Patrick Gordon's romance consists of 959 stanzas distributed into seventeen cantos. "Penardo" unfolds in a sequence of long episodes written in a variety of romance modes: Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Spenserian. Gordon begins several cantos with discursive introductions like those in the Faerie Queene, and the descent to Pluto's realms in cantos 10-12 is powerfully and consistently allegorical. Consistency is otherwise in short supply, apart from the thoroughgoing moral bleakness of the narrative, which meanders from classical Greece to (modern?) Hungary.
The story concerns a redoubtable knight immune to feminine charms, and a mysterious enchanter named Mansay who orchestrates much of the action. While the story reaches a kind of closure at the end of the first book (all that appeared) the union of the lovers is immediately undone to make way for further adventures. The title page summarizes the action: "Wherein is described Penardo his most admirable Deeds of arms, his Ambition of Glore, his Contempt of Love, with Love mightie Assalts and ammorous Temptations: Laissas feareful Inchantment, hir Releif, hir Travells and lastly Loves admirabel Force, in hir releiving Penardo from ye Fire."
Ernest A. Strathman: Gordon "'tells of 'the warres of Love and Ambitione' in the persons of the two main characters. The seventeen chapters of the poem contain numerous episodes, roughly divided into three major parts: a general war in which Penardo plays a heroic part, Penardo's rescue of Laissa from a cruel enchantment, and a series of adventures culminating in the rescue of Penardo by Laissa. The influence of Spenser is evident in both incident and language" "A Scotch Spenserian: Patrick Gordon" (1938) 429.
In the first canto King Phedro of Achaia dreams and has a vision of himself and his kingdom in flames; he subsequently commands that his newborn infant daughter be drowned. The messenger assigned to perform this odious task, Prince Kalander of Sparta, instead deposits the babe by the waters of the Hippocrene Spring on Mount Helicon. The babe is discovered by the Muses, who name her Laissa. The child is raised by the Muses to the age of fifteen, when they begin to fear that they will be eclipsed by her beauty: "Wheirfore they seike with witt, craft, slight and wrath, | Her infamie, her woe, her wrak, her death" Sig. A6v. While Laissa is bathing in the Hippocrene, they steal her clothing and, with parting insults, abandon the girl to her fate. The description of Laissa in stanzas 34-37 is adapted from Spenser's description of Belphoebe in Faerie Queene 2.3.22-5.
Strathman notes that Gordon's Bruce "contains not a few passages in the manner of Spenser" (1938) 436.
A visione moves Achaias King,
His daughter to have slaine,
The Muses find her, and preserve
Her lyfe with care, and paine,
In whom such woundrous vertue grew,
Such beautie bright, and fair,
That those whoe sav'd her lyfe, now soght
Her woe, her wrack, her care.
In glorius Greece there lies a firtile land,
Of antient time Achaia cald by name
Within whose blessed borders bravelie stand
Parnassus mont, so much renound of fame.
Where Aganippes silver streames doe spring
About the which Joves-brain-bred daughters sing.
Sending from thence that which in flamm's the brain
Of bravest Spreitts, and beautifies the mynd
With end les rare inventions, which obtain
The name of wondre, to the humane kynd
Who in theire works of learned witt's divyne
Make Learnings light, in blakest darknes shyne.
Evne heir, and in this natione most renoun'd,
The famous Phedro sumtyme rul'd, as King,
By just discent, and regall title croun'd
And first in peace enjoyd a happie regne,
At last his starrs which bad conjunctions borrow
Did turne his sweets in sowrs, his mirth in sorrow.
For when the winds in hollow eaves containd,
Leave off their sharpest cold, and bitter blast,
To slay the tender herbs, when they refraind
The talest Cedars torment then was past
Then was it not, as when they raige at will
Under the horns of the lascivious bull.
Evne when the Farthe spreds furth her mantle grein,
On which the wanton Flora spreds her treasure,
While tyme that wait's one Phoebus goldin eyne
Gives lyvelye colours, for the Goddesse pleasure,
The hills, the daills, the plain's, ar passing fair
Through heat, through moyst, though sueitnes of the Aer.
The tries bud furthe before their fructe the flourish
The herbs before their seid, the blossom'd floure
The corn's, and grane, their, leavie stalks do nourishe
The winding vynes their pregnant graips yet sour
When as the goldin chariot of the Sune
Twixt day, and night, an equall couse doeth rune.
Wherfore eache creture bles'd with equall light,
Saluts the princelye spring with pleasant noys
The restles roling heavn, with shyning bright
Smyls on the earthe (his love who does rejoys
Of such a Mate; and with her mantle grein
Was deck't, wheir riche embrodries might be sein.
