La Vita Nuova

‘The New Life’ of Dante Alighieri

Sections XXXI to XLII

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Narrated by Jack Wynters of Wyntersea Productions

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved

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Decorative Rose

In Memory of Jean (1922-2001)


Decorative Leaf - Left XXXI His canzone mourning Beatrice Decorative Leaf - Right

When my eyes had wept for some while, and were so affected that they could no longer relieve my sadness, I thought I would like to relieve it with some words of sorrow: and so I proposed making a canzone in which in the midst of weeping I would speak of her through whom such sadness was destroying my soul: and I started then a canzone, which begins: ‘Li occhi dolenti per pietà: The grieving eyes in pity.’ And so that this canzone may seem more destitute at its end, I will divide it before I transcribe it: and I will use this style from now on.

I say that this mournful little canzone has three parts: the first is an introduction: in the second I speak of her: in the third I speak sorrowfully to the canzone. The second begins with: ‘Ita n´è Beatrice: Beatrice has gone’: the third with: ‘Pietosa mia canzone: My sorrowful canzone.

The first is divided in three: in the first I say why I am moved to speak: in the second I say I say to whom I would speak: in the third I say of whom I would speak. The second begins with: ‘E perché me ricorda: And so remembering’: the third with: ‘e dicerò: and I will speak’.

Then where I say: ‘Ita n´è Beatrice’, I speak of her: and within this there are two parts: first I say why she was taken from us: after that I say how others weep at her leaving, and I begin that part with: ‘Partissi de la sua: It parted from her’.

That part is divided in three: in the first I say who does not weep for her: in the second I say who does weep: in the third I speak of my state. The second begins with: ‘ma ven tristiza e voglia: but sadness and grief come’: the third with: ‘Dannomi angoscia: Anguish grants me’.

Then where I say: ‘Pietosa mia canzone’, I speak to the canzone itself, indicating which ladies it should go to, and take its place among them.

The grieving eyes for pity of the heart

have so suffered the pain of tears,

that having conquered none remain.

Now, if I wish to ease their sadness,

that leads me step by step to death,

I must speak to find my help.

And so remembering how I spoke

of my lady, while she was alive,

sweet ladies, freely with you,

I do not wish to speak with others,

unless they have the gentle hearts of women:

and I will speak of her, weeping,

since she has gone suddenly to Heaven,

and has left Love grieving with me.

Beatrice has gone to the highest Heaven,

to the realm where the angels have peace,

and stays with them, and has left you ladies:

no quality of coldness took her,

or of heat, as it is with others,

but it was only her great gentleness:

since light from her humility

pierced the skies with so much virtue,

that it made the Eternal Lord marvel,

so that a sweet desire

moved him to claim such greeting:

and called her from the heights to come to him,

since he saw our harmful life

was not worthy of such a gentle one.

It parted from her lovely person,

filled with grace, the gentle spirit,

to be glorious in a worthy place.

Who does not weep for her, when speaking of her,

has a heart of stone, so evil and so vile,

that no good spirit can enter there.

The base heart does not have enough wit

to imagine anything of her,

so grievous weeping does not come to him:

but sadness and grief come

with sighs, and a death by weeping,

stripping the soul of every comfort,

to him who sees continually in his thoughts

what she was, and how she has been taken.

Anguish grants me a deep sighing,

when the thought in my grave mind

recalls her for whom my heart is broken:

and often when I think of death,

such a sweet desire comes to me,

that it transmutes the colour of my face.

And when that idea becomes truly fixed in me,

I know such pain in every part,

that I start up with the grief I feel:

and become such

that shame hides me from others.

Then weeping, lonely in my grieving,

I call to Beatrice, and say: ‘Are you truly dead?’

and while I call, I am comforted.

