Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #13
THE ARGUMENT. The well instructed knights forsake their host, And come where their strange bark in harbor lay, And setting sail behold on Egypt's coast The monarch's ships and armies in array: Their wind and pilot good, the seas in post They pass, and of long journeys make short way: The far-sought isle they find; Armida's charms They scorn, they shun her sleights, despise her arms. I The rosy-fingered morn with gladsome ray Rose to her task from old Tithonus' lap When their grave host came where the warriors lay, And with him brought the shield, the rod, the map. "Arise," quoth he, "ere lately broken day, In his bright arms the round world fold or wrap, All what I promised, here I have them brought, Enough to bring Armida's charms to naught." II They started up, and every tender limb In sturdy steel and stubborn plate they dight, Before the old man stalked, they followed him Through gloomy shades of sad and sable night, Through vaults obscure again and entries dim, The way they came their steps remeasured right; But at the flood arrived, "Farewell," quoth he, "Good luck your aid, your guide good fortune be." III The flood received them in his bottom low And lilt them up above his billows thin; The waters so east up a branch or bough, By violence first plunged and dived therein: But when upon the shore the waves them throw, The knights for their fair guide to look begin, And gazing round a little bark they spied, Wherein a damsel sate the stern to guide. IV Upon her front her locks were curled new, Her eyes were courteous, full of peace and love; In look a saint, an angel bright in show, So in her visage grace and virtue strove; Her robe seemed sometimes red and sometimes blue, And changed still as she did stir or move; That look how oft man's eye beheld the same So oft the colors changed, went and came. V The feathers so, that tender, soft, and plain, About the dove's smooth neck close couched been, Do in one color never long remain, But change their hue gainst glimpse of Phoebus' sheen; And now of rubies bright a vermeil chain, Now make a carknet rich of emeralds green; Now mingle both, now alter, turn and change To thousand colors, rich, pure, fair, and strange. VI "Enter this boat, you happy men," she says, "Wherein through raging waves secure I ride, To which all tempest, storm, and wind obeys, All burdens light, benign is stream and tide: My lord, that rules your journeys and your ways, Hath sent me here, your servant and your guide." This said, her shallop drove she gainst the sand, And anchor cast amid the steadfast land. VII They entered in, her anchors she upwound, And launched forth to sea her pinnace flit, Spread to the wind her sails she broad unbound, And at the helm sat down to govern it, Swelled the flood that all his banks he drowned To bear the greatest ship of burthen fit; Yet was her fatigue little, swift and light, That at his lowest ebb bear it he might. VIII Swifter than thought the friendly wind forth bore The sliding boat upon the rolling wave, With curded foam and froth the billows hoar About the cable murmur roar and rave; At last they came where all his watery store The flood in one deep channel did engrave, And forth to greedy seas his streams he sent, And so his waves, his name, himself he spent. IX The wondrous boat scant touched the troubled main But all the sea still, hushed and quiet was, Vanished the clouds, ceased the wind and rain, The tempests threatened overblow and pass, A gentle breathing air made even and plain The azure face of heaven's smooth looking-glass, And heaven itself smiled from the skies above With a calm clearness on the earth his love. X By Ascalon they sailed, and forth drived, Toward the west their speedy course they frame, In sight of Gaza till the bark arrived, A little port when first it took that name; But since, by others' loss so well it thrived A city great and rich that it became, And there the shores and borders of the land They found as full of armed men as sand. XI The passengers to landward turned their sight, And there saw pitched many a stately tent, Soldier and footman, captain, lord and knight, Between the shore and city, came and went: Huge elephants, strong camels, coursers light, With horned hoofs the sandy ways outrent, And in the haven many a ship and boat, With mighty anchors fastened, swim and float; XII Some spread their sails, some with strong oars sweep The waters smooth, and brush the buxom wave, Their breasts in sunder cleave the yielding deep, The broken seas for anger foam and rave, When thus their guide began, "Sir knights, take keep How all these shores are spread with squadrons brave And troops of hardy knights, yet on these sands The monarch scant hath gathered half his bands. XIII "Of Egypt only these the forces are, And aid from other lands they here attend, For twixt the noon-day sun and