Poems 123 to 183 of ‘The Canzoniere’
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
the sweet smile in a loving mist,
offered itself to my heart with such majesty
that it revealed the heart in the face.
Then I knew how one sees another
in paradise, her compassionate thought
showed in such a manner others did not know it:
but I saw it, since I see nothing else.
Every angelic vision, every humble act
of every lady, in whom love had appeared
would be disdained beside her I speak of.
She bent her beautiful gentle gaze to earth,
and said in silence, as it seemed to me:
‘Who distances my faithful friend from me?’
it sees, turned to what is past, afflict me so,
that I am envious now and then
of those who have reached the other shore.
Love torments my heart: Fortune removes
all solace: so that my foolish mind
annoys itself and weeps: and so in deep pain
I often have to struggle with my life.
Nor do I hope to return to sweeter days,
but only to progress from bad to worse,
and already half my life is done.
I have seen all my hopes, not diamond,
alas, but glass, fall from my hand,
and all my thoughts shattered in two.
so sharp and fierce,
could be dressed in a fitting colour,
perhaps the one who burns me and flees,
would share the heat,
and Love would wake where he sleeps:
the footprints left by my feet
on the hills and fields,
would perhaps be less lonely
my eyes would be less moist,
if she burned who remains like ice,
and leaves not an ounce in me
that it not fire and flame.
Because love weakens me
and robs me of my skill,
I speak in harsh rhymes, devoid of sweetness:
and yet the branches
do not always show their natural worth
in bark, or flower, or leaf.
Let Love, where he sits in the shade
and those lovely eyes
see what the heart conceals.
If the grief that’s freed
should overflow in tears and laments,
the one hurts me the other
her, in that I have no art.
Sweet graceful verses,
I used in Love’s
first assault, when I had no other weapons,
which of you will come and square
my heart of stone
so I can at least give tongue as before?
For I seem to have him within
who always depicts my lady
and speaks about her:
wishing to portray her,
is not enough for me, and it seems I only waste away.
Alas, what help there was
for my sweetness has fled.
Like a child who has trouble
moving and shaping his tongue,
who cannot speak, but who’s pained by any longer
being silent, so desire leads me
to speak, and I hope before I die
my sweet enemy will hear me.
If her only joy perhaps
is in her lovely face,
and she scorns all else,
green river-bank, you can hear,
and make my sighs echo so widely
that how your were my friend
will always be repeated.
I know so lovely a foot
never touched the earth
as the one that has imprinted you:
so that the weary heart returns
with tormented body
to share its hidden thoughts with you.
If you had only kept
some of those lovely traces
among your turf and flowers,
so that my bitter life
in weeping, might find what calms it!
The doubtful wandering soul
must find what peace it can.
Wherever I turn my eyes
I find sweet peace,
thinking: ‘Here the wandering light fell.’
Whatever herb or flower I cull
I think that it has its roots
in this earth, where she used to walk
among the fields and streams
and so find a cool seat
flowery and green.
So nothing is lost,
and greater certainty would be worse.
Blessed spirit, what are you
who do this to another?
O my poor verse, how rough you are!
I think you know it:
so stay here in this wood.
where she, the only one who seemed
woman to me, rested her beautiful limbs:
gentle branch where it pleased her
(with sighs, I remember it)
to make a pillar for her lovely flank:
grass and flowers which her dress
as it did the angelic breast:
serene, and sacred air,
where Love pierced my heart with eyes of beauty:
to my last sad words.
If it is my destiny
and heaven works towards this,
that Love should close these weeping eyes,
let some grace bury
my poor body amongst you,
and the soul return naked to its place.
Death would be less cruel
if I could bear this hope
to the uncertain crossing:
since the weary spirit
could never in a more gentle harbour,
or in a quieter grave,
leave behind its troubled flesh and bone.
Perhaps another time will come,
when the beautiful, wild, and gentle one
will return to this accustomed place,
and here where she glanced at me
on that blessed day
may turn her face yearning and joyful,
to find me: and, oh pity!,
seeing me already earth
among the stones, Love will inspire her
in a manner such that she will sigh
so sweetly she will obtain mercy for me,
and have power in heaven,
drying her eyes with her lovely veil.
A rain of flowers descended
(sweet in the memory)
from the beautiful branches into her lap,
and she sat there
humble amongst such glory,
covered now by the loving shower.
A flower fell on her hem,
one in her braided blonde hair,
that was seen on that day to be
like chased gold and pearl:
one rested on the ground, and one in the water,
and one, in wandering vagary,
twirling, seemed to say: ‘Here Love rules’.
Then, full of apprehension,
how often I said:
‘For certain she was born in Paradise.’
Her divine bearing
and her face, her speech, her sweet smile
captured me, and so separated me,
from true thought
that I would say, sighing:
‘How did I come here, and when?’
believing I was in heaven, not there where I was.
Since then this grass
has so pleased me, nowhere else do I find peace.
Song, if you had as much beauty as you wished,
you could boldly
leave this wood, and go among people.
the followers of my tormented mind,
towards the place where Love drives me.
Which shall be last, alas, and which first?
He who talks to me of my ills
leaves me in doubt, he speaks so confusedly.
But I will speak as much of the history written
in my heart’s core, in his own hand,
about my suffering (which I so often recall)
since by speaking I seek
a truce to sighs and help for sadness.
I say that, though I gaze
at a thousand diverse things attentively and fixedly,
I only see one lady, and one lovely face.
Since my pitiless fate separated me
from my greater good,
fate proud, inexorable and harmful,
Love aids me with the memory alone:
and when I see the earth in youthful guise
begin to clothe itself with grass,
I seem to see in that bitter season
the lovely young girl who is now a woman:
so that when the sun rises warming me,
it seems to me he is solely
that flame of love that claims noble hearts:
but when the day grieves
for him, who descends little by little,
I see her in her days of maturity.