Weeping with grief and sighing with anguish

my heart wearies me when I find myself alone,

so that anyone hearing me would pity:

and what the state of my life is, since

my lady is gone to her new world,

there is no tongue that knows enough to say:

and so, my ladies, even if I wished,

I could not tell you truly how I am,

since this bitter life so torments me:

which is so humbling,

that all men seem to say to me: ‘I abandon you,’

on seeing my deathly pale lips.

But what I am that my lady sees,

and I still hope for mercy from her.

My sorrowful canzone, now go weeping:

and find the ladies, and young ladies,

to whom your sisters

used to bring delight:

and you, who are the daughter of my sadness,

go disconsolate to be with them.

The Kiss (Study for Dante’s Dream), Dante Gabriel Rossetti

‘The Kiss (Study for Dante’s Dream)’ - Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXII His poem for one of Beatrice’s brothers Decorative Leaf - Right

When this canzone was complete, one came to me who, in the levels of friendship, is a friend who stands immediately after the first: and he was so closely related by blood to that glorious lady, that no one was closer to her. And after speaking to me for a while, he asked me if I would write something about a lady who had died: and disguising his words so that he seemed to speak of someone else, who was known to be dead: so I, realising that he spoke solely of that blessed one, said to him that I would do as his request demanded.

Afterwards, thinking of it, I decided to write a sonetto in which I would grieve a little, and send it to that friend of mine, so that it seemed that I had made it for him: and I then wrote this sonetto which begins: ‘Venite a intender li sospiri miei:Come and listen to my sighs. It has two parts: in the first I call on Love’s faithful to hear me: in the second I speak about my state of misery. The second begins with: ‘li quai disconsolati: which disconsolately’.

Come and listen to my sighs,

you gentle hearts, as pity begs you:

which disconsolately force their way,

and if they did not, I would die of grief:

since my eyes would be flowing,

more times than I would wish,

alas! with weeping so for my lady,

that weeping for her weighs on the heart.

You will often hear them calling

to my gentle lady, who was taken

to a world worthy of her virtue:

and sometimes they will vilify this life

in the person of a grieving spirit

desolate of her sweet greeting.

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXIII He also writes two stanzas of a canzone for him Decorative Leaf - Right

When I had written this sonetto, thinking about him to whom I intended to give it, as if composed for him, I saw that it appeared a bare and impoverished service to someone so close to that glorious one. And so, before I gave him the sonetto above, I wrote two stanzas of a canzone, one truly for him, and the other for myself, although both the one and the other appear to be written for the same person, to anyone who does not look at them carefully: but anyone who looks at them carefully can see that different people are speaking, since one does not call her his lady, while the other clearly does.

I gave him the above sonetto and the canzone, saying that I had written them solely for him. The canzone begins: ‘Quantunque volte: Whenever’, and has two parts: in the one, that is in the first stanza, this dear friend, close to her, laments: in the second I lament myself, that is in the other stanza, which begins: ‘E´ si raccoglie ne li miei: And there is heard in my’. And so it is clear in this canzone two people lament, the one laments as a brother, the other as a servant.

Whenever, alas! I remember

that I may never again

see that lady for whom I so grieve,

so much grief is gathered in my heart

by the grieving mind,

that I say: ‘My spirit, why do you not go,

since the torments you suffer

in this world, which grows so hateful to you,

bring such great thoughts of dread?’

Then I call on Death,

as to a sweet and gentle refuge:

and I say: ‘Come to me’ with such love,

that I am envious of all who die.

And there is heard in my sighs

a sound of pity,

which calls on Death endlessly:

to him all my desires turned,

when my lady

was taken by his cruelty:

since the joy of her beauty,

withdrawing itself from our sight,

became a spiritual loveliness

that through the Heavens sent

the light of love, that greets the angels,

and their high intellects makes

subtly marvel, she is so gentle.

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXIV A year later Dante draws the figures of Angels Decorative Leaf - Right

On the day when the year was completed in which that lady became a citizen of eternal life, I was sitting in a place where, recalling her, I was designing an angel on certain little panels: and while I was drawing, I turned my gaze, and I saw near me men to whom honour was due. And they were watching what I was doing: and, from what they said later, they were standing there some time before I was aware of them.

