The Same. (The Triumph Of Chastity.)

A poem by Francesco Petrarca

When gods and men I saw in Cupid's chain
Promiscuous led, a long uncounted train,
By sad example taught, I learn'd at last
Wisdom's best rule--to profit from the past
Some solace in the numbers too I found,
Of those that mourn'd, like me, the common wound
That Phoebus felt, a mortal beauty's slave,
That urged Leander through the wintry wave;
That jealous Juno with Eliza shared,
Whose more than pious hands the flame prepared;
That mix'd her ashes with her murder'd spouse.
A dire completion of her nuptial vows.
(For not the Trojan's love, as poets sing,
In her wan bosom fix'd the secret string.)
And why should I of common ills complain,
Shot by a random shaft, a thoughtless swain?
Unarm'd and unprepared to meet the foe,
My naked bosom seem'd to court the blow.
One cause, at least, to soothe my grief ensued;
When I beheld the ruthless power subdued;
And all unable now to twang the string,
Or mount the breeze on many-colour'd wing.
But never tawny monarch of the wood
His raging rival meets, athirst for blood;
Nor thunder-clouds, when winds the signal blow,
With louder shock astound the world below;
When the red flash, insufferably bright,
Heaven, earth, and sea displays in dismal light;
Could match the furious speed and fell intent
With which the wingèd son of Venus bent
His fatal yew against the dauntless fair
Who seem'd with heart of proof to meet the war;
Nor Etna sends abroad the blast of death
When, wrapp'd in flames, the giant moves beneath;
Nor Scylla, roaring, nor the loud reply
Of mad Charybdis, when her waters fly
And seem to lave the moon, could match the rage
Of those fierce rivals burning to engage.
Aloof the many drew with sudden fright,
And clamber'd up the hills to see the fight;
And when the tempest of the battle grew,
Each face display'd a wan and earthy hue.
The assailant now prepared his shaft to wing,
And fixed his fatal arrow on the string:
The fatal string already reach'd his ear;
Nor from the leopard flies the trembling deer
With half the haste that his ferocious wrath
Bore him impetuous on to deeds of death;
And in his stern regard the scorching fire
Was seen, that burns the breast with fierce desire;
To me a fatal flame! but hope to see
My lovely tyrant forced to love like me,
And, bound in equal chain, assuaged my woe,
As, with an eager eye, I watch'd the coming blow
But virtue, as it ne'er forsakes the soul
That yields obedience to her blest control,
Proves how of her unjustly we complain,
When she vouchsafes her gracious aid in vain
In vain the self-abandon'd shift the blame
Upon their stars, or fate's perverted name.
Ne'er did a gladiator shun the stroke
With nimbler turn, or more attentive look;
Never did pilot's hand the vessel steer
With more dexterity the shoals to clear
Than with evasion quick and matchless art,
By grace and virtue arm'd in head and heart,
She wafted quick the cruel shaft aside,
Woe to the lingering soul that dares the stroke abide!
I watch'd, and long with firm expectance stood
To see a mortal by a god subdued,
The usual fate of man! in hope to find
The cords of Love the beauteous captive bind
With me, a willing slave, to Cupid's car,
The fortunes of the common race to share.
As one, whose secrets in his looks we spy,
His inmost thoughts discovers in his eye
Or in his aspect, graved by nature's hand,
My gestures, ere I spoke, enforced my fond demand.
"Oh, link us to your wheels!" aloud I cried,
"If your victorious arms the fray decide:
Oh, bind us closely with your strongest chain!
I ne'er will seek for liberty again!"--
But oh! what fury seem'd his eyes to fill!
No bard that ever quaff'd Castalia's rill
Could match his frenzy, when his shafts of fire
With magic plumed, and barb'd with hot desire,
Short of their sacred aim, innoxious fell,
Extinguish'd by the pure ethereal spell.
Camilla; or the Amazons in arms
From ancient Thermodon, to fierce alarms
Inured; or Julius in Pharsalia's field,
When his dread onset forced the foe to yield--
Came not so boldly on as she, to face
The mighty victor of the human race,
Who scorns the temper'd mail and buckler's ward.
With her the Virtues came--an heavenly guard,
A sky-descended legion, clad in light
Of glorious panoply, contemning mortal might;
All weaponless they came; but hand in hand
Defied the fury of the adverse band:
Honour and maiden Shame were in the ban,
Elysian twins, beloved by God and man.
Her delegates in arms with them combined;
Prudence appear'd, the daughter of the mind;
Pure Temperance next, and Steadiness of soul,
That ever keeps in view the eternal goal;
And Gentleness and soft Address were seen,
And Courtesy, with mild inviting mien;
And Purity, and cautious Dread of blame,
With ardent love of clear unspotted fame;
And sage Discretion, seldom seen below,
Where the full veins with youthful ardour glow;
Benevolence and Harmony of soul
Were there, but rarely found from pole to pole;
And there consummate Beauty shone, combined
With all the pureness of an angel-mind.
Such was the host that to the conflict came,
Their bosoms kindling with empyreal flame
And sense of heavenly help.--The beams that broke
From each celestial file with horror struck
The bowyer god, who felt the blinding rays,
And like a mortal stood in fix'd amaze;
While on his spoils the fair assailants flew,
And plunder'd at their ease the captive crew;
And some with palmy boughs the way bestrew'd,
To show their conquest o'er the baffled god.
Sudden as Hannibal on Zama's field
Was forced to Scipio's conquering arms to yield;
Sudden as David's hand the giant sped,
When Accaron beheld his fall and fled;
Sudden as her revenge who gave the word,
When her stern guards dispatch'd the Persian lord;
Or like a man that feels a strong disease
His shivering members in a moment seize--
Such direful throes convulsed the despot's frame.
His hands, that veil'd his eyes, confess'd his shame,
And mental pangs, more agonising far,
In his sick bosom bred a civil war;
And hate and anguish, with insatiate ire,
Flash'd in his eyes with momentary fire.--
Not raging Ocean, when its billows boil;
Nor Typhon, when he lifts the trembling soil
Of Arima, his tortured limbs to ease;
Nor Etna, thundering o'er the subject seas--
Surpass'd the fury of the baffled Power,
Who stamp'd with rage, and bann'd the luckless hour
Scenes yet unsung demand my loftiest lays--
But oh! the theme transcends a mortal's praise.
A sweet but humbler subject may suffice
To muster in my song her fair allies;
But first, her arms and vesture claim my song
Before I chant the fair attendant throng:--
A robe she wore that seem'd of woven light;
The buckler of Minerva fill'd her right,
Medusa's bane; a column there was drawn
Of jasper bright; and o'er the snowy lawn
And round her beauteous neck a chain was slung,
Which glittering on her snowy bosom hung.
Diamond and topaz there, with mingled ray,
Return'd in varied hues the beam of day;
A treasure of inestimable cost,
Too long, alas! in Lethe's bosom lost:
To modern matrons scarcely known by fame,
Few, were it to be found, the prize would claim.
With this the vanquish'd god she firmly bound,
While I with joy her kind assistance own'd;
But oh! the feeble Muse attempts in vain
To celebrate in song her numerous train;
Not all the choir of Aganippe's spring
The pageant of the sisterhood could sing:
But some shall live, distinguished in my lay,
The most illustrious of the long array.--
The dexter wing the fair Lucretia led,
With her, who, faithful to her nuptial bed,
Her suitors scorn'd: and these with dauntless hand
The quiver seized, and scatter'd on the strand
The pointless arrows, and the broken bow
Of Cupid, their despoil'd and recreant foe.--
Lovely Virginia with her sire was nigh:
Paternal love and anger in his eye
Beam'd terrible, while in his hand he show'd
Aloft the dagger, tinged with virgin blood,
Which freedom on the maid and Rome at once bestow'd.--
Then the Teutonic dames, a dauntless race,
Who rush'd on death to shun a foe's embrace;--
And Judith chaste and fair, but void of dread,
Who the hot blood of Holofernes shed;--
And that fair Greek who chose a watery grave
Her threaten'd purity unstain'd to save.--
All these and others to the combat flew,
And all combined to wreak the vengeance due
On him, whose haughty hand in days of yore
From clime to clime his conquering standard bore.
Another troop the vestal virgin led,
Who bore along from Tyber's oozy bed
His liquid treasure in a sieve, to show
The falsehood of her base calumnious foe
By wondrous proof.--And there the Sabine queen
With all the matrons of her race was seen,
Renown'd in records old;--and next in fame
Was she, who dauntless met the funeral flame,
Not wrong'd in Love, but to preserve her vows
Immaculate to her Sidonian spouse.
Let others of Æneas' falsehood tell,
How by an unrequited flame she fell;
A nobler, though a self-inflicted doom,
Caused by connubial Love, dismiss'd her to the tomb.--
Picarda next I saw, who vainly tried
To pass her days on Arno's flowery side
In single purity, till force compell'd
The virgin to the marriage bond to yield.
The triumph seem'd at last to reach the shore
Where lofty Baise hears the Tuscan roar.
'Twas on a vernal morn it touch'd the land,
And 'twixt Mount Barbaro that crowns the strand
And old Avernus (once an hallow'd ground);
For the Cumæan sibyl's cell renown'd.
Linterno's sandy bounds it reach'd at last,
Great Scipio's favour'd haunt in ages past;
Famed Africanus, whose victorious blade
The slaughterous deeds of Hannibal repaid,
And to his country's heart a bloody passage made.
Here in a calm retreat his life he spent,
With rural peace and solitude content.
And here the flying rumour sped before,
And magnified the deed from shore to shore.
The pageant, when it reach'd the destined spot,
Seem'd to exceed their utmost reach of thought.
There, all distinguish'd by their deeds of arms,
Excell'd the rest in more than mortal charms.
Nor he, whom oft the steeds of conquest drew,
Disdained another's triumphs to pursue.
At the metropolis arrived at last,
To fair Sulpicia's temples soon we pass'd,
Sacred to Chastity, to ward the pest
With which her sensual foes inflame the breast;
The patroness of noble dames alone--
Then was the fair plebeian Pole unknown,
The victress here display'd her martial spoils,
And here the laurel hung that crown'd her toils:
A guard she stationed on the temple's bound--
The Tuscan, mark'd with many a glorious wound
Suspicion in the jealous breast to cure:
With him a chosen squadron kept the door.
I heard their names, and I remember well
The youthful Greek that by his stepdame fell,
And him who, kept by Heaven's command in awe,
Refused to violate the nuptial law.


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