Seeing leaves on the branches, or violets on the ground,
in the season when the cold lessens,
and gentler stars acquire power,
brings the violets and greenness to mind
with which Love, who still rules me,
armed himself at the start of our battle,
and that sweet graceful outer bark
that covered her childish limbs
that a gentle spirit inhabits today
seemed to me to make
all other pleasures base: so deeply I recall
her humble bearing
that flowered then, and increased beyond her years,
sole reason and solace for my torment.
Sometimes I see fresh snow
on distant hills struck by the sun:
as sun does snow, Love rules over me,
thinking of that more than mortal face
that makes my eyes moisten from afar,
but, close to, dazzles, and defeats the heart:
where between the white and the gold,
what has never been seen by human eye
except I think my own, reveals itself:
and that warm passion
which, when she smiles in sighing,
inflames me so that it makes me
forget nothing, but becomes eternal,
nor changes state, nor quenches spring.
I never see the wandering stars
move through the calm air after night rain,
flaming more brightly among the dew and frost,
without seeing her eyes before me,
where the weariness of my life is soothed,
as I’ve seen them in the shadow of a lovely veil:
and as I saw the sky ablaze that day
with their beauty, so I see them still
sparkling through tears, so that I burn forever.
If I see the sun rising,
I feel the light appear that enamoured me:
if slowly setting,
I seem to see it turning elsewhere
leaving darkness behind as it goes.
If my eyes ever saw pure white
and vermilion roses in a gold vase
freshly picked by a virgin hand,
I thought I saw her face
that exceeded all other marvels
through the three virtues caught up in her:
the blonde hair, loose on a neck
where any milk would lose its power,
and her cheeks that a sweet fire adorns.
But truly when a little breeze
stirs white and yellow flowers in the fields,
my mind turns to that place
and the first time I saw her golden hair
blown by the wind, so that I suddenly burned.
Perhaps it would be more believable if I
counted the stars one by one, or enclosed
the waves in a little glass, as for fresh thought
to be born in me, of telling in so small a space
all places that this flower of noble beauty
remaining still herself, has scattered her light
so that I can never depart from her:
nor will I: and if I flee at times,
she has closed the passes in heaven and earth,
so that to my weary eyes
she is always present, and I am all consumed.
And she stays with me,
so that I see nothing else, nor wish to see,
nor speak another’s name in my sighing.
Song, you well know that what I say is nothing
compared to the hidden thought of love,
that I have in my mind night and day,
comforted only by that,
so that I’m still not dead of the long war:
and I should already have died,
weeping for my heart’s absence,
but by this I gain my death’s delay.
the mortal wounds
so dense, I see on your lovely flesh,
at least I pray that my sighs might bring
some hope to the Tiber and the Arno,
and the Po, that sees me now sad and grave.
Ruler of Heaven, I hope
that the pity that brought You to earth,
will turn you towards your soul-delighting land.
Lord of courtesy, see
such cruel wars for such slight causes:
and hearts, hardened and closed
by proud, fierce Mars,
and open them, Father, soften them, set them free:
and, whatever I may be, let your Truth
be heard in my speech.
You lords to whose hands Fortune entrusts the reins
of the beautiful region
for which you seem to show no pity,
what is the purpose of these foreign swords?
Why is our green land
so stained with barbarous blood?
Vain error flatters you:
you see little, and think you see much,
if you look for love or loyalty in venal hearts.
He who has more troops
has more enemies under his command.
O waters gathered
from desert lands
to inundate our sweet fields!
If our own hands
have done it, who can rescue us now?
Nature provided well for our defence,
setting the Alps as a shield
between us and the German madness:
but blind desire, contrary to its own good,
is so ingenious,
that it brings plague to a healthy body.
Now wild beasts
and gentle flocks sleep in one pen
so the gentler always groan:
and this, to add to our grief,
from that race, that lawless people,
of whom, as we read,
Marius so pierced their flank,
that the memory of the deed can never fade,
how thirsty and weary
he no longer drank river water but blood!
I’ll say nothing of Caesar
who painted the grass crimson
with their blood, where he raised the sword.
Now it seems, no one knows by what evil star,
heaven hates us:
mercy, oh you who so beset us.
Your warring wills
waste the better part of the world.
For what fault, by what justice, through what fate,
do you trouble your poor
neighbours, and persecute those afflicted
by fortune, and scattered, and search
out foreign people and accept them,
they who spill blood and sell their souls for money?
I speak to tell the truth,
not in hatred of anyone, nor scorn.
Are you still ignorant of German deceit,
with so many clear examples,
they who lift their fingers in mock surrender?
Their scorn is worse, it seem to me, than their harm:
while your blood flows
more freely, as other’s anger flails you.
From matins to tierce
think to yourself, consider how
any can care for others who behave so vilely.
People of Latin blood,
free yourself from this harmful burden:
don’t make an idol of a name
empty, and without substance:
that the berserkers from there, that backward race,
defeat our intelligence
is our sin, and not nature’s.
Is this not the earth that I first touched?
Is this not my nest
where I was so sweetly nourished?
Is this not the land I trust,
benign and gentle mother,
that covers both my parents?
By God, let this move you
a little, and gaze with pity
at the tears of your sad people,
who place their hopes in you
next to God: if only you show
signs at least of pity,
virtue will take up arms
against madness, and cut short the warring:
if ancient courage
is not yet dead in Italian hearts.
Lords, see how time flies,
and how life
flies too, and death is at our shoulder.
