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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Armida Ensnares Rinaldo
By Torquato Tasso (1544–1595)
 
From ‘Jerusalem Delivered’: Translation of Edward Fairfax

ARMIDA hunted him through wood and plain,
  Till on Orontes’s flowery bank he stayed;
There, where the stream did part and meet again,
  And in the midst a gentle island made,
A pillar fair was pight beside the main,        5
  Near which a little frigate floating laid;
The marble white the prince did long behold,
And this inscription read there writ in gold:—
 
“Whoso thou art whom will or chance doth bring
  With happy steps to flood Orontes’s sides,        10
Know that the world hath not so strange a thing
  ’Twixt east and west as this small island hides;
Then pass and see without more tarrying.”
  The hasty youth to pass the stream provides;
And, for the cog was narrow, small, and strait,        15
Alone he rowed, and bade his squires there wait.
 
Landed, he stalks about, yet naught he sees
  But verdant groves, sweet shades, and mossy rocks,
With caves and fountains, flowers, herbs, and trees;
  So that the words he read he takes for mocks:        20
But that green isle was sweet at all degrees,
  Wherewith, enticed, down sits he and unlocks
His closèd helm, and bares his visage fair,
To take sweet breath from cool and gentle air.
 
A rumbling sound amid the waters deep        25
  Meanwhile he heard, and thither turned his sight,
And tumbling in the troubled stream took keep
  How the strong waves together rush and fight;
Whence first he saw, with golden tresses, peep
  The rising visage of a virgin bright,        30
And then her neck, her breasts, and all as low
As he for shame could see or she could show.
 
So in the twilight doth sometimes appear
  A nymph, a goddess, or a fairy queen:
And though no syren but a sprite this were,        35
  Yet by her beauty seemed it she had been
One of those sisters false which haunted near
  The Tyrrhene shores, and kept those waters sheen;
Like theirs her face, her voice was, and her sound:
And thus she sung, and pleased both skies and ground:—        40
 
“Ye happy youths, whom April fresh and May
  Attire in flowering green of lusty age,
For glory vain or virtue’s idle ray
  Do not your tender limbs to toil engage:
In calm streams fishes, birds in sunshine play;        45
  Who followeth pleasure he is only sage,
So nature saith,—yet ’gainst her sacred will
Why still rebel you, and why strive you still?
 
“O fools, who youth possess yet scorn the same,
  A precious but a short-abiding treasure,—        50
Virtue itself is but an idle name,
  Prized by the world ’bove reason all and measure;
And honor, glory, praise, renown, and fame,
  That men’s proud hearts bewitch with tickling pleasure,
An echo is, a shade, a dream, a flower,        55
With each wind blasted, spoiled with every shower.
 
“But let your happy souls in joy possess
  The ivory castles of your bodies fair;
Your passèd harms salve with forgetfulness;
  Haste not your coming ills with thought and care;        60
Regard no blazing star with burning tress,
  Nor storm, nor threatening sky, nor thundering air:
This wisdom is, good life, and worldly bliss;
Kind teacheth us, nature commands us this.”
 
Thus sung the spirit false, and stealing sleep        65
  (To which her tunes enticed his heavy eyes)
By step and step did on his senses creep,
  Till every limb therein unmovèd lies;
Not thunders loud could from this slumber deep
  (Of quiet death true image) make him rise;        70
Then from her ambush forth Armida start,
Swearing revenge, and threatening torments smart:
 
But when she lookèd on his face awhile,
  And saw how sweet he breathed, how still he lay,
How his fair eyes though closèd seem to smile,        75
  At first she stayed, astound with great dismay;
Then sat her down (so love can art beguile),
  And as she sat and looked, fled fast away
Her wrath. Thus on his forehead gazed the maid,
As in his spring Narcissus tooting laid.        80
 
And with a veil she wipèd now and then
  From his fair cheek the globes of silver sweat
And cool air gathered with a trembling fan
  To mitigate the rage of melting heat:
Thus (who would think it?) his hot eye-glance can        85
  Of that cold frost dissolve the hardness great
Which late congealed the heart of that fair dame,
Who, late a foe, a lover now became.
 
Of woodbines, lilies, and of roses sweet,
  Which proudly flowered through that wanton plain,        90
All platted fast, well knit, and joinèd meet,
  She framed a soft but surely holding chain,
Wherewith she bound his neck, his hands, and feet.
  Thus bound, thus taken, did the prince remain,
And in a coach, which two old dragons drew,        95
She laid the sleeping knight, and thence she flew.
 
Nor turned she to Damascus’s kingdom large,
  Nor to the fort built in Asphalte’s lake,
But jealous of her dear and precious charge,
  And of her love ashamed, the way did take        100
To the wide ocean, whither skiff or barge
  From us both seld or never voyage make,
And there, to frolic with her love awhile,
She chose a waste, a sole and desert isle;
 
An isle that with her fellows bears the name        105
  Of Fortunate, for temperate air and mold:
There on a mountain high alight the dame,
  A hill obscured with shades of forests old,
Upon whose sides the witch by art did frame
  Continual snow, sharp frost, and winter cold;        110
But on the top, fresh, pleasant, sweet, and green,
Beside a lake a palace built this queen:
 
There in perpetual, sweet, and flowering spring,
  She lives at ease, and ’joys her lord at will.
 
 
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