The Amyntas of Tasso/Act 4

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4021946The Amyntas of Tasso — Act IV.Percival StockdaleTorquato Tasso



MY Sylvia, may propitious winds disperse
The false report of thy unhappy fate;
If any ill is now impending o'er thee,
Oh! may they quickly waft it far away,
And from my friend repel each future evil.
I see thee well; thanks to protecting Heaven!
But never did I think to see thee more:
So dreadful was the news Nerina brought us.
Would she had lost her speech, or we our hearing!

My danger certainly was very great;
Strong were the grounds she had to think me dead.
But it was foolish, it was cruel in her,
To shock us with her premature account:
But now our spirits are composed; pray tell me
The nature of the danger you were in,
And how, by Providence, 'twas only danger.

Into the wood I chased, with warm persuit,
A wolf enormous, wounded by my arrow:
But soon I lost him in it's intricacies.
On my return this wolf again I spied;
I could not be mistaken; for the dart,
With which I pierced his neck, was still lodged there.
With other wolves I saw him o'er a carcase,
I know not of what animal, so much
By their rapacity it's form was mangled.
The savage seemed to know his adversary;
For to me straight he flew with bloody jaw.
I failed not to assume my wonted courage;
A dart I brandished, ready for the charge.
Thou knowest my address, and that my aim
But seldom wanders from the destined object.
I seized the juncture of his proper distance,
And launched my javelin; but the javelin erred;
It missed the wolf; and smote a neighbouring tree.
A fiercer onset now he meditated;
A baleful fire glared in his angry eye;
And with keen tusks he churned the whitened foam.
To flight I took me; for I had no arms;
And with as eager pace did he persue me.
Hear now an accident, by which my flight
Was interrupted, and my fear augmented.
The veil came loose, in which my hair was fastened;
And waving, as I ran precipitately,
It was entangled in a branch: I felt
That something stopped my course; but what it was
I did not recollect, through headlong fear.
I freed myself by one impetuous spring;
But with my veil some hair I left behind.
Fear winged my feet with such a rapid flight,
That I escaped the raging wolf's persuit,
Soon cleared the forest, and got safely home.
O'erjoyed I was again to meet my Daphne;
Though I was struck to see thee gaze upon me,
As if affrighted to behold thy friend.

Thou livest; but we are not all alive.

Daphne, what meanest thou; dost thou regret
That from the jaws of death I have escaped?
Can Sylvia's welfare give her Daphne pain?

No surely; I rejoice to see thou livest;
But we have lost a friend; for him I grieve.

Whom have we lost?

Amyntas is no more.

Amyntas is no more?—How did he die?

I know not how; nor dare I to assert
That he is dead; but 'tis too probable.

What is it that I hear? I'm thunder-struck;
To what dost thou impute his death?

To thine.

I know not what thou meanest.

Of thy death
He heard the hafty news, and he believed it.
And this belief hath driven him to self-laughter;
Or by the noose, or dagger he hath died,
Or other implement of desperate love.

Thy apprehension of his death is vain,
As vainly thou didst fear that I was dead.
However harsh the cup of life may be,
We still love life; 'tis nature's general law;
We fret, and we complain; sometimes despair,
And with our threats alarm our fearful friends;
But commonly these agitations end
In shrinking back into ourselves, and living on.

