Poems 1 to 61 of ‘The Canzoniere’
© Copyright 2002 A. S. Kline, All Rights Reserved
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‘Morning Prayer’ - Charles West (British, 1811 - 1890), The Yale Centre for British Art
Laura, famous for her own virtues, and so long celebrated in my verses, was first seen by me in my early youth, in the year of our Lord 1327, on the sixth of April, in the Church of Saint Clare at Avignon, in the morning hour: and that light was taken from daylight in the same city, in the same month, on the same sixth day, in the same first morning hour, but in the year 1348, when I chanced to be in Verona, sadly unaware of my fate.
‘Avignon’ - Histoire des Villes de France (p92, Paris 1844), Aristide Guilbert, The British Library
- You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes,
- To make a graceful act of revenge,
- It was on that day when the sun’s ray
- What infinite providence and art
- When I utter sighs, in calling out to you,
- My passion’s folly is so led astray
- Greed and sleep and slothful beds
- At the foot of the hill where beauty’s garment
- When the heavenly body that tells the hours
- Glorious pillar in whom rests
- I have not seen you, lady,
- If my life of bitter torment and of tears
- When from hour to hour among the other ladies
- My weary eyes, there, while I turn you
- I turn back at every step I take
- Grizzled and white the old man leaves
- Bitter tears pour down my face
- When I have turned my eyes to that place
- There are creatures in the world with such other
- Ashamed sometimes that your beauty,
- I have offered you my heart a thousand times
- The time to labour, for every animal
- I’ll sing of the sweet time of my first youth,
- If the honoured branch that wards off
- Love wept, and sometimes I wept with him,
- No ship, beaten and conquered by the waves,
- Charlemagne’s scion, whose head is adorned
- O blessed and lovely spirit expected in Heaven
- Green dresses, crimson, black or purple,
- I saw a girl under green laurel
- That gentle spirit that departs,
- The closer I come to that last day
- Already Venus, the star of love, was blazing
- Apollo, if that sweet desire is still alive
- Alone and thoughtful, through the most desolate fields,
- If I believed I could free myself, by dying,
- The thread on which my heavy life hangs
- Orso, there never was lake or river
- I’m the afraid of those lovely eyes’ assault
- If Love or Death do not bring some flaw
- When that tree that Apollo once loved
- But now that her clear sweet humble smile
- Apollo, Latona’s son, had sent his gaze
- Caesar who was all too ready, in Thessaly,
- Mirror, my enemy, in which you are allowed
- The gold and pearls and flowers, crimson and white,
- I felt those spirits weakening in my heart
- Since fire is never quenched with fire,
- Though I’ve protected you from lying,
- At the moment when the swift sky turns
- If the light had neared my eyes a little
- Diana was not more pleasing to her lover,
- Gentle spirit, that rules those members
- Because she bore Love’s emblems in her aspect,
- That fire that I thought had been quenched
- If, through blind desire that destroys the heart,
- My luck is always late and slow to reach me,
- My dear lord, rest that cheek of yours
- Though another’s fault takes me away
- The gentle tree that I’ve loved many years,
- Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year,
- Index of First Lines in Italian
1. ‘Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il suono’
You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes,
of those sighs on which I fed my heart,
in my first vagrant youthfulness,
when I was partly other than I am,
I hope to find pity, and forgiveness,
for all the modes in which I talk and weep,
between vain hope and vain sadness,
in those who understand love through its trials.
Yet I see clearly now I have become
an old tale amongst all these people, so that
it often makes me ashamed of myself;
and shame is the fruit of my vanities,
and remorse, and the clearest knowledge
of how the world’s delight is a brief dream.
2. ‘Per fare una leggiadra sua vendetta’
To make a graceful act of revenge,
and punish a thousand wrongs in a single day,
Love secretly took up his bow again,
like a man who waits the time and place to strike.
My power was constricted in my heart,
making defence there, and in my eyes,
when the mortal blow descended there,
where all other arrows had been blunted.
