Theodore and Honoria
Of all the cities in Romanian lands, The chief and most renowned Ravenna stands; Adorned in ancient times with arms and arts, And rich inhabitants with generous hearts. But Theodore the brave, above the rest, With gifts of fortune and of nature blessed, The foremost place for wealth and honour held, And all in feats of chivalry excelled. This noble youth to madness loved a dame Of high degree, Honoria was her name; Fair as the fairest, but of haughty mind, And fiercer than became so soft a kind; Proud of her birth (for equal she had none), The rest she scorned, but hated him alone; His gifts, his constant courtship, nothing gained; For she, the more he loved, the more disdained, He lived with all the pomp he could devise, At tilts and tournaments obtained the prize, But found no favour in his lady’s eyes: Relentless as a rock, the lofty maid Turned all to poison that he did or said: Nor prayers nor tears nor offered vows could move; The work went backward; and the more he strove To advance his suit, the farther from her love. Wearied at length, and wanting remedy, He doubted oft, and oft resolved to die. But pride stood ready to prevent the blow, For who would die to gratify a foe? His generous mind disdained so mean a fate; That passed, his next endeavour was to hate. But vainer that relief than all the rest; The less he hoped, with more desire possessed; Love stood the siege, and would not yield his breast. Change was the next, but change deceived his care; He sought a fairer, but found none so fair. He would have worn her out by slow degrees, As men by fasting starve the untamed disease; But present love required a present ease. Looking, he feeds alone his famished eyes, Feeds lingering death, but, looking not, he dies. Yet still he chose the longest way to fate, Wasting at once his life and his estate. His friends beheld, and pitied him in vain. For what advice can ease a lover’s pain? Absence, the best expedient they could find, Might save the fortune, if not cure the mind: This means they long proposed, but little gained, Yet after much pursuit at length obtained. Hard you may think it was to give consent, But struggling with his own desires he went; With large expense, and with a pompous train, Provided as to visit France or Spain, Or for some distant voyage o’er the main. But Love had clipped his wings, and cut him short, Confined within the purlieus of his court. Three miles he went, nor farther could retreat; His travels ended at his country seat: To Chassi’s pleasing plains he took his way, There pitched his tents, and there resolved to stay. The spring was in the prime, the neighbouring grove Supplied with birds, the choristers of love; Music unbought, that ministered delight To morning walks, and lulled his cares by night: There he discharged his friends, but not the expense Of frequent treats and proud magnificence. He lived as kings retire, though more at large From public business, yet with equal charge; With house and heart still open to receive; As well content as love would give him leave: He would have lived more free; but many a guest, Who could forsake the friend, pursued the feast. It happed one morning, as his fancy led, Before his usual hour he left his bed, To walk within a lonely lawn, that stood On every side surrounded by the wood: Alone he walked, to please his pensive mind, And sought the deepest solitude to find; ‘Twas in a grove of spreading pines he strayed; The winds within the quivering branches played, And dancing trees a mournful music made; The place it self was suiting to his care, Uncouth and savage as the cruel fair. He wandered on, unknowing where he went, Lost in the wood, and all on love intent: The day already half his race had run, And summoned him to due repast at noon, But Love could feel no hunger but his own. While listening to the murmuring leaves he stood, More than a mile immersed within the wood, At once the wind was laid; the whispering sound Was dumb; a rising earthquake rocked the ground; With deeper brown the grove was overspread, A sudden horror seized his giddy head, And his ears tinkled, and his colour fled. Nature was in alarm; some danger nigh Seemed threatened, though unseen to mortal eye. Unused to fear, he summoned all his soul, And stood collected in him self—and whole; Not long: for soon a whirlwind rose around, And from afar he heard a screaming sound, As of a dame distressed, who cried for aid, And filled with loud laments the secret shade. A thicket close beside the grove there stood, With breers and brambles choked, and dwarfish wood; From thence the noise, which now approaching near With more distinguished notes invades his ear; He raised his head, and saw a beauteous maid With hair dishevelled issuing through the