FLORANTE AND LAURA

(An English version of Florante at Laura by Francisco Balagtas as available to the translator in the Bikol version.)

By Luis G. Dato

By a forest dim and shadowed,
Dark with eaves and many thorns,
Through whose brambly wildernesses,
Scarcely gleamed the passing morns,
Where the mighty branches somber
With the sorrow of the years,
Where the unseen thrushes’ carols
Smote the heart with sudden tears,
Where around the briared branches
Twined the tendrils of the vine,
Past the fruits and over blossoms
With each rose, alas, a spine!
Where the cypress and the holly
Cast about a spectral shade,
Heart-shaped leaves, no bud nor blossom,
In the heart inspiring dread,

Where the terror of the jungle,
By each cavern held his den,
Where hyenas lick their bellies,
Ere they cavort on the glen,
Spread the portals of a kingdom
Far as human vision saw,
Over hill and over valley,
Where a tyrant’s whim was law.

In the bosom of the woodland
Tightly pinioned feet and hands,
Writhed a swain alone, abandoned,
To the mercy of the strands,
He was young, and through his sorrow,
Shone defiant, princely air,
In his eyes, his limbs, his glances,
In the curls of golden hair.
To the silence, to the heavens,
Did the captive youth complain,
While the tears suffused his pleading,
While blood answered to his pain.
“Wretch! O heartless, cruel,
That would call his black self king,
Who would make of gold a deity,

And of right a useless thing,
Who would make of wrong a scepter,
And of might a royal rod,
You to win a crown would wander
Paths stained purple with men’s blood!”
Raising than his eyes to leaven:
“Why, O skies, was this my fate,
Why upon my life was written,
This, the symbol of your hate?
Ah, perchance, what ill or evil
Have I wrought, what folly dire,
Thus to bring upon the else morning
Of my life your heavenly ire?
For what circumstance, what action
That befalls the low or great,
But are verdicts of your power,
And the judgment on our fate?
But if, Heaven, if it please you,
Woe upon me thus to give,
Call in Laura one remembrance,
That, remembered, I may live.
For the thought that Laura kindles
Blots the vengeance of the kings,
And the sharpest fetter sunders
With the balm that Laura brings.”

Then upon his brow descended
Fear too sibilant for thought,
As when reared a beauteous altar,
Fire destroys what love has wrought:
“Ah, my life, what might avail you,
Thus by Laure fair adored,
When another feigns devotion,
And she listens to his word?
By his side, do I see Laura,
Laura, best beloved, his?
Death, where stray your mercy’s fingers,
Death, where is your kiss?”
And the woodland’s dark recesses
Echoed dire the swain’s lament,
Surging to his lips like tear-drops,
From a heart with anguish rent.
“Laura, darling, whither vanished
Tokens, love’s devotions sworn,
In the wilderness, forgotten,
Hapless, dies your lover lorn.
Vows of love, have you forgotten,
When you prayed for my return,
While I warred, you knelt in prayer,
Now no heart for me will yearn;
Shen the seasons fleeting fancies
Sunk their shadow in my eyes,
In your kiss, do you remember?
Buzzed the warmth of Orient skies,
Come, my Laura, best beloved,
Come, as answer to my cry,
Could you fall me when you know well
That, without you, I must die?”

Fate had willed that in the woodland,
On that day a knight should roam,
Round his brow a turban glittered,
Warrior from the Moslem come.
Underneath the quiet branches,
Lay he while his steed chafed by,
In his heart beguiled was sorrow,
From his lips escaped a sigh.
For the Moslem’s heart was trotheđ
To Flerida, princess sweet,
Suitor princes like love’s minions,
Flowers showered at her feet.
And the Moslem’s glances hardened
As he lay in grief alone,
“By my spear, blood stains these valleys,
If they dare call theirs my own!”
Then it was that through the woodland,
Rang a cry of mortal pain,
And it stirred the swooning quiet
That at noon-hour lulled the plain,
After tums and many windings,
Down the dark, unalleyed wood,
Near to where Florante languished,
By his side, the Moslem stood.
And Florante raved unconscious,
In his plight, of friend or foe,
Through his tears his sire recalling,
Who had left him lone below:
“Sire beloved, royal father,
Virtue s image through the lands,
Slain in stealth by traitor hands,
Why did death not bind about us,
Hand in hand, a common fate,
Why was spared this life for sorrow,
To be prey for Adolph’s hate?”
Then his thoughts to Laura turning,
“Darling Laura, though I part
For the gateways of the shadow,
You will linger in my heart!”

Bare Florante’s words were uttered
In the accents of his pain,
When upon the brush two lions
Shook each one his tawny mane,
And Florante’s eyes in terror
Stared upon death’s outstretched jaws.
In a mist beheld his body,
Mangled in the dripping pass.
“Fair thee well!” Florante spoke then,
“Fair Albania, fare thee well,
These, my feet, shall tread no longer,
Roam no more each happy dell.
Cruel country, false Albania,
For your weal my blood I shed,
I, Florante, now abandoned,
With a desert for my bed;
Fare thee well, may peace be with you,
With your temples steeped in gore,
Ah! how bitter ’tis to leave you,
With my Laura no more!

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