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His failing blood fills him with wrath, I wot,
And calls back all his failing valiancy,

And while he feels the hour of death decreed,

"Would fain adorn it with some glorious deed.

His left to its companion doth he lay.

And with both joined brings down the heavy steel;
The blow descends, and meeting on its way

The f oeman 's sword, goes on, nor check doth feel,
Lights on his shoulder, and its shearing way

Full many wounds in shortest space reveal ;
If Tancred did not fear, his bosom bold
Nature so made that fear it might not hold.

The horrid blow is doubled; but the wind

Eeceived its force, and wrath in vain was spent :

Since Tancred to one side himself inclined,
And sprang away, upon the stroke intent;

Thou thine own blow, Argantes, now must find,
Prone by its weight, and succor none be lent.

Thou hast thyself o 'erthrown, and this mayst claim

That others from thy fall can win no fame.

The fall his half -closed wounds yet wider spread,
And out the blood poured in a pool immense;

His left on earth he plants, and riveted
Upright upon his knee, prepares defence:
"Now yield thee," straight the courteous victor said,
And new proposal made, with none offence;

He hides his sword the while, with treacherous skill,

Then strikes upon his heel, and threatens still.


Then Tancred felt his fury rise, and cried : —
"My mercy, villain, dost thou thus abuse?"
Then once and once again his falchion plied,

Where through the helm sure path there was to choose.
Thus died Argantes; as he lived, he died;

Dying he threatened, nor would weakness use.
Haughty and fierce and terrible in death.
His latest action, and his latest breath.

Tancred 's recovery from his swoon:

I live? I still draw breath? and still behold
The hated rays of this disastrous day —

Day that my hidden follies doth unfold
And all my faults before me sternly lay?

O timid hand and slow, art thou so cold —
Thou who of striking knowest every way.

Thou minister of base and deadly strife —

To cut the thread that holds this guilty life?

Pierce but this bosom; bid thy cruel steel
Wage fierce destruction on my ready heart ;

Yet impious blows and ruthless wont to deal,
Will pity seize thee thus to end my smart?

So shall I live in story to reveal

A wretched butt of love 's unsparing dart —

A wretched butt whose worthless life alone

For cruelty unbounded can atone.

Among my tortures shall I live and care.
My righteous furies, wild and wandering,

For dark and solitary gloom to scare,

That my first error shall before me bring ;

And the sun 's look, that doth my sorrow bare.
Still shall I shun with coward shuddering;

\'\nTile from myself my own unending fear

Still flees and finds myself forever near.

But where, alas! oh, where do they abide,
The relics of the body fair and chaste?


Whate 'er unhurt escaped my fury 's tide
The furious beasts perchance already waste;

O prey too noble, dear o'er all beside,

Too sweet, too precious for the brutes to taste !

Ah, wretched me, in whom the shades and woods

First plant the sting and then the savage broods.

And with this epic closes the great line of Italian
poetry which has sustained itself at so commanding a
height for nearly three hundred years. For two centu-
ries more, with a single exception to be named in its
place, Italian poetry is luscious and nerveless, and,
unless in the form of satire, has lost not merely the
stern manliness of Dante, but the more delicate yet
still firm fibre of Petrarch, Ariosto, and Tasso. I
shall try to tell the story of its decadence so as to
secure interest even for the failure.



Before taking up the poets of the generation fol-
lowing Tasso, it is necessary to consider a peculiar
style of poetry in which he led the way and surpassed
all his competitors. I have said that in 1572 he com-
posed, in two months, a poem called "Aminta" in the
style denominated pastoral. It is understood that he
had witnessed the performance of a poem of this kind
by an obscure writer whom he felt at once he could
excel, and the result of its public appearance at Fer-
rara ratified his belief. The "Aminta" met Avith
boundless success, and when the poem was printed
several years later, it found hosts of admirers, and
has continued in high repute in Italy to this day.

