Guido Cavalcanti

Thirty-Six Selected Poems including ‘Donna me prega’

Belshazzar's Feast

‘Six Tuscan Poets’ - Giorgio Vasari, Italy, 1544
Minneapolis Institute of Art

‘conosco i segni dell’antica fiamma’

Dante Alighieri - Purgatorio XXX 48

© Copyright 2007 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved

This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

Contents

‘cortese e ardito, ma sdegnoso e solitario e intento allo studio’

‘courteous and daring, but haughty and solitary and intent on study’

Guido according to Dino Compagni: Cronica I:XX

‘Fresca rosa novella’

Fresh new rose

Delighting Spring,

By field and stream,

Singing gaily,

I declare your rarity - to the flowers.

Let your rare gifts be

Freshly sung

By old men and young

On every journey:

And, each in its own tongue,

Let the songbirds sing

Evening and morning

The green leaves among.

Now the time has come

Let the whole world sing

As is most fitting

Of your high merit:

Who are angelic – among creatures.

Lady, in you there sits

An angel’s likeness:

Lord, how blessed

My desire is!

Your look so joyous

That goes beyond

Nature and custom’s

A thing so wondrous.

The women among us

Call you a living goddess:

And I cannot express

How favoured you seem:

For who can dream – beyond Nature?

Beyond mortal nature

God made your pure beauty

So that you might be

The queen of all here:

So let your gaze from me

Not stray too far away,

And your sweet kindness

Be not cruel to me.

And if you think it wrong

That I should love you,

Don’t hold me guilty too:

Love drives me, against whose course

Strength has no force – nor Measure.

‘Avete ’n vo’ li fior’ e la verdura’

You have, in you, the leaves and flowers

All that shines and all that’s sweet to see:

Greater than the sun your face in splendour,

Who sees you not can never worthy be.

In this world there is no creature

So pleasing or so full of beauty:

And he is led, who holds love in terror,

By your face, to desire such inwardly.

Each woman who is with you pleases me,

Through the love you show towards her:

And I pray to her, of her courtesy,

She who can do so best does you most honour.

And shows great care for your sovereignty,

For you are queen of all those who are there.

Note: See Dante, Vita Nuova, XXIV. ‘And the name of this lady was Giovanna, except that because of her beauty, as others believe, she was also named Primavera (Spring, the first greenness): and called so’.

‘Biltà di donna e di saccente core’

A woman’s charms, her perceptive heart

Men-at-arms filled with courtesy;

The song of birds, love’s reasoning art;

Ships ploughing through a swelling sea;

A gentle breeze in the dawn hours

A windless fall of whitest snow;

A flowing river, meadows all of flowers;

Jewels, silver, lazuli and gold:

Are outweighed in beauty and in worth

By my lady, and her sweet bravery,

That none would be deceived to see her;

And greater than the heavens exceed the earth,

Her heart’s knowledge does exceed the many.

So virtue is drawn to what is like in nature.

‘Chi è questa che vèn, ch’ogn’om la mira’

Who is this that comes and all admire her,

And makes the air tremble with her brightness,

Brings Love with her, so that none who sees her

Has the power to speak, but each man sighs?

Oh, how she seems as she looks all about her,

Let Love himself tell. How can I describe her?

She seems a lady of such gentle aspect,

That all compared to her seem full of pride.

For her sweetness there is no description,

Every gentle virtue bows towards her,

And Beauty makes her its divinity.

Our minds can never soar so high,

Nor have we grace enough inside,

For us to ever know her perfectly.

‘Li mie' foll' occhi, che prima guardaro’

My lovesick eyes that first gazed

On your form with virtue fraught,

Were those, Lady, by which I was accused,

In that harsh place where Love holds court,

And there they revealed the proof

That I was rendered your true slave,

So I’m oppressed by sighs and grief,

Seeing that fear my heart engraved.

They dragged me off, gave no respite,

And took me there, where those I saw

Were deeply grieved by love, every one,

Who, on seeing me, cried at the sight:

‘Now are you servant of such a lord

From whom is hope for death alone.’

