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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Flight of Erminia
By Torquato Tasso (1544–1595)
From ‘Jerusalem Delivered’: Translation of Jeremiah Holmes Wiffen
  [Tancred and Argantes are engaged in a terrible single combat before the two armies.]

  ALL wait in sharp anxiety to see
    What fate will crown the strife,—if rage shall quail
  To the calm virtue of pure chivalry,
    Or giant strength o’er hardihood prevail:
    But deepest cares and doubts distract the pale        5
  And sensitive Erminia; her fond heart
    A thousand agonies and fears assail:
  Since on the cast of war’s uncertain dart,
Hangs the sweet life she loves, her soul’s far dearer part.
  She, daughter to Cassano, who the crown        10
    Wore of imperial Antioch, in the hour
  When the flushed Christians won the stubborn town,
    With other booty fell in Tancred’s power:
    But he received her as some sacred flower,
  Nor harmed her shrinking leaves; ’midst outrage keen,        15
    Pure and inviolate was her virgin bower:
  And her he caused to be attended, e’en
Amidst her ruined realms, as an unquestioned queen.
  The generous knight in every act and word
    Honored her, served her, soothed her deep distress;        20
  Gave to her freedom, to her charge restored
    Her gems, her gold, and bade her still possess
    Her ornaments of price: the sweet princess,
  Seeing what kingliness of spirit shined
    In his engaging form and frank address,        25
  Was touched with love; and never did Love bind
With his most charming chain a more devoted mind.
From ‘Jerusalem Delivered’: Translation of Edward Fairfax

  [The battle is drawn at nightfall; but Tancred has been wounded, and Erminia starts to go to his tent to nurse him.]

Invested in her starry veil, the night
  In her kind arms embracèd all this round;
The silver moon from sea uprising bright,        30
  Spread frosty pearl upon the candied ground:
And Cinthia-like for beauty’s glorious light,
  The lovesick nymph threw glistering beams around;
And counselors of her old love she made
Those valleys dumb, that silence, and that shade.        35
Beholding then the camp, quoth she:—“Oh, fair
  And castle-like pavilions, richly wrought,
From you how sweet methinketh blows the air;
  How comforts it my heart, my soul, my thought!
Through heaven’s fair grace, from gulf of sad despair        40
  My tossèd bark to port well-nigh is brought;
In you I seek redress for all my harms,
Rest ’midst your weapons, peace amongst your arms.
“Receive me then, and let me mercy find,
  As gentle love assureth me I shall:        45
Among you had I entertainment kind,
  When first I was the Prince Tancredie’s thrall:
I covet not, led by ambition blind,
  You should me in my father’s throne install:
Might I but serve in you my lord so dear,        50
That my content, my joy, my comfort were.”
Thus parlied she (poor soul), and never feared
  The sudden blow of fortune’s cruel spite:
She stood where Phœbe’s splendent beam appeared
  Upon her silver armor doubly bright;        55
The place about her round the shining cleared
  Of that pure white wherein the nymph was dight:
The tigress great that on her helmet laid,
Bore witness where she went, and where she stayed.
  [On the way she is surprised by the enemy; her frightened horse carries her through the wilderness to an abode of shepherds on the banks of the Jordan. Tancred, apprised of her coming, seeks her in vain.]