morning star, All realms at his command do bow and bend; So that I trust we shall return from far, And bring our journey long to wished end, Before this king or his lieutenant shall These armies bring to Zion's conquered wall." XIV While thus she said, as soaring eagles fly Mongst other birds securely through the air, And mounting up behold with wakeful eye, The radiant beams of old Hyperion's hair, Her gondola so passed swiftly by Twixt ship and ship, withouten fear or care Who should her follow, trouble, stop or stay, And forth to sea made lucky speed and way. XV Themselves fornenst old Raffia's town they fand, A town that first to sailors doth appear As they from Syria pass to Egypt land: The sterile coasts of barren Rhinocere They passed, and seas where Casius hill doth stand That with his trees o'erspreads the waters near, Against whose roots breaketh the brackish wave Where Jove his temple, Pompey hath his grave: XVI Then Damiata next, where they behold How to the sea his tribute Nilus pays By his seven mouths renowned in stories old, And by an hundred more ignoble ways: They pass the town built by the Grecian bold, Of him called Alexandria till our days, And Pharaoh's tower and isle removed of yore Far from the land, now joined to the shore: XVII Both Crete and Rhodes they left by north unseen, And sailed along the coasts of Afric lands, Whose sea towns fair, but realms more inward been All full of monsters and of desert sands: With her five cities then they left Cyrene, Where that old temple of false Hammon stands: Next Ptolemais, and that sacred wood Whence spring the silent streams of Lethe flood. XVIII The greater Syrte, that sailors often cast In peril great of death and loss extreme, They compassed round about, and safely passed, The Cape Judeca and flood Magra's stream; Then Tripoli, gainst which is Malta placed, That low and hid, to lurk in seas doth seem: The little Syrte then, and Alzerhes isle, Where dwelt the folk that Lotos ate erewhile. XIX Next Tunis on the crooked shore they spied, Whose bay a rock on either side defends, Tunis all towns in beauty, wealth and pride Above, as far as Libya's bounds extends; Gainst which, from fair Sicilia's fertile side, His rugged front great Lilybaeum bends. The dame there pointed out where sometime stood Rome's stately rival whilom, Carthage proud; XX Great Carthage low in ashes cold doth lie, Her ruins poor the herbs in height scant pass, So cities fall, so perish kingdoms high, Their pride and pomp lies hid in sand and grass: Then why should mortal man repine to die, Whose life, is air; breath, wind; and body, glass? From thence the seas next Bisert's walls they cleft, And far Sardinia on their right hand left. XXI Numidia's mighty plains they coasted then, Where wandering shepherds used their flocks to feed, Then Bugia and Argier, the infamous den Of pirates false, Oran they left with speed, All Tingitan they swiftly overren, Where elephants and angry lions breed, Where now the realms of Fez and Maroc be, Gainst which Granada's shores and coasts they see. XXII Now are they there, where first the sea brake in By great Alcides' help, as stories feign, True may it be that where those floods begin It whilom was a firm and solid main Before the sea there through did passage win And parted Afric from the land of Spain, Abila hence, thence Calpe great upsprings, Such power hath time to change the face of things. XXIII Four times the sun had spread his morning ray Since first the dame launched forth her wondrous barge And never yet took port in creek or bay, But fairly forward bore the knights her charge; Now through the strait her jolly ship made way, And boldly sailed upon the ocean large; But if the sea in midst of earth was great, Oh what was this, wherein earth hath her seat? XXIV Now deep engulphed in the mighty flood They saw not Gades, nor the mountains near, Fled was the land, and towns on land that stood, Heaven covered sea, sea seemed the heavens to bear. "At last, fair lady," quoth Ubaldo good, "That in this endless main dost guide us here, If ever man before here sailed tell, Or other lands here be wherein men dwell." XXV "Great Hercules," quoth she, "when he had quailed The monsters fierce in Afric and in Spain, And all along your coasts and countries sailed, Yet durst he not assay the ocean main, Within his pillars would he have impaled The overdaring wit of mankind vain, Till Lord Ulysses did those bounders pass, To see and know he so desirous was. XXVI "He passed those pillars, and in open wave Of the broad sea first his bold sails untwined, But yet the greedy ocean was his grave, Naught helped him his skill gainst tide and wind; With him all witness of his voyage brave Lies buried there, no truth thereof we find, And they whom storm hath forced that way since, Are drowned all, or unreturned from thence: XXVII "So that this mighty sea is yet unsought, Where thousand