O Sylvia, Sylvia, little dost thou know
How love torments a heart of flesh and blood;
For thine is petrified, and cannot feel:
And how can an obdurate, barren soul
Be struck with pictures which it ne'er imagines!
Would we these pictures to that soul explain?
'Tis to the blind man to harangue on colours;
'Tis to the deaf to teach the charms of mufick.
For hadst thou been of sympathetick mould,
Thou wouldst have loved this warm, and constant shepherd
More than thy visual orb; that little mirrour
At which thou takest in the fair creation;
More than the spirit which informs thy body.
Alas! I have but too substantial grounds
To fear, nay to be sure, that he is dead.
When from the Satyr he had rescued thee,
And with such cruelty when thou hadst left him,
Too well I marked the frenzy of his love.
A dart's keen point he to his breast directed,
Determined by despair to urge it forwards.
I the rash act prevented; but the weapon
Was with his blood distained, before I seized it.
And if I had not checked it opportunely,
It would have then transfixed that faithful heart,
Which thy inhuman rigour hath pierced through
With a more painful wound, and no less fatal.
Yet though thou then wast naked, I must tell thee,
Thou wouldst have done much honour to thy sex,
If, out of gratitude, thou hadst embraced him.
Our souls should sometimes point us out decorum;
'Tis in nice cases too refined for rules;
As equity sometimes takes place of law.
Mechanick motion leave to vulgar souls;
Leave them to coxcombs, to coquettes and prudes;
For these disfiguremeuts of human kind
Are copied from the cities into hamlets.
The prude, by many lessons from her glass,
Her look, originally warm, and lewd,
Converts to chastity's severest winter.
The gay coquette elaborately flutters;
Her easy airs are the result of study:
The coxcomb languishes, and dies by art.
Not so the simple, generous, virtuous mind;
'Tis better taught, and takes it's cue from nature.

Oh! I repent my treatment of Amyntas!

Sufficient reason hast thou to repent;
For when he heard the tidings of thy death,
Forthwith he fainted; soon as he recovered,
Away he went in desperate, frantic mood;
And surely he hath struck the fatal blow.

What, art thou sure?

Alas! I cannot doubt it!

Good Heavens! how couldst thou be so indolent
As not to follow him, and try to find him,
And by thy diligence prevent the deed.
Quick let us fly—let us seek every where:
We yet may save him from his desperate hand.
If the idea of my death so shocked him,
And o'er his life spread such a horrid gloom,
My safety to his mind will gild the scene.

I did persue him; but he ran so swiftly,
I could not overtake him;—I endeavoured
To trace his flight; but my attempt was vain,
Whither then wouldst thou have us go to seek him;
Since where he is we cannot even conjecture?

Alas, but if we find him not, he'll die;
Die an untimely death by his own hand,

Thou unrelenting woman, dost thou grieve
Because thou wilt not perpetrate the deed
With thy own hand; dost thou then wish to be
His homicide, as thou hast been his tyrant?
Will not thy savage nature let thee see
That it befits thee ill to murder him?
But do not thus repine; for thou mayst claim,
Howe'er he dies, the glory of his death:
Thy fancy may be glutted with his blood;
Thou givest his misfortunes their completion;
The arm thou springest which inflicts the blow.

How thine, and how my own reproaches rack me!
I'm galled to think how rigid I was to him;
Yet that severity proceeded not
From any pleasure in barbarity;
But from the delicacy of my virtue.
Now of that delicacy the excess
I know, and shall repent it while I live.

Good Heavens! with what new language you surprize me!
Dost thou begin to grow compassionate?
Say from it's hardness does thy heart relent?
Are my eyes just? and dost thou really weep?
Whence flow those tears? are they the tears of love?

No—not the tears of love; but tears of pity.

That's well;—thou now approachest Cupid's precincts;
For pity is the harbinger of love,
Sure as the lightning's flash announces thunder.

Nay oft the subtle God, to spread his empire,
Afraid left undisguised he should alarm
The virgin's tender, timid breast, puts on
The unsuspected garb of innocence;
And often this luxurious deity,
The more effectually to work his plot,
Is metamorphosed into rigid virtue,
Or takes the milder dress of soft compassion.
Thus he by slow, and unperceived approaches
Secures a lodgment in the coldest bosom;
And soon it's citadel, the heart, he makes
His own, and breathes into it all his flame.

