself with both hands, risk or no;

Since I hold that there’s no sin, no misdeed

In taking what one can, to meet one’s need.’

As they were speaking, they came to the door,

That led from the courtyard; here, a gale,

A wild wind, met Rinaldo, crossed the floor

Struck him in the chest and face, with a wail,

And blew him backwards twenty yards or more.

None other of the knights did it assail,

Only Rinaldo, carrying the chair.

He was still inclined not to leave it there,

So rose, and headed for the door again,

But on reaching the threshold, to his grief

The wind struck once more; he fought in vain

But was still driven backwards like a leaf.

The others were discomforted, twas plain,

But Orlando worried more, tis my belief,

For he greatly feared the proud Rinaldo

Would persist, and be slain in doing so.

Yet Rinaldo feared not, he dropped the chair,

Free of his golden burden, neared the door,

And, thus, passed o’er the sill without a care.

He could have left it at that, done no more,

Yet he longed for the gold, had none to spare,

And twould pay for good men, and so he bore

The chair to the gate, dared the wind to blow,

And thought of the needs of Montalbano.   

But Rinaldo was repulsed and, burdened so,

Was prevented from departing, once more.

Hoping to leave with the chair, wind or no,

With a mighty heave, he raised it from the floor,

Hurled it like a stone from a sling, although,

It weighed a good six hundred pounds or more,

A measure of his strength, and watched it go;

Yet, instantly, the wind again did blow.

He’d thought to throw it swiftly through the air,

Expecting it to vanish through the gate.

Yet the furious gale flung back the chair,

And left him in the same frustrated state.

The others gathered round Rinaldo there,

And begged him to accept the path of fate,

Seek to leave the prison, and loose his hold

Of that thing, for twas wrought of faery gold.

He abandoned his labour in the end,

And with the rest passed through the open door.

They travelled a mile, ere they could ascend

The stony stair, and then three steep miles more.

A deal of effort they were forced to spend,

Climbing ever, ere they reached a level floor,

And at last issued forth, beneath the sky,

To a field of cypress trees, the sun full high.

Book II: Canto IX: 42-48: He leaves for France, Orlando still seeks Angelica

They recognised the meadow, instantly,

The cypresses, the bridge, and the river.

There Aridano had brought them misery,

Who once the guardian, was lost forever,

Hurled to the depths, cleft from brow to belly,

Never to rise again; a blow to sever

Soul from body; the soul bound, to its woe,

For Hell, the body vanished down below.

The knights’ weapons and shields hung from a tree,

(Orlando’s steed grazed there, amidst the green)

Upside-down their armour set, shamefully,

That their disgrace might readily be seen.

Dudon, Rinaldo all that company

Hastened to find their own and, full swiftly,

Each cavalier donned his suit of armour;

With shield and arms, once more a warrior.

The Saracens and pagans who’d been caught,

By Aridano, at the bridge, now departed,

To places near and far, but first they sought

The Count to thank him; while the bold-hearted

Christians, most from Charlemagne’s court,

Heard Dudon recalling how he’d parted

Thence, as Agramante, with sword and lance,

Was preparing (twas known) to sail for France.

He recalled how he’d been sent by Charlemagne

To seek, through many a far-flung country,

That pair of brave knights, his enemies’ bane,

Each a flower of the court and chivalry;

Then return with them, as was right, to gain

At his side, a Christian victory.

Twas Orlando and Rinaldo he addressed,

As he spoke, thus, surrounded by the rest.

Rinaldo quickly chose to head for France,

Without delay, while Orlando stood still,

Musing silently, confusion in his glance,

For his ardent heart and his amorous will

Each their various claims did now advance,

With many a thought his poor mind did fill;

True love gainst honour, duty gainst delight,

Warred within the breast of our noble knight.

Honour and duty urged him, thereupon,

To work that task, of the king’s conceiving;

As a Roman senator, and champion

Of the Church, such indeed was his calling.

But that which conquers each and every one,

Love, I mean, had sent his spirit reeling,

Such that he thought but worthless an affair

That kept him from Angelica the Fair.

There was little reason, he thought, to stay,

So, he mounted his steed and, Brandimarte

At his side (through love), set out on his way,

For the latter sought to keep him company.

I shall leave them for a while, if I may,

For I want to pursue Rinaldo’s story,

And say how he rode to Montalbano.

The tale is long, and his travels more so.

Book II: Canto IX: 49-51: Rinaldo and his company reach a river

He’ll pass through many a distant country,

In those realms strange adventures will pursue,

Of which I’ll speak briefly and clearly,

So, their essence I may reveal to you.