You are here now: but think of the parting:
how the naked lonely soul
must arrive at the dangerous pass.
As you go through this valley
of tears, lay aside hatred and anger,
running counter to a peaceful life:
and all the time you spend
causing others pain, is more worthy
of actions or thought
in which there is sweet praise,
in which honest study is involved:
so there is joy down here,
and the way to heaven will be open.
Song, I advise you
to speak with courteous words,
since you must go among proud people,
whose will is already
formed by ancient, adverse custom,
always inimical to truth.
Seek your fortune
among those favourable to true peace.
Say to them: ‘Who will defend me?
I go calling out: Peace, peace, peace.’
Note: Addressed to the Italian lords hiring
German mercenaries for their internecine wars.
Marius defeated the German tribes in 102BC.
from mountain to mountain, since every path blazed
proves opposed to the tranquil life.
If there is a stream or a fountain on a solitary slope,
if a shadowed valley lies between two hills,
the distressed soul calms itself there:
and, as Love invites it to,
now smiles, or weeps, or fears, or feels secure:
and my face that follows the soul where she leads
is turbid and then clear,
and remains only a short time in one mode:
so that a man expert in such a life would say
at the sight of me: ‘He is on fire, and uncertain of his state.’
I find some repose in high mountains
and in savage woods: each inhabited place
is the mortal enemy of my eyes.
At every step a new thought of my lady
is born, which often turns the suffering
I bear to joy, because of her:
and, as often as I wish
to alter my bitter and sweet life,
I say: ‘Perhaps Love is saving you
for a better time:
perhaps you are dear to another, hateful to yourself.’
And with this, sighing, I continue:
‘Now can this be true? And how? And when?’
Sometimes I stop where a high pine tree or a hill
provides shade, and on the first stone
I trace in my mind her lovely face.
When I come to myself, I find my chest
wet with pity: and then I say: ‘Ah, alas,
what are you come to, and what are you parted from!’
But as long as I can keep
my wandering mind fixed on that first thought,
and gaze at her, and forget myself,
I feel Love so close to me
that my soul is satisfied with its own error:
I see her in many places and so lovely,
that I ask no more than that my error last.
Many times I have seen here vividly
(now, who will believe me?) in clear water
and on green grass, and in a beech trunk,
and in a white cloud, so made that Leda
would surely have said her daughter was eclipsed,
like a star the sun obscures with its rays:
and the wilder the place I find
and the more deserted the shore,
the more beautifully my thoughts depict her.
Then when the truth dispels
that sweet error, I still sit there chilled,
the same, a dead stone on living stone,
in the shape of a man who thinks and weeps and writes.
I feel a sole intense desire draw me
where the shadow of no other mountain falls,
towards the highest and most helpful peak:
from there I begin to measure out my suffering
with my eyes, and, weeping, to release
the sorrowful cloud that condenses in my heart,
when I think and see,
what distance parts me from her lovely face,
which is always so near to me, and so far.
Then softly I weep to myself:
‘Alas, what do you know! Perhaps somewhere
now she is sighing for your absence.’
And the soul takes breath at this thought.
Song, beyond the mountain,
there where the sky is more serene and joyful,
you will see me once more by a running stream,
where the breeze is fragrant
with fresh and perfumed laurel.
There is my heart, and she who steals it from me:
here you can only see my ghost.
I travel on the road of despair, far
from those eyes where, by what fate who knows,
the reward for all my faith is set.
I feed the heart on sighs, it asks no more,
and, born to weep, I live on tears:
nor lament it, since in such a state
weeping’s sweeter than others might believe.
And I adhere to one image alone,
that no Zeuxis, Praxiteles, or Phidias made,
but a greater master, with a nobler art.
What Scythia or Numidia would be safe for me,
since, still dissatisfied with my shameful exile,
Envy finds me again, buried here?
I would draw a thousand sighs
from that hard heart, and light a thousand
noble desires in that chill mind:
and I would see her often change expression,
and wet her eyes, and turn more pityingly,
like one who, when it’s no use, repents
of other’s suffering and her own error:
and the scarlet roses in among the snow
move at her breath, revealing ivory,
changing to marble those who gaze closely:
and all that holds no regret for me
in this brief life, but only glory
at having been born in this late age.
But if it is love, God, what thing is this?
If good, why this effect: bitter, mortal?
If bad, then why is every suffering sweet?
If I desire to burn, why tears and grief?
If my state’s evil, what’s the use of grieving?
O living death, O delightful evil,
how can you be in me so, if I do not consent?
And if I consent, I am greatly wrong in sorrowing.
Among conflicting winds in a frail boat
I find myself on the deep sea without a helm,
so light in knowledge, so laden with error,
that I do not know what I wish myself,
and tremble in midsummer, burn in winter.
like snow in sunlight, or wax in the fire,
like a cloud in the wind: and I am hoarse already,
Lady, calling for your mercy: and you indifferent.
The mortal blow issued from your eyes,
against which no time or place helps me:
from you alone proceed, and it seems to you
a game, the sun and wind and fire that make me so.
Your thoughts are arrows, and your face the sun,
and desire is fire: with which joint weapons
Love pierces me, dazzles me and melts me:
and your angelic singing and your speech,
with your sweet spirit from which I’ve no defence,
are the breeze (l’aura) before which my life flies.
and fear, and hope: and burn, and I am ice:
and fly above the sky, and fall to earth,
and clutch at nothing, and embrace the world.
One imprisons me, who neither frees nor jails me,
nor keeps me to herself nor slips the noose:
and Love does not destroy me, and does not loose me,
wishes me not to live, but does not remove my bar.
