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Torquato Tasso
Jerusalem Delivered
page 143

The wicked sprites in sylvan pinfolds were,
Their eyes upon those shades no sooner bent
But frozen dread pierced through their entrails dear;
Yet on they stalked still, and on they went,
Under bold semblance hiding coward fear,
And so far wandered forth with trembling pace,
Till they approached nigh that enchanted place:

When from the grove a fearful sound outbreaks,
As if some earthquake hill and mountain tore,
Wherein the southern wind a rumbling makes,
Or like sea waves against the scraggy shore;
There lions grumble, there hiss scaly snakes,
There howl the wolves, the rugged bears there roar,
There trumpets shrill are heard and thunders fell,
And all these sounds one sound expressed well.

Upon their faces pale well might you note
A thousand signs of heart-amating fear,
Their reason gone, by no device they wot
How to press nigh, or stay still where they were,
Against that sudden dread their breasts which smote,
Their courage weak no shield of proof could bear,
At last they fled, and one than all more bold,
Excused their flight, and thus the wonders told:

"My lord, not one of us there is, I grant,
That dares cut down one branch in yonder spring,
I think there dwells a sprite in every plant,
There keeps his court great Dis infernal king,
He hath a heart of hardened adamant
That without trembling dares attempt the thing,
And sense he wanteth who so hardy is
To hear the forest thunder, roar and hiss."

This said, Alcasto to his words gave heed,
Alcasto leader of the Switzers grim,
A man both void of wit and void of dreed,
Who feared not loss of life nor loss of limb.
No savage beasts in deserts wild that feed
Nor ugly monster could dishearten him,
Nor whirlwind, thunder, earthquake, storm, or aught
That in this world is strange or fearful thought.

He shook his head, and smiling thus gan say,
"The hardiness have I that wood to fell,
And those proud trees low in the dust to lay
Wherein such grisly fiends and monsters dwell;
No roaring ghost my courage can dismay,
No shriek of birds, beast's roar, or dragon's yell;
But through and through that forest will I wend,
Although to deepest hell the paths descend."

Thus boasted he, and leave to go desired,
And forward went with joyful cheer and will,
He viewed the wood and those thick shades admired,
He heard the wondrous noise and rumbling shrill;
Yet not one foot the audacious man retired,
He scorned the peril, pressing forward still,
Till on the forest's outmost marge he stepped,
A flaming fire from entrance there him kept.

The fire increased, and built a stately wall
Of burning coals, quick sparks, and embers hot,
And with bright flames the wood environed all,
That there no tree nor twist Alcasto got;
The higher stretched the flames seemed bulwarks tall,
Castles and turrets full of fiery shot,
With slings and engines strong of every sort; --
What mortal wight durst scale so strange a fort?

Oh what strange monsters on the battlement
In loathsome forms stood to defend the place?
Their frowning looks upon the knight they bent,
And threatened death with shot, with sword and mace:
At last he fled, and though but slow he went,

* * *

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