Her grief refuses utterance to her voice.
Sylvia, I now am well convinced thou lovest,
But thou hast caught the tender flame too late.
The god, whose power thou hast profanely spurned,
With dreadful vengeance now asserts his empire,
When the bee shoots it's sting, it parts with life;
Like it unfortunate Amyntas dies.
He, at his death, a cruel heart transfixes,
Which was impenetrable while he lived,
Unfeeling to a warm, yet virtuous passion.
And if thy amiable spirit, loth
To quit it's well known scenes for Pluto's gloom,
Yet hovers round it's melancholy friends;
Look down with pleasure on thy nymph's distress,
Enjoy her sighs, an incense due to thee;
Enjoy her plaintive words, thy well-earned vows;
Enjoy the copious streaming of her tears,
A fit libation to thy injured manes.
In life a lover, only loved in death;
Unsatisfactory, capricious fate!
But since thy destiny hath been so barbarous,
That thou couldst only purchase from thy mistress
Her love with the surrender of thy life,
The price enormous thou hast freely payed,
And fallen a martyr to the purest passion,
Quite sublimated from terrestrial matter.

Dear was this price for love to him who payed it,
And nought but infamy to the receiver.

Oh, that my love could but redeem his life!
Oh that my death could him to life restore,
If he in truth is dead—for still I hope.

Ah Sylvia! thy repentance comes too late,
It's good precluded by the voice of fate;
With the frail human kind a common ill;
When right we cannot act, we rightly will.
Thus frequently the disobedient son,
The time to expiate his offences gone,
Regrets his impious treatment of his fire,
The parent's breath just ready to expire:
He, who in vice hath wasted all his youth,
Neglectful then of each important truth,
Wishes, in life mature, to grow more wise;
Feels virtue's charms, procrastinates, and—dies.


Pity, and horrour so possefs my soul,
That of my senses I'm almost bereft;
Each object that I see, and hear, alarms me.

Thy countenance, and speech express dismay;
What tidings dost thou bring?

The doleful tidings
Of poor Amyntas' death.

Oh knelling sound!

Never did shepherd tread the rural plain
More graceful, and more polished than Amyntas;
Of every nymph a favourite was Amyntas;
Amyntas had a rich, poetick soul,
And to the Muses was his genius dear.
Yet in the prime of life, and bloom of virtue
He's dead; and of a death how lamentable!

Shepherd explain thyself; that his misfortune,
And our own loss we may with thee deplore.

Alas! I dare not hear the mournful tale:
Oh! my inhuman, oh! my savage heart!
Now, tyrant, show thy rough, unfeeling nature.
Whilst thy Amyntas lived, thou didst torment
The gentlest, faithfullest, the best of shepherds,
Unworthy of thy scorn, thou cold barbarian!
And since his tragedy must now be told,
Endure the rack this messenger prepares thee
As calmly as thou didst excruciate him.
Shepherd, impart thy story; 'tis to me
Of more concern than haply thou supposest:
I'm ready for the worst; for I deserve
The most distracting truth thy tongue can utter:
It is my due; and let me have it all.

I well believe thee; for I heard Amyntas
Calling on thee just at the fatal moment;
Thou wast the object of his thoughts, while thought
Had yet it's mansion in his breast; his tongue
Pronounced thy name ere it was mute for ever.

I dread the news; yet, I intreat thee, tell it.

