The Amyntas of Tasso/Act 3

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4021882The Amyntas of Tasso — Act III.Percival StockdaleTorquato Tasso


OH! cruel, fortune; Oh! inhuman Sylvia!
Oh! barbarous woman-kind! and thou dame Nature,
How negligently hast thou formed the sex!
How couldst thou spurn thy salutary laws,
And e'er give birth to such incongruous being?
Thou hast for them thy softest matter chosen,
And wrought it to enchanting elegance,
Bespeaking timid mildness, sweet compliance;
Yet, strange to tell! this perfect symmetry
Contains, within, a brood of savage passions:
Angels in body; but in soul they're demons!
Thou, kind preserver of each other species,
Hast tempted man to rush on his destruction!
My friend Amyntas sure hath slain himself.
I've diligently fought him where I left him,
And in the parts adjacent; but in vain;
He certainly hath done what oft he threatened.
I see some shepherds, I'll inquire of them;
They may perhaps give me some tidings of him.
Friends, tell me, have you lately seen Amyntas;
Or some news of him you perhaps have heard?

Thyrsis, thou seemest in extreme confusion:
Thou breathest quíck; art thou persued, or chasing?
What is the cause of all this agitation?
Tell us, that, if we can, we may remove it.

I fear some evil hath befallen Amyntas:
Say, have you seen him?

Since he left this place
Some time ago, with thee, we have not seen him:
But why art thou so fearful for Amyntas?

Because I fear he hath destroyed himself.

Destroyed himself? canst thou assign the cause?

The cause was hapless love, and fell despair.

When they together rankle in the breast,
Two dreadful enemies are they to man.
But pray be more explicit in thy story.

Most ardently the shepherd loved a nymph;
And for his love that nymph returned disdain.

Thy hints raise eager curiosity:
Wilt thou at large unfold this mournful tale?
This place is much frequented; some may pass,
Who in the interim may inform us of him:
Or possibly himself may come this way.

I'll willingly be more particular.
For such ingratitude should not escape
Without it's recompense of infamy.
[1]Ingratitude! that bold, licentious monster,
That tramples on the tenderest rights of man!
The fiend stalks impudently in the sunshine;
It plumes itself on it's unpunished treason;
It is not hunted down by human laws;
Therefore the heart's tribunal should arraign it:
It calls, at least, for virtue's detestation;
And nature's organ should distinctly tell it
It is the outcast of the great creator.
Excuse my feelings for my injured friend;
I now leave passion, and take up narration.
Amyntas knew that Sylvia was to go
To bathe with Daphne at Diana's fountain.
He knew, alas! by me, and I had spurred
The timid swain to amorous enterprize.
Sore do I now repent my rash advice.
Thither he went, not led by inclination,
But by my importunity subdued.
He went reluctant, hesitating, fearful;
Nay he would have turned back, had it not been
For my remonstrances, and ridicule.
Soon as the fountain we approached, we heard
A piercing cry of female lamentation;
And Daphne we beheld a moment after,
Clapping her hands, frantic with grief, and terror;
Who soon as she perceived us, called aloud,
"Shepherds, your help; a monster forces Sylvia."
The fond Amyntas, on the dreadful notice,
Sprung, like an arrow, to the maid's assistance
And I, with all my swiftness, followed him.
A sight we saw, shocking to generous natures:
We saw fair Sylvia fastened to a tree,
Naked, and bound with her luxuriant hair;
Her hair with many a knot the nymph confined.
Her zone, the guardian of her virgin bosom,
Was now an implement of violence;
And roughly manacled her lily-hands.
The tree's young shoots fettered her tender limbs.
This was not all; we saw before her standing
An ugly Satyr; who had just completed
His preparation of the beauteous victim.
Much the fair captive struggled; but in vain;
What could such weakness do against such strength!
Amyntas had a dart with which he flew,
Fierce as a hungry lion, to the Satyr:
I snatched up stones to fight the sylvan ruffian;
Who, seeing our enraged resistance, flew,
And to the bosom of the wood betook him.
Amyntas now had time to think of Sylvia.
And first an amorous look he stole (what shepherd
In such a case could amorous look refrain?)
To which a smooth, and snowy frame invited;
Yet the respect attending facred virtue,
However poor, and naked in externals,
Chastised the ardour of the lover's eye,
A burning crimson overspread her face,
The flame of violated modesty.
Advancing towards her with gentle pace,
By steps too hasty fearing to offend her,
He thus in humble suit accosted her:
"Oh! Sylvia think not my respectful hand
"Presumptuous, if it now comes near thy body;
"For near thee it must come to set thee free;
"It trembles at the delicate approach.
"And Oh! abate of thy severity;
"And grudge me not the happiness which fortune,
"So cruel hitherto, at length vouchsafes me."