The Italian pastoral play is, to my mind, the most
singular form that literature ever assumed. The ro-
mances of Berni and Ariosto are a wild exaggeration
of a state of society that really did exist, with all its
characters and events heightened in outline and color.
The pastoral attempts to retain a tone of real life,
while taking away from actual society elements that



must belong to it. The men and women who people
it are as impossible as the giants and fairies of ro-
mance. The fundamental idea is that somewhere in
the world— the land generally selected is Arcadia, a
mountainous country of the Peloponnesus— there lives
a shepherd people whose chief occupation is tending
flocks and herds, but who also carry on all the ordinary
farming and household operations, varied by a good
deal of hunting of the most ferocious wild beasts,
bears and boars, who never seem to get exterminated.
These people are always under the influence of the
simplest and purest motives. There is no crime, no
violence, no fraud, no lust. They are all perfectly
content with their lot, never dreaming of emigrating,
or bettering themselves, or rising above their pastoral
situation. They always appear to have good weather
for their crops, good pasture for their cattle, and
plenty wherewith to feed and clothe themselves.
Everybody appears to have Mr. Jesse Collings's three
acres and a cow multiplied many times over. The
gods are always worshipped, and no other government
except the precepts of a few aged priests exists.
Every man finds a mate in due time. There are occa-
sional accesses of envy or jealousy, and once in a
very great while, of treachery; but these are always
exceptional, and scouted by the peasant people in
general. These always speak the purest Roman Latin,


Tuscan Italian, or Parisian French. They always
understand everything said to them, except when they
deliberately choose to talk in riddles. They have fre-
quent festivals, but never a fight. Nobody ever goes to
the war, or pays taxes, or has his house burned, or
finds living uphill work, or dies of anything but old
age or a wound from a boar's tusk. There is never
any snow requiring the cattle to be housed and the
shepherds to keep within doors. A faithless husband,
an ungrateful child, a peevish grandfather may be oc-
casionally witnessed as a strange phenomenon, only
to make clearer by exception the uniform virtue and
sweetness of the mass.

Although the scene of these poems is laid wholly
out of doors, there is never any characterization of
scenery. The rivers, the mountains, the plains, and
the forests are all exactly like each other. Nor do
any of the personages ever have their features de-
scribed, or their proportions, or their dress. True, once
in a while a question is put as to the distinguishing
traits of some unknown person, who is then indicated
by the most commonplace marks, such as brown hair
or blue eyes, which, in a homogeneous community,
would suit hundreds. But the whole effect is com-
pletely colorless— a mere sketch in black and white.

Any one who knows what real farming and pas-
toral life is also knows that this Arcadian innocence


and serenity are as far removed from it as possible.
There are undoubtedly many retired spots all over the
world where the inhabitants live on from day to day
engaged in country occupations, and ignorant of what
goes on in the great world, and this ignorance exempts
them from some of the faults that arise in great cities.
But they have faults and vices of their own, which
show that their nature is neither better nor worse mo-
rally than their neighbors'. And their prejudices, su-
perstitions, sloth to learn, and dulness to perceive are
quite alien to the calm rectitude, the serene acceptance
of duty, however hard, and rejection of self, however
charming, which your Arcadia of poetry possesses.
Mr. Longfellow pictures such a community in a
country whose name is often confounded with Arcadia.
Parkman's History indicates that the dwellers by the
Basin of Minas had a goodly admixture of the fox
among their lamb-like qualities. The real ancient
Arcadia took so little part in Greek history, her con-
tributior/s to art, poetry, oratory, science, philosophy,
government in all the brilliant ages of Hellas are so
completely nil, that we can hardly say we know her
people. But one thing is sure : that until Epaminondas
came fifty leagues to show her how to make a country
and a capital, the chief business of the Arcadians was
furnishing mercenary troops for slaughter or plunder
in the wars of other people, whether Greeks or barba-


rians. In the days of Ariosto, the best instance of a
village people living far from cities and keeping
flocks and herds on their own hillsides was the Swiss ;
and they, like the old Arcadians, let themselves out to
fight other peoples' battles, and were noted for the
tenacity with which they clutched at their wages.