In this delicious pleasant tyme of yeir
Which bringes to farmers hope of great ineres
When Phoebus gan doun in the west appeir
In Thetis lap to coole his fyrie face,
And shadowes dark of glomie night opprest
All creatur's, with silence, sleip, and rest.
King Phedro wrapt in heavie sleip, did ly
Free from all travell, care, all paine, and toyle,
Yet so oppresst in his fantassy
That rest from rest, and ease from ease, did spoyle
His spreitt's, his senses, faculties, and sent
A visione that his braine did muche torment.
And thus it was, he thought him self did stand
On Helicon and vewd a fearfull fire
That brightlie burnt ore all Achaia land
Which did undoe burne: waest his whole empyre
And their withall it seemd a voyce did say.
This night has brought thy kingdome her decay.
This fyre he thought did from him self proceid,
And to him self againe it did returne
The diadem from of his princelie head
This fearfulll flamme in melting drops did burne.
And when brunt, spent, consumed it had bein
No mark no nor no flame was to be sein.
Evne as a clothe in aquavitae dyd
Or in sum strong and mightie burning oyle
If kendled by sum fyre it is espyd
To flamme, to shyne to blase, to burne, to boyle,
The liquor spent, the cloth reteins no staine,
Nor spot, nor blot, nor burning does remaine.
When as the King awakes frome drousie sleip
This woundrous visione did torment his mynd
And all his senses from there fauctions keip,
His thoughts in uprore now no rest do fynd
But when he rangd them hade a thousand wayes,
One path he finds in which them all he stayes.
For loe ev'ne then his Queene wes brought to bed
Of a fair daughter lyke the morning starr.
Nor Phoebus light in glomie darknes spred
Might matche with her, she staind that beautie farr,
But tho she was most admirable fair,
Her lyfe as strange was as her beautie rare.
For finding by his curious searching out
Evne at her birth this visione to enswe
He thought she wes the flamme (if not put out)
That should his croune and kingdome thus subdue
Wheirfore resolvd for to prevent mischeif
Her death must be the way to his releif.
The dolfull message of this wofull charge
He to a Groome whom he most trusted gave
A youth whoes faith he oft had tryd at large
Him he commands the infant to reseave
And to transport her to a woode or montaine
And droune her in sum river, Spring, or fontaine.
O crewell sentence barbarous decrie!
O happie chyld! but oh unhappie Father!
That for a dreame, a tove, a fantasie
A vaine Chimera or hells vision rather
Wold spoyle so sweet a creature of breath
And kill thy self to save thy self from death.
In Acheron blak Night her selfe did wrapp
And heavd her head, above the Easterne streame
But Titan dyvd in Thetis watrie lapp
While yow might see him blushing reid for shame,
Thence to be chass'd with his fearce foe unkynd
That braith'd furth darknes to the farthest Ind.
In darkest shaddowes of the glomie night
This Messinger furthe throw the desert goes
The harmeles Infante harmefull death to dight
That her poore lyfe now got, she now might lose,
So suckling lambs by ravening wolfs ar torne
And dones by Eggles to their deaths furthborne.
This Messinger Kalander heght to name
Whoes Syre the greattest Prince beneth the croune
Boor rewell o'vr Sparta land of antient fame
His witt and valour wan him much renoune
Whoes Sone of these tuo vertewes wanted nether
But shewd him self the Sone, of such a Father
Who going straight unto this crewell act
And movd with pitie of the infants age
Whoes youth to young, for deathes procuring fact
And Innocent of Fathers wrathfull rage,
Yet fearing if he does prolong her breath
He should procure him self a shamefull death
To Helicons fair mont he taks his flight
Praying the bloude of this poore Innocent
Upone the Fathers head might alwayes light
That in disgrace and shame he might repent
For doating dreams if this poore Infant die
His be the fault, the losse, the infamie.
Thus praying he approch'd unto the place
Hypocrene downe wheir the Muses sport
Vewing the beautie of this Angels face
Againe it movd his pitie in such sort
He nought regairds the King, nor lyfe, not all,
But saves the babe frome ruine, death, and fall.
Leaving her saif lie by the fontane syde
Under the umbrage of a loftie Pyne
Wishing her frowning Fates for to provyde
Her beautie once into the world might shyne
Thus he returns, and thus the King beguyld,
And craftily, with suggred words him sild.