Note: This image of Love’s sad kingdom is echoed in Dante’s Inferno – See the Paolo and Francesca episode.

‘Deh, spiriti miei, quando mi vedete’

Ah, my spirit, when you see me

In such pain, why do you not send

Words from the mind, adorned then

With weeping, and distress and grief?

Ah, you see how my heart is wounded

By her glance, her charms, her meekness:

Ah, ease, I pray you, its deep distress,

Heart from which virtue has departed.

To it a spirit has appeared, I see,

Noble and courteous, of that ilk

So that from it all its powers flee,

Ah, I pray you will deign to greet

The sad soul, who in grief speaks still,

Of what Love does to her and will.

‘L’anima mia vilment’ è sbigotita’

My spirit is so vilely distressed

By the war raging in my heart:

It dies if it feels Love’s slightest start

Touch more than usually: apart,

Powerless it exists, void of art,

Shut from the heart by fearfulness;

And he who saw its flight would, yes,

Declare: ‘It lacks the living breath.’

Through the eye war entered me,

That beat down all defences so

The mind was shattered by its blow.

Whoever shall see my spirit go,

One who might live more happily,

Might weep for me, with pity.

‘Tu m'hai sì piena di dolor la mente’

You have filled my mind with such distress

That my spirit is minded to depart,

And my weary eyes display no less

The sighs that rise from the grieving heart.

Love knowing your great nobility

Says: ‘I am saddened you must die

Of this proud lady, she who hears only

What shows you pity with its sigh.’

I am like a man who leaves this life,

And, to those who gaze at him, is found

As if made of bronze or wood or stone,

Who in his heart bears a wound

That by its sole mastery is grown

To be of heart’s-death an open sign.

‘Perché non fuoro a me gli occhi dispenti’

Why were my eyes not quenched,

Or stolen, so that from my seeing

Nothing came to my mind saying:

‘Listen, do you feel me in your heart?’

Fear of new torments’ beginning,

Filled me then, so sharp, cruel a blade,

The spirit cried: ‘Lady, now bring aid,

So my eyes and I are not left grieving.

You have left them: so Love may start

Weeping, concerning them, so piteously,

That there is heard a much deeper voice

Saying: ‘Who knows what pain may be,

Gaze on this man and view his heart,

Death bears in its hand, cut like a cross.

‘Se Mercé fosse amica a’ miei disiri’

If Mercy were the friend of my desires,

And its movement found a source

In that sweet lady’s heart, its force

Dealt the virtue that my pain requires;

All my sighs of anguished delight,

Born of the mind where Love is seated

That of grief, alone, go speaking

And find no one to welcome them aright,

Would return to the eyes with force again,

Such that harsh and bitter tears would charm

Transmuted into happiness and joy.

But grief on the heart does such ill employ,

And does the sad spirit so much harm

That of disdain no one will greet them.

‘A me stesso di me pietate vène’

Pity for myself, from my self again,

Arises for the fierce anguish I admit

In myself, great weakness when I sit,

Feeling my spirit so racked with pain,

All consumes me, it is my true belief

My health grows worse with such anguish;

This new lady whose mercy I wish

Maintains the battleground of grief,

For when I merely gaze towards her

Her eyes turn to me with disdain,

So harshly, that my heart is broken.

Then all power departs from there,

And the heart serves for a clear sign

That Love’s cruelty has spoken.

‘S’io prego questa donna che Pietate’

If I should beg this lady that true pity

Might be no enemy to her gentle heart,

She’d call me foolish and vile my art,

And desperate and filled with vanity.

Where do you find these cruelties afresh?

To him who looks, you still seem humble,

Wise and adorned, cautious and subtle,

Fashioned in all the ways of sweetness!

My fearful and grieving spirit

Weeps with the sighs found in the heart,

That drowned in tears now will fly.