I see without eyes, and have no tongue, but cry:
and long to perish, yet I beg for aid:
and hold myself in hate, and love another.
I feed on sadness, laughing weep:
death and life displease me equally:
and I am in this state, lady, because of you.
may exist in whatever foreign land,
I truly think it most
resembles me: to such I’m come, Love.
There where the day is born,
flies a bird, alone without a mate,
that rises from self-willed
death, and is reborn to life.
So is my desire
found alone, and so it turns to the heights
of noble thought, towards the sun,
and so it is destroyed,
and so returns to its first state:
it burns, and dies, and regains its strength,
able to live again as the phoenix does.
There is a stone so ardent
there in the Indian Ocean, that by nature
it draws iron to itself, steals nails
from wood, so that vessels sink.
I demonstrate this, among waves
of bitter tears, because the lovely reef
with its harsh pride,
has led me where my life must founder:
so my soul is stripped
(stealing the heart that once was whole,
and making me now scattered and divided)
a stone to draw flesh
more than iron. O my cruel fate
that being flesh I see myself dragged to shore
towards a sweet living danger!
In the far west
there is a creature gentler
and sweeter than any other, yet she
bears tears and grief and death in her eyes:
and he must take care
who ever turns his sight towards her:
only if he does not gaze into her eyes,
can he safely look at her.
But I, incautious, grieving,
always run towards my hurt, and I know
how much I suffered and expect to:
but my blind deaf desire
so transports me, that the lovely face
and veiled eyes will be a reason why I perish
of this innocent angelic creature.
In the mid-south a fountain
rises, taking its name from the sun,
that by nature
burns at night, and in the day is cold:
and so it cools
as the sun climbs, and it is nearer.
So it is with me,
who am the fount and place of tears:
when the bright lovely light
that is my sun departs, and my eyes
are sad and lonely, and night obscures them,
I burn: but if I see the gold
and rays of my living sun appear,
I feel myself alter inside and out,
and I freeze, as if turned to ice.
Another fountain is in Epirus,
of which it’s written that being cold
it ignites spent torches,
and quenches those that are lit.
My spirit, that had not yet
been attacked by loving fire,
to that cold I always sigh for,
blazed up: and suffering
like it was never seen by sun or star:
it might have moved a marble heart to pity:
once it was inflamed,
her beautiful cold power re-quenched it.
So my heart has been many times lit and spent:
I know how I felt, and often it angers me.
Beyond our every shore,
in the famed Fortunate Isles,
there are two founts: he who drinks
of the one dies smiling: if of the other he’s saved.
A like fate shapes
my life, since I could die smiling,
with the great delight I derive,
if it were not tempered by sad cries.
Love, who still guides me,
into the shadows, dark and hidden from fame,
let us be silent about that fountain,
always full, but seen
with greater flow when the sun’s in Taurus:
so my eyes weep all the time,
but more at the time I first saw my lady.
Song, if they ask
how I am, you can say: ‘He lives
under a great rock in a closed valley,
where the Sorgue rises, where no one
sees him, except Love, who never leaves his side,
and that image with him, of one who destroys him,
for whom he flees all other people.
on your head, you who grow rich and great
by bringing others down to bread and water,
taking so much joy in evil actions:
nest of treachery, where all the evil,
spread through all the world, hatches,
slave to wine, delicacies and good living,
where Luxury performs her worst.
Through your rooms young girls and old men,
pursue their affairs, Beelzebub among them
with fire and bellows and with mirrors.
You were not born to grace a feather bed,
but go naked in the wind, barefoot on thorns:
now you live so that the stench rises to God.
Note: Addressed to the Papal Court at Avignon.
with God’s anger, wicked fare, and deeds,
almost to bursting, and has made its deities
not Jupiter and Pallas, but Venus and Bacchus.
Waiting for justice wearies and consumes me:
but I foresee a new sultan among them,
who will establish one seat, not soon enough
for me, and that will be in Baghdad.
Babylon’s idols will be scattered on the ground,
and her proud towers, threatening heaven,
and her guards burned as they burn within.
Beautiful souls and friends of virtue
will rule the world: and we’ll see it turned
all to gold, and filled with ancient works.
Note: An attack on the Papal Court at Avignon
(Babylon) and a vision of a reformed Papacy (the new
sultan) with its seat in Rome (Baghdad).
Jupiter and Pallas represent Justice and Wisdom,
Venus and Bacchus, Sensuality and Wine.
school of errors, and temple of heresy,
once Rome, now a Babylon of deceit,
from which come so many tears and sighs:
O smithy of deceptions, O prison,
where good dies, and evil is nourished,
a living hell, a miracle indeed if Christ
is not wrathful against you in the end.
Founded in chaste and humble poverty,
impudent whore, you raise your horns
against your founders: where is your hope?
In your adulterers? Or in the evil born
from such riches? Constantine will not return:
but take them to the sad world that creates them.
Note: The Emperor Constantine the Great (d337AD)
was wrongly thought in the Middle Ages to have granted
the Papacy temporal power in the West, by the document
called the Donation of Constantine.
I spread wings of desire towards you,
the more fate hampers my flight
with bird-lime, or makes me go astray.
The heart that claimed it wrong to return,
is with you always in that broad valley
where the land most hems in our sea:
I wept at parting from my heart that day.
I took the left hand road, my heart the straight:
I was forced to go, my heart was guided by love:
my heart to Jerusalem, I into Egypt.
But patience is a solace to our grief:
by long usage, it’s well-known to us both,
that being together is a rare and brief thing.
and holds the central place in my heart,
sometimes comes to my brow fully armed,
takes his stand there, and sets up his banner.
She who teaches love and suffering,
and wishes great desire and burning hope
to be restrained by reason, reverence, shame,
is angered in herself by our ardour.