isles and kingdoms lie unknown, Not void of men as some have vainly thought, But peopled well, and wonned like your own; The land is fertile ground, but scant well wrought, Air wholesome, temperate sun, grass proudly grown." "But," quoth Ubaldo, "dame, I pray thee teach Of that hid world, what be the laws and speech?" XXVIII "As diverse be their nations," answered she, "Their tongues, their rites, their laws so different are; Some pray to beasts, some to a stone or tree, Some to the earth, the sun, or morning star; Their meats unwholesome, vile, and hateful be, Some eat man's flesh, and captives ta'en in war, And all from Calpe's mountain west that dwell, In faith profane, in life are rude and fell." XXIX "But will our gracious God," the knight replied, "That with his blood all sinful men hath bought, His truth forever and his gospel hide From all those lands, as yet unknown, unsought?" "Oh no," quoth she, "his name both far and wide Shall there be known, all learning thither brought, Nor shall these long and tedious ways forever Your world and theirs, their lands, your kingdoms sever. XXX "The time shall come that sailors shall disdain To talk or argue of Alcides' streat, And lands and seas that nameless yet remain, Shall well be known, their boundaries, site and seat, The ships encompass shall the solid main, As far as seas outstretch their waters great, And measure all the world, and with the sun About this earth, this globe, this compass, run. XXXI "A knight of Genes shall have the hardiment Upon this wondrous voyage first to wend, Nor winds nor waves, that ships in sunder rent, Nor seas unused, strange clime, or pool unkenned, Nor other peril nor astonishment That makes frail hearts of men to bow and bend, Within Abilas' strait shall keep and hold The noble spirit of this sailor bold. XXXII "Thy ship, Columbus, shall her canvas wing Spread o'er that world that yet concealed lies, That scant swift fame her looks shall after bring, Though thousand plumes she have, and thousand eyes; Let her of Bacchus and Alcides sing, Of thee to future age let this suffice, That of thine acts she some forewarning give, Which shall in verse and noble story live." XXXIII Thus talking, swift twixt south and west they run, And sliced out twixt froth and foam their way; At once they saw before, the setting sun; Behind, the rising beam of springing day; And when the morn her drops and dews begun To scatter broad upon the flowering lay, Far off a hill and mountain high they spied, Whose top the clouds environ, clothe and hide; XXXIV And drawing near, the hill at ease they view, When all the clouds were molten, fallen and fled, Whose top pyramid-wise did pointed show, High, narrow, sharp, the sides yet more outspread, Thence now and then fire, flame and smoke outflew, As from that hill, whereunder lies in bed Enceladus, whence with imperious sway Bright fire breaks out by night, black smoke by day. XXXV About the hill lay other islands small, Where other rocks, crags, cliffs, and mountains stood, The Isles Fortunate these elder time did call, To which high Heaven they reigned so kind and good, And of his blessings rich so liberal, That without tillage earth gives corn for food, And grapes that swell with sweet and precious wine There without pruning yields the fertile vine. XXXVI The olive fat there ever buds and flowers, The honey-drops from hollow oaks distil, The falling brook her silver streams downpours With gentle murmur from their native hill, The western blast tempereth with dews and showers The sunny rays, lest heat the blossoms kill, The fields Elysian, as fond heathen sain, Were there, where souls of men in bliss remain. XXXVII To these their pilot steered, "And now," quoth she, "Your voyage long to end is brought well-near, The happy Isles of Fortune now you see, Of which great fame, and little truth, you hear, Sweet, wholesome, pleasant, fertile, fat they be, Yet not so rich as fame reports they were." This said, toward an island fresh she bore, The first of ten, that lies next Afric's shore; XXXVIII When Charles thus, "If, worthy governess, To our good speed such tarriance be no let, Upon this isle that Heaven so fair doth bless, To view the place, on land awhile us set, To know the folk and what God they confess, And all whereby man's heart may knowledge get, That I may tell the wonders therein seen Another day, and say, there have I been." XXXIX She answered him, "Well fits this high desire Thy noble heart, yet cannot I consent; For Heaven's decree, firm, stable, and entire, Thy wish repugns, and gainst thy will is bent, Nor yet the time hath Titan's gliding fire Met forth, prefixed for this discoverment, Nor is it lawful of the ocean main That you the secrets know, or known explain. XL "To you withouten needle, map or card It's given to pass these seas, and there arrive Where in strong prison lies your knight imbarred, And of her prey you must