Then through the mind there flows apart,

The image of a lady, full of thought,

Come here to see that same heart die.

‘O tu, che porti nelli occhi sovente’

O you who often bear Love in your eyes

Carrying three arrows in his hand,

In this, my thought come from afar

Commends to you a grieving spirit,

Already twice wounded in the mind

By the arrows of the Syrian archer;

A third time bends his bow so lightly,

He touches me not you being present:

Because of which my soul is saved

Almost sunk in every member, dead

Of two arrows dealing triple wounds:

The first is one of disquieting pleasure,

The second of desire filled with longing

For the great joy that the third wound brings.

‘O donna mia, non vedestù colui’

O, my lady, have you not seen One

Who laid his hand on my heart, when

I answered you so softly, tamely,

Because I feared his blows?

He was Love, that one who found us,

Come from far, but standing by me,

In a Syrian bowman’s likeness,

Solely set to conquer others.

Drawing sighs from out your eyes,

He fired them deep into my heart,

So I was forced to flee in terror,

Till swiftly Death revealed himself

Surrounded by those sufferings

Which drown all men with sorrow.

‘Io vidi li occhi dove Amor si mise’

I saw the eyes where Love resides,

When he filled me with fearfulness,

Gazing at me as if I caused distress:

Then I say the heart was torn inside;

And were it not that my lady smiled,

I would speak in such a grievous wise

That Love himself would be crucified

Who made the form by which I am beguiled.

A spirit from Heaven flew to take my part

The instant she deigned to gaze at me,

And came to stand within my mind;

That all Love’s truth I might find,

And all his powers seem visible to me

As though I’d reached to his very heart.

‘Un amoroso sguardo spiritale’

A spiritual, a loving gaze moreover,

Revived Love in me so joyously

That he assails me more than ever

And drives me on in thought pleasantly

Towards my lady, for whom never

The mercy, pity, torment I feel aid me,

Who overwhelms me, makes me suffer,

So that my heart senses life but barely.

But when I feel her sweet glance

Pass through the eyes to the heart

Setting there a spirit of joy

Then to her I readily give thanks

She was begged to do so by Love’s art

That a little pity might not bring annoy.

‘Voi che per li occhi mi passaste ‘l core’

You who reach my heart through the eyes

And wake my mind’s dormant light,

Take notice of the anguish of my life,

That Love himself destroys with sighs,

And lays about him now so bravely

That my weakened spirits start to flee.

Only the head remains of the target

And a fractured voice to tell of grief.

This power of Love that has undone me

Came to me swiftly from your eyes.

He hurled the dart that caused me pain.

So fierce the blow arrived, and instantly,

Fearful the spirit shrank back in surprise

Seeing the heart within its left side slain.

‘O donna mia, non vedestù colui’

O my lady do you not see

Him who has set his hand on my heart

When I reply to you softly, faintly,

For fear of the blows he deals with art?

It was Love that coming from afar

To meet with us, now dwells with me,

In Syrian guise, swift in archery

Whose only joy is his skill in war.

And drawing sighs from your eyes,

Pierces my heart with them so sorely,

That I depart in dismay, fleeing.

Then Death drives me from safety,

Accompanied by such tormented cries,

That are wont to mask all other weeping.

‘Una giovane donna di Tolosa’

In Toulouse a young lady

Gentle and lovely, of sweet modesty,

Is within her eyes exactly

So akin to my own lady

She has roused in the heart a spirit

Of longing, that now strays from it

And goes to her but all fearfully

For it cannot say who is its lady.

She gazes at it with that sweet art

That made Love himself rejoice

Because his true lady lives within.

Then back to the heart with sighs it goes

Wounded to death by that sharp dart

This lady casts as she’s departing.

‘Pegli occhi fere un spirito sottile’

A subtle spirit strikes through the eyes,

That rouses a spirit in the mind,

From which a spirit of love will rise,

Makes other spirits nobly inclined.

No base spirit can comprehend him,

How much power he brings with him:

He is the breath that makes men tremble,

The breath that makes women humble.