Then Love retreats in fear to the heart,
relinquishing his aim, trembles, weeps:
hides himself there, and no more appears.
What can I do, now my lord’s afraid,
but stay with him until the final hour?
For he ends well, who dies loving well.
a guileless butterfly accustomed to the light,
flies in its wanderings into someone’s face,
causing it to die, and the other to weep:
so I am always running towards the sunlight of her eyes,
fatal to me, from which so much sweetness comes
that Love takes no heed of the reins of reason:
and he who discerns them is conquered by his desire.
And truly I see how much disdain they have for me,
and I know I am certain to die of them,
since my strength cannot counter the pain:
but Love dazzles me so sweetly,
that I weep for the other’s annoyance, not my hurt:
and my soul consents blindly to its death.
I ran fleeing from the pitiless light,
burning down on me from the third heaven:
and snow was already clearing from the hills
in the loving breeze that brought the new season,
and flowers to the fields, grass, and branches.
The world has never seen such graceful branches,
the wind has never stirred such emerald leaves
as were shown to me in that first season:
such that, trembling with the fierce light,
I did not turn for refuge to shadowed hills,
but to the tree that’s noblest in heaven.
A laurel protected me from that heaven,
so that I’ve often, longing for lovely branches,
made my way through the woods and hills:
but never found a tree or leaves
so honoured by the supreme light,
that they do not alter with the season.
So, more constant, season after season,
I follow where I heard the call from heaven
and guided by a clear and gentle light,
I turn, devoted, to those first branches
when the earth is scattered with leaves
and when the sun brings green to the hills.
Woods, stones, fields, rivers and hills:
whatever is, is altered by the season:
so that I ask a pardon of these leaves,
if in the many circling years of heaven
I thought I could flee the clinging branches
as soon as I began to see the light.
I was so pleased at first by the light
that I passed with delight among vast hills,
so I might be near the beloved branches:
now the brief life, the place, and the season
show me another path to climb to heaven
and bear fruit not only flowers and leaves.
I seek another love, and leaves and light,
another path to heaven from other hills,
since it is the season, and other branches.
as Love instils in all his followers,
my desire burns, all sparkling,
so even dead souls would be inflamed.
Then I find my lovely lady before me,
those times when she was sweet and peaceable,
which wakes me, not like a chiming bell
but often with the sounds of my own sighs.
I see her hair scattered by the breeze,
and she turning: so she returns so lovely
to my heart, like one who holds the key.
But the overwhelming pleasure, that ties
my tongue, has not the boldness to show
more clearly what it is she means inside me.
when the sky was wholly free of cloud,
nor seen the heavenly bow after rain
so variously coloured in the air,
as I saw that face, and my words fall short,
with which no mortal thing can be compared,
transformed by so many shades of flame,
on the day that I took up this loving burden.
I saw Love directing her lovely eyes
so sweetly, that, from then, all other sights
began to seem like darkness to me.
Sennuccio, I saw him, and the bow he bends,
so that my life became no longer safe,
and yet I long to see it still, again.
or where he’s conquered by the ice and snow:
set me beneath his temperate chariot,
where it rises or where it descends:
set me among the humble, or the proud,
in sweet calm air, or in the dark and sombre:
set me in night, in days long or short,
unripe in age, or of maturer years.
set me in heaven, on earth, or in the depths,
on a high hill, or deep in a marshy vale,
a spirit freed, or imprisoned in its limbs:
set me far from fame, or let me be known:
I’ll be what I have been, live as I’ve lived,
continuing my fifteen years of sighs.
for whom I fill out so many pages:
O lone house still whole in its chastity,
strong tower founded on the highest worth:
O flame, O rose scattered on sweet layers
of living snow, in which I am reflected:
O delight whose wing lifts to a lovely face,
whose light shines brighter than the sun:
if my verse were understood so far away,
I’d fill farthest Thule, Bactria, Don and Nile,
Mount Atlas, and Gibraltar, with your name.
Since it can’t carry there to the four corners
of the world, let that lovely country hear it
the Apennines divide, and Alps and sea surround.
with two fierce spurs and a harsh rein,
escapes its usual curbs from time to time
and raises my spirits to some degree,
it finds her who reads the fear and daring
of the heart’s depths in the face,
and sees Love, who corrects false actions,
flashing from her pained and troubled eyes.
Then, like one afraid of a blow
from angry Jove, it retreats once more:
since great fear restrains a great desire.
But cold fire and fearful hope
in my soul, transparent as glass,
sometimes clear her sweet face again.
Euphrates, Tigris, Nile, Erno, Indus, or Ganges,
Don, Danube, Alpheus, Garonne, or the breaking sea,
Rhône, Iber, Rhine, Seine, Elbe, Loire, Ebro:
Not ivy, fir, pine, beech, or juniper
could lessen the fire that vexes my sad heart,
as much as the lovely river that always weeps with me,
and the little tree I adorn and praise in verse.
I find they help against the assaults
of Love, while I must live, well-armed,
the life which passes by in such swift leaps.
Let the beautiful laurel grow so, on the green bank,
and let him who planted it, in the sweet shade,
write lofty and joyful thoughts, to the sound of water.
the angelic figure and the sweet smile,
and the expression on her face
and the charming eyes are less dark.
What have these sighs now to do with me
which were born of grief
and served to show
my anguish and my desperate life?
If I turn my look that way
to quiet my heart,
I see Love with me
arguing my case, and giving aid:
yet I still see no end to my war,
nor any tranquil state in my heart,
since my desire blazes out the more,
the more hope should reassure me.
Will I ever know truce? Or will I have endless war?’