So, confused by the first assault,
it had no opportunity or strength
to take up arms when they were needed,
or withdraw me shrewdly to the high,
steep hill, out of the torment,
from which it wishes to save me now but cannot.
3. ‘Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro’
It was on that day when the sun’s ray
was darkened in pity for its Maker,
that I was captured, and did not defend myself,
because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady.
It did not seem to me to be a time to guard myself
against Love’s blows: so I went on
confident, unsuspecting; from that, my troubles
started, amongst the public sorrows.
Love discovered me all weaponless,
and opened the way to the heart through the eyes,
which are made the passageways and doors of tears:
so that it seems to me it does him little honour
to wound me with his arrow, in that state,
he not showing his bow at all to you who are armed.
4 ‘Que’ ch’infinita providentia et arte’
What infinite providence and art
He showed in his wonderful mastery,
who created this and the other hemisphere,
and Jupiter far gentler than Mars,
descending to earth to illuminate the page
which had for many years concealed the truth,
taking John from the nets, and Peter,
and making them part of heaven’s kingdom.
It did not please him to be born in Rome,
but in Judea: to exalt humility
to such a supreme state always pleases him;
and now from a little village a sun is given,
such that the place, and nature, praise themselves,
out of which so lovely a lady is born to the world.
5. ‘Quando io movo i sospiri a chiamar voi,’
When I utter sighs, in calling out to you,
with the name that Love wrote on my heart,
the sound of its first sweet accents begin
to be heard within the word LAUdable.
Your REgal state, that I next encounter,
doubles my power for the high attempt;
but: ‘TAcit’, the ending cries, ‘since to do her honour
is for other men’s shoulders, not for yours’.
So, whenever one calls out to you,
the voice itself teaches us to LAud, REvere,
you, O, lady worthy of all reverence and honour:
except perhaps that Apollo is disdainful
that morTAl tongue can be so presumptuous
as to speak of his eternally green branches.
6. ‘Sí travïato è ’l folle mi’ desio’
My passion’s folly is so led astray
by following what turns and flees,
and flies from Love’s light supple noose
in front of my slow pace,
that the more I recall its steps
to the safe road, the less it hears me:
nor does spurring on help me, or turning about,
resisting what Love does by nature.
And then if the bit gathers me to him by force,
I remain in his sovereign power,
so that my state carries me sadly towards death:
only to come to the laurel from which is culled
bitter fruit, whose taste is a worse wound
for others, whom it does not solace.
7. ‘La gola e ’l sonno et l’otïose piume’
Greed and sleep and slothful beds
have banished every virtue from the world,
so that, overcome by habit,
our nature has almost lost its way.
And all the benign lights of heaven,
that inform human life, are so spent,
that he who wishes to bring down a stream
from Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.
Such desire for laurel, and for myrtle?
‘Poor and naked goes philosophy’,
say the crowd intent on base profit.
You’ll have poor company on that other road:
So much the more I beg you, gentle spirit,
not to turn from your great undertaking.
8. ‘ A pie’ de’ colli ove la bella vesta’
At the foot of the hill where beauty’s garment
first clothed that lady with earthly members,
who has often sent wakefulness to him,
who sends us to you, out of melancholy sleep,
we passed by freely in peace through this
mortal life, that all creatures yearn for,
without suspicion of finding, on the way,
anything that would trouble our going.
But in the miserable state where we are
driven from that other serene life
we have one solace only, that is death:
which is his retribution, who led him to this,
he who, in another’s power, near to the end,
remains bound with a heavier chain.
9. ‘Quando ’l pianeta che distingue l’ore’
When the heavenly body that tells the hours
has returned to the constellation of Taurus,
power from the burning horns descends
that clothes the world with new colours:
and not only in that which lies before us,
banks and hills, adorned with flowers,
but within where already the earthly moisture
pregnant with itself, adds nothing further,
so that fruits and such are gathered:
as she, who is the sun among those ladies,
shining the rays of her lovely eyes on me
creates thoughts of love, actions and words;
but whether she governs them or turns away,
there is no longer any Spring for me.