When I saw them, I rose, and greeted them saying: ‘Another was with me in my mind, so I was dreaming’. When they had left I returned to my work, that of drawing angelic figures: and creating them there came to me the thought of writing verse, as an anniversary, and writing them to those who had come to see me: and I then wrote this sonetto, which begins: ‘Era venuta: There came’ which has two versions of the opening, and therefore I will divide it according to the first, and mention the alternative.

I say that according to the first version this sonetto has three parts: in the first I say that this lady was already in my memory: in the second I say how Love affected me as a result: in the third I speak of the effects of Love. The second begins with: ‘Amor, che: Love, that’: the third with: ‘Piangendo uscivan for: They went weeping from’

This part divides in two: in the one I say that all my sighs went out speaking: in the second I say that some spoke different words to the rest. The second begins with: ‘Ma quei: But those’.

The second version is divided in the same way, except that in the first part I say when my lady came into my memory, and I do not say this in the other version.

First version:

There came into my mind

the gentle lady who through her virtue

was placed by the highest Lord

in the Heaven of humility where Mary is.

Second version:

There came into my mind

the gentle lady whom Love weeps for,

at the moment when her virtue

drew you to gaze at what I made.

Amor, who felt her in his mind,

was woken in my ravaged heart,

and said to my sighs: ‘Go now’:

so that each departed sadly.

They went weeping from my chest

with a voice that often brings

woeful tears to my sad eyes.

But those that issued with the greatest pain,

came saying: ‘O noble intellect,

it was a year ago you leapt to Heaven’

The Boat of Love, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

‘The Boat of Love’ - Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXV The lady at the window Decorative Leaf - Right

Some time after that, since it happened that I was in a place where I remembered time past, I paused thinking deeply, and with sad thoughts, so much so that it made me seem to have an aspect of terrible distress. So that, aware of my trouble, I lifted my eyes to see if others had seen it.

Then I saw a gentle and very lovely young lady, who was looking at me so pitifully from a window, showing so much in her face that all pity seemed concentrated in her.

Since, when it happens that the miserable see compassion for themselves in others, they are moved to weep more quickly, as though pitying themselves, I then felt my eyes begin to want to weep: and then, fearing to reveal my unhappy life, I withdrew from that lady’s sight: and later I said to myself: ‘It cannot be other than that the most noble love lives within that lady’.

And so I decided to write a sonetto, in which I would speak of her, and contain in it everything that is narrated in this account. And since this account is clear enough, I will not divide it. The sonetto begins with: ‘Videro li occho mei’.

My eyes saw how much pity

was apparent in your face,

when you gazed at the attitude and form

that I often appear in through grief.

Then I understood that you would know

the nature of my hidden life,

so that I felt fear in my heart

of showing my misery in my eyes.

And taking myself away from you, I felt

that the tears rose from my heart,

which were summoned by your look.

Then I said to my sad spirit:

‘It must be that Love lives within this lady

who makes me go weeping so.’

The Lady at the Window, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

‘The Lady at the Window’ - Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXVI His further poem to the lady at the window Decorative Leaf - Right

It so happened afterwards that whenever this lady saw me, she appeared with a pitiful face and pallid colour as if from love: so reminding me often of my most noble lady, who always showed herself with a similar colour. And indeed, often, not being able to weep or express my sadness, I went to see this compassionate lady, sight of whom seemed to draw the tears from my eyes. And so I felt the will to write words once more, speaking to her, and I wrote this sonetto, which begins: ‘Color d’amore: The colour of love’: and is clear without needing to be divided, because of the preceding account.

The colour of love and the semblance of pity

no woman’s face has more miraculously

shown, from often seeing

gentle eyes or grievous weeping,

than yours, when before you

you can see my sorrowing mouth:

such thoughts come to my mind through you,

I cannot hold my heart firm in its distress.