‘I don’t know what will arise for us: but I think
that seeing our ills will not please her eyes.’
‘What help is that, when with those eyes
she makes us ice in summer, fire in winter?’
‘It is not her, but the one who rules her.’
‘What matter, if she sees, and yet is silent?’
‘Sometimes her tongue is silent, and her heart
complains aloud, and with face dry-eyed and happy,
she weeps within where no gaze can see.’
‘For all that my mind is not at peace,
aching with grief that gathers there and stays,
an unhappy man’s no faith in wild hopes.
from the dark and tempestuous ocean waves,
as I do from gloomy and turbid thought,
fleeing where my great passion spurs me on.
Never has divine light overcome mortal vision
as did that sublime beam mine, that
of the beautiful, sweet, gentle, black and white
eyes in which Love gilds and sharpens his arrows.
He is not blind yet, but I see him with his quiver:
naked, except in so much as shame is veiled:
a boy with wings: not painted, but alive.
From this he shows me what he hides from others,
what I read, little by little, in her beautiful eyes,
all that I speak of Love, and all that I write.
that comes with human face and angel’s form,
moves me to smiles and tears, in hope and fear,
so that my whole state is changeable.
If she does not receive or free me soon,
but keeps me like a man between two worlds,
by what I feel in my heart pass through my veins
sweet poison, Love, my life will be ended.
My fragile courage and my weariness
cannot withstand such shifting suffering now,
that I burn, freeze, blush and pale in a moment.
I hope to end my misery by fleeing,
like one who bit by bit vanishes:
for truly there’s no one who cannot die.
shatter the ice that chokes her pity,
and if mortal prayers rise to heaven,
let death or mercy end my sorrow.
Go, sweet thoughts, and speak to her
of what her lovely gaze does not include:
so if her harshness or my stars still hurt me,
I shall be free of hope and free of error.
Through you it can be said, perhaps not fully,
how troubled and gloomy is my state,
as hers is both peaceful and serene.
Go safely now that Love goes with you:
and you may lead fortune smiling here,
if I can read the weather by my sun.
all their art, and all their deepest care,
to set in place this living light, where Nature
is mirrored, and a Sun without compare.
The work, so noble, graceful and rare
is such that mortal gaze cannot grasp it:
such is the measure of beauty in her eyes
that Love rains down in grace and sweetness.
The air struck by those sweet rays
is inflamed with virtue, and becomes
such as to conquer all our speech and thought.
There no unworthy desire can be felt,
but honour and virtue: now where
was ill will ever so quenched by noble beauty?
the one to thunder, the other to war,
that Pity would not have quenched their anger,
and made them both lay down their weapons.
My lady wept: my lord wished me to go
and look on her, and hear her lament,
filling me with sadness and desire,
searching my very bones to the marrow.
Love painted that sweet weeping for me,
or sculpted it rather, engraved her gentle words
on a diamond at the centre of my heart:
where with his strong and ingenious keys
he often returns still to unlock
rare tears, and long and heavy sighs.
and heavenly beauty on terrestrial soil,
so I am sad and joyful at the memory,
and what I see seems dream, shadows, smoke:
and I saw two lovely eyes that wept,
that made the sun a thousand times jealous:
and I heard words emerge among sighs
that made the mountains move, and halted rivers.
Love, Judgement, Pity, Worth and Grief,
made a sweeter chorus of weeping
than any other heard beneath the moon:
and heaven so intent upon the harmony
no leaf was seen to move on the boughs,
so filled with sweetness were the wind and air.
sent such a living image to my heart
that no skill or art could ever picture,
but often memory returns to it.
Her aspect adorned all with gentle pity,
and the sweet bitter grieving that I heard,
made me doubt if mortal lady or goddess
had made the sky grow clear all around.
Her hair pure gold, and hot snow her face,
her eyebrows ebony, her eyes twin stars,
from which Love never bent his bow in vain:
pearls and crimson roses, where grief received
the form of an ardent lovely voice:
flames her sighs, and her tears were crystal.
to quiet the longing that excites them,
I find that someone depicts that lovely lady
so my desire might be always fresh.
She seems to breathe with graceful sadness
a noble pity that stirs the gentle heart:
beyond sight, hearing is adorned, enchanted
by her living voice and sacred sighs.
Love and truth with me declared I saw
beauty that was unique on earth,
never seen again beneath the stars.
Such sweet and piteous words were never
heard before, nor were such lovely tears seen
to fall from such lovely eyes beneath the sun.
came the example, from which Nature took
that beautiful joyful face, in which she chose
to show down here what power she has above?
What nymph of the fountain, what goddess of the wood
loosed hair of such fine gold on the breeze?
How did a heart gather so much virtue to itself,
though the sum of it is guilty of my death?
He looks in vain for divine beauty
who has never yet seen how tenderly
she moves those eyes of hers around:
he does not know how Love heals, and how he kills,
who does not know how sweet her sighs are,
and how sweet her speech, and sweet her smile.
as ever anyone who saw a marvellous thing,
gaze at her when she speaks or smiles
who is like herself alone, and no one else.
Under the lovely peace of her tranquil brows
those two faithful stars of mine so sparkle,
that no other light can inflame and guide
him who consigns himself to love nobly.
What a miracle she is, when she sits among
the grasses like a flower, or when she
brushes against a green bush with her breast!
What sweetness in the newborn season
to see her walk alone, her thoughts for company,
weaving a garland for her clear curling gold!
O fixed memory, O wild ardour,
O powerful desire, O weakened heart,
O eyes of mine, not eyes now, but fountains!
O leaves, that honour famous brows,
O one sole emblem of double worth!
O weary life, O sweet error,
that makes me go searching plains and hills!