10. ‘Gloriosa columna in cui s’appoggia’
Glorious pillar in whom rests
our hope and the great Latin name,
that Jupiter’s anger through wind and rain
still does not twist from the true way,
who raise our intellect from earth to heaven,
not in a palace, a theatre, or arcade,
but instead in fir, beech or pine,
on the green grass and the lovely nearby mountain,
from which poetry descends and rests;
and the nightingale that laments and weeps
all night long, sweetly, in the shadows,
fills the heart with thoughts of love:
but you by departing from us my lord,
only cut off such beauty, and make it imperfect.
Note: Stefano Colonna (‘the column’) is referred to. His son Cardinal Giovanni was Petrarch’s patron, another son Giacomo was Bishop of Lombez in the Pyrenees.
‘Study for the Portrait of Stefano Colonna’ - Agnolo di Cosimo (Italian, 1503 – 1572), The Rijksmuseum
11. ‘Lassare il velo o per sole o per ombra’
I have not seen you, lady,
leave off your veil in sun or shadow,
since you knew that great desire in myself
that all other wishes in the heart desert me.
While I held the lovely thoughts concealed,
that make the mind desire death,
I saw your face adorned with pity:
but when Love made you wary of me,
then blonde hair was veiled,
and loving glances gathered to themselves.
That which I most desired in you is taken from me:
the veil so governs me
that to my death, and by heat and cold,
the sweet light of your lovely eyes is shadowed.
12. ‘Se la mia vita da l’aspro tormento’
If my life of bitter torment and of tears
could be derided more, and made more troubled,
that I might see, by virtue of your later years,
lady, the light quenched of your beautiful eyes,
and the golden hair spun fine as silver,
and the garland laid aside and the green clothes,
and the delicate face fade, that makes me
fearful and slow to go weeping:
then Love might grant me such confidence
that I’d reveal to you my sufferings
the years lived through, and the days and hours:
and if time is opposed to true desire,
it does not mean no food would nourish my grief:
I might draw some from slow sighs.
13. ‘Quando fra l’altre donne ad ora ad ora’
When from hour to hour among the other ladies
Love appears in her beautiful face,
by as much as their beauty is less than hers
by so much the desire that en-amours me grows.
I bless the place, the time, and the hour
in which my eyes gazed to such a height,
and I say: My spirit, give thanks enough
that you were then found worthy of such honour.
From her to you comes loving thought,
that leads to highest good, while you pursue it,
counting as little what all men desire:
from her comes that spirit full of grace
that shows you heaven by the true way’:
so that in hope I fly, already, to the heights.
14. ‘Occhi mei lassi, mentre ch’io vi giro’
My weary eyes, there, while I turn you
towards the lovely face of her who slays you,
I pray you guard yourself
since, already, Love challenges you, so that I sigh.
Only Death can close from my thoughts
the loving path that leads them
to the sweet doorway of their blessing;
but your light can hide itself from you
for less reason, since you are formed
as lesser entities, and of less power.
But, grieve, before the hour of tears
is come, that is already near,
take to the end now
brief comfort from such long suffering.
15. ‘Io mi rivolgo indietro a ciascun passo’
I turn back at every step I take
with weary body that has borne great pain,
and take comfort then from your aspect
that makes me go on, saying: Ah me!
Then thinking of the sweet good I leave,
of the long road, and of my brief life,
I halt my steps, dismayed and pale,
and lower my eyes weeping to the ground.
Sometimes a doubt assails me in the midst
of sad tears: how can these limbs
live separated from their spirit?
But Love replies: Do you not remember
that this is the privilege of lovers,
freed from every other human tie?
