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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Episode of Olindo and Sophronia
By Torquato Tasso (1544–1595)
 
        
From ‘Jerusalem Delivered’: Translation of Edward Fairfax
  
  [An image of the Virgin Mary is stolen from one of the Christian churches, and set up in the royal mosque. The statue is stolen. The Moslem king, unable to discover the thief, threatens to massacre all his Christian subjects. Sophronia, a young Christian lady of great beauty and virtue, willing to sacrifice herself for her people, accuses herself to the king as the thief, and is ordered to be burnt alive. Her lover Olindo contradicts her, declares himself the perpetrator, and wishes to suffer in her stead. They are both bound, naked and back to back, to the same stake. The flames are kindled; but by the arrival of Clorinda they are saved, and married in the presence of the crowd of spectators on the spot.]

AMONG them dwelt, her parents’ joy and pleasure,
  A maid whose fruit was ripe, not over-yeared;
Her beauty was her not-esteemèd treasure,—
  The field of love, with plow of virtue eared.
Her labor goodness, godliness her leisure;        5
  Her house the heaven by this full moon aye cleared,—
For there, from lover’s eyes withdrawn, alone
With virgin beams this spotless Cinthia shone.
 
But what availed her resolution chaste,
  Whose soberest looks were whetstones to desire?        10
Nor love consents that beauty’s field lie waste:
  Her visage set Olindo’s heart on fire.
O subtle love! a thousand wiles thou hast,
  By humble suit, by service, or by hire,
To win a maiden’s hold;—a thing soon done,        15
For nature framed all women to be won.
 
Sophronia she, Olindo hight the youth,
  Both of one town, both in one faith were taught:
She fair,—he full of bashfulness and truth,
  Loved much, hoped little, and desirèd naught;        20
He durst not speak, by suit to purchase ruth,—
  She saw not, marked not, wist not what he sought;
Thus loved, thus served he long, but not regarded,—
Unseen, unmarked, unpitied, unrewarded.
 
To her came message of the murderment,        25
  Wherein her guiltless friends should hopeless serve.
She that was noble, wise, as fair and gent,
  Cast how she might their harmless lives preserve:
Zeal was the spring whence flowed her hardiment,
  From maiden’s shame yet was she loth to swerve;        30
Yet had her courage ta’en so sure a hold,
That boldness shamefast, shame had made her bold.
 
And forth she went,—a shop for merchandise,
  Full of rich stuff, but none for sale exposed;
A veil obscured the sunshine of her eyes,        35
  The rose within herself her sweetness closed.
Each ornament about her seemly lies,
  By curious chance or careless art composed;
For what she most neglects, most curious prove,—
So beauty’s helped by nature, heaven, and love.        40
 
Admired of all, on went this noble maid
  Until the presence of the king she gained;
Nor for he swelled with ire was she afraid,
  But his fierce wrath with fearless grace sustained.
“I come,” quoth she,—“but be thine anger stayed,        45
  And causeless rage ’gainst faultless souls restrained,—
I come to show thee and to bring thee, both,
The wight whose fact hath made thy heart so wroth.”
 
Her modest boldness, and that lightning ray
  Which her sweet beauty streamèd on his face,        50
Had strook the prince with wonder and dismay,
  Changèd his cheer and cleared his moody grace,
That had her eyes disposed their looks to play,
  The king had snarèd been in love’s strong lace:
By wayward beauty doth not fancy move;        55
A frown forbids, a smile engendereth love.
 
It was amazement, wonder, and delight,
  Although not love, that moved his cruel sense.
“Tell on,” quoth he: “unfold the chance aright;
  Thy people’s lives I grant for recompense.”        60
Then she: “Behold the faulter here in sight:
  This hand committed that supposed offense;
It took the image; mine that fault, that fact,
Mine be the glory of that virtuous act.”
 
This spotless lamb thus offered up her blood        65
  To save the rest of Christ’s selected fold:
O noble lie! was ever truth so good?
  Blest be the lips that such a leasing told.
Thoughtful awhile remained the tyrant wood;
  His native wrath he ’gan a space withhold,        70
And said, “That thou discover soon, I will,
What aid, what counsel hadst thou in that ill?”
 
“My lofty thoughts,” she answered him, “envied
  Another’s hand should work my high desire;
The thirst of glory can no partner bide:        75
  With mine own self I did alone conspire.”
“On thee alone,” the tyrant then replied,
  “Shall fall the vengeance of my wrath and ire.”
“’Tis just and right,” quoth she: “I yield consent,—
Mine be the honor, mine the punishment.”        80
 
The wretch, of new enragèd at the same,
  Asked where she hid the image so conveyed:
“Not hid,” quoth she, “but quite consumed with flame,
  The idol is of that eternal maid;
For so at least I have preserved the same        85
  With hands profane from being eft betrayed.
My lord, the thing thus stolen demand no more:
Here see the thief, that scorneth death therefor.
 