We have left us two very striking pictures of coun-
try life among the Greeks: one, the "Works and
Days" of Hesiod, at an indefinitely early period, and
one, the ''Idylls" of Theocritus, in the third century
B.C. No one can read either — and both are lively
reading— without losing at once any theory that the
Greek rustic passed his time piping to gentle maidens
in the midst of snowy sheep with blue ribbons on their
necks. Hesiod was much given to grumbling, and the
very unfavorable picture he gives of Boeotian life in
the year 800 b.c. may be chiefly due to ill temper.
But Theocritus of Syracuse is a most genial soul, and
one cannot doubt that his picture of rural life in
Sicily in the days of the Ptolemies is true to life. His
shepherds stand out of the canvas in their occupations,
amusements, passions, loves and hates, told in Doric
speech as broad as Burns or Miss Murfree. But there
is no sentimentalism. They are remarkably robust
in mind as well as body, and if they enlist in King
Ptolemy's army, there is no chance that any Syrian
or Parthian will cheat them. Contemporary with


Theocritus are Bion and Moschus, in whose delicately
plaintive songs there is much tender sentiment, but
there is no false picture of country life. Much about
the time Tasso died, Shakespeare drew shepherds in
"As You Like It" and "A Winter's Tale," instinct
with all the truth of Theocritus himself.

The Italians took their pastorals, and spoiled them
in the taking, from Virgil 's ' ' Eclogues. ' ' These little
poems, unsurpassed for charm of verse and graceful-
ness of thought, were the first productions of a very
young poet, the son of a wealthy farmer, steeped in all
the philosophy and literature that the schools of Italy
could give him. No doubt his rustics have some
touches from the life of his own home near Mantua.
But these are mixed with scraps translated, sometimes
mistranslated, from Theocritus, with prophecies of
the golden age, and with a variety of purely literary
visions belonging to no particular place or time, and
so constitute no real picture of any actual society.
From them, and from a few later Latin poets of less
renown, Tasso and his contemporaries caught the
idea of innocent retreats where all was sweet and
holy. Just as the romance of chivalry rose by reaction
from the dulness and hardness of medieval life, so the
pastoral vision rose by reaction from the disgust at
court life— the intrigues, the waste, the alternations of
wealth and poverty that great cities and courts ex-


hibited. It was what city people wished they might
find, just as business men and fashionable ladies
think it might be charming now to raise their butter
and eggs on some abandoned farm; only to find that
they are much better bought from an abandoned
farmer. But in these days of scientific construction,
one might sooner expect to see Astolfo riding through
the air on a winged steed of brass than at any age to
find Tasso's and Guarini's shepherds.

This absurdity— for such it is— does not prevent
Tasso's "Aminta" from being very beautiful. Its
chief beauty is its extreme simplicity in plot and
style. The shepherd Amyntas has loved from boy-
hood the huntress Silvia, who turns a deaf ear to his
suit. He has the sympathy and she the reproaches of
all their mates. He rescues her from the bonds of a
satyr, one of those singular wild men of the woods
which the pastoral poets used to bring in as a super-
human element. Tasso 's satyr is a very honest person,
who cannot for the life of him see why Silvia refuses
his advances. He declares this is rightly called the
golden age, because gold buys everything. He deter-
mines to secure Silvia's affections by the simple pro-
cess of tying her by her hair to a tree. From this posi-
tion Amyntas rescues her, but she still repulses even
the most delicate offices of love and flies ; he thereupon
tries to kill himself, but is prevented by their friends.


On a false report, however, that Silvia has lost her
life in a wolf-chase, he throws himself from a cliff.
This news is brought to Silvia, who is overcome with
remorse, and hastens to seek and bury his body. But
his fall has been broken by shrubs, and he is revived
from stupor by her gestures of devotion, and all ends
as one would wish.

It is difficult to tell this plot, if plot it may be called,
without falling into a tone much like making sport of
it. But no one who reads the "Aminta" will have
that feeling. The form is dramatic, being a dialogue
among various persons; but none of the incidents,
what may be called the pictorial part, appear on the
stage — the attack of the satyr, the rescue, the chase
of the wolf, the leap of Amyntas, are all reported
by some speaker. The piece, therefore, would depend
for its effect on the perfection of recitation, aided,
probably, by music. The same nice discrimination of
character that is seen in the "Jerusalem Delivered"
runs through the "Aminta." The shepherds and
shepherdesses have not very much to say — there is
nothing very profound about their talk; but they
say it clearly, elegantly, and purely. It is the outflow
of the simplest emotions which exist in all men when
not stifled by conventions and traditions, which are
just as bad in the woods as in the cities ; the emotions
of heart speaking to heart with sincerity, whether of


love or hate, hope or fear. It should be noticed that
Tasso says nothing about Arcadia, or attempts to give
any local coloring, true or false. The scene is in the
country, but it is near a city. There is not the least
attempt to give details of dress, or weapons, or sce-
nery ; the play of human feelings brought out by hu-
man accidents constitutes the whole.

