The Orlando Innamorato in English translation, Book I, Canto IV, Stanzas 1-20
Fair Fiordespina stops the fight amain.
Orlando eastward goes, his rival west,
For King Gradasso’s nearly conquered Spain.
Charlemagne sends his bravest and his best
To help Marsilio, and Rinald he names
The leader of the army. With much zest
The French and Spaniards ‘gainst the Indians fight.
Gradass meets Rinald at the battle’s height.
Last time, I sang about the fight begun
Between two cavaliers of worth and praise.
Perhaps, upon a fight so dread, the sun
As went round the earth, ne’er shed his rays.
Orlando never fought with anyone
Who stood against him longer than three days,
And past the second day endured but two:
His cousin Chiaro, and Don Ferragu.
They face each other with anticipation,
With glowing faces and expression grim.
Unwillingly, each fills with admiration,
To see a knight who seems so stout of limb.
As of each other they make estimation,
Each thinks his foe may be as stout as him.
They’ve never met so stout a knight before.
For battle now they hunger even more.
Now the begin their cruel and violent game.
Dispiteously, each the other battered.
At ev’ry blow are scattered sparks of flame.
Their shields are broken, and their armor tattered.
Little by little, such good strokes they aim,
The platemail from their arms is wholly scattered.
Thanks to their magic skin, no blood they lose,
But give each other many an ugly bruise.
As thus these two pursue their fight in vain,
And both of them a clear advantage lack,
Behold a damsel riding o’er the plain
Clothed in a dress of samite fine and black.
She weeps as one who suffers grievous pain,
Beating her breast, she cries, “I’m lost, alack!
What man, what god, will guide me safely through
This forest perilous to Ferragu?”
Now she perceives the dueling cavaliers.
She spurred her horse and in between them rode.
Each of them pulls the reins of his destrier.
She greeted them, and with her head bowed low,
Addressed Orlando, “O most courteous Peer,
Although I know thee not, nor dost thou know
Who I am, yet I pray, for mercy’s sake,
Do not deny me this request I make.
“I ask thee to at once give up this war
Which against Ferraguto thou hast made,
For I am suffering misfortune sore,
And he alone can bring me any aid.
If Fortune brings me back to bliss once more,
Then I’ll make certain thou art well repaid.
If thou hast need of ought that I can give,
I shall remember thee, long as I live.”
Orlando answers, “I am well content.
(He speaks as one who’s full of courtesy)
And if thou needest it, I will assent
To lend mine own assistance unto thee.
To aid those in distress is my intent.
If Ferraguto, by mischance, can’t be
Thy champion, thou wilt not find me slack,
Or that the prowess of a knight I lack.”
She bows her head. To Ferragu she turns,
And says, “I’m Fiordespina. Dost thou think
By fighting with this knight renown to earn,
While Spain is tottering on ruin’s brink?
Sieged Barcelona for deliverance yearns;
All Aragon a cup of anguish drinks;
Valencia has been destroyed by fire;
Prisoner of our foe is thy good sire.
The great Gradasso, lord of Sericane,
Has crossed the ocean with his host to bring
Ruin to Charles and the folk of Spain.
Christians and Saracens alike this king
Destroys. He boasts that he will shortly reign
O’er all, and won’t make peace for anything.
He landed at Gibraltar, burnt Seville,
And means to crush all Spain beneath his heel.
Our King Marsilio hopes in thee alone.
Thy name alone he calls in his despair.
I’ve seen him beat his breast and heard him groan.
I’ve seen him tear his snowy beard and hair.
Come, knock this proud Gradasso from his throne.
Come, save thy father from the prison where
He languishes, and once thou art victorious,
This deed of all thy deeds will be most glorious.”
When he has heard her sorrowful account,
The Saracen’s completely stupefied.
“Sir Paladin – he thus addressed the count –
Another time our prowess must be tried.
But well I swear to thee by great Mahound,
That with a knight so strong I’ve never vied.
And if I conquer thee, I’ll dare to say
I am the greatest knight alive today.”
The cavaliers now go their separate ways;
Orlando turns towards the Orient.
The footsteps of Angelica to trace
Where’er he change to go, is his intent.
But he will labor sore for many days,
Because, when from the cavaliers she went,
And was alone, she oped her magic book,
And spirits back unto Cathay her took.
Don Ferraguto, over hills and streams,
O’er plains and valleys gallops on apace,
For ev’ry hour like a hundred seems,
Till he confronts Gradasso face to face.
His wind-like speed a sluggard’s walk he deems,
But let us leave him in his eager chase.
I wish to speak of Emp’ror Charlemagne,
Who heard the news about the war in Spain.
He bids his counsel gather. There appear
Rinaldo and the other paladins.
His speaks: “I saying once I chanced to hear,
That when thy neighbor’s house to burn begins,
Then for thine own thou shouldst begin to fear.
I say that, though Marsil’s a Saracen,
It matters not. We joined in wedlock’s bands
His sister, and his country next ours stands.
So we decree that to the uttermost
We’ll give him help in any way we can,
Against the horrible, outlandish host
Of King Gradasso, who, I understand,
Of conquering fair France already boasts.
He will not slake his thirst with Spanish land.
Under no circumstances would we wish us
To have a neighbor so close and so vicious.
For our salvation, therefore, we decree
To send out fifty thousand cavaliers.
And since we know the strength and chivalry
Of brave Rinaldo, who does not know fear,
Our will is fixed, and changed it cannot be,
For we know well his is without a peer,
The Lord of Montalbano we commission
As supreme general of this expedition.
“And for so long as this sad war drags on,
We will that he be gov’nor of Bordeaux,
Gascony, Languedoc, and Roussillon,
And that their lords to battle with him go.”
So saying, he extends him his baton.
Rinaldo kneels, and bows his head down low,
And says, “I’ll strive with all my might, your grace,
To prove myself deserving of this place.”
He cannot speak another word. His face
With tears of gratitude and joy was wet.
The emperor clasps him in his embrace,
And says, “My son, I bid thee ne’er forget
That my whole kingdom in thy hands I place,
Which in the midst of danger grave is set.
Orlando, whither I know not, has flown.
Our country can be saved by thee alone.”
These words he whispered softly in his ear.
Then joyfully the barons leave the hall.
Ivon and Angelin, and all the Peers
Congratulate him, and from one and all
He takes their homage, and shows them good cheer.
They send their heralds to their fiefs to call
Their vassals, and they come from ev’ry part
Of France, and swiftly southward they depart.
Each cavalier who’s tired of the peace
Joins with Rinaldo, and they journey on.
They climb the Pyrenees, from which they see
The smoke still rising over Aragon.
They cross the pass that is close by Pertuis,
And to Gerona are they come anon.
Marsilio’s waiting there till news is brought
Of how Grandon at Barcellona’s fought.