How did these moving words affect the maid?

She to these moving words no answer gave,
But with a blushing, and disdainful aspect,
Turned to the ground her eyes; with strong contortion
Endeavouring to conceal her lovely bosom.
He now began to loose her golden hair;
And to her virgin-bashfulness the task
He softened with these tender sentiments:
"And art thou, tree, worthy of so much honour?
"How are these ringlets misapplied! not meant
"To nooze this lifeless trunk, this rugged substance:
"The pride of nature for a worthier purpose,
"To captivate the lover's feeling soul!"
He next the girdle which confined her hands
Untied in aukward, dilatory manner,
That showed his fear, and his desire to touch a them.
But when he stooped, the fetters to untwist
That bound her limbs; she said, in angry tone,
"Shepherd, keep off thy sacrilegious hands;
"I'm a chaste virgin of Diana's train;
"Enough thou hast presumed; my hands are free,
"With them I'll set my feet at liberty."

Dwells there such haughtiness in rural breasts?
Harsh retribution to a generous deed!

Forthwith Amyntas reverently withdrew:
As soon as he received the stern dismission,
He did not suffer even his eye to linger,
To steal at parting, a luxurious view.
I stood concealed amongst the neighbouring trees,
And saw, and overheard the whole adventure.
This cruel treatment fired me with resentment,
And ready was my tongue for exclamation.
Her feet now rid of their impediments,
Which with great difficulty was effected,
Away she ran, swift as a hunted deer;
As if she just had left the frightful Satyr,
And not Amyntas, her obsequious lover.

Why did the fly so fast?

Her niggard soul
Rather to flight her safety chose to owe,
Than to her shepherd's generosity.

Another mark of her ingratitude!
But tell us how your hapless friend resented
This humour, such as ne'er before I heard of.

Alas! I know not; for impelled with rage,
I tried to overtake the fugitive,
That by detaining her, I might torment
Her pride again, and load her with reproaches,
Such as I'd only give ingratitude:
But vain was my persuit; I lost her soon;
The labyrinth of the wood secured her from me.
I to the spot where this adventure happened
Straightway returned, but could not find Amyntas.
My boding heart presages some disaster.
Oft did the melancholy swain imagine
Before this accident, that he would find
No friendly shelter from adversity,
But in the quiet, gloomy shade of death.
Thither, I fear, he hath at length retired.

Oh! 'tis the way with disappointed lovers
To talk of dying; but they seldom bleed;
Protecting nature, kinder than the fair,
Keeps them in love with life, and wards the blow;
Rare, very rare, are the determined victims.

Amyntas, I'm afraid, is one of them.

Fear not; thy friendship gives a false alarm.

I'll hasten to the cave of sage Elpinus:,
Thither for consolation he is gone,
If he's alive; none fitter than Elpinus
To heal the wounded soul with virtuous counsel,
And raise it with the powers of harmony.
In awful solitude his cave is seated;
Nature improves the scene with various sweets,
Romantic in her garb, and attitudes.
These objects banish care, they set us loose
From mean attachments, and compose our souls
For fine impressions, and for heavenly airs:
But when the godlike bard, his flute inspiring,
Pours the melodious, sounding, varied strain;
We then participate an angel's nature;
'Tis nought but extasy, poetic vision.
Nor is it man alone that feels the charm:
It draws the sluggish, latent soul from rocks;
They listen, and they soften at the lay;,
To milk are mellowed all the neighbouring rills,
And honey from the rugged oak distills.


Daphne, thy pity was barbarity;
Thy hand my enemy that checked the dart.
And when I've formed the manly resolution,
Why should I shrink, and cling again to life?
By lengthening life, I only suffer more.
And why dost thou, who art my friend, amuse me
With a delusive maze of argument?
Why dost thou cheat me into life, and make
The painted bubble Hope thus dance before me?
Daphne, there is more force, more genuine truth
In our strong feelings, our immediate sense,
Than in the waste of flowery eloquence,
And all the fopperies of the coxcomb, Reason.

Do not despair, Amyntas; if I know
Of Sylvia aught, it was not cruelty,
But shame, that caused her late behaviour to thee.

Thou art a true physician; thou wouldst have
Thy love-sick patient dwindle on in torment.
Again thou offerest me false consolations
A pleasing antidote against my welfare:
Despair alone can be my remedy;
A bitter, but a salutary medicine.
The specious liar, Hope, hath been my ruin:
Again I feel it rising in my breast;
It often faints; but still resumes its vigour;
Nay, when 'tis quite extinct, it lives again;
The merest trifle can restore it's being.
Nay, what it's bane should be, it's cordial proves!
Why do I hope? because I live; alas!
What evil greater than a life like mine!