shade; Stripped of her clothes, and e’en those parts revealed Which modest nature keeps from sight concealed. Her face, her hands, her naked limbs were torn, With passing through the brakes and prickly thorn; Two mastiffs gaunt and grim her flight pursued, And oft their fastened fangs in blood imbrued: Oft they came up, and pinched her tender side, “Mercy, O mercy, Heaven,” she ran, and cried: When Heaven was named, they loosed their hold again. Then sprung she forth, they followed her amain. Not far behind, a knight of swarthy face High on a coal-black steed pursued the chace; With flashing flames his ardent eyes were filled, And in his hands a naked sword he held: He cheered the dogs to follow her who fled, And vowed revenge on her devoted head. As Theodore was born of noble kind, The brutal action roused his manly mind: Moved with unworthy usage of the maid, He, though unarmed, resolved to give her aid. A saplin pine he wrenched from out the ground, The readiest weapon that his fury found. Thus, furnished for offence, he crossed the way Betwixt the graceless villain and his prey. The knight came thundering on, but, from afar, Thus in imperious tone forbad the war: “Cease, Theodore, to proffer vain relief, “Nor stop the vengeance of so just a grief; “But give me leave to seize my destined prey, “And let eternal justice take the way: “I but revenge my fate, disdained, betrayed, “And suffering death for this ungrateful maid.” He said, at once dismounting from the steed; For now the hell-hounds with superior speed Had reached the dame, and, fastening on her side, The ground with issuing streams of purple dyed. Stood Theodore surprised in deadly fright, With chattering teeth, and bristling hair upright; Yet armed with inborn worth,—“Whate’er,” said he, “Thou art, who knowst me better than I thee; “Or prove thy rightful cause, or be defied.” The spectre fiercely staring, thus replied: “Know, Theodore, thy ancestry I claim, “And Guido Cavalcanti was my name. “One common sire our fathers did beget, “My name and story some remember yet; “Thee, then a boy, within my arms I laid, “When for my sins I loved this haughty maid; “Not less adored in life, nor served by me, “Than proud Honoria now is loved by thee. “What did I not her stubborn heart to gain? “But all my vows were answered with disdain: “She scorned my sorrows, and despised my pain. “Long time I dragged my days in fruitless care; “Then loathing life, and plunged in deep despair, “To finish my unhappy life I fell “On this sharp sword, and now am damned in hell. “Short was her joy; for soon the insulting maid “By Heaven’s decree in the cold grave was laid; “And as in unrepenting sin she died, “Doomed to the same bad place, is punished for her pride: “Because she deemed I well deserved to die, “And made a merit of her cruelty. “There, then, we met; both tried, and both were cast, “And this irrevocable sentence passed, “That she, whom I so long pursued in vain, “Should suffer from my hands a lingering pain: “Renewed to life, that she might daily die, “I daily doomed to follow, she to fly; “No more a lover, but a mortal foe, “I seek her life (for love is none below); “As often as my dogs with better speed “Arrest her flight, is she to death decreed: “Then with this fatal sword, on which I died, “I pierce her opened back or tender side, “And tear that hardened heart from out her breast, “Which with her entrails makes my hungry hounds a feast. “Nor lies she long, but as her fates ordain, “Springs up to life, and fresh to second pain, “Is saved to-day, to-morrow to be slain.” This, versed in death, the infernal knight relates, And then for proof fulfilled their common fates; Her heart and bowels through her back he drew, And fed the hounds that helped him to pursue. Stern looked the fiend, as frustrate of his will, Not half sufficed, and greedy yet to kill. And now the soul, expiring through the wound, Had left the body breathless on the ground, When thus the grisly spectre spoke again: “Behold the fruit of ill-rewarded pain! “As many months as I sustained her hate, “So many years is she condemned by Fate “To daily death; and every several place “Conscious of her disdain and my disgrace, “Must witness her just punishment, and be “A scene of triumph and revenge to me. “As in this grove I took my last farewell, “As on this very spot of earth I fell, “As Friday saw me die, so she my prey “Becomes even here, on this revolving day.” Thus while he spoke, the virgin from the ground Upstarted fresh, already closed the wound, And unconcerned for all she felt before, Precipitates her flight along the shore: The hell-hounds, as ungorged with flesh and blood, Pursue their prey, and seek their wonted food: The fiend remounts his courser, mends his pace, And all the vision vanished