the witch deprive: If further to aspire you be prepared, In vain gainst fate and Heaven's decree you strive." While thus she said, the first seen isle gave place, And high and rough the second showed his face. XLI They saw how eastward stretched in order long, The happy islands sweetly flowering lay; And how the seas betwixt those isles enthrong, And how they shouldered land from land away: In seven of them the people rude among The shady trees their sheds had built of clay, The rest lay waste, unless wild beasts unseen, Or wanton nymphs, roamed on the mountains green. XLII A secret place they found in one of those, Where the cleft shore sea in his bosom takes, And 'twixt his stretched arms doth fold and close An ample bay, a rock the haven makes, Which to the main doth his broad back oppose, Whereon the roaring billow cleaves and breaks, And here and there two crags like turrets high, Point forth a port to all that sail thereby: XLIII The quiet seas below lie safe and still, The green wood like a garland grows aloft, Sweet caves within, cool shades and waters shrill, Where lie the nymphs on moss and ivy soft; No anchor there needs hold her frigate still, Nor cable twisted sure, though breaking oft: Into this desert, silent, quiet, glad, Entered the dame, and there her haven made. XLIV "The palace proudly built," quoth she, "behold, That sits on top of yonder mountain's height, Of Christ's true faith there lies the champion bold In idleness, love, fancy, folly light; When Phoebus shall his rising beams unfold, Prepare you gainst the hill to mount upright, Nor let this stay in your bold hearts breed care, For, save that one, all hours unlucky are; XLV "But yet this evening, if you make good speed, To that hill's foot with daylight might you pass." Thus said the dame their guide, and they agreed, And took their leave and leaped forth on the grass; They found the way that to the hill doth lead, And softly went that neither tired was, But at the mountain's foot they both arrived, Before the sun his team in waters dived. XLVI They saw how from the crags and clefts below His proud and stately pleasant top grew out, And how his sides were clad with frost and snow, The height was green with herbs and flowerets sout, Like hairy locks the trees about him grow, The rocks of ice keep watch and ward about, The tender roses and the lilies new, Thus art can nature change, and kind subdue. XLVII Within a thick, a dark and shady plot, At the hill's foot that night the warriors dwell, But when the sun his rays bright, shining, hot, Dispread of golden light the eternal well, "Up, up," they cried, and fiercely up they got, And climbed boldly gainst the mountain fell; But forth there crept, from whence I cannot say, An ugly serpent which forestalled their way. XLVIII Armed with golden scales his head and crest He lifted high, his neck swelled great with ire, Flamed his eyes, and hiding with his breast All the broad path, he poison breathed and fire, Now reached he forth in folds and forward pressed, Now would he back in rolls and heaps retire, Thus he presents himself to guard the place, The knights pressed forward with assured pace: XLIX Charles drew forth his brand to strike the snake; Ubaldo cried, "Stay, my companion dear, Will you with sword or weapon battle make Against this monster that affronts us here?" This said, he gan his charmed rod to shake, So that the serpent durst not hiss for fear, But fled, and dead for dread fell on the grass, And so the passage plain, eath, open was. L A little higher on the way they met A lion fierce that hugely roared and cried, His crest he reared high, and open set Of his broad-gaping jaws the furnace wide, His stern his back oft smote, his rage to whet, But when the sacred staff he once espied A trembling fear through his bold heart was spread, His native wrath was gone, and swift he fled. LI The hardy couple on their way forth wend, And met a host that on them roar and gape, Of savage beasts, tofore unseen, unkend, Differing in voice, in semblance, and in shape; All monsters which hot Afric doth forthsend, Twixt Nilus, Atlas, and the southern cape, Were all there met, and all wild beasts besides Hyrcania breeds, or Hyrcane forest hides. LII But yet that fierce, that strange and savage host Could not in presence of those worthies stand, But fled away, their heart and courage lost, When Lord Ubaldo shook his charming wand. No other let their passage stopped or crossed; Till on the mountain's top themselves they land, Save that the ice, the frost, and drifted snow, Oft made them feeble, weary, faint and slow. LIII But having passed all that frozen ground, And overgone that winter sharp and keen, A warm, mild, pleasant, gentle sky they found, That overspread a large and ample green, The winds breathed spikenard, myrrh, and balm around, The blasts were firm, unchanged, stable been, Not as elsewhere the winds now rise