Yet from this spirit another flows

Another sweet and gentle spirit,

That a little breath of mercy follows:

From which breath, spirits rain free

That hold the key to every spirit,

By virtue of one that sees all these.

Note: This is closely related to the scenario depicted in Donna me prega.

‘Veder poteste, quando v'inscontrai’

You, when you look at me, may see

That fearful spirit of Love that ever

Appears when a man is facing death

And never in any other manner.

It pressed me so close, I thought

It would slay the heart grieving so,

My sad mind this dead colour sought

That suits the will that’s drawn to woe.

Yet he drew back when he saw a light

Of mercy that issued from your eyes,

That brought the heart new sweetness,

And then the subtle spirit of sight

Rescued the rest, who looked to die,

Burdened with misery and anguish.

‘Vedeste, al mio parere, onne valore’

(To Dante, in answer to the first sonnet of the Vita Nuova.)

You saw, it seems to me, every worth

And every joy and good a man may feel

If in the power of that brave lord indeed

Who rules in honour over all the Earth,

Yet lives in a place where vileness fades,

Employing reason in the mind’s deep;

Reaching people so softly in their sleep,

He takes their hearts without their feeling pain.

Love took the heart from you, knowing

That Death was calling for your lady,

And fed her with the heart, in fear of it,

And when it seemed to you he left so sadly

Then was the dream sweet at its ending,

Yielding victory to its opposite.

Note: See Dante: Vita Nuova III. ‘I decided to shape a sonetto, in which I would greet all those faithful to Amor: and begging them to interpret my vision, I wrote for them what I had seen in my sleep. And then I began this sonetto, that which begins: A ciascun´alma presa e gentil core. There were replies from many to this sonnet and of differing interpretation: among those who replied was one whom I call the foremost of my friends, and he wrote then a sonnet, that which begins: ‘Vedeste, al mio parere, onne valore: You saw, it seems to me, every worth.’…. And this was virtually the beginning of the friendship between him and myself, when he knew that it was I who had made the request of him. The true meaning of that dream was not then seen by anyone, but now it is clear to the most unknowing.’

I’ vegno ‘l giorno a te ‘nfinite volte

(To Dante, rebuking him for his way of life after the death of Beatrice.)

I visit you daily, and endlessly

And you, forever, in base thoughts I find:

It grieves me so that from your noble mind

Much of the power is stripped it seems.

Lightly scornful of many minds;

Always fleeing the people’s harm;

Speaking of me so from the heart,

I would welcome your every rhyme.

Now I dare not, your life being so vile,

Give any proof that your words please me

Nor come to you, that you might see me,

Yet if you read this sonnet frequently,

The evil spirit that pursues you closely

Summoned will vanish from your soul.

‘Certe mie rime a te mandar vogliendo’

Wishing to send you certain of my rhymes

Showing the grievous state of my heart

Love in the shape of Death appeared apart

And spoke: ‘Send not, lest I scorn your lines,

Since if your friend is the one I know

His mind has not the power I bring,

To hear of every sad and joyless thing

That you withstand while burning so,

He has not undergone such deep dismay

That he might hear your thoughts anew

Without the life departing from his heart.

And you know I am Love; who by my art

Leave this likeness of me here with you

And bear your every thought far away.’

Note: This identification of Love with Death bears on Donna me prega once more.

‘S’io fosse quelli che d’amor fu degno’

(A reply to Dante’s: ‘Guido, i’ vorrei che tu e Lapo ed io’.)

If I were one still worthy of love,

Of whom I now only own remembrance,

And if the lady had another likeness,

The thing might please me well enough.

Yet you who from love’s domain return

Where mercy gives birth to hopefulness,

See my spirit weighed with heaviness:

For a swift archer makes of it a target

And draws the bow Love strings

So lightly, you’d say by his face

He treated his lordship as a jest.

Now hear the wonder I express:

The wounded spirit pardons him

Knowing it is his power destroys it.