Through thick and thin all night, all day, she drived,
  Withouten comfort, company, or guide;
Her plaints and tears with every thought revived,
  She heard and saw her griefs, but naught beside:
But when the sun his burning chariot dived
  In Thetis’s wave, and weary team untied,        65
On Jordan’s sandy banks her course she stayed
At last; there down she light, and down she laid.
Her tears her drink, her food her sorrowings,
  This was her diet that unhappy night;
But sleep, that sweet repose and quiet brings        70
  To ease the griefs of discontented wight,
Spread forth his tender, soft, and nimble wings,
  In his dull arms folding the virgin bright;
And Love, his mother, and the Graces, kept
Strong watch and ward while this fair lady slept.        75
The birds awaked her with their morning song,
  Their warbling music pierced her tender ear;
The murmuring brooks and whistling winds among
  The rattling boughs and leaves their parts did bear;
Her eyes unclosed beheld the groves along        80
  Of swains and shepherd grooms the dwellings were;
And that sweet noise, birds, winds, and waters sent,
Provoked again the virgin to lament.
Her plaints were interrupted with a sound
  That seemed from thickest bushes to proceed:        85
Some jolly shepherd sung a lusty round,
  And to his voice had tuned his oaten reed.
Thither she went: an old man there she found,
  At whose right hand his little flock did feed,
Sat making baskets his three sons among,        90
That learned their father’s art and learned his song.
Beholding one in shining arms appear,
  The seely man and his were sore dismayed;
But sweet Erminia comforted their fear,
  Her ventail up, her visage open laid.        95
“You happy folk, of heaven belovèd dear,
  Work on,” quoth she, “upon your harmless trade:
These dreadful arms I bear, no warfare bring
To your sweet toil nor those sweet tunes you sing:
“But, father, since this land, these towns and towers,        100
  Destroyèd are with sword, with fire, and spoil,
How may it be, unhurt that you and yours
  In safety thus apply your harmless toil?”
“My son,” quoth he, “this poor estate of ours
  Is ever safe from storm of warlike broil;        105
This wilderness doth us in safety keep;
No thundering drum, no trumpet breaks our sleep.
“Haply just heaven, defense and shield of right,
  Doth love the innocence of simple swains:
The thunderbolts on highest mountains light,        110
  And seld or never strike the lower plains;
So kings have cause to fear Bellona’s might,
  Not they whose sweat and toil their dinner gains,
Nor ever greedy soldier was enticed
By poverty, neglected and despised.        115
“O Poverty! chief of the heavenly brood,
  Dearer to me than wealth or kingly crown,—
No wish for honor, thirst of others’ good,
  Can move my heart, contented with mine own.
We quench our thirst with water of this flood,        120
  Nor fear we poison should therein be thrown;
These little flocks of sheep and tender goats
Give milk for food, and wool to make us coats.
“We little wish, we need but little wealth,
  From cold and hunger us to clothe and feed;        125
These are my sons,—their care preserves from stealth
  Their father’s flocks, nor servants more I need.
Amid these groves I walk oft for my health,
  And to the fishes, birds, and beasts give heed,
How they are fed in forest, spring, and lake;        130
And their contentment for ensample take.
“Time was—for each one hath his doting-time;
  These silver locks were golden tresses then—
That country life I hated as a crime,
  And from the forest’s sweet contentment ran:        135
To Memphis’s stately palace would I climb,
  And there became the mighty caliph’s man;
And though I but a simple gardener were,
Yet could I mark abuses, see and hear.
“Enticèd on with hope of future gain,        140
  I suffered long what did my soul displease:
But when my youth was spent, my hope was vain,
  I felt my native strength at last decrease;
I ’gan my loss of lusty years complain,
  And wished I had enjoyed the country’s peace:        145
I bade the court farewell, and with content
My later age here have I quiet spent.”
While thus he spake, Erminia, hushed and still,
  His wise discourses heard with great attention;
His speeches grave those idle fancies kill,        150
  Which in her troubled soul bred such dissension.
After much thought reformèd was her will:
  Within those woods to dwell was her intention,
Till fortune should occasion new afford,
To turn her home to her desirèd lord.        155
She said therefore, “O shepherd fortunate!
  That troubles some didst whilom feel and prove,
Yet livest now in this contented state,—
  Let my mishap thy thoughts to pity move,
To entertain me as a willing mate        160
  In shepherd’s life, which I admire and love:
Within these pleasant groves perchance my heart
Of her discomforts may unload some part.
“If gold or wealth, of most esteemèd dear,
  If jewels rich thou diddest hold in prize,        165
Such store thereof, such plenty have I here,
  As to a greedy mind might well suffice.”
With that down trickled many a silver tear,—
  Two crystal streams fell from her watery eyes;
Part of her sad misfortunes then she told,        170
And wept, and with her wept that shepherd old.
With speeches kind he ’gan the virgin dear
  Towards his cottage gently home to guide;
His aged wife there made her homely cheer,
  Yet welcomed her, and placed her by her side.        175
The princess donned a poor pastora’s gear,
  A kerchief coarse upon her head she tied;
But yet her gestures and her looks, I guess,
Were such as ill beseemed a shepherdess.
Not those rude garments could obscure and hide        180
  The heavenly beauty of her angel’s face,
Nor was her princely offspring damnified
  Or aught disparaged by those labors base:
Her little flocks to pasture would she guide,
  And milk her goats, and in their folds them place;        185
Both cheese and butter could she make, and frame
Herself to please the shepherd and his dame.
But oft, when underneath the greenwood shade
  Her flocks lay hid from Phœbus’s scorching rays,
Unto her knight she songs and sonnets made,        190
  And them engraved in bark of beech and bays;
She told how Cupid did her first invade,
  How conquered her, and ends with Tancred’s praise:
And when her passion’s writ she over read,
Again she mourned, again salt tears she shed.        195
“You happy trees, forever keep,” quoth she,
  “This woeful story in your tender rind:
Another day under your shade, maybe,
  Will come to rest again some lover kind,
Who if these trophies of my griefs he sees,        200
  Shall feel dear pity pierce his gentle mind.”
With that she sighed, and said, “Too late I prove
There is no truth in fortune, trust in love.
“Yet may it be (if gracious Heavens attend
  The earnest suit of a distressed wight),        205
At my entreat they will vouchsafe to send
  To these huge deserts that unthankful knight;
That when to earth the man his eyes shall bend,
  And see my grave, my tomb, and ashes light,
My woeful death his stubborn heart may move,        210
With tears and sorrows to reward my love:
“So, though my life hath most unhappy been,
  At least yet shall my spirit dead be blest;
My ashes cold shall, buried on this green,
  Enjoy the good the body ne’er possessed.”        215
Thus she complainèd to the senseless treen:
  Floods in her eyes, and fires were in her breast;
But he for whom these streams of tears she shed,
Wandered far off, alas! as chance him led.

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