now fall, And Phoebus there aye shines, sets not at all. LIV Not as elsewhere now sunshine bright now showers, Now heat now cold, there interchanged were, But everlasting spring mild heaven down pours, -- In which nor rain, nor storm, nor clouds appear, -- Nursing to fields, their grass; to grass, his flowers; To flowers their smell; to trees, the leaves they bear: There by a lake a stately palace stands, That overlooks all mountains, seas and lands: LV The passage hard against the mountain steep These travellers had faint and weary made, That through those grassy plains they scantly creep; They walked, they rested oft, they went, they stayed, When from the rocks, that seemed for joy to weep, Before their feet a dropping crystal played Enticing them to drink, and on the flowers The plenteous spring a thousand streams down pours, LVI All which, united in the springing grass, Ate forth a channel through the tender green And underneath eternal shade did pass, With murmur shrill, cold, pure, and scantly seen; Yet so transparent, that perceived was The bottom rich, and sands that golden been, And on the brims the silken grass aloft Proffered them seats, sweet, easy, fresh and soft. LVII "See here the stream of laughter, see the spring," Quoth they, "of danger and of deadly pain, Here fond desire must by fair governing Be ruled, our lust bridled with wisdom's rein, Our ears be stopped while these Sirens sing, Their notes enticing man to pleasure vain." Thus passed they forward where the stream did make An ample pond, a large and spacious lake. LVIII There on a table was all dainty food That sea, that earth, or liquid air could give, And in the crystal of the laughing flood They saw two naked virgins bathe and dive, That sometimes toying, sometimes wrestling stood, Sometimes for speed and skill in swimming strive, Now underneath they dived, now rose above, And ticing baits laid forth of lust and love. LIX These naked wantons, tender, fair and white, Moved so far the warriors' stubborn hearts, That on their shapes they gazed with delight; The nymphs applied their sweet alluring arts, And one of them above the waters quite, Lift up her head, her breasts and higher parts, And all that might weak eyes subdue and take, Her lower beauties veiled the gentle lake. LX As when the morning star, escaped and fled From greedy waves, with dewy beams up flies, Or as the Queen of Love, new born and bred Of the Ocean's fruitful froth, did first arise: So vented she her golden locks forth shed Round pearls and crystal moist therein which lies: But when her eyes upon the knights she cast, She start, and feigned her of their sight aghast. LXI And her fair locks, that in a knot were tied High on her crown, she 'gan at large unfold; Which falling long and thick and spreading wide, The ivory soft and white mantled in gold: Thus her fair skin the dame would clothe and hide, And that which hid it no less fair was hold; Thus clad in waves and locks, her eyes divine, From them ashamed did she turn and twine. LXII Withal she smiled and she blushed withal, Her blush, her smilings, smiles her blushing graced: Over her face her amber tresses fall, Whereunder Love himself in ambush placed: At last she warbled forth a treble small, And with sweet looks her sweet songs interlaced; "Oh happy men I that have the grace," quoth she, "This bliss, this heaven, this paradise to see. LXIII "This is the place wherein you may assuage Your sorrows past, here is that joy and bliss That flourished in the antique golden age, Here needs no law, here none doth aught amiss: Put off those arms and fear not Mars his rage, Your sword, your shield, your helmet needless is; Then consecrate them here to endless rest, You shall love's champions be, and soldiers blest. LXIV "The fields for combat here are beds of down, Or heaped lilies under shady brakes; But come and see our queen with golden crown, That all her servants blest and happy makes, She will admit you gently for her own, Numbered with those that of her joy partakes: But first within this lake your dust and sweat Wash off, and at that table sit and eat." LXV While thus she sung, her sister lured them nigh With many a gesture kind and loving show, To music's sound as dames in court apply Their cunning feet, and dance now swift now slow: But still the knights unmoved passed by, These vain delights for wicked charms they know, Nor could their heavenly voice or angel's look, Surprise their hearts, if eye or ear they took. LXVI For if that sweetness once but touched their hearts, And proffered there to kindle Cupid's fire, Straight armed Reason to his charge up starts, And quencheth Lust, and killeth fond Desire; Thus scorned were the dames, their wiles and arts And to the palace gates the knights retire, While in their stream the damsels dived sad, Ashamed, disgraced, for that repulse they had.
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