‘Thou must,’ quoth she, ‘be mine ambassador,
Be wise, be careful, true, and diligent,
Go to the camp, present thyself before
The Prince Tancredi, wounded in his tent;
Tell him thy mistress comes to care his sore,
If he to grant her peace and rest consent
Gainst whom fierce love such cruel war hath raised,
So shall his wounds be cured, her torments eased.
‘And say, in him such hope and trust she hath,
That in his powers she fears no shame nor scorn,
Tell him thus much, and whatso’er he saith,
Unfold no more, but make a quick return,
I, for this place is free from harm and scath,
Within this valley will meanwhile sojourn.’
Thus spake the princess: and her servant true
To execute the charge imposed, flew;
And was received, he so discreetly wrought,
First of the watch that guarded in their place,
Before the wounded prince then was he brought,
Who heard his message kind, with gentle grace,
Which told, he left him tossing in his thought
A thousand doubts, and turned his speedy pace
To bring his lady and his mistress word,
She might be welcome to that courteous lord.
But she, impatient, to whose desire
Grievous and harmful seemed each little stay,
Recounts his steps, and thinks, now draws he nigher,
Now enters in, now speaks, now comes his way;
And that which grieved her most, the careful squire
Less speedy seemed than e’er before that day;
Lastly she forward rode with love to guide,
Until the Christian tents at hand she spied.
Invested in her starry veil, the night
In her kind arms embraced all this round,
The silver moon form sea uprising bright
Spread frosty pearl upon the candid ground:
And Cynthia-like for beauty’s glorious light
The love-sick nymph threw glittering beams around,
And counsellors of her old love she made
Those valleys dumb, that silence, and that shade.
Beholding then the camp, quoth she, ‘O fair
And castle-like pavilions, richly wrought!
From you how sweet methinketh blows the air,
How comforts it my heart, my soul, my thought?
Through heaven’s fair face from gulf of sad despair
My tossed bark to port well-nigh is brought:
In you I seek redress for all my harms,
Rest, midst your weapons; peace, amongst your arms.
‘Receive me, then, and let me mercy find,
As gentle love assureth me I shall,
Among you had I entertainment kind
When first I was the Prince Tancredi’s thrall:
I covet not, led by ambition blind
You should me in my father’s throne install,
Might I but serve in you my lord so dear,
That my content, my joy, my comfort were.’
Thus parleyed she, poor soul, and never feared
The sudden blow of Fortune’s cruel spite,
She stood where Phoebe’s splendent beam appeared
Upon her silver armor double bright,
The place about her round she shining cleared
With that pure white wherein the nymph was dight:
The tigress great, that on her helmet laid,
Bore witness where she went, and where she stayed.
So as her fortune would, a Christian band
Their secret ambush there had closely framed,
Led by two brothers of Italia land,
Young Poliphern and Alicandro named,
These with their forces watched to withstand
Those that brought victuals to their foes untamed,
And kept that passage; them Erminia spied,
And fled as fast as her swift steed could ride.
But Poliphern, before whose watery eyes,
His aged father strong Clorinda slew,
When that bright shield and silver helm he spies,
The championess he thought he saw and knew;
Upon his hidden mates for aid he cries
Gainst his supposed foe, and forth he flew,
As he was rash, and heedless in his wrath,
Bending his lance, ‘Thou art but dead,’ he saith.
As when a chased hind her course doth bend
To seek by soil to find some ease or goad;
Whether from craggy rock the spring descend,
Or softly glide within the shady wood;
If there the dogs she meet, where late she wend
To comfort her weak limbs in cooling flood,
Again she flies swift as she fled at first,
Forgetting weakness, weariness and thirst.
So she, that thought to rest her weary sprite,
And quench the endless thirst of ardent love
With dear embracements of her lord and knight,
But such as marriage rites should first approve,
When she beheld her foe, with weapon bright
Threatening her death, his trusty courser move,
Her love, her lord, herself abandoned,
She spurred her speedy steed, and swift she fled.
Erminia fled, scantly the tender grass
Her Pegasus with his light footsteps bent,
Her maiden’s beast for speed did likewise pass;
Yet divers ways, such was their fear, they went:
The squire who all too late returned, alas.
With tardy news from Prince Tancredi’s tent,
Fled likewise, when he saw his mistress gone,
It booted not to sojourn there alone.
But Alicandro wiser than the rest,
Who this supposed Clorinda saw likewise,
To follow her yet was he nothing pressed,
But in his ambush still and close he lies,
A messenger to Godfrey he addressed,
That should him of this accident advise,
How that his brother chased with naked blade
Clorinda’s self, or else Clorinda’s shade.
Yet that it was, or that it could be she,
He had small cause or reason to suppose,
Occasion great and weighty must it be
Should make her ride by night among her foes:
What Godfrey willed that observed he,
And with his soldiers lay in ambush close:
These news through all the Christian army went,
In every cabin talked, in every tent.
Tancred, whose thoughts the squire had filled with doubt
By his sweet words, supposed now hearing this,
Alas! the virgin came to seek me out,
And for my sake her life in danger is;
Himself forthwith he singled from the rout,
And rode in haste, though half his arms he miss;
Among those sandy fields and valleys green,
To seek his love, he galloped fast unseen.