A mortifying experience at the most recent gathering of the Epic Recitation Club. Caveat lector: the punch line may be a bit more crude than some audiences would find appealing.
Normally when we are reciting Orlando Furioso, I am absorbed in the story and thinking about what to comment on after each stanza (or so). It’s usually either a story reminder, a clarification of tone, or the meaning of archaisms.
My bright boys, however, have an unusual capacity for focusing on the rhyming scheme of the stanza. Perhaps they are just looking ahead at their stanza in anticipation, but they catch the slant rhymes and outright oofs! that Rose makes in his translation. They delight in exaggerating their delivery to underscore the deviations from standard pronunciation.
A trivial example from XII.5, to illustrate:
Who in his arms a captive damsel bears,
Sore grieving, and across the pommel laid;
She weeps and struggles, and the semblance wears
Of cruel woe, and ever calls for aid
Upon Anglantes’ prince; and now appears
To him, as he surveys the youthful maid,
She, for whom, night and day, with ceaseless pain,
Inside and out, he France had searched in vain.
Orlando Furioso is abababcc in its rhyme scheme and here the third a, “appears,” is an amusing reach. If you give it a bit of brogue it works, sorta. Now that I think of it, that might well have been Rose’s pronunciation, so not a great example. Still, there are dozens like it throughout the poem that would make my point better. Not hard to see/hear/execute when it comes, unless you were struggling and forgot the previous rhymes.
But my boys also catch them in advance, when the first a or b needs to be given a strange accent so that the following lines will rhyme. They have an uncanny eye for it, usually catching me by surprise. A small example from XII.13:
Roland, when he round that strange dome had paced
Four times or six, still vainly seeking, said
Within himself, at last, “I here might waste
My time and trouble, still in vain delayed,
While haply her the robber whom I chased
Has far away, through other gate conveyed.”
So thinking, from the house he issued out
Into the mead which girt the dome about.
They will goof the first b, “said,” to rhyme in anticipation of “delayed” and “conveyed.” One could goof the latter two by exaggerating the -ed ending, but no matter. I am usually tickled by their foresight.
Ok, enough set-up. What about this mortifying moment?
We had a guest on Friday, a student shadowing Form III as part of the application process to join our school next year. With this innocent young man in our company, we recited a stanza where this anticipatory rhyming turns out to be critical. As usual I did not see it coming and did not immediately grasp the significance of the goofed pronunciation–even with my ERC fellows giggling. Here it is (XII.63):
Angelica thus, viewless and alone,
Speeds on her journey, but with troubled front;
Grieved for the helmet, in her haste foregone
On her departure from the grassy fount.
“Choosing to do what I should least have done,”
(She said) “I took his helmet from the count.
This for his first desert I well bestow;
A worthy recompense for all I owe!
Why are my boys saying “frount” and giggling? Oh I see, “fount” and “count” ahead. Oh come on, why not just adjust fount and…oh. As I vocalized my way through this thought process, the boys laughed the more.
In the interest of good taste, this being a blog read by a variety of people with a variety of sensibilities, I shall not belabor the punch line. Should it not be clear yet, give “front” is natural American English pronunciation and then propagate that ending to the other two b words.
Hopefully the young visitor thought well of his experience in our company. He reads well, and I could use quite a few more such in my classes.