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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Clorinda’s Eunuch Narrates her History
By Torquato Tasso (1544–1595)
 
From ‘Jerusalem Delivered’: Translation of Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen

  IN former days o’er Ethiopia reigned—
    Haply perchance reigns still—Senapo brave;
  Who with his dusky people still maintained
    The laws which Jesus to the nations gave:
    ’Twas in his court, a pagan and a slave,        5
  I lived, o’er thousand maids advanced to guard,
    And wait with authorized assumption grave
  On her whose beauteous brows the crown instarred;
True, she was brown, but naught the brown her beauty marred.
 
  The king adored her, but his jealousies        10
    Equaled the fervors of his love; the smart
  At length of sharp suspicion by degrees
    Gained such ascendance in his troubled heart,
    That from all men in closest bowers apart
  He mewed her, where e’en heaven’s chaste eyes, the bright        15
    Stars, were but half allowed their looks to dart:
  Whilst she, meek, wise, and pure as virgin light,
Made her unkind lord’s will her rule and chief delight.
 
  Hung was her room with storied imageries
    Of martyrs and of saints: a virgin here,        20
  On whose fair cheeks the rose’s sweetest dyes
    Glowed, was depicted in distress; and near,
    A monstrous dragon, which with poignant spear
  An errant knight transfixing, prostrate laid:
    The gentle lady oft with many a tear        25
  Before this painting meek confession made
Of secret faults, and mourned, and heaven’s forgiveness prayed.
 
  Pregnant meanwhile, she bore (and thou wert she)
    A daughter white as snow: th’ unusual hue,
  With wonder, fear, and strange perplexity        30
    Disturbed her, as though something monstrous too;
    But as by sad experience well she knew
  His jealous temper and suspicious haste,
    She cast to hide thee from thy father’s view;
  For in his mind (perversion most misplaced!)        35
Thy snowy chasteness else had argued her unchaste.
 
  And in thy cradle to his sight exposed
    A negro’s new-born infant for her own;
  And as the tower wherein she lived inclosed
    Was kept by me and by her maids alone,—        40
    To me whose firm fidelity was known,
  Who loved and served her with a soul sincere,—
    She gave thee, beauteous as a rose unblown,
  Yet unbaptized; for there, it would appear,
Baptized thou couldst not be in that thy natal year.        45
 
  Weeping she placed thee in my arms, to bear
    To some far spot: what tongue can tell the rest!
  The plaints she used; and with what wild despair
    She clasped thee to her fond maternal breast;
    How many times ’twixt sighs, ’twixt tears caressed;        50
  How oft, how very oft, her vain adieu
    Sealed on thy cheek; with what sweet passion pressed
  Thy little lips! At length a glance she threw
To heaven, and cried:—“Great God, that look’st all spirits through!
 
  “If both my heart and members are unstained,        55
    And naught did e’er my nuptial bed defile,
  (I pray not for myself; I stand arraigned
    Of thousand sins, and in thy sight am vile,)
    Preserve this guiltless infant, to whose smile
  The tenderest mother must refuse her breast,        60
    And from her eyes their sweetest bliss exile!
  May she with chastity like mine be blessed;
But stars of happier rule have influence o’er the rest!
 
  “And thou, blest knight, that from the cruel teeth
    Of the grim dragon freed’st that holy maid,        65
  Lit by my hands if ever odorous wreath
    Rose from thy altars; if I e’er have laid
    Thereon gold, cinnamon, or myrrh, and prayed
  For help,—through every chance of life display,
    In guardianship of her, thy powerful aid!”        70
  Convulsions choked her words; she swooned away,
And the pale hues of death on her chill temples lay.
 
  With tears I took thee in a little ark
    So hid by flowers and leaves that none could guess
  The secret; brought thee forth ’twixt light and dark,        75
    And unsuspected, in a Moorish dress,
    Passed the town walls. As through a wilderness
  Of forests horrid with brown glooms I took
    My pensive way, I saw, to my distress,
  A tigress issuing from a bosky nook,        80
Rage in her scowling brows, and lightning in her look.
 
  Wild with affright, I on the flowery ground
    Cast thee, and instant climbed a tree close by:
  The savage brute came up, and glancing round
    In haughty menace, saw where thou didst lie;        85
    And softening to a mild humanity
  Her stern regard, with placid gestures meek,
    As by thy beauty smit, came courteous nigh;
  In amorous pastime fawning licked thy cheek;
And thou on her didst smile, and stroke her mantle sleek.        90
 
  With her fierce muzzle and her cruel front
    Thy little hands did innocently play;
  She offered thee her teats, as is the wont
    With nurses, and adapted them, as they,
    To thy young lips; nor didst thou turn away:        95
  She suckled thee! a prodigy so new
    Filled me with fresh confusion and dismay.
  She, when she saw thee satisfied, withdrew
Into the shady wood, and vanished from my view.
 
  Again I took thee, and pursued my way        100
    Through woods, and vales, and wildernesses dun:
  Till in a little village making stay,
    I gave thee secretly in charge to one
    Who fondly nursed thee till the circling sun,
  With sixteen months of equatorial heat,        105
    Had tinged thy face; till thou too hadst begun
  To prattle of thy joys in murmurs sweet,
And print her cottage floor with indecisive feet.
 
 
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