O lovely face where Love has set together
the reins and spurs that make me twist and turn,
at pleasure: and no use to kick against them!
O gentle loving spirits, if there are
any in this world, and you, naked dust and shadows,
pause and see the nature of my ills.
where my lady, thinking, often walks:
meadows that listen to her sweet words,
where her lovely feet leave their traces:
slender trees and fresh green foliage,
little loving pallid violets:
shadowed woods, where the sun pierces,
who makes you proud and noble with her rays:
O gentle countryside, O pure stream,
that bathes her lovely face and her clear eyes,
you take your nature from her living light:
how I envy you those true and graceful acts!
There cannot be a stone among you now,
unused to burning as my flame burns.
my sole companion on these harsh roads,
send your gaze to the depths of my heart,
what’s hidden from all others is clear to you.
Know what I’ve suffered following you:
and you still climb by paths from hill to hill,
from day to day, and take no notice of me:
that I’m so weary, and the path’s too steep.
True I see the sweet light in the distance
towards which you spur and whip me harshly,
but unlike you I have no wings to fly.
You leave my longing almost satisfied,
if it is loving well that consumes me,
and if she’s not displeased that for her I sigh.
and the wild creatures and the birds are reined in sleep,
Night leads its starry chariot in its round,
and the sea without a wave lies in its bed,
I look, think, burn, weep: and she who destroys me
is always before my eyes to my sweet distress:
war is my state, filled with grief and anger,
and only in thinking of her do I find peace.
So from one pure living fountain
flow the sweet and bitter which I drink:
one hand alone heals me and pierces me:
and so that my ordeal may not reach haven,
I am born and die a thousand times a day,
I am so far from my salvation.
takes its sweet way, virtuously,
from her tender steps there seems to issue
a power that opens and renews the flowers.
Love who only hinders the gracious heart
not deigning to try his strength in other ways,
rains such keen pleasure from her lovely eyes
I care for no other good, long for no other bait.
And those sweetest words of hers accord
with her walk and her quiet gaze,
as do her gentle, calm and humble acts.
From those four sparks, but not merely those,
is born the great fire in which I live and burn,
like a bird of night dazzled by the sun.
where Apollo became a prophet,
Florence perhaps might have her poet today
not just Mantua, and Verona:
But since my ground no longer yields reeds,
with the moisture from that rock, I must follow
another star, and, from my native fields, reap
thorns and thistles with my curved sickle.
The olive-tree is dry, and the water
that springs from Parnassus, through which
at one time it flowered, flows elsewhere.
So fault or misfortune will deprive me
of all the finest fruits, unless eternal Jove
pours his grace on me from above.
Note: Petrarch would be Florence’s poet.
Mantua was Virgil’s birthplace, and Verona
Catullus’s. Petrarch, though born in Arezzo,
identified himself with Florence.
and with his hand gathers her wandering breath
in a sigh, then looses it in a voice,
clear, gentle, angelic and divine,
I feel my heart sweetly stolen away,
and my thoughts and wishes changed within,
so that I say: ‘These are the last spoils of me
if heaven intends me for so happy a death.’
But that sound that binds the senses with its sweetness
restrains the spirit from swiftly departing,
through a great desire to hear it, and be blessed.
So I live, and so she winds, unwinds
the thread of life that was granted me,
that sole Siren from heaven who’s among us.
an ancient messenger between us two,
to comfort me, saying he was never
readier than now to grant what I hope and wish.
I, who have found his words sometimes true,
and sometimes false, still not certain
whether to believe him, live between the two,
neither yes nor no sounds wholly in my heart.
In this way time flies, and in the mirror
I see I near the season that opposes
his promise, and my hopes.
Now come what must: I’m not alone in growing old:
only my longing does not alter with the years:
truly I fear the brief life that cannot last.
from all other men, and makes me go lonely through the world,
hour after hour I am tempted from myself
searching for her, whom I should fly from:
and I see her go by so sweet and deadly
that my soul trembles to rise in flight,
she leads such a troop of armed sighs with her,
this beautiful enemy of Love, and of me.
Truly if I am not wrong I see a ray of pity
shine from that high clouded brow,
that partly brightens my grieving heart:
then I recall my soul, and when I start
to reveal my ill-conceived thoughts to her,
I have so much to say to her, I dare not begin.
I’ve dared to assail my enemy, quiet and humble
in her actions, her beauty seeming kind,
with my honest well-considered speech.
Then her eyes rendered my thought vain
since all my fortune, all my destiny,
my good, my bad, my death and life, had been
placed in her hands, by him who alone can do so.
So I could not even form true words
that anyone but me could understand:
Love had made me blaze and tremble so.
And I see clearly now that glowing charity
ties a man’s tongue, and daunts his spirit:
who utters while he burns is in slight fire.
that kills unjustly: and if I complain
he doubles my hurt: then it’s better to be
as I used to be, dying of love, and silent.
she’d burn the Rhine however deeply frozen
with her eyes, and shatter all its sharp rocks:
and she has pride equal to her beauty,
so that she regrets pleasing others.
I cannot soften that lovely diamond
with my wit, or that heart so hard:
the rest is marble that moves and breathes:
nor with all her disdain, nor her dark looks,
can she ever take my hope away from me,
nor ever take away my sweet sighs.
opposes all our best intentions,
by what path have you entered silently
into that lovely breast, by what art the mute?
You have shattered my health at its root:
shown me as too happy a lover, whose humble
and chaste prayers she once valued,
and now seems to deny and hate.