The verse is chiefly the ordinary dramatic ten-sylla-
ble blank verse, while in the more passionate parts the
lines are mostly short, with a very sparing use of
rhyme. At the end of each act the chorus sings a
rhymed ode. The whole poem is simply the pouring
out of a sweet and limpid strain of poetry from the
heart of a man of cultivated mind, of lively fancy, and
of sensitive temper. It has not the fanciful art of
Tasso 's epic, nor the fire of his love-songs. It is the
easiest thing in the world to criticise— and those who
criticise it had better try to write it. I make two
extracts,— one of the choruses, and one description
which has given birth to a beautiful piece of sculpture
of our own day, by Tito Angelini, formerly owned
by a citizen of Boston :

I found her
There near the city, in those meadows broad
Where among waters doth an islet lie;
Above a clear and tranquil pool was she
Holding herself suspended, that she seemed
Eegarding her own self, and all the while


Asking the water 's counsel in what way

She should arrange upon her brow the hair,

And o 'er the hair a veil, and o 'er the veil

The flowers her bosom held. From time to time

She lifted now a privet, now a rose.

And laid them on her lovely snow-white neck.

Or on her vermeil cheeks, and with the flower

Compared herself; and then, as if rejoiced

At victory, she lighted up a smile

That seemed as if it said, "I conquer you;

I do not wear you as my ornament.

But wear you only to expose your shame. ' '

O love, within what school
Or by what master's rule
Is learnt thy long and doubtful art— to love?
Which teaches to reveal
Whate 'er our mind may feel
While on the wing it soars to heaven above?
Not Athens ' learned men
In their Lyceum told.
Nor Phoebus from his mount;
For he that would recount
How love we may acquire.

His words are few and cold,
They have no voice of fire
Such as to thee belongs;
They cannot raise their ken

To probe thy mysteries:
Thou, love the teacher, art
The worthiest and the best.
And thou art by thyself alone expressed.
Thou easily dost teach
The rudest minds to reach
Those matters marvellous
Which thine own hand for us
With passion's letters writes in others' eyes.
To sweet and moving tones


The tongue thou loosest of thy faithful few;
And oft, O strange and new,
The eloquence of love! —

Oft in a strain confused,
With broken words and sighs,

The heart doth open best,
And oft appears to move

Better than if in learned phrases dressed;
And silence oft doth share

The power of speech and prayer.
O love, let others turn

What Socrates hath writ.
For I in two bright eyes the art will learn;

Wasted be all the time
When pens the learned band
Besides my rustic rhyme
On the rude bark inscribed by ruder hand.

The success of Tasso's "Aminta" called out a host
of rivals, of whom the most prominent was Giovanni
Battista Guarini. Guarini was another of the brilliant
men who were drawn to the court of Ferrara by the
magnificence of the house of Este, only to experience
the truth of Shakespeare's words, taken from a greater
than Shakespeare:

O how wretched
Is that poor man who hangs on princes ' favors !

Guarini was born at Ferrara in 1537, being seven
years older than Tasso. His father was professor of
literature at the University of Padua, and carefully
educated his son, so that, at the age of twenty, he was
chosen to succeed to his father's chair. But some of


his lyrics caused the Duke of Ferrara to invite him
to his court, where he formed the strictest friendship
with Tasso. The duke knighted him, and sent him
on several embassies to all parts of Europe, which
brought the envoy no profit, for the duke, like the
Congress of the United States of America, saw no
reason why his ambassadors should not be out of
pocket for the honor of representing him. Guarini
accordingly, after forty years' service, renounced Fer-
rara and passed into the employ of other princes, re-
ceiving the same royal reward; his last station being
at Florence, where the head of the Medici showed him
more substantial marks of honor. But he chose also
to inflict on Guarini the irretrievable outrage of forc-
ing the poet's son into a marriage with one of his
discarded favorites. Guarini withdrew in just indig-
nation and, after some delay, reentered the service
of the Duke of Ferrara, who sent him on an embassy
to the pope. Besides the ingratitude of his great
patrons, he had the misfortune to lose his beloved wife,
and in a more distressing way his daughter, while his
sons afflicted him by quarrelling over the relics of a
property which their father had sacrificed in his
public employments. He ultimately went to live in
Venice, and died there in 1612.