‘Dante, un sospiro messagger del core’

Dante, a sigh from the heart’s core risen

Assailed me suddenly while I was sleeping,

So that I then woke, in fear and trembling,

Lest it came with Love as its companion.

Then I turned, seeing the attendant

Of Monna Lagia who stood there saying:

‘Aid me, Pity’ so that with weeping

So much in me of mercy’s power entered,

That I knew Love, whetting javelins.

And then I asked of him his torments,

And then he answered in this guise:

‘Say to the servant that the lady’s won,

And I reserve her for his enjoyment;

If he’d believe, let him gaze in her eyes.’

Note: Monna Lagia was loved by Lapo Gianni.

‘Io temo che la mia disaventura’

My deep misfortune makes me fearful

Of lacking the power to say: ‘I despair’,

Yet I feel a thought in my heart here

That makes the mind with fear tremble,

Saying: ‘Love grants you no ease

Of manner, that you might lightly tell

Your lady the truth of all your ill

Lest Death cloak you in his reality.’

With the great grief the spirit feels

A sigh issues from the heart of me,

That goes saying: ‘Spirits, flee!’

Then oh for a man who knows pity,

Who might comfort my grieving soul

Saying to them: ‘Spirits, do not go!’

‘Una figura della Donna mia’

(To Guido Orlandi: of a statue resembling his Lady.)

They worship a statue of my lady

At San Michele in Orto, my Guido,

And in that image humble, pious, lovely,

Sinners find sanctuary and safe harbour.

Whoever kneels to her with devotion,

The worse they are, the more they’re comforted,

The ill are cured, and rid of inner demons,

And squinting eyes set perfect in the head.

She heals great sickness in that public place;

The people bow before her reverently;

And two bright candles are lit for her.

Her voice reaches out to distant ways,

Though Franciscans cry idolatry,

Out of envy that she’s none of theirs.

‘La bella donna dove Amor si mostra’

The lovely lady who is Love for certain,

Amor, full of valour and adorned,

Draws the heart out of your very person:

Takes your life away with her new-born,

Since her cloister’s guarded so sweetly

As every unicorn of India knows,

And virtue arms it for the fierce tourney;

Every fault receives its counter-blow,

For she is surely of so great a value,

That she lacks no aspect of the good,

Except that Nature made her mortal.

Yet Providence is present in this too:

In that in her your understanding should,

Through knowledge, what is like to it recall.

‘Ciascuna fresca e dolce fontanella’

(A reply to a sonnet of Bernardo da Bologna commending Bernardo’s lady Pinella who reacted to a sigh of Guido’s on seeing him)

Every fresh and sweet little fountain,

In Galicia, gains clarity and virtue

Bernardo my friend, from her alone,

Who in your keen rhyme replies to you:

So in that place where Amor discourses

Of every single beauty he has viewed,

He says this grace, loveliest of sources

Has gathered to herself all graces new.

So that the grief I own is more grave;

With that sigh I gave, that from me lit

That burning heart in a troubled ship,

I send to Pinella now a tide that’s full

Of hosts of mermaids, served by slaves

Nobly dressed, adorned, and beautiful.

‘Se vedi Amore, assai ti priego, Dante’

Dante, I pray you, if you see Amor

In any place where our Lapo’s present

If it gives your mind no trouble, send

And tell me whether he is named a lover,

And if the lady seems to approve him,

And whether he seems rightly overcome;

For, by custom, often that sort of man,

Will only display a semblance of loving.

You know that in the royal court of Love

No man can be a servant, if he’s vile,

To any woman wandering in that city,

And if a servant’s suffering will move,

Even scant knowledge of our sweet style

Shows that it bears the marks of pity.

Note: I take this as a reference to the dolce stil nuova of Dante’s and Cavalcanti’s circle.

‘Poi che di doglia cor conven ch’i’ porti’

Since my heart must bear its weight of grief

And feel the burning fire now of pleasure,

And fall from virtue to so base a measure,

I’ll tell how I’ve lost all that had value.

