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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

On unintended pilgrimage (1)

[8: 1]

Nicea, fuggendo tra l'ombrose piante
D'antica selva dal cavallo è scorta;
Né più governa il fren la man tremante,
E mezza quasi par tra viva e morta.
Per tante strade si raggira e tante
Il buon destrier, ch'in sua balìa la porta,
Ch'al fin dagli occhi altrui pur si dilegua,
Ond'è soverchio homai ch'altri la segua.

Escaping among the shady trees of an
Ancient forest, she is led by her horse; (*)
Her hand cannot govern the bridles,
She looks midway between alive and dead.
So many paths, here and there, are chosen
By the good steed who has her at his mercy
That she finally disappears from sight:
It would be no use to chase her now.

(*) Letting one's horse choose the way was a topos in the poems of chivalry -- though the knights did so on purpose, unlike Nicaea here. There has been one real case too, at least: St. Ignatius of Loyola, who sometimes drew his inspiration from the heroes of Renaissance literature; see his autobiography A Pilgrim's Journey.
The phrase antica selva, "ancient forest," quotes from Dante, Purgatorio 28: 23. Tasso's reference to shady trees also recalls Dante's "dark forest," anyway. Interestingly enough, John Milton will resort to this same type of scenery, "woody maze," etc., in the description of the Wilderness in which Jesus is tempted in Paradise Regained, therefore not strictly a desert.