“And yet no theft was this; yours was the sin:
  I brought again what you unjustly took.”        90
This heard, the tyrant did for rage begin
  To whet his teeth, and bend his frowning look;
No pity, youth, fairness no grace could win;
  Joy, comfort, hope, the virgin all forsook;
Wrath killed remorse, vengeance stopped mercy’s breath,        95
Love’s thrall to hate, and beauty slave to death.
 
Ta’en was the damsel, and without remorse;
  The king condemned her, guiltless, to the fire;
Her veil and mantle plucked they off by force,
  And bound her tender arms in twisted wire;        100
Dumb was this silver dove, while from her corse
  These hungry kites plucked off her rich attire:
And for some-deal perplexèd was her sprite,
Her damask late now changed to purest white.
 
The news of this mishap spread far and near;        105
  The people ran, both young and old, to gaze:
Olindo also ran, and ’gan to fear
  His lady was some partner in this case;
But when he found her bound, stripped from her gear,
  And vile tormentors ready saw in place,        110
He broke the throng, and into present brast,
And thus bespake the king in rage and haste:—
 
“Not so, not so this girl shall bear away
  From me the honor of so noble feat:
She durst not, did not, could not, so convey        115
  The massy substance of that idol great;
What sleight had she the wardens to betray?
  What strength to heave the goddess from her seat?
No, no, my lord, she sails but with my wind.”
(Ah, thus he loved, yet was his love unkind!)        120
 
He added further, “Where the shining glass
  Lets in the light amid your temple’s side,
By broken byways did I inward pass,
  And in that window made a postern wide:
Nor shall therefore the ill-advisèd lass        125
  Usurp the glory should this fact betide;
Mine be these bonds, mine be these flames so pure,—
Oh, glorious death, more glorious sepulture.”
 
Sophronia raised her modest looks from ground,
  And on her lover bent her eyesight mild:—        130
“Tell me what fury, what conceit unsound,
  Presenteth here to death so sweet a child?
Is not in me sufficient courage found
  To bear the anger of this tyrant wild?
Or hath fond love thy heart so overgone?        135
Wouldst thou not live, not let me die alone?”
 
Thus spake the nymph, yet spake but to the wind;
  She could not alter his well-settled thought:
Oh, miracle! oh, strife of wondrous kind!
  Where love and virtue such contention wrought.        140
Where death the victor had for meed assigned,
  Their own neglect each other’s safety sought;
But thus the king was more provoked to ire,—
Their strife for bellows served to anger fire.
 
He thinks (such thoughts self-guiltiness finds out)        145
  They scorned his power, and therefore scorned the pain:
“Nay, nay,” quoth he; “let be your strife and doubt
  You both shall win, and fit reward obtain.”
With that the serjeant bent the young man stout,
  And bound him likewise in a worthless chain,        150
Then back to back fast to a stake both ties,—
Two harmless turtles, dight for sacrifice.
 
About the pile of fagots, sticks, and hay,
  The bellows raised the newly kindled flame,
When thus Olindo, in a doleful lay,        155
  Begun too late his bootless plaints to frame:—
“Be these the bonds? is this the hoped-for day
  Should join me to this long-desirèd dame?
Is this the fire alike should burn our hearts?
Ah! hard reward for lovers’ kind desarts!        160
 
“Far other flames and bonds kind lovers prove,
  For thus our fortune casts the hapless die;
Death hath exchanged again his shafts with love,
  And Cupid thus lets borrowed arrows fly.
O Hymen, say, what fury doth thee move        165
  To lend thy lamps to light a tragedy?
Yet this contents me,—that I die for thee:
Thy flames, not mine, my death and torment be.
 
“Yet happy were my death, mine ending blest,
  My torments easy, full of sweet delight,        170
If this I could obtain,—that breast to breast
  Thy bosom might receive my yielded sprite;
And thine with it, in heaven’s pure clothing drest,
  Through clearest skies might take united flight.”
Thus he complained, whom gently she reproved,        175
And sweetly spake him thus, that so her loved:—
 
“Far other plaints, dear friend, tears and laments,
  The time, the place, and our estates require:
Think on thy sins, which man’s old foe presents
  Before that Judge that quites each soul his hire;        180
For His name suffer, for no pain torments
  Him whose just prayers to His throne aspire.
Behold the heavens: thither thine eyesight bend;
Thy looks, sighs, tears, for intercessors send.”
 
The pagans loud cried out to God and man,        185
  The Christians mourned in silent lamentation:
The tyrant’s self, a thing unused, began
  To feel his heart relent with mere compassion;
But not disposed to ruth or mercy than,
  He sped him thence, home to his habitation:        190
Sophronia stood, not grieved nor discontented;
By all that saw her, but herself, lamented.
 
The lovers, standing in this doleful wise,
  A warrior bold unwares approachèd near,
In uncouth arms yclad, and strange disguise,        195
  From countries far but new arrivèd there:
A savage tigress on her helmet lies,—
  The famous badge Clorinda used to bear;
That wonts in every warlike stour to win,
By which bright sign well known was that fair inn.        200
 
She scorned the arts these seely women use;
  Another thought her nobler humor fed:
Her lofty hand would of itself refuse
  To touch the dainty needle or nice thread;
She hated chambers, closets, secret mews,        205
  And in broad fields preserved her maidenhead:
Proud were her looks, yet sweet, though stern and stout;
Her dame, a dove, thus brought an eagle out.
 
