by Torquato Tasso
"O spotless virgin," Honor thus began,
"That my true lore observed firmly hast,
When with thy foes thou didst in bondage won,
Remember then I kept thee pure and chaste,
At liberty now, where wouldest thou run,
To lay that field of princely virtue waste,
Or lost that jewel ladies hold so dear?
Is maidenhood so great a load to bear?
"Or deem'st thou it a praise of little prize,
The glorious title of a virgin's name?
That thou will gad by night in giglot wise,
Amid thine armed foes, to seek thy shame.
O fool, a woman conquers when she flies,
Refusal kindleth, proffers quench the flame.
Thy lord will judge thou sinnest beyond measure,
If vainly thus thou waste so rich a treasure."
The sly deceiver Cupid thus beguiled
The simple damsel, with his filed tongue:
"Thou wert not born," quoth he, "in desert wild
The cruel bears and savage beasts among,
That you shouldest scorn fair Citherea's child,
Or hate those pleasures that to youth belong,
Nor did the gods thy heart of iron frame;
To be in love is neither sin nor shame.
"Go then, go, whither sweet desire inviteth,
How can thy gentle knight so cruel be?
Love in his heart thy grief and sorrows writeth,
For thy laments how he complaineth, see.
Oh cruel woman, whom no care exciteth
To save his life, that saved and honored thee!
He languished, one foot thou wilt not move
To succor him, yet say'st thou art in love.
"No, no, stay here Argantes' wounds to cure,
And make him strong to shed thy darling's blood,
Of such reward he may himself assure,
That doth a thankless woman so much good:
Ah, may it be thy patience can endure
To see the strength of this Circassian wood,
And not with horror and amazement shrink,
When on their future fight thou hap'st to think?
"Besides the thanks and praises for the deed,
Suppose what joy, what comfort shalt thou win,
When thy soft hand doth wholesome plaisters speed,
Upon the breaches in his ivory skin,
Thence to thy dearest lord may health succeed,
Strength to his limbs, blood to his cheeks so thin,
And his rare beauties, now half dead and more,
Thou may'st to him, him to thyself restore.
"So shall some part of his adventures bold
And valiant acts henceforth be held as thine;
His dear embracements shall thee straight enfold,
Together joined in marriage rites divine:
Lastly high place of honor shalt thou hold
Among the matrons sage and dames Latine,
In Italy, a land, as each one tells,
Where valor true, and true religion dwells."
With such vain hopes the silly maid abused,
Promised herself mountains and hills of gold;
Yet were her thoughts with doubts and fears confused
How to escape unseen out of that hold,
Because the watchman every minute used
To guard the walls against the Christians bold,
And in such fury and such heat of war,
The gates or seld or never opened are.
With strong Clorinda was Erminia sweet
In surest links of dearest friendship bound,
With her she used the rising sun to greet,
And her, when Phoebus glided under ground,
She made the lovely partner of her sheet;
In both their hearts one will, one thought was found;
Nor aught she hid from that virago bold,
Except her love, that tale to none she told.
That kept she secret, if Clorinda heard
Her make complaints, or secretly lament,
To other cause her sorrow she referred:
Matter enough she had of discontent,
Like as the bird that having close imbarred
Her tender young ones in the springing bent,
To draw the searcher further from her nest,
Cries and complains most where she needeth least.
Alone, within her chamber's secret part,
Sitting one day upon her heavy thought,
Devising by what means, what sleight, what art,
Her close departure should be safest wrought,
Assembled in her unresolved heart
An hundred passions strove and ceaseless fought;
At last she saw high hanging on the wall
Clorinda's silver arms, and sighed withal:
And sighing, softly to herself she said,
"How blessed is this virgin in her might?
How I envy the glory of the maid,
Yet envy not her shape, or beauty's light;
Her steps are not with trailing garments stayed,
Nor chambers hide her valor shining bright;
But armed she rides, and breaketh sword and spear,
Nor is her strength restrained by shame or fear.
"Alas, why did not Heaven these members frail
With lively force and vigor strengthen so
That I this silken gown and slender veil
Might for a breastplate and an helm forego?
Then should not heat, nor cold, nor rain, nor hail,
Nor storms that fall, nor blustering winds that blow
Withhold me, but I would both day and night,
In pitched field, or private combat fight.
"Nor haddest thou, Argantes, first begun
With my dear lord that fierce and cruel fight,
But I to that encounter would have run,
And haply ta'en him captive by my might;
Yet should he find, our furious combat done,
His thraldom easy, and his bondage light;
For fetters, mine embracements should he prove;
For diet, kisses sweet; for keeper, love.
Last updated January 14, 2019