For shame, support your misery like a man;
Live on in misery; nay, with future bliss
Contrast it, and convert it to your pleasure.
Who never suffers, never can enjoy;
He only dozes on a bed of down;
Pleasure's acutest point can hardly wake him.
But he whose frame, originally fine,
Is wrought still finer by adversity,
In better days, feels all their genial sun-shine;
His path is strewed with amaranths, and roses;
Elysium's glory opens on his eyes;
His ears are ravished with celestial musick:
What to the wallowing hog of Epicurus
Is bare convenience, is to him enjoyment:
No particle of happiness goes past him.
Live then, and hope; and your reward shall be
Those naked beauties which you lately law.

Why am I galled again with that idea?
Fortune, and love, my unrelenting foes,
Held forth the treasure to my longing view,
Of which they ne'er will grant me the fruition,
Only to render me completely wretched.

Alas! must I then be the croaking raven
Of melancholy news! Ah! poor Montanus!
What will thy feelings be, when thou shalt hear
Thy Sylvia's cruel fate, thy only daughter!

Amyntas, don't you hear the voice of woe?

Yes; and I likewise hear the name of Sylvia;
It strikes my ear, and sets my heart a-beating.
Say, dost thou know the voice?

Yes, 'tis Nerina's;
A favourite of Diana; famous too
For her fine hand, and for her sparkling eye,
Her easy shape, and her engaging manner.

Yet he should know the mournful accident;
For he would wish to gather her remains,
If any can be found: Oh! hapless Sylvia!

What can this be! What does this woman say?

Oh Daphne!

Whence, Nerina, this confusion?
Why speakest thou of Sylvia with a sigh?

Alas! her fate the deepest sigh demands!

What dost thou mean? thou overwhelmest me;
My heart is freezing, and my life goes from me:
I dare not ask; yet say, doth Sylvia live?

Speak; be explicit; let us know the worst.

Why should I be a doleful messenger?
But now I must unfold the dreadful tale.
Sylvia came naked to my habitation;
Why she came so, I need not tell Amyntas.
As soon as she was dressed, she begged I would
A-hunting with her go to Elicetum.
Thither we went, and many nymphs we found
Assembled, by appointment, for the chace.
We had not long been there, when a fierce wolf
From covert rushed; enormous was his size;
And from his jaws a bloody foam distilled.
Forthwith the dexterous Sylvia took her aim,
And in the neck her arrow wounded him.
Howling he fled into the deepest wood;
And Sylvia, brandishing a dart, persued him.

Dreadful is the beginning of thy story;
I'm on the rack; it bodes a horrid end.

I likewise had a dart, and followed with it;
But soon in the persuit I lagged behind;
Sylvia's agility surpasses mine.
I lost my objects, but I still advanced;
And hoping to recover them, I wandered
Through many a winding of the thickest wood.
But in my search a dreadful sight alarmed me;
The dart of Sylvia on the ground I saw;
And near it I beheld her snowy veil,
Which my own hands adjusted to her head.
Examining the ground with eager eyes,
A scene of greater horrour I surveyed;
I saw seven hungry wolves feasting on blood;
And near it, stripped of flesh, some bones lay scattered.
Intent upon their prey, they spied not me,
So fortunate I was: I hied me back,
Sore dreading for my friend, and spurred with fear.
No fuller tidings can I give of Sylvia;
Each monument of a departed friend
Is dear; her veil I brought; lo! here it is.

No fuller tidings! thou hast told enough!
Oh! blood, Oh! veil, Oh! Sylvia, thou art dead!

He faints; the sudden shock of grief hath stopped
The springs of life! I fear he too is dead.

Fear not, he breathes; nature but makes a pause;
His colour is returning; he recovers.