But though with bitter and harsh actions
she weeps at my good fortune, laughs at my tears,
she cannot change a single thought of mine:
nor, though she murder me a thousand times,
make me not love her, or not hope for her:
though she make me afraid, Love gives me hope.
where he, who darkens and bathes mine, lives,
my weary soul is ready to leave my heart
to travel to its earthly paradise.
Then finding itself full of the bitter and the sweet,
its sees what the world weaves are spiders’ webs:
so that it complains to itself, and Love,
that he has such keen spurs, so harsh a rein.
Between these two opposing, mixed extremes,
now with icy, now with hot desire,
it stands between misery and happiness.
not often joyful, and so often sad,
it regrets its eager ventures more deeply:
when such is the fruit born of such a root.
in us, as some believe) under which I was born,
and cruel the cradle where I lay once born,
and cruel the earth, where my feet then walked:
and cruel the lady, who with her eyes,
and with her bow favouring me as target,
made a wound: Love, I’m not silent about these things,
since with those weapons you could heal my hurt.
But you take some delight from my sorrow:
she does not because it is not far worse,
being only an arrow-wound, and not a spear’s.
I console myself that to pine for her
is better than to joy in another: you swear it
by your golden arrow, and I believe you.
where I was lost, and that dear knot,
with which Love tied me in such a way
that bitter was sweet, and weeping joy,
I’m all sulphur and tinder, the heart ablaze
with those gentle words of hers I always hear,
so hot within, so glad to be on fire,
living there, and for all else caring little.
That sun, that shines alone to my sight,
still heats me with its wandering rays,
at evening just as in my early days:
and even from far away my light is kindled,
since that memory always fresh and strong
shows me that knot, and the place, and the time.
where men at arms go at great risk,
I go safely, since nothing can frighten me
except that sun whose rays are alive with love:
and I go singing (oh, my unwise thoughts!)
of her whom heaven cannot set distant from me,
whom I have in my vision, and seem to see
women and girls with her, and they are beech and fir.
I seem to hear her, hearing the branches and breeze,
and the leaves, and the birds lamenting, and the water
murmuring, running through the green grass.
Rarely did silence, and solitary awesomeness
of shadowy woodland ever please me so:
if only too much of my sunlight were not lost.
in the famed Ardennes, in a single day:
he who sends winged feet and hearts
flying, still living, up to the third heaven.
It was sweet to me to be alone and unarmed there
where bold Mars takes up arms without warning,
a ship at sea with barely a mast and rudder,
filled with serious and diffident thought.
Reaching the end of this dark day, remembering
where I have been, and on what wings,
I feel fear born of too great a daring.
But the lovely land and the delightful river,
with their calm welcome, reassure
my heart, turning again to where it’s light lives.
calms and frightens me, burns and freezes,
receives, disdains, calls to me, and spurns me,
keeping me now in hope and now in pain,
leading my weary heart high and low:
so that wandering desire loses its way
displeased by its own greatest pleasure,
since the mind is full of such strange error.
A friendly thought points out the ford,
not through water poured out by the eyes,
but soon to be crossed, where hopes are realised:
then a stronger force opposes it,
I’m forced to take another way, and steeper,
consenting to its lingering path, and mine.
when my sweet enemy who is so proud
is angry with me, so I don’t wholly perish:
solely by means of which the soul can breathe.
Wherever she turns her disdainful eyes
(hoping by light to rob me of life?)
I show myself so full of humility, truly,
that all the force of her anger fails inside.
If it were not so, the sight of her would be
no different than the sight of Medusa’s face,
that made all the people there turn to marble.
So, do the same yourself: I see no other aid,
and our fleeing is no use to us at all,
given the wings that our lord deploys.
Note: Addressed to Geri dei Gianfigliazzi,
in reply to a sonnet asking how to placate
an angry lady.
along with your powerful, swift stream,
but my spirit that is hidden here within
cares neither for your force, nor any other:
without the need to tack from side to side
its desire heads straight towards the breeze,
beating its wings towards her golden hair,
despite the waves, the wind, and sail, and oars.
King of the rivers, proud and noble flood,
meeting the sun when he leads on the dawn,
leaving behind you a much lovelier light,
you bear only my mortal part on your crest:
the other, clothed in lover’s plumage,
goes flying on towards its sweet home.
over the grass, underneath the branches
of an evergreen tree that I love so much,
though its shadow gives more sadness than delight.
His lure was the crop he reaps as well as sows,
sweet and bitter, so I’m in fear and longing:
the birdsong was never so soft and quiet,
since the day that Adam first opened his eyes.
And the clear light that shone all around
quenched the sun: and the cord was wrapped
round a hand that revealed ivory and snow.
So I fell into the net, and what trapped me
was her graceful ways, and angelic words,
and pleasure, and desire, and hope.
constrains it also with an icy fear,
and leaves the mind unsure which is greater,
the hope or the fear, the flame or the ice.
Shivering with heat, burning with cold weather,
always filled with desires and sighs,
as though a woman in a simple gown
or under a little veil, hid a living man.
The first of these ills is properly mine,
to burn day and night: how sweet the labour
to catch the thought, let alone in verse or rhyme:
the other is not: since my lovely fire is such
she treats all equally: and he who thinks to fly
to that far light unfurls his wings in vain.
and the sweet subtlety of her words,
and if Love has such power over me
when she merely speaks, or when she smiles,
then what would happen, alas, if her eyes
were free of Mercy, either through my fault
or evil fate, and if I feared death itself
there where I now feel secure?
So if I tremble, and go with icy heart,
when I see her expression change,
it is a fear born of long experience.
Woman by nature is a changeable thing:
so that I know a loving mood
lasts only a little time in a lady’s heart.
Note: ‘Woman by nature’ is an adaptation
of Virgil Aeneid IV 569, ‘Varium et mutabile