by Torquato Tasso
But when the angry king discovered not
What guilty hand this sacrilege had wrought,
His ireful courage boiled in vengeance hot
Against the Christians, whom he falters thought;
All ruth, compassion, mercy he forgot,
A staff to beat that dog he long had sought,
"Let them all die," quoth he, "kill great and small,
So shall the offender perish sure withal.
"To spill the wine with poison mixed with spares?
Slay then the righteous with the faulty one,
Destroy this field that yieldeth naught but tares,
With thorns this vineyard all is over-gone,
Among these wretches is not one, that cares
For us, our laws, or our religion;
Up, up, dear subjects, fire and weapon take,
Burn, murder, kill these traitors for my sake."
This Herod thus would Bethlem's infants kill,
The Christians soon this direful news receave,
The trump of death sounds in their hearing shrill,
Their weapon, faith; their fortress, was the grave;
They had no courage, time, device, or will,
To fight, to fly, excuse, or pardon crave,
But stood prepared to die, yet help they find,
Whence least they hope, such knots can Heaven unbind.
Among them dwelt, her parents' joy and pleasure,
A maid, whose fruit was ripe, not over-yeared,
Her beauty was her not esteemed treasure;
The field of love with plough of virtue eared,
Her labor goodness; godliness her leisure;
Her house the heaven by this full moon aye cleared,
For there, from lovers' eyes withdrawn, alone
With virgin beams this spotless Cynthia shone.
But what availed her resolution chaste,
Whose soberest looks were whetstones to desire?
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,
For nature framed all women to be won.
Sophronia she, Olindo hight the youth,
Both or one town, both in one faith were taught,
She fair, he full of bashfulness and truth,
Loved much, hoped little, and desired nought,
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,
Wherein her guiltless friends should hopeless starve,
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 shame yet was she loth to swerve:
Yet had her courage ta'en so sure a hold,
That boldness, shamefaced; 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,
The rose within herself her sweetness closed,
Each ornament about her seemly lies,
By curious chance, or careless art, composed;
For what the most neglects, most curious prove,
So Beauty's helped by Nature, Heaven, and Love.
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,
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 molest boldness, and that lightning ray
Which her sweet beauty streamed on his face,
Had struck the prince with wonder and dismay,
Changed his cheer, and cleared his moody grace,
That had her eyes disposed their looks to play,
The king had snared been in love's strong lace;
But wayward beauty doth not fancy move,
A frown forbids, a smile engendereth love.
Last updated January 14, 2019