His works are of various kinds, but the one which has
given him his renown is the "Pastor Fido," or "Faith-


ful Shepherd." This pastoral has been strangely
thought to have been the model of Tasso 's ' ' Aminta, ' '
but the dates show that Tasso 's poem was performed
eleven years before Guarini's appeared, which was at
the marriage of the Duke of Savoy with the daughter
of Philip II of Spain, at Turin, in 1585. The "Pastor
Fido" rivalled the "Aminta" in popularity, and their
comparative merits have often been discussed. On the
score of elaboration there cannot be any question.
Guarini has invented a complicated plot, much in the
style of the Greek tragedies, while Tasso, one might
say, has no plot at all. But the plot of the "Pastor
Fido" has several hackneyed and some repulsive inci-
dents, including the ancient tales of an infant coming
under the care of those who are not its parents, and
of an oracle demanding an annual human sacrifice.
Another incident in the plot is a stratagem to alienate
two devoted lovers by false suspicions, in the hope of
securing one of them for the plotter. This character,
Corisca, has been from the first condemned as one
of the least agreeable on any stage— a shameless,
treacherous woman, who is ready to sacrifice the life
of another woman and the peace of mind of a man
to win the latter by force to herself. The amiable
characters in the poem are attractive, and drawn with
bolder and finer strokes than those in the ' ' Aminta ' ' ;
but the huntsman, Silvio, who boasts that he has


defied the power of love, is only Tasso's Silvia with the
sex reversed. The dialogue has more snap and sparkle
to it, and is loaded with proverbs and sayings ; but all
this play of wit and imagery carries it further and
further away from the simplicity which Tasso so
wisely adopted for his idyl. I can conceive that any
one, on the first reading of the two pastorals, might
thing the ' ' Pastor Fido ' ' equal, or even superior, to the
"Aminta"; but that a second reading should deepen
that impression is inconceivable. I can understand its
having a greater success on the stage, for the charac-
ters and situations would lend themselves better to
the ordinary artifices of theatrical display; but it is
hardly possible to prefer it as a poem. I take two
extracts from it, similar to those I took from the
"Aminta,"— one of the choruses and the speech of the
shepherd who thinks he has discovered proof that the
woman to whom he has kept faith is faithless:

Myrtillo, why delay?

She who once gave thee life

From thee has ta 'en it, and to others given ;
And thou dost live, thou wretch, thou dost not die!

O die, Myrtillo, die

To torment and to grief.
Since to thy bliss, thy pleasure, thou art dead.

Die, dead Myrtillo, die;

Thou ended hast thy life;

Then let thy torture end;

Depart, poor lover, now
Out of this hard and agonizing death
Which holds thee for thy greater woe in life.


But what? Ought I to perish unavenged?
First will I make her die who gave me death;

So long my wish to die

Within me be restrained
Until in righteousness 1 take the life
Of her who took unrighteously my heart.

Ah, truly was that maiden 's error great
Of all our woes the cause;
Who, breaking faith to thy most sacred laws,
O love, gave sad offence.
Whereby the deadly ire
Of the undying gods was set on fire
Which all the sad expense
Of blood from guiltless hearts can never sate.

So much is faith, of every virtue root,
Of every noble heart sole ornament,

In honor held above;
Thus to make lovers here, from whence may shoot
Our nature's bliss, is bent
The eternal fire of love.
Te blinded mortals, ye in whom such thirst
Of ownership doth burn.
Guarding some treasured urn
Where sleeps a corse of gold, a naked shade
Which ever wanders round where it was laid.

How can desire be fed
For beauties dead, or in your hearts be nursed?
The wealth your stores conceal
Are loves that cannot feel ; living and true
Is love 'twixt soul and soul; all things beside
Since love they are denied.

Can never claim affection as their due,
The spirit, since alone it loves again.
Alone is worthy love and lover to attain.

The pastoral poem, or drama, remained in favor in
Italy for some time longer, but I am not aware of its
drawing a single vigorous genius to write in that


strain. It passed to France and to England, and

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Online LibraryWilliam EverettThe Italian poets since Dante → online text (page 8 of 15)