I cannot keep my wasted eyes

from gazing at you continually,

because of their desire for weeping:

and their will increases seeing you,

so that they are all consumed by that wish:

but in your presence they cannot shed tears.

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXVII He is concerned at his own behaviour Decorative Leaf - Right

I came to such a pass through sight of this lady, that my eyes began to delight in seeing her too much: so that I often became angry in my heart, and rebuked myself as a base person. And more often still I reviled the vanity of my eyes, and said to them in my thoughts:

‘Once you used to make everyone who saw your sad condition weep and now it seems you wish to forget that, because of this lady who gazes at you: who only gazes at you in so far as she grieves for the glorious lady for whom you used to weep: but do what you will, since I will remind you of her, accursed eyes, since your tears must have no cease, this side of death.’

And when I had spoken in this way, to my eyes, within my thoughts, sighs and anguish greatly assailed me. And so that this war in me should not remain locked within the miserable man who experienced it, I decided to create a sonetto, and to describe within it this terrible state. And I wrote this sonetto, which begins: ‘L’amaro lagrimar: The bitter weeping’.

It has two parts: in the first I speak to my eyes as my heart spoke to me: in the second I remove all doubt, clarifying who it is who speaks in this way: and this part begins with: ‘Così dice: So speaks’. Perhaps it could well be divided further, but this would be pointless, since it is rendered clear by the preceding commentary.

‘The bitter weeping that you made,

oh eyes, through the long seasons,

made that other person weep

with pity, as you have seen.

Now it seems to me you would erase it,

if I for my part were negligent,

and did not trouble you with every reason,

reminding you of her whom you mourn.

Your vanity makes me reflect,

and tremble so, that I am full of fear

at the face of a lady that you gaze on.

You should not be, unless you die,

forgetful of that lady who is dead.’

So speaks my heart, and then it sighs.

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXVIII The struggle of the heart and the soul Decorative Leaf - Right

The sight of that lady created such a strange state in me that I often thought of her as a person who pleased me too much: and I thought of her like this: ‘That is a gentle lady, beautiful, young and wise, and perhaps she appears by Love’s will, so that my life can be at rest.’

And often I thought more lovingly, until my heart consented to it, that is to my reasoning. And when I had consented, I reflected on it, as if moved by reason, and said to myself: ‘God, what thought is this, that tries to console me in this vile way and hardly lets me think of anything else?’

Then another thought arose, and said to me: ‘Now you have been in such great tribulation, why do you not want refuge from such bitterness? You see that this is Love’s inspiration, who brings love’s passions before us, and it arises from that gentle place from which do those of the eyes of the lady who has shown us such pity.’

So, having often struggled with myself like this, I wished then to speak some words: and since in the war of my thoughts those which spoke of her conquered, it seemed to me that I should speak of her: and I wrote this sonetto, which begins: ‘Gentil pensero: Gentle thought: and I say ‘gentile’ in respect of its speaking of a gentle lady, which otherwise would be most reprehensible.

In this sonetto there are two parts of me, in accord with how my thought was divided. The one part I call the heart that is passion: the other I call the soul that is reason: and I say what one says to the other. And that it is fitting to call passion the heart, and the reason soul, is clear enough to those whom it pleases me to have understand this. It is true that in the preceding sonettoI take the part of the heart against the eyes, and that seems contrary to what I am saying now: and so I say that even there I intend the heart to represent passion, since my desire to remember my most gentle lady was still greater than to see the other, though I had some passion towards her, yet it seemed trivial: so it is clear that the one speech is not counter to the other.

This sonetto has three parts: in the first I begin to say to that lady how my desire turns completely towards her: in the second I say how the soul, that is reason, speaks to the heart, that is passion: in the third I say how it replies. The second part begins with: ‘L’anima dice: The soul says’: the third with: ‘Ei le responde: It replies’.

Gentle thought that speaks of you

often comes to live with me,

and reasons about love so sweetly,

that it makes the heart agree with it.