from the place. Long stood the noble youth oppressed with awe And stupid at the wondrous things he saw, Surpassing common faith, transgressing Nature's law: He would have been asleep, and wished to wake, But dreams, he knew, no long impression make, Though strong at first; if vision, to what end, But such as must his future state portend, His love the damsel, and himself the fiend? But yet reflecting that it could not be From Heaven, which cannot impious acts decree, Resolved within him self to shun the snare Which hell for his destruction did prepare; And as his better genius should direct, From an ill cause to draw a good effect. Inspired from Heaven he homeward took his way, Nor palled his new design with long delay; But of his train a trusty servant sent To call his friends together at his tent. They came, and, usual salutations paid, With words premeditated thus he said: “What you have often counselled, to remove “My vain pursuit of unregarded love, “By thrift my sinking fortune to repair, “Though late, yet is at last become my care: “My heart shall be my own; my vast expense “Reduced to bounds by timely providence: “This only I require; invite for me “Honoria, with her father‘s family, “Her friends and mine; the cause I shall display, “On Friday next, for that's the appointed day.” Well pleased were all his friends, the task was light, The father, mother, daughter they invite; Hardly the dame was drawn to this repast; But yet resolved, because it was the last. The day was come, the guests invited came, And with the rest the inexorable dame: A feast prepared with riotous expense, Much cost, more care, and most magnificence. The place ordained was in that haunted grove Where the revenging ghost pursued his love: The tables in a proud pavilion spread, With flowers below, and tissue overhead; The rest in rank, Honoria, chief in place, Was artfully contrived to set her face To front the thicket and behold the chace. The feast was served, the time so well forecast, That just when the dessert and fruits were placed, The fiend’s alarm began; the hollow sound Sung in the leaves, the forest shook around, Air blackened, rolled the thunder, groaned the ground. Nor long before the load laments arise, Of one distressed, and mastiffs’ mingled cries; And first the dame came rushing through the wood, And next the famished hounds that sought their food, And griped her flanks, and oft essayed their jaws in blood. Last came the felon on the sable steed, Armed with his naked sword, and urged his dogs to speed. She ran, and cried, her flight directly bent (A guest unbidden) to the fatal tent, The scene of death, and place ordained for punishment. Loud was the noise, aghast was every guest, The woman shrieked, the men forsook the feast; The hounds at nearer distance hoarsely bayed; The hunter close pursued the visionary maid, She rent the heaven with loud laments, imploring aid. The gallants, to protect the lady’s right, Their fauchions brandished at the grisly spright; High on his stirrups he provoked the fight. Then on the crowd he cast a furious look, And withered all their strength before he strook: “Back on your lives! let be,” said he, “my prey, “And let my vengeance take the destined way: “Vain are your arms, and vainer your defence, “Against the eternal doom of Providence: “Mine is the ungrateful maid by Heaven designed: “Mercy she would not give, nor mercy shall she find.” At this the former tale again he told With thundering tone, and dreadful to behold: Sunk were their hearts with horror of the crime, Nor needed to be warned a second time, But bore each other back; some knew the face, And all had heard the much lamented case Of him who fell for love, and this the fatal place. And now the infernal minister advanced, Seized the due victim, and with fury lanced Her back, and piercing through her inmost heart, Drew backward as before the offending part. The recking entrails next he tore away, And to his meagre mastiffs made a prey. The pale assistants on each other stared, With gaping mouths for issuing words prepared; The stillborn sounds upon the palate hung, And died imperfect on the faltering tongue. The fright was general; but the female band, A helpless train, in more confusion stand: With horror shuddering, on a heap they run, Sick at the sight of hateful justice done; For conscience rung the alarm, and made the case their own. So spread upon a lake, with upward eye, A plump of fowl behold their foe on high; They close their trembling troop; and all attend On whom the sowsing eagle will descend. But most the proud Honoria feared the event, And thought to her alone the vision sent. Her guilt presents to her distracted mind Heaven's justice, Theodore’s revengeful kind, And the same fate to the same sin assigned; Already