When golden-haird Apollo furth did glance,
His amber loks furth throwes irradiant beams
And one the esterne waves begins to daunce
To murm'ring musick of the roaring streams
The Muses for to welcome home their Syre
From coutche and secreit Cell did furth retayre
Their daylie morning progres is to vew
The sacred streams of Aganippe well
Whoes murmur like sweet lullabies furthdrew
Old Morpheus from out his quiet cell
Who had the babe with slumbring sleip bereft
Whom young Kalander at the fontane left.
These sacred Virgins when they did espye
The babe; sad fear made all their beautie fade
Fearing discoverie by sum wantone eye
But vewing well the beautie of the Mayde
They vewd admiring and admird the sight
Their sight bred wounder, wounder bred delight.
Such beautie rare till then they nere had fein
But feard it was sum stolne virginitie
Wheir with theme selfs so spotles pure and clein
They wold not thus defyle in infamie
But instruments the Fates did them ordaine
Of pleasure, lyfe perplexitie, and paine.
For pitie them forbad of creueltie
Unto this harmeles helples innocent
Wherefor with grave advise and modestie
The Muses all in uniforme consent
Brings up the babe, with care full observation?
In vertue, grace, and heavnly meditatione.
The sacred Muses that in vertue shone.
As if they well had knowne the Fates decreit
Unto the infant wold a name impone
A name conforme, and to her meritts meit
So that a correspondence might be knowne
Betuixt her name, and her hid Fate unshowne.
And dyueing then with drops divyne her heid
Fair Lissa or Laissa thay her cald
A proppre name for her mishaps indeid
Who subject was to daungers many sold
For Lissa is asmuche to say as rage
Wheirin no force her furie could asswage.
When with the Musses she remaind weell neir
While she did rune of fyifteine yeares the race
Evne for the love which they to her did beir
Eache one of them indued her with a grace
But lo these gifts made her envyd of all
Thus love brought gifts, gifts hate, and hate her fall,
Yea to the fair Laissa in her birth
The heavns wer all affect'd so ferventlye
Looking with myld aspect upon the earth
In th' horoscope of her nativitye
That all the gift of grace, and goode perfection
They pourd on her most beautifull complection.
Her face was lyke the sky bothe cleire and fair
Her cheeks as whyt with vermeil red did show
Lyke roses in a bed of lillies rare
Whill they ambrosiall odours from them throw
Feiding the gaizers sense with double pleasure
Such force his beauties all-celestiall treasure.
In whoes bright eyes tuo lyvelie lamps did flame
That dairted beam's lyik lightning blasts of thunder
Cupid tho blind still ayming at the same
Thousands of shafts he sende but with great wounder
She breks his wantone dairts with awfull yre
And with dreid majestie she quensh'd has fyre
The Graces one her ey-lid's seem'd to sitt
Under the shadow of her bending browes
Her goldin treases couriouslye was knitt
With Pelicans of pearle, and silver doves
These hair lyke goldin weir one evrye pairt,
Servd as a nett for the beholders hart.
Her yvorie forhead was a table fair
Wheir Loves triumphs were cunninglie ingrapht
All goodnes, honor, dignitie was their
In vertues treasure litle hade she left.
She was the mirrour of celestiall grace
That can not be outrune with tyme swift pace.
And yow might sie that alwayes when she spak
Sweit words lyik dropping hony she wold shed
Tuo rainge of pearle with rubies tuo wold brak
The words betuix them softlye whill they fled
Which made sweit silver sound's whoes noy sent furth
Wold deadlie sadnes move to amarous mirth.
And yet her humble and submissive mind
Was never movd with hellishe pryde to rise
But why should I, poore I, descrybe her kind
Which to expres no mortall can devise
Nor can I preis to paint furthe such a feature
Least skilles I should wrong so fair a creture.
Fair Imps of beautie whoes bright shining eyes
Adorn the solid Earth with heavnlie light
Ov'r your great conquest do not tyraneize
Though yow subdue all by your seemlie sight
But with Laissaes meiknes be content
And grace your beautie with that ornament.
To your fair selfs her fairnes first apply
Her courtesie her meik and humble mind
Tempred with grace and goodly modesty
It seemd those vertues tuo did strive to find
The highest place and stryveig but for dewtie
Eache uther helps and but augments her bewtie.
While as the Muses see her vertues rare
Her beautie wisdome modestie and all
Surmounting them so farr that evriwhere
They feard her fame should once procure their fall
Wheirfore they seike with witt, craft, slight and wrath,
Her infamie, her woe, her wrak, her death.
And waiting still occasione when they may
Find out a fault unto her faultles mynd
That with the sharpest sentence of decay
Sum punishment they fitlie might outfynd
Thus they decreid her death, conspyrd her fall
Favord by, tyme, fate, fortune heav'ns, and all.