And how my spirits wither in the leaf,

How heart knows little life and greater war;

And if Death did not delight me more,

How I’d make Love weep for pity too.

But now the time of folly is upon me,

I change from out my fixed opinion

Into the contrary condition,

So that I show not how I am aggrieved:

There where I am deceived,

How through my heart a lover passed,

And in her passing all I had was lost.

‘Veggio negli occhi de la donna mia’

I see a light in my lady’s eyes

Filled as it is with the spirit of love

That in my heart makes new delight move

So joyful life issues from there too.

What befalls when I am in her presence,

The intellect alone cannot explain:

I see a lovely lady born again

From her lips, which mind nor sense

Can comprehend, and whence

Another of fresh beauty rises,

Out of whom a star moves and says:

‘Your salvation has appeared to you.’

There where this lovely lady appears

A voice is heard that sounds her way

And humbly there it sings her name

So sweet that if I wish to sing, the fear

I feel of her worth makes me quiver;

While sighs, in my soul, that stir

Cry: ‘Gaze: if you look on her,

See the ascent to heaven of her virtue.’

‘Era in penser d’amor quand’ I’ trovai’

Deep in thoughts of love, I came

On two young maids,

One sang: ‘It rains

On us, the joy of love.’

Their faces were so calm and sweet,

With modesty and courtesy,

I said to them: ‘You hold the key

Of all virtue and nobility.

Ah, young maids, do not scorn me

Because of the wound that I carry,

My heart has been dead inside me

Since I left Toulouse.’

They turned their gaze towards me so

They might see how I was wounded

And how a spirit born of sorrow

From my wound’s deep centre issued.

When they saw me so destroyed,

One of them smiled and said:

‘See how this man is conquered

By the power of love.’

The other filled with mercy, pity,

Made for joy, in Love’s likeness,

Said: ‘Your heart’s wound I see

Came from eyes of such excess,

Such power, they left within, a brightness

I cannot endure:

Tell me if you recall

Those eyes in you.’

To this harsh and fearful question

That the young maid asked of me,

I said: ‘In Toulouse I remember

There appeared an elegant lady,

Whom Love called la Mandetta: she

Struck me so fiercely, suddenly

To death, with her eyes, inwardly,

Through and through.’

She who had laughed at me before

Now replied most courteously:

‘She, who set herself with Love’s power

In your heart, gazed so fixedly

Into and through your eyes, that she

Made Love, himself, appear there.

If it’s deeply that you suffer

Turn to Love.’

Go to Toulouse, my little ballad,

Enter the Gilded Church there quietly,

Ask of some lovely lady, clearly,

To take you, out of courtesy,

To her of whom I told you fully:

And if you are received,

Say to her softly: ‘See,

For mercy I come to you.’

‘Perch’i’ no spero di tornar giammai’

As I’ve no hope of returning ever,

Little ballad, lightly, softly,

Go yourself, to Tuscany,

Go straight to my lady,

Who of her great courtesy

Will show you highest honour.

You will bring her news of sighs,

Filled with pain, and great with fear:

But take care to meet no eyes

Hostile to a gentle nature:

My disadvantage then for sure

You’d work, like one opposed,

And be by her reproved,

And so prove pain for me:

So that after my death there’d be,

Weeping and fresh dolour.

Little ballad, you know that death

Grips me so that life deserts me,

Know how my heart with every breath

Beats hard, as the spirits speak inside me.

So much of my Being’s now undone,

I can scarcely suffer longer:

So if you would serve me further,

Take my soul along with you,

Fervently I beg of you,

As it leaps from out my heart, here.

O, little ballad, now I yield

This trembling soul to your friendship,

In its sorrow, take it with you,

To the sweet one to whom I send it.

Oh, little ballad, sighing say

To her, when you’re presented:

‘Your servant comes

To be with you,

He leaves one,

Who was Love’s servant’

You, little weak and fearful voice

Issuing from the sad heart weeping,

Go with my soul, and this little song,

And tell her of my mind that’s ruined.