Oh! Grief, thou art a cruel, slow tormentor!
Wilt thou ne'er rid me of a painful life!
For my own hand reservest thou the office?
It willingly acccepts it; by it's blow,
It's speedy, and decisive blow, I'll pass
At once to that desirable quietus
From human misery, which thou, trifling mocker,
Refusest me, or hast not force to give!
And since I, from Nerina's deathful tongue,
Hear that appalling certainty, which makes
Desponding nature sink before it dies;
Since life, which way soe'er I turn myself,
Is waste, and rugged, all; no nook now left
For blooming hope to vegetate upon,
Why should I longer stay, what do I wait for?
O Daphne, 'tis to thy mistaken friendship
I owe the knowledge of this tragedy!
Thou hast officiously prolonged my life,
Only to arm my death with tenfold horrour.
Thy hand the seasonable blow prevented,
Which would have crowned my death with tender fame;
By one determined act I should have fallen,
A gallant sacrifice to slighted love.
I should have been imbalmed with elegy;
Some swain, more favoured than the rest by Phœbus,
My story would have sung in deathless verse;
He would have given me, with departed lovers,
A fragrant mansion in the myrtle grove.
Nor should I then have died reluctantly.
So fondly do we cling to life, we fancy,
That, when we're dead, we still exist in others,
Whom we have left behind. Thus leaving Sylvia,
Thinking that she would long be well, and happy.
And thinking (vain perhaps the thought had been)
That for Amyntas she would drop a tear,
I had from life to death an easy passage;
'Twas bidding but the world a slight adieu.
But now with what ideas shall I die?
For die I must; I am resolved to die.
The beauteous object of my passion dead,
Torn limb from limb by hungry, ravenous I wolves,
Her soul breathed out in agony, and horrour!
No image left to substitute my being!
Oh! with what grimness death now stalks before me!
I leave thee, cruel world; ere long, Amyntas
Shall be to thee as he had never been!
Oh! 'tis a blank farewel! it numbs the soul;
It almost kills without the fatal blow.
That I now feel this last, this worst distress,
I owe to fortune, and to thee, O Daphne!
Thou hast been only my unthinking friends;
But she was ever my deliberate foe.
But now the wished-for crisis sure is come;
Now have I reached the extremity of woe;
Fortune must now be willing to dismiss me,
Tired, or unable to distress me more:
And thou too, Daphne, wilț, at length, from friendship,
Assent that I should manumit my soul,
Too long a tortured prisoner in this body.

Thy grief, and wild despair shut out thy reason;
As yet the tale is not completely known;
Live yet awhile, till thou hast learned the whole.

Alas! too long I've lived; too much I've learned.

I wish that Providence had struck me dumb
Ere I began to tell this dismal story!

Give me that veil, Nerina, I intreat thee;
'Twas Sylvia's; therefore it is dear to me.
It's company will give me strength to go
My small remaining part of life's rough way.
A feeling soul, impoverished, and afflicted,
Is wont on trifles to recline itself,
And from them draws a melancholy pleasure.
If 'tis not blasphemy, to call a trifle,
What left behind a mistress, or a friend,
Is hallowed by a warm imagination.
It will encourage me to undertake,
With resolution, the last, painful task;
'Twill be my best viaticum; and cheer
My fluttering soul upon her dreary passage.

Say, Daphne, must I give it, or refuse it?
The motives that induce him to request it,
Perswade me strongly to withold it from him.

And wilt thou cruelly this little boon
Refuse me, now I'm on the verge of life?
Even to life's verge doth fortune persecute me.
I to her uniformity resign;
Keep it; and Heaven's protection keep you both;
I go from whence I never shall return.

Amyntas, stop, and hear me—no, he's gone;
With what a fury hath he flung away!

So swift he flies, we cannot overtake him:
I'll then persue my way, and to Montanus
I'm now resolved not to unfold this tale,
Till certainty shall warrant it's recital.
For since my blabbing tongue, too late I find,
Hath raised a whirlwind in the lover's mind,
Which, I'm afraid, death will alone asswage,
More tender let me be to hoary age.

The virtues of the rural shade
Are often raised beyond their aim;
And oft the shepherd, and the maid,
Intent on love, are crowned with fame.

Blest swains, exempt from care, and pain;
For nature plans your peaceful state;
Free from ambition, yet you gain
More warm encomius than the great!

You shall without a hardy deed
Be severed from the human throng;
You need not idly wish to bleed
That you may live in sacred song.

Let constant love adorn your life;
Be constant innocence your guard;
Which most is yours, be all your strife;
And which is most it's own reward.

And then expect another prize;
Expect the poet's deathless lays;
Just debts, which oft the world denies,
The heaven-instructed poet pays.

His tribute shall the hero share,
Too prodigal of human kind,
Where lofty strains, and honour's glare
Cheat into eulogy the mind?

Sure then, ye swains, he will rehearse
Your better lives, unstained with blood;
For here the salutary verse,
While it delights us, makes us good!

  1. These lines recall to my mind a passage in Xenophon, the quotation of which may be agreeable to the reader.
    The Persians take rigid cognizance of the charge of ingratitude, a crime which renders a man extremely odious; yet not in any country but Persia is it comprehended in the animadversion of the laws. For the Persian who returns not a good office, when he has it in his power, is most severely punished. They conclude that the ungrateful man must pay no regard to his friends, to his relations, to his parents, to his country, or to the gods. Besides, they think he must immediately become impudent in consequence of his ingratitude; and impudence they deem the forerunner of all vice, and profligacy. Cyropædia, Book I.