It chanc'd the Muses once upone a day
Were in an abor neir unto the fontane
While as Laissa at her sport and play
Was gone a hunting through the rockie montane
For Phoebe-lyke it did delight her mynd
To chase, to kill, to wound, the hart, the hynd
Alone now comming wearie frome the chace
And traveling in heat of all the day
Had sought to bath her in that pleasant place
And with enamourd streams a while to play
While as the Muses wait, they lye, they lurk
Their wrath, their will, their vengeance for to woork.
The streams not deip, nor shallow which did glyd
With prettie whispring noyes so calme and cleir
Theirof the moveing skairslie could be spyd
And yit a heavnly murmur you might heare
The Pebles seimd to leap, to swimme, to daunce,
While as the streams did tremble, move, and glance.
The Pyns, and Poplars bowed theme selfs from hie
From heat and cold that shaddowed all the streame
She dip'd her daintie legs up to the knie
That lyke two snow-white marble Pillers seame
So polishd Porphyre deckd with purest gold
Doth temples tombes and trophees faire uphold.
And being now entysed by the cold
She taks her bow and quever frome her syds
Hung in a lace of purple silk and gold
That overthuart her snow-whit breist divyds
Tuo azur streams of Nectar-feiding fontanas,
Springing to tops of Alabastre montanas.
And haveing hung her garments on a Pyne
O who had sein so fair a silkin skine!
So daintie well proportion'd, pure, and fyne,
So beautifull, so Quaint, so cleir, so thine
The thrise thrie Nymphs whome wrath haid now devys'd.
To work her wrak could skarslie be entys'd.
Now beauties shopp, une los'd begins to be
And showes her store of treasure to the sight
Their all the pleasurs that do pleas the eye
And all was their that doeth the tutch delight
The Graces had their clothes about her drawen
To keip the mayd unfelt, unsein, unknowen.
Their thoughts contentment, their was harts delight
Their bankets for unsatiat appetite
Their wisdome Conquerour whoes only sight
The Tygers tams and Lyons fearce does smit
The key of all thir wealth keip't Chastitie
Whoes ornament was shamefast modestie.
While this fair Jemme upone the water lyes
With cooling streams she maks a dalleying sport
With leges and armes a thousand tricks she tryes
Toying with swimming in a seemlie sort
As Dolphins do upone a sunnye day
On Thetis glistring back whill they wold play.
The Muses that no longer could abyde
Out from their privie arboir ishew'd all
How soone this Paragon has them espyde
She smills and sporting thus to thame does call
Yow Thesphiane dams go seik some other streame
And come not neir this sacred fount for shame.
But thay (whill rage within thair brests did sual)
Not virgine-lyke but bearing Tygers harts
Menassing her aloud they gan to call
We sie thow thinks to much of thy desarts
Foull Fondling does thow think thy beautie such
That thou deservs our sacred streams to touch.
No, no, these Streams ar only due for us
The dreided Imps of proud Apollos light
For since the foote of fleing Pegasus
Medusaes birth begot by Neptuns might
Let soule the rains of this sole sacred fontane
None els but we presum'd to reache this montane.
Of favors we have showen thee great and many
And brought thee up with cairfull paine and charge
Our presens not till now was granted any
And we indewd thee with our graces large
We that before wer sacred Muses nyne
Made thee a tenth though mortall not devyne
And then they fled, this Lady for her cryme
Whom they so dasht that she as half amas'd
Sitts by the fontaine naiked all the tyme
When loe her thoughts a rose vermiliane rais'd
Now red now pale, her colour changed oft
She sigh'd, she grond, she qua'ikd, and staid aloft.
While as the sylver stream that softly slyds
With silent noyes and sweitest murmur sounds
Such heav'nly musick throw the medowes glyds,
While rocks with rare reports there noyes rebounds
That with ther Diapason so bereft her
All naked and a sleip they still had left her.
Then Morpheus spred furth his sable wings
The virgine fair infolding in his armes
Rest, quyet, ease, and sweet repose he brings
Dischairging care; greif, sorow, woes, and harmes
Yet through soft sobs, deip sighs, sore grones, salt tears,
Woe, anger, care, greif, sorow, paine, appears.
While as the Nymphs with angre, wrath and yre
Her name, her fame, her glorie over waylling
Did sink her shipe (to honor that aspyre)
In seas of sweittest virgine pleasurs sayling
Extending all their malice, craft, and slight,
To wrape her Sune in clouds of darkest night.