sees her self the monster's prey, And feels her heart and entrails torn away. ‘Twas a mute scene of sorrow, mixed with fear; Still on the table lay the unfinished cheer: The knight and hungry mastiffs stood around, The mangled dame lay breathless on the ground; When on a sudden, re-inspired with breath, Again she rose, again to suffer death; Nor stayed the hell-hounds, nor the hunter stayed, But followed, as before, the flying maid: The avenger took from earth the avenging sword, And mounting light as air his sable steed he spurred: The clouds dispelled, the sky resumed her light, And Nature stood recovered of her fright. But fear, the last of ills, remained behind, And horror heavy sat on every mind. Nor Theodore encouraged more his feast, But sternly looked, as hatching in his breast Some deep design, which when Honoria viewed The fresh impulse her former fright renewed: She thought her self the trembling dame who fled, And him the grisly ghost that spurred the infernal steed: The more dismayed, for when the guests withdrew, Their courteous host saluting all the crew, Regardless passed her o’er, nor graced with kind adieu. That sting infixed within her haughty mind, The downfall of her empire she divined; And her proud heart with secret sorrow pined. Home as they went, the sad discourse renewed, Of the relentless dame to death pursued, And of the sight obscene so lately viewed; None durst arraign the righteous doom she bore, Even they who pitied most yet blamed her more: The parallel they needed not to name, But in the dead they damned the living dame. At every little noise she looked behind, For still the knight was present to her mind: And anxious oft she started on the way, And thought the horseman-ghost came thundering for his prey. Returned, she took her bed with little rest, But in short slumbers dreamt the funeral feast; Awaked, she turned her side, and slept again; The same black vapours mounted in her brain, And the same dreams returned with double pain. Now forced to wake, because afraid to sleep, Her blood all fevered, with a furious leap She sprung from bed, distracted in her mind, And feared, at every step, a twitching spright behind. Darkling and desperate, with a staggering pace, Of death afraid, and conscious of disgrace, Fear, pride, remorse, at once her heart assailed; Pride put remorse to flight, but fear prevailed. Friday, the fatal day, when next it came, Her soul forethought the fiend would change his game, And her pursue, or Theodore be slain, And two ghosts join their packs to hunt her o’er the plain. This dreadful image so possessed her mind, That, desperate any succour else to find, She ceased all farther hope; and now began To make reflection on the unhappy man. Rich, brave, and young, who past expression loved, Proof to disdain, and not to be removed: Of all the men respected and admired, Of all the dames, except her self, desired: Why not of her? preferred above the rest By him with knightly deeds, and open love professed? So had another been, where he his vows addressed. This quelled her pride, yet other doubts remained, That once disdaining, she might be disdained. The fear was just, but greater fear prevailed, Fear of her life by hellish hounds assailed: He took a lowering leave; but who can tell What outward hate might inward love conceal? Her sex’s arts she knew, and why not then Might deep dissembling have a place in men? Here hope began to dawn; resolved to try, She fixed on this her utmost remedy; Death was behind, but hard it was to die: ‘Twas time enough at last on death to call; The precipice in sight, a shrub was all That kindly stood betwixt to break the fatal fall. One maid she had, beloved above the rest: Secure of her, the secret she confessed; And now the cheerful light her fears dispelled, She with no winding turns the truth concealed, But put the woman off, and stood revealed: With faults confessed, commissioned her to go, If pity yet had place, and reconcile her foe. The welcome message made was soon received; ‘Twas what he wished and hoped, but scarce believed: Fate seemed a fair occasion to present, He knew the sex, and feared she might repent Should he delay the moment of consent. There yet remained to gain her friends (a care The modesty of maidens well might spare); But she with such a zeal the cause embraced, (As women, where they will, are all in haste,) The father, mother, and the kin beside, Were overborne by fury of the tide; With full consent of all she changed her state; Resistless in her love, as in her hate. By her example warned, the rest beware; More easy, less imperious, were the fair; And that one hunting, which the devil designed For one fair female, lost him half the kind.
Translated by John Dryden. This poem is in the public domain.