by Torquato Tasso
"True labour in the vineyard of thy Lord,
Ere prime thou hast the imposed day-work done,
What armies conquered, perished with thy sword?
What cities sacked? what kingdoms hast thou won?
All ears are mazed while tongues thine acts record,
Hands quake for fear, all feet for dread do run,
And though no realms you may to thraldom bring,
No higher can your praise, your glory spring.
"Thy sign is in his Apogaeon placed,
And when it moveth next, must needs descend,
Chance in uncertain, fortune double faced,
Smiling at first, she frowneth in the end:
Beware thine honor be not then disgraced,
Take heed thou mar not when thou think'st to mend,
For this the folly is of Fortune's play,
'Gainst doubtful, certain; much, 'gainst small to lay.
"Yet still we sail while prosperous blows the wind,
Till on some secret rock unwares we light,
The sea of glory hath no banks assigned,
They who are wont to win in every fight
Still feed the fire that so inflames thy mind
To bring more nations subject to thy might;
This makes thee blessed peace so light to hold,
Like summer's flies that fear not winter's cold.
"They bid thee follow on the path, now made
So plain and easy, enter Fortune's gate,
Nor in thy scabbard sheathe that famous blade,
Till settled by thy kingdom, and estate,
Till Macon's sacred doctrine fall and fade,
Till woeful Asia all lie desolate.
Sweet words I grant, baits and allurements sweet,
But greatest hopes oft greatest crosses meet.
"For, if thy courage do not blind thine eyes,
If clouds of fury hide not reason's beams,
Then may'st thou see this desperate enterprise.
The field of death, watered with danger's streams;
High state, the bed is where misfortune lies,
Mars most unfriendly, when most kind he seems,
Who climbeth high, on earth he hardest lights,
And lowest falls attend the highest flights.
"Tell me if, great in counsel, arms and gold,
The Prince of Egypt war 'gainst you prepare,
What if the valiant Turks and Persians bold,
Unite their forces with Cassanoe's heir?
Oh then, what marble pillar shall uphold
The falling trophies of your conquest fair?
Trust you the monarch of the Greekish land?
That reed will break; and breaking, wound your hand.
"The Greekish faith is like that half-cut tree
By which men take wild elephants in Inde,
A thousand times it hath beguiled thee,
As firm as waves in seas, or leaves in wind.
Will they, who erst denied you passage free,
Passage to all men free, by use and kind,
Fight for your sake? Or on them do you trust
To spend their blood, that could scarce spare their dust?
"But all your hope and trust perchance is laid
In these strong troops, which thee environ round;
Yet foes unite are not so soon dismayed
As when their strength you erst divided found:
Besides, each hour thy bands are weaker made
With hunger, slaughter, lodging on cold ground,
Meanwhile the Turks seek succors from our king,
Thus fade thy helps, and thus thy cumbers spring.
"Suppose no weapon can thy valor's pride
Subdue, that by no force thou may'st be won,
Admit no steel can hurt or wound thy side,
And be it Heaven hath thee such favor done:
'Gainst Famine yet what shield canst thou provide?
What strength resist? What sleight her wrath can shun?
Go, shake the spear, and draw thy flaming blade,
And try if hunger so be weaker made.
"The inhabitants each pasture and each plain
Destroyed have, each field to waste is laid,
In fenced towers bestowed is their grain
Before thou cam'st this kingdom to invade,
These horse and foot, how canst them sustain?
Whence comes thy store? whence thy provision made?
Thy ships to bring it are, perchance, assigned,
Oh, that you live so long as please the wind!
"Perhaps thy fortune doth control the wind,
Doth loose or bind their blasts in secret cave,
The sea, pardie, cruel and deaf by kind,
Will hear thy call, and still her raging wave:
But if our armed galleys be assigned
To aid those ships which Turks and Persians have,
Say then, what hope is left thy slender fleet?
Dare flocks of crows, a flight of eagles meet?
"My lord, a double conquest must you make,
If you achieve renown by this emprize:
For if our fleet your navy chase or take,
For want of victuals all your camp then dies;
Of if by land the field you once forsake,
Then vain by sea were hope of victories.
Nor could your ships restore your lost estate:
For steed once stolen, we shut the door too late.
"In this estate, if thou esteemest light
The proffered kindness of the Egyptian king,
Then give me leave to say, this oversight
Beseems thee not, in whom such virtues spring:
But heavens vouchsafe to guide my mind aright,
To gentle thoughts, that peace and quiet bring,
So that poor Asia her complaints may cease,
And you enjoy your conquests got, in peace.
"Nor ye that part in these adventures have,
Part in his glory, partners in his harms,
Let not blind Fortune so your minds deceive,
To stir him more to try these fierce alarms,
But like the sailor 'scaped from the wave
From further peril that his person arms
By staying safe at home, so stay you all,
Better sit still, men say, than rise to fall."
This said Aletes: and a murmur rose
That showed dislike among the Christian peers,
Their angry gestures with mislike disclose
How much his speech offends their noble ears.
Lord Godfrey's eye three times environ goes,
To view what countenance every warrior bears,
And lastly on the Egyptian baron stayed,
To whom the duke thus for his answer said:
"Ambassador, full both of threats and praise,
Thy doubtful message hast thou wisely told,
And if thy sovereign love us as he says,
Tell him he sows to reap an hundred fold,
But where thy talk the coming storm displays
Of threatened warfare from the Pagans bold:
To that I answer, as my cousin is,
In plainest phrase, lest my intent thou miss.
"Know, that till now we suffered have much pain,
By lands and seas, where storms and tempests fall,
To make the passage easy, safe, and plain
That leads us to this venerable wall,
That so we might reward from Heaven obtain,
And free this town from being longer thrall;
Nor is it grievous to so good an end
Our honors, kingdoms, lives and goods to spend.
"Nor hope of praise, nor thirst of worldly good,
Enticed us to follow this emprise,
The Heavenly Father keep his sacred brood
From foul infection of so great a vice:
But by our zeal aye be that plague withstood,
Let not those pleasures us to sin entice.
His grace, his mercy, and his powerful hand
Will keep us safe from hurt by sea and land.
"This is the spur that makes our coursers run;
This is our harbor, safe from danger's floods;
This is our bield, the blustering winds to shun:
This is our guide, through forests, deserts, woods;
This is our summer's shade, our winter's sun:
This is our wealth, our treasure, and our goods:
This is our engine, towers that overthrows,
Our spear that hurts, our sword that wounds our foes.
"Our courage hence, our hope, our valor springs,
Not from the trust we have in shield or spear,
Not from the succors France or Grecia brings,
On such weak posts we list no buildings rear:
He can defend us from the power of kings,
From chance of war, that makes weak hearts to fear;
He can these hungry troops with manna feed,
And make the seas land, if we passage need.
Last updated January 14, 2019