Upon the hill, where oft the vacant swain
Catches the feathered warblers, I was seated.
There, while I watched my toils, Amyntas passed me;
But how much was he from Amyntas changed!
Disordered was his step, his face was pale:
And from his wandering eye shot black despair.
His pace was quick; I quickly followed him;
And overtook him soon;—he turned, and said,
Ergastus, I request a favour of thee;
'Tis that thou wouldst a little way, go with me,
And see me do a memorable deed:
But first I must insist that thou shalt give me
The sacred obligation of an oath,
By which thou shalt engage to stand apart;
For thou must witness bear, not interrupt me.
I readily complied with his proposal;
Who would have thought him bent on deed so horrid,
His mind wrought up to such a height of frenzy?
With all the oaths I ratified my promise
That bind the faith of the religious swain.
Pan, Pales, and Pomona I invoked,
Priapus, and nocturnal Hecate.
As soon as this solemnity was over,
Up to the hill's extremity he took me,
Where in an awful precipice it ends,
Of barren cavities, and pointed rocks.
A valley terminates this precipice.
We stopped upon the summit; I looked down,
And started back, feared at the dreadful steep,
And fearing for Amyntasis design.
But he put on a countenance serene,
Nay smiled; and with his smile my fear was lessened.
Then thus he spoke to me; be sure, Ergastus,
To tell the nymphs, and swains of our acquaintance
The scene which thou shalt now behold: he then
Looked down, and spoke these memorable words
With all the pathos of despairing love.
"Had I the ravine of a famished wolf
"As near me as I have this rugged steep,
"I'd seek to die thy death, my hapless fair one!
"I'd wish to have my body torn, and mangled,
"As was thy delicate, and beauteous frame:
"I grudge myself an easier death than thine.
"But since I cannot have my wish accomplished;
"Since Heaven denies the opportune attack
"Of a rapacious animal; this way
"I'll take to die, although it be too gentle.
"Sylvia, I follow thee, I come: Oh! Sylvia; let me
"Be thy companion in a better state!
"How richly would my death be then rewarded!
"Yes, Sylvia, sure thou wilt; the land of spirits,
"Is, doubtless, a more generous world than this,
"And consequently doth exalt our natures.
"There too a purer fame inspires the swain
"For unembodied nymph; thy virtue placed
"Beyond the reach of gross mortality,
"Thy virgin-fears will there be all removed;
"For there ethereal love alone can woo thee:
"Sylvia, I follow thee, I come!" He said,
And down the precipice strait threw himself,
While I stood torpid with severe amazement.

Unfortunate Amyntas!

Wretched Sylvia!

Thou shouldst have stopped his rashness; but perhaps
Thy oath prevented thee from interposing?

No; when I saw his purpose, I forgot
That I was sacredly engaged; and sure,
Heaven, in such cases, from an oath absolves us;
I flew to save him; caught him by his girdle:
The girdle snapped, too feeble to pull back
His body's weight, impelled with violence.
It in my hand remained; I've brought it with me.

And did you not look down to see what followed?

Ah! no; with what I had already seen
I was so terrified, I looked no farther:
I could not look upon his mangled corse:
I saw his mangled corse in my mind's eye.

I never heard a more disastrous tale!

Sylvia may justly now be said to have
A stony heart, since this news doth not kill me.
And since the tidings of my death yet wanting
Their proof, occasioned his untimely end;
A sacrifice ill-suiting my disdain:
'Tis meet that his too true catastrophe,
Who was my faithful, and too generous lover,
Should by my voluntary death be followed.
For I am overwhelmed with shame, and horrour:
Already conscience is in arms against me,
Chides my delay, and points me out the tomb.
Grief is a cowardly, lazy, trifling thing;
'Twill be too slow an executioner;
I'll have recourse to the decisive steel;
Or the dear zone shall be my instrument,
Which left it's hold, and could not bear to see
The horrid exit of it's gentle master.
It stayed behind him to revenge his fate,
And give my rigour it's just retribution.
Unhappy zone of more unhappy swain!
Grudge not awhile to be in my possession;
For I will keep thee but to vindicate
The wrongs I've done to thy departed owner.
'Twas certainly my duty to have been
The kind companion of his earthly state;
But since profanely I've despised that duty,
Í go to seek him in the future world:
I conquer the timidity of woman;
I sacrifice my life to injured love;
Perhaps that offering may propitiate Heaven,
My guilt may expiate, and entitle me
To join my shepherd in the shades below.

Take comfort, Sylvia; for this accident
We should ascribe to fortune, not to thee.
The violence of grief that wrings thy soul
Would make tears flow from the most finty nature.

Shepherds, why weep you? do you weep for me?
You prostitute your pity, if you do;
For I had no compassion for Amyntas.
For him more justly if your tears you shed,
Wipe them away; they suit not the occasion;
Too trivial an effect from such a cause.
And thou, my Daphne, too, wipe thine away;
They wound me, Daphne, and they're unavailing.
And if thy Sylvia raises this emotion,
I beg thou mayst suppress it to oblige me,
And turn thy mind to a more worthy object.
Let us perform a sadly pleasing office;
Let us our shepherd's breathless, mangled limbs
Redeem from the unhospitable rocks,
And with a decent sepulture compose them.
His grave with yew, and cypress we'll adorn,
And, with more gay religion, o'er it strew
The brightest, and most aromatick flowers,
Invoking Heaven for his eternal rest.
For nothing now but his funereal rites
Detains me longer from the realms of Pluto.
Let me perform this last, this only duty
That I can pay his memory ere I die.
And though, I'm sensible this impious hand.
A work so pious may contaminate,
Yet well I know the tribute of this hand,
However impious, will be grateful to him.
His death, alas! but too completely proved
How partially, with what excess he loved me!