You’ll find a tender woman there,

Of an intellect so sweet,

That it will be delight complete

For you to leave her never.

And then, my soul, adore her,

Worthy as she is, for ever.

‘Donna me prega, - per ch’eo voglio dire’

A lady asks me – I speak for that reason

Of an effect – that so often – is daring

And so haughty – he’s called Amore:

He who denies him – now realise the truth!

I speak – to those present – with knowledge,5

Owning no expectation – that the base-hearted

Can gain understanding through explanation:

Nor that – without practical demonstration

I have the talent – to prove at will

Where he lives, or who gave him creation,10

Or what his power is, or what his virtue,

His essence too – and his every movement,

Nor the delight – so that we say: ‘to love’,

Nor whether a man can show him to gazing.

In the place – that memory inhabits15

He has his station – and takes on form

Like a veil of light – born of that shadow

Which is of Mars – that arrives and remains;

He is created – has sensation – name,

From the soul, manner – from the heart, will.20

And comes from visible form that takes on,

And embraces – in possible intellect,

As in the subject – location and dwelling.

And yet he has no weight in that state

Since he is not as a quality descending:25

Shines out – of himself perpetual impression;

Takes no delight – except in awareness;

Nor can scatter his likenesses around.

He is not virtue – but out of that comes

Which is perfection – (so self-established),30

And through feeling – not rationally, I say;

Beyond balance – yet proclaiming judgement,

That will itself – ’stead of reason – is valid:

Poor in discernment – so vice is his friend.

Oft from his power then death will follow,35

He’s strong – and, virtue opposing him,

Thus runs counter to what brings succour:

Not that he is by nature in conflict;

But twisted awry from true perfection

By fate – no man possessor of life can say40

That once established – he has no lordship.

Likewise he has power though men forget.

He comes into being – when will is such

That a further measure – of nature’s – at play;

Then he will never adorn himself – with rest.45

Moving – changing colour, laughing through tears,

Contorting – the features – with signatures of fear;

Scarce pausing; – yet you will note of him

He’s most often found with people of worth.

His strange quality gives rise to sighing,50

And makes a man gaze – into formless places

Arousing the passion that stirs a flame,

(No man can imagine him who’s not known him)

Unmoving – yet he draws all towards him,

Not turning about – to discover joy:55

Nor minded to know whether great or small.

From his like he elicits – the complex glance

That makes – the pleasure – appear more certain:

Nor can stay hidden – when he is met with.

Not savage indeed – yet beauty his arrow,60

So that desire – for fear is – made skilful:

Following all merit – in the piercing spirit.

Nor can be comprehended from the face:

Seen – as blankness fallen among objects;

Listening deep – yet seeing not form itself:65

But led by what emanates from it.

Far from colour, of separate being,

Seated – in midst of darkness, skirting the light,

Yet far from all deceit – I say, worthy of trust,

So that compassion is born from him alone.70

Canzone, confidently, now you may go

Wherever you please, I’ve adorned you so

Your reasoning – will be praised by everyone

Who makes the effort to comprehend you: though

You will reveal no art to other than them.75

Note: Donna me prega expresses a view of Love, Amore, as a darkness born of Mars (17-18) not of Venus, which enters the intellect (21-28), displaces reason, and directs the will towards its likeness (57-66) a process which threatens a fatal (35) confusion. Noble spirits are stirred by it since it has virtues (69-70) but it tends to obscure the light of the intellect (36-56) and twist it awry. The challenge to reason is overcome only by self-control, and love’s delights have no ideal meaning. Dante took a fundamentally different position, where love is positive and progressive from physical to intellectual to spiritual realms. Guido’s characterisation of Love (64-68) forms a powerful image, and I would relate Guido to Marlowe and Shelley in his possible atheism, his proud individualistic character, and his political involvement, but above all in this sense of the dark chaotic forces which stem from passion, and can initiate the war of the head and the heart.