16. ‘Movesi il vecchierel canuto et biancho’
Grizzled and white the old man leaves
the sweet place, where he has provided for his life,
and leaves the little family, filled with dismay
that sees its dear father failing it:
then, from there, dragging his aged limbs
through the last days of his life,
aiding himself by what strength of will he can,
broken by years, and wearied by the road:
he reaches Rome, following his desire,
to gaze on the image of Him
whom he hopes to see again in heaven:
so, alas, I sometimes go searching,
lady, as far as is possible, in others
for the true, desired form of you.
17. ‘Piovonmi amare lagrime del viso’
Bitter tears pour down my face
with an anguished storm of sighing,
when my eyes chance to turn on you
through whom alone I am lost from the world.
Yet it is true that your soft gentle smile
quietens my ardent desires,
and saves me from the fire of suffering,
while I am intent and fixed on gazing.
But then my spirits are chilled, when I see,
at your departure, my fatal stars
turn their sweet aspect from me.
Released at last by those loving keys,
the spirit leaves the heart to follow you,
and in deep thought, walks on from there.
18. ‘Quan’io son tutto vòlto in quella parte’
When I have turned my eyes to that place
where my lady’s lovely face shines,
and that light leaves me not a thought
while I burn and melt away inside,
I fear lest my heart parts from my self,
and seeing the end of my light nearing,
I go like a blind man, without light,
who knows no way to go, but must depart.
I receive so many deadly blows
I flee: but not so quickly that desire
does not come with me as is his wont.
I go silently, since one deadly word
would make men weep: and I desire
that my tears might be shed alone.
19. ‘Son animali al mondo de sí altera’
There are creatures in the world with such other
vision that it is protected from the full sun:
yet others, because the great light offends them
cannot move around until the evening falls:
and others with mad desire, that hope
perhaps to delight in fire, because it gleams,
prove the other power, that which burns:
alas, and my place is with these last.
I am not strong enough to gaze at the light
of that lady, and do not know how to make a screen
from shadowy places, or the late hour:
yet, with weeping and infirm eyes, my fate
leads me to look on her: and well I know
I wish to go beyond the fire that burns me.
20. ‘Vergognando talor ch’ancor si taccia,’
Ashamed sometimes that your beauty,
lady, is still silent in my verses,
I recall that time when I first saw it,
such that nothing else could ever please me.
But I find the weight too great for my shoulder,
a work not to be polished by my skill:
the more my wit exercises its force
the more its whole action grows cold.
Many times my lips have opened to speak,
but my voice is stilled in my chest:
who is he who could climb so high?
Many times I’ve begun to scribble verses:
but the pen, the hand, and the intellect
fell back defeated at their first attempt.
21. ‘Mille fiate, o dolce mia guerrera,’
I have offered you my heart a thousand times
O my sweet warrior, only to make peace
with your lovely eyes: but it does not please you
with your noble mind, to stoop so low.
And if some other lady has hope of it,
she lives in powerless, deceiving hope:
and it can never be what it was to me,
since I too disdain what does not please you.
Now if I banish it, and it does not find in you
any aid in its unhappy exile, nor knows
how to be alone, nor to go where others call to it,
it might stray from its natural course:
which would be a grave crime for both of us,
and more for you, since it loves you more.
22. ‘A qualunque animale alberga in terra,’ (Sestina)
The time to labour, for every animal
that inhabits earth, is when it is still day,
except for those to whom the sun is hateful:
but then when heaven sets fire to its stars,
some turn for home and some nestle in the woods
to find some rest before the dawn.
And I may not cease to sigh with the sun,
from when dawn begins to scatter
the shadows from around the Earth,
waking the animals in every woodland:
yet when I see the flaming of the stars
I go weeping, and desire the day.
When the evening drives out daylight’s clarity,
and our shadow makes another’s dawn,
I gaze pensively at cruel stars,
that have created me of sentient earth:
and I curse the day I saw the sun,
that makes me in aspect like a wild man of the woods.
I do not think that any creature so harsh
grazed the woods, either by night or day,
as she, through whom I weep in sun or shade:
and I am not wearied by first sleep or dawn:
for though I am mortal body of this earth,
my fixed desire comes from