A few more lines from Don Quixote

So I’ve reached Canto IV of my picaresque Don Quixote, which at present runs about 920 lines of ottava rima. Hardly the next Don Juan (I think I’ve clocked in at not quite 6% of the latter’s size… though at lines-per-month I’m keeping pace with him).

Here is the first piece that parallels, directly, an encounter out of Cervantes.


Within the courtyard Quixote doffed his arms,
    For it occurred to him he had received
No blow of knighthood. Dulcinea’s charms
    Had put him on the road (for this he grieved),                                               100
But as a squire, he would raise some alarms
    By bearing steel. Reluctantly relieved
Of all his weapons, save his rapier wit
And claymore stubbornness, bold Quixote quit 

The courtyard, and advanced toward the keep,                                                 105
    Where he espied two ladies in the dusk,
Who lingered by the postern, half-asleep,
    Bedecked in fineries, and drenched in musk.
Their eyes were deep as night, and yet more deep
    Were paints that formed a thick, concealing husk                                         110
Between the passer-by and their fine features
(So delicate and modest were these creatures). 

Their limbs, arrayed with brightly coloured satins,
    Were slender to the bone, pale as the moon:
Like nuns arising early to their Latins,                                                                115
   Their bleary eyes and delicate half-swoon
Betrayed the maids’ devotion to their matins.
    Their inner elbows, with a rich festoon
Of royal birthmarks trimmed, betrayed their birth
As high princesses barely of this earth.                                                                120 

With proper words the knight-to-be addressed
    The swooning maidens, who with mighty strain
Their heavy eyelids hoisted, too impressed
    By words of gentle honour to refrain
From off’ring, at their noble hearts’ behest,                                                         125
    Their hospitality: soon he was lain
Upon a bier, and eating from their palms:
The pious ladies merely asked for alms,

And, once the sum was paid, did spirit him
    Unto their elfin grot, and bid him drink                                                          130
The best of summer wines, and took his whim
    For absolute command. If he should think
Their inn a castle, or the bleak and grim
    Surroundings of their lives upon the brink
Of human ruin were a paradise,                                                                           135
Who were they, then, to argue? It was nice, 

And brought them solace, to indulge the knight,
    And share his fantasy, mad though it was:
Few men defend the weak, or vow to fight
    Injustice without recompense or cause—                                                        140
And though they would have ceded him the right
    To wear his spurs, they marvelled that his laws
Precluded this: they had known other men
Who wore them without right, and would again. 

Few lands are without lords; this has not changed                                            145
    Since ancient times. The wealthy and the poor
Get on as always—sometimes much estranged,
    Sometimes dependent on each other for
Prosperity—these maids had thus arranged
    A tribute of a sort. The peeling door                                                                150
Swung open, later on that evening,
Upon a man our knight took for the king 

(For this mistake Quixote was not to blame:
    His coat was lined in fur; his long black sceptre
Was diamond-crusted; his hands seemed aflame                                              155
    With golden rings). One maiden quickly swept her
Belongings out of sight when first he came,
    Lest he too overzealously accept her
Too-gen’rous tithe (In times of great prosperity,
Some kings see fit to call for more austerity).                                                     160


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