The soul says to the heart: ‘Who is this,

who comes to console our mind,

and is his power so great,

that other thoughts cannot stay with us?’

It replies: ‘Oh thoughtful soul,

this is a little spirit, love’s messenger,

that brings before me his desires:

and his life, and all his virtue,

rises from the eyes of that pity

which was so troubled by our suffering.

Decorative Leaf - Left XXXIX His vision of Beatrice in glory Decorative Leaf - Right

There rose up against this adversary of reason, one day, about the ninth hour, a strong imagining in me, so that it seemed I saw that glorious Beatrice in that crimson garment in which she first appeared to my eyes: and she seemed to me young, of the same age as when I first saw her. Then I began to think of her: and remembering her, in the order of time past, my heart began to repent sorrowfully of the desire by which it had allowed itself to be so basely possessed, for some days, against reason’s constancy: and when this wrong desire had been scattered, all my thoughts returned to her, the most gentle Beatrice.

And I say that from then on I began to think of her with all my remorseful heart, so that sighs often revealed it: in such a way that they all, as they rose, spoke what my heart was saying, that is the name of that most gentle one, and how she had left us. And many times it happened that a thought would have so much sadness in it that I forgot what and where it was.

Through this renewal of my sighing, my lapsed weeping renewed itself in such a way that my eyes seemed two objects that only desired to weep: and it often happened that through long continuation of weeping, a purple colour ringed them, which appears in some of the sufferings of others. So it seems that their vanity was fittingly rewarded: so much so that from then on I could not gaze at anyone who looked at me if they might draw out a similar effect.

Then, wishing this unhappy desire and vain temptation to appear as overcome, so that the verses I had written before might create no doubts, I decided to create a sonetto in which I would include the essence of this account. And then I wrote: ‘Lasso! per forza di molti suspiri: Alas! Through the power of many sighs’ and I said ‘lasso’ because of my shame in this, that my eyes had been so inconstant. I will not divide this sonneto, since it is clear enough from my account.

Alas! Through the power of many sighs,

that are born of the thoughts in my heart,

the eyes are conquered, and have no virtue

to gaze at anyone who looks at them.

And they are now become two passions

for weeping and revealing sorrow,

and they grieve so much that Love

rings them with the crown of suffering.

These thoughts, and the sighs I sigh,

become so anguished in my heart,

that Amor lies near death, with grieving look:

since they have in this sadness of theirs

that sweet name of my lady written,

and many words about her death.

Decorative Leaf - Left XL His poem addressing the pilgrims travelling to Rome Decorative Leaf - Right

After this tribulation it happened, at the time when many people go to see that blessed image which Jesus Christ left us as an imprint of his most beautiful countenance, which my lady gloriously sees, that some pilgrims were passing by on a road which runs almost through the centre of the city where that most gentle lady was born, and lived, and died.

These pilgrims, it seemed to me, went along very pensively: so, thinking about them, I said to myself: ‘It seems to me these pilgrims are from a distant place, and I do not think they have even heard of my lady, and know nothing about her: indeed their thoughts are of other things than those here, so that they perhaps think of distant friends, of whom we know nothing.’

Then I said to myself: ‘I know that if they come from a nearby place, they would be somewhat distressed passing through the centre of this grieving city.’ Then I said to myself: ‘If I could detain them a little, I would make them weep before they left this city, since I would speak words that would make everyone weep who heard them.’

So, as they passed from sight, I decided to compose a sonetto, in which I would make plain what I said within myself: and so it would appear more piteous, I decided to write it as if I had spoken to them: and I wrote this sonetto which begins: ‘Deh peregrini che pensosi andante: O pilgrims who go thinking’. And I said ‘peregrini’ in the general sense of the word: since ‘pilgrims’ can be understood in two senses, in one case generalised, and in the other specific: in general to the extent that whoever travels from their country is a pilgrim: in particular in that no one is a pilgrim unless they go to or from the shrine of Saint James.