Yes, Sylvia, I'll assist thee in that office,
With a most amicable veneration
For the remains of our departed friend;
But on condition that thou thinkest not
Of dying, when his obsequies are over.

I've hitherto lived only to myself,
To gratify my supercilious temper:
But the few moments I have yet remaining,
Devoutly will I dedicate to him;
Those marks of love I'll show Amyntas dead,
Which I would never give his graceful person,
When animated with it's tender soul.
But a short period I assign my life;
Soon after I've inhumed my lover's body,
Mine by the nymphs and swains shall be interred.
Amyntas' grave shall be made large enough
To hold the corpse of each; we have, in life,
Been, by my folly, kept too much asunder;
Then let us in the tomb repose together.
Pray, shepherd, show me where my lover lies.

Daphne will show thee; 'tis not far from hence.

Yes, I'll conduct thee; well I know the place.

Shepherds, farewell; the heavenly powers preserve you.
Ye trees, ye rivulets, ye hills, adieu!
Adieu, for ever to the bloom of nature!

Shepherds, this nymph, without our watchful care,
The fate of her Amyntas soon will share;
Her gesture, look, and words bespeak despair.

How different are the powers of love, and death;
This robs the bosom of its vital breath;
It takes all sense, all imagery away,
And leaves the body cold, impassive clay.
But that the quintessence of life inspires,
And mortals with celestial rapture fires;
Life without love but ill deserves it's name,
To full existence love exalts the frame;
The wondering mind with new ideas fills,
Quickens each sense, and in each atom thrills;
Creation only half produces man,
And Cupid finishes what Jove began.
Custom with nature death hath taught to jar,
Death's harvest is the monstrous work of war;
But gentler, Love, is thy prolifick reign;
Of blooming children thine the sportive train;
By ruin Death extends his ruthless sway;
Thou givest, and he robs us of the day.
Thou partest, cruel foe to happy life,
The faithful husband, and the tender wife:
Cupid and Hymen, long, in vain, have shed
Their genial influence o'er an humble bed;
Smiled on their work, and seen the virtuous pair
Reap all the bliss mortality can share;
When, lo, thy hand the sacred tie destroys,
And puts a period to the purest joys:
Cold is the breast that burned with hallowed fire,
And never entertained a loose desire;
For ever mute is that persuasive tongue,
On which a strong, but artless rhetorick hung;
Dull are the eyes, that glistened oft with speech,
Which the tongue's narrow province could not reach;
The blushing rose no more those cheeks will show,
To which the soul oft sent a deeper glow.
But while they lived, Love was their constant guard,
Improved them, and augmented their reward:
Virtue by kindred virtue was refined,
And higher transport beamed from mind to mind:
At length stepped in the inexorable foe,
Envious to see such bliss reside below.
Nay oft the Gods forsake the seats above,
('Tis said a tedium sometimes creeps on Jove)
By habit with their heavenly dainties cloyed,
Their nectar, and ambrosia long enjoyed,
Sick of the splendour of their thrones divine,
Sick of the strains of Phœbus, and the Nine;
For rural groves exchange the realms of day,
Pleased uncorrupted nature to survey,
With unambitious mortals pleased to share,
Almost Heaven's happiness, without it's glare.
Thus when the eye is busied to explore
The rich diversity of Flora’s store,
Delighted her invention to persue,
The beauteous form, the fine contrasted hue,
At length it finds the gay parterre too bright,
The flood of glory wounds the tender sight;
It turns aside from the luxurious scene,
And seeks refreshment on the sober green.

End of the Fourth Act.