While she was young, she used with tender hand
  The foaming steed with froarie bit to steer;        210
To tilt and tourney, wrestle in the sand,
  To leave with speed Atlanta swift arreare;
Through forests wild and unfrequented land
  To chase the lion, boar, or rugged bear;
The satyrs rough, the fauns and fairies wild,        215
She chasèd oft, oft took, and oft beguiled.
 
This lusty lady came from Persia late;
  She with the Christians had encountered eft,
And in their flesh had opened many a gate
  By which their faithful souls their bodies left.        220
Her eye at first presented her the state
  Of these poor souls, of hope and help bereft;
Greedy to know, as in the mind of man,
Their cause of death, swift to the fire she ran.
 
The people made her room, and on them twain        225
  Her piercing eyes their fiery weapons dart:
Silent she saw the one, the other plain,—
  The weaker body lodged the nobler heart;
Yet him she saw lament as if his pain
  Were grief and sorrow for another’s smart,        230
And her keep silent so as if her eyes
Dumb orators were to entreat the skies.
 
Clorinda changed to ruth her warlike mood;
  Few silver drops her vermeil cheeks depaint:
Her sorrow was for her that speechless stood,        235
  Her silence more prevailed than his complaint.
She asked an aged man, seemed grave and good,
  “Come, say me, sire,” quote she, “what hard constraint
Would murder here love’s queen and beauty’s king?
What fault or fate doth to this death them bring?”        240
 
Thus she inquired, and answer short he gave,
  But such as all the chance at large disclosed:
She wondered at the case, the virgin brave,
  That both were guiltless of the fault supposed;
Her noble thought cast how she might them save,        245
  The means on suit or battle she reposed;
Quick to the fire she ran, and quenched it out,
And thus bespake the serjeants and the rout:—
 
“Be there not one among you all that dare
  In this your hateful office aught proceed,        250
Till I return from court, nor take you care
  To reap displeasure for not making speed.”
To do her will the men themselves prepare,
  In their faint hearts her looks such terror breed;
To court she went, their pardon would she get,        255
But on the way the courteous king she met.
 
“Sir king,” quoth she, “my name Clorinda hight,
  My fame perchance hath pierced your ears ere now;
I come to try my wonted power and might,
  And will defend this land, this town, and you:        260
All hard assays esteem I eath and light,
  Great acts I reach to, to small things I bow;
To fight in field, or to defend this wall,—
Point what you list, I naught refuse at all.”
 
To whom the king: “What land so far remote        265
  From Asia’s coasts, or Phœbus’s glistering rays,
O glorious virgin, that recordeth not
  Thy fame, thine honor, worth, renown, and praise?
Since on my side I have thy succors got,
  I need not fear in these mine agèd days;        270
For in thine aid more hope, more trust, I have,
Than in whole armies of these soldiers brave.
 
“Now Godfrey stays too long,—he fears, I ween:
  Thy courage great keeps all our foes in awe;
For thee all actions far unworthy been,        275
  But such as greatest danger with them draw:
Be you commandress, therefore, princess, queen,
  Of all our forces; be thy word a law.”
This said, the virgin ’gan her beavoir vale,
And thanked him first, and thus began her tale:—        280
 
“A thing unused, great monarch, may it seem,
  To ask reward for service yet to come;
But so your virtuous bounty I esteem,
  That I presume for to entreat, this groom
And seely maid from danger to redeem,        285
  Condemned to burn by your unpartial doom.
I not excuse, but pity much their youth,
And come to you for mercy and for ruth.
 
“Yet give me leave to tell your Highness this:
  You blame the Christians,—them my thoughts acquite;        290
Nor be displeased I say you judge amiss,—
  At every shot look not to hit the white.
All what th’ enchanter did persuade you is
  Against the lore of Macon’s sacred right;
For us commandeth mighty Mahomet,        295
No idols in his temples pure to set.
 
“To him therefore this wonder done refar;
  Give him the praise and honor of the thing:
Of us the gods benign so careful are,
  Lest customs strange into their church we bring.        300
Let Ismen with his squares and trigons war,
  His weapons be the staff, the glass, the ring:
But let us manage war with blows, like knights;
Our praise in arms, our honor lies in fights.”
 
The virgin held her peace when this was said;        305
  And though to pity never framed his thought,
Yet, for the king admired the noble maid,
  His purpose was not to deny her aught.
“I grant them life,” quoth he; “your promised aid
  Against these Frenchmen hath their pardon bought:        310
Nor further seek what their offenses be;
Guiltless I quite, guilty I set them free.”
 
Thus were they loosed, happiest of human-kind:
  Olindo, blessèd be this act of thine,—
True witness of thy great and heavenly mind,        315
  Where sun, moon, stars, of love, faith, virtue, shine.
So forth they went, and left pale death behind,
  To joy the bliss of marriage rites divine:
With her he would have died; with him content
Was she to live, that would with her have brent.        320
 
 
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