And it should be known that correctly there are three titles for the people who go in the service of the Almighty: they are called palmers if they go overseas, since they often bring back palm leaves: they are called pilgrims if they go to the shrine of Saint James in Galicia, since the sepulchre of Saint James was further away from his country than any other apostle: they are called romeos if they go to Rome, which is where those I call pilgrims were going.

I have not divided this sonetto, since it is clear enough from my account.

O pilgrims who go thinking,

perhaps of things not present,

do you come from so far a place,

as your faces demonstrate,

that you do not weep when you pass

through the centre of the grieving city,

like those people who do not know

any part of its heavy sorrow?

If you will stay to hear my wish,

surely my heart of sighs tells me

that you will then travel weeping.

It has lost its blessed Beatrice:

and the words a man can say of her

have the power to make others weep.

Decorative Leaf - Left XLI His poem for the two gentle ladies Decorative Leaf - Right

Some time later two gentle ladies begged me to send them some of my poems: so thinking of their nobility, I decided to send them those and to create a new one, which I would send to them with the rest, in order honourably to fulfil their request. And I then wrote a sonetto, that told of my state, and sent it to them with the preceding sonetto and with one that began: ‘Venite a intender: Come that you may understand’.

The sonetto that I then composed begins: ‘Oltre la spera: Beyond the sphere’ and contains five parts. In the first I say where my thought travels, naming it by the name of one of its effects. In the second I say why it ascends, that is what makes it do so. In the third I say what it sees, that is a lady honoured above: and I call it then a ‘pilgrim spirit’, since it ascends spiritually, and stays there for a while like a pilgrim who is out of his own country.

In the fourth I say that it sees her as such, that is of such qualities, that I cannot understand them, that is to say that my thought leaps towards the qualities she has to a level that my intellect cannot comprehend: because it is a fact that our intellect fails before those blessed spirits as the eyes do before the sun: and so the Philosopher says in the second book of the Metaphysics.

In the fifth I say that although I cannot understand that place my thought has been drawn to, that is towards her miraculous qualities, at least I know this, that the thought is solely about my lady, since I hear her name often in my thoughts: and at the end of this fifth part I say ‘donna mie care: ladies dear to me’ to make it known that I speak to ladies.

The second part begins with: ‘intelligenza nova: new intelligence’ the third with: ‘Quand´elli è giunto: When it is near’: the fourth with: ‘Vedela tal: Seeing her such’: the fifth with: ‘So io che parla: I know it speaks’.

Perhaps it might be divided more subtly, and made more subtly comprehensible: but it may pass with these divisions, and therefore I do not continue to divide it further.

Beyond the sphere that circles most widely

passes the sigh that issues from my heart:

new intelligence, that Love

weeping instills within it, drives it upwards.

When it is near where it desires,

it sees a lady, who receives honour,

and is a light, that by its splendour

the pilgrim spirit can gaze upon her.

Seeing her such, when it says so to me,

I do not understand, it speaks so subtly

to the grieving heart, which makes it speak.

I know it speaks of that gentle one,

since it often mentions Beatrice,

so that I know it truly, ladies dear to me.

Decorative Leaf - Left XLII The final vision Decorative Leaf - Right

Dante and Beatrice

‘Dante and Beatrice’ - Ary Scheffer (The Netherlands 1795 – 1858), The Rijksmuseum

After writing this sonetto a miraculous vision appeared to me, in which I saw things which made me decide to write nothing more of this blessed one until such time as I could treat of her more worthily.

And to achieve this I study as much as I can, as she truly knows. So that, if it pleases Him by whom all things live, that my life lasts a few years, I hope to write of her what has never been written of any woman.

And then may it be pleasing to Him who is the Lord of courtesy, that my soul might go to see the glory of its lady, that is of that blessed Beatrice, who gloriously gazes on the face of Him qui est per omnia secula benedictus: who is blessed throughout all the ages.

Index to the First Lines of the Poems