I’ll display the worth, and the courtesy,

Of Iroldo and Prasildo anew,

And Dudon’s noble strength and bravery;

Twas those three, kept Rinaldo company.

They went on foot, that valiant band of four,

Armoured as they were, in plate and mail;

(Having lost their steeds at the bridge, before

Being dragged to the lake; you know the tale)

And yet, laughing and talking, they strode o’er

The ground; thus, traversing hill and dale,

While the labour of that endless journey

Seemed far less, in each other’s company.

Five toilsome days had passed since they’d taken

Their leave of the garden, when, distantly,

They heard a horn that all the hills did waken,

Sound from a castle, well-walled and lofty,

Set on a mountainside; there, unshaken,

Lay a level plain, wondrous in its beauty,

That ringed it round, while a river ran by.

No fairer thing e’er met the human eye.

Book II: Canto IX: 52-55: The maiden at the ferry advises them

Marvellously fine and clear, was the flow,

Yet so deep none on foot could cross it there.

A maiden, dressed in garments white as snow,

On a ferryboat, the sunlight in her hair,

Smiled at them from afar, for to and fro

Her ferry went: ‘Fair gentlemen, come share

My little barque, if you would cross the river,

For there’s no other path o’er the water.’

Thus, she called, and the knights who, indeed,

Wished to cross the flood and be on their way,

Thanked her for her offer and, once agreed,

Climbed aboard and cast off, as she did say:

‘On the other side, a perilous deed

Awaits you; tis the toll that you must pay,

And none can leave until they climb the mount,

And of themselves, there, render good account.

For this river’s source is a stream that flows

On divergent paths, down the mountainside,

And, in descending, broadens, to enclose

This plain, and all within it, far and wide.

None can depart unless he promptly goes

To seek the castellan who will provide   

His task. Go, with bold and ardent brow!

Behold! He crosses o’er the drawbridge, now.’

And with this, she pointed her finger, so,

At a group descending the slope above.

None of the knights below were daunted though,

As the armed men towards the shore did move.

The first to approach them was Rinaldo,

That ever the leader in such things did prove.

The rest followed, shield on arm, sword in hand,

Prepared to force a way, at his command.

Book II: Canto IX: 56-58: The castellan appoints their task

A fine old gentleman, came forth unarmed

From their midst, to greet the warriors there.

He rode a mighty steed; his presence calmed

The knights; his gaze honest, his speech as fair.

‘I would have you know, none shall be harmed,’

He said, ‘but Monodante’s arms I bear,

King of this realm; from here you cannot stray,

Ere you’ve served our monarch for a day.

And you must all serve him in the manner

I will relate, if you’ll grant me an ear.

Beside the sea-mouth of this fair river,

Two mighty keeps, linked by a bridge, appear.

A malicious giant has dwelt there, ever,

That has slain many a brave cavalier.

That vile giant’s a dark enchanter also,

A necromancer named Balisardo.

King Monodante wants the villain caught

For he’s done much damage to this land;

And all that to cross the flood have sought

Are required to obey his firm command.

They must swear to fight for a day, in short,

Till they conquer or are captured, out of hand.

You must go as other men have gone, say I,

Or remain in this meadow, starve, and die.’

Book II: Canto IX: 59-62: They sail to encounter the wizard, Balisardo

Rinaldo answered: ‘We would wish to go;

For all such encounters we seek, ever.

I myself long to catch this giant foe;

That seems but a man of straw, however.

Let him chant his enchantments, even so,

He’ll not cast a spell we cannot conquer.

But show us where, and how, to reach the place,

So, this fellow, Balisardo, I may face.’

The old castellan answered not the knight,  

But with a cry of: ‘Come now, no delay!’

Called to the fair damsel dressed in white,

‘Ferry them to the bridge; be on your way!’

She danced towards the stream, swift and light,

Asked the lords to join her, as if in play,

With a pleasing smile, her bright eyes agleam,

And, once they were aboard, set sail downstream.

The swift barque was borne along by the flow,

Like an arrow it sped beside the isle,

Now near, now far; at last, by doing so,

They reached the coast, in but a little while,

And there a mighty bridge above did show,

That linked two towering keeps; there stood the vile

Balisardo, that fierce Saracen, on high,

Where the arch, o’er the flood, met the sky.

Like a tower on the bridge, the Saracen

Stood watch, with bearded face and cruel gaze.

His voice seemed much like thunder to the men

Down below, though they were fearless always.

Yet I’ve reached my canto’s end, once again,

Though ‘I’ll be back, anon’, so runs the phrase,

To reveal such marvels to you, in the next,

As have no like in any earthly text.

The End of Book II: Canto IX of ‘Orlando Innamorato’