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Torquato Tasso: Pastoral refuge from war


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Italian writers on war and militarism

Torquato Tasso: War’s devouring minister, the sword


Torquato Tasso
From Jerusalem Delivered
Translated by J. H. Wiffen

“But, Father, say, whilst the destructive fire
Of war lays waste the country wide and far,
How live you free from military ire,
Beneath the charm of what benignant star?”
“My son,” said he, ” from the rude wrongs of war
My family and flocks in this lone nook
Were ever safe; no fears my quiet mar;
These groves to the hoarse trumpet never shook;
Calm rolls yon stately stream, calm flows each woodland brook.

“Whether it be that Heaven protects in love
The chaste humility of shepherd swains,
Or, as its lightnings strike the crag’s tall grove,
But leave untouched the roses of the plains, –
That so the wrath of foreign swords diadains
To harm the meek heads of the lowly poor,
Aiming alone at lofty kings, – our gains
Tempt not the greedy soldier to our door;
Safe stands our simple shed, despised our little store.

“Despised by others, but so dear to me,
That gems and crowns I hold in less esteem;
From pride, from avarice is my spirit free,
And mad ambition’s visionary dream.
My thirst I quench in the pellucid stream,
Nor fear lest poison the pure wave pollutes;
With flocks my fields, my fields with herbage teem;
My garden-plot supplies nutritious roots;
And my brown orchard bends with Autumn’s wealthiest fruits.

”Few are our wishes, few our wants; Man needs
But little to preserve the vital spark:
These are my sons; they keep the flock that feeds,
And rise in the grey morning with the lark.
Thus in my hermitage I live; now mark
The goats disport amid the budding brooms;
Now the slim stags bound through the forest dark;
The fish glide by; the bees hum round the blooms;
And the birds spread to heaven the splendour of their plumes.

“Time was (these grey hairs then were golden locks),
When other wishes wantoned in my veins;
I scorned the simple charge of tending flocks,
And fled disgusted from my native plains.
Awhile in Memphis I abode, where reigns
The mighty Caliph; he admired my port,
And made me keeper of his flower-domains;
And though to town I rarely made resort,
Much have I seen and known of the intrigues of court.

“Long by presumptuous hopes was I beguiled,
And many, many a disappointment bore;
But when with youth false hope no longer smiled,
And the scene palled that charmed so much before, –
I sighed for my lost peace, and brooded o’er
The’ abandoned quiet of this humble shed;
Then, farewell State’s proud palaces! once more
To these delightful solitudes I fled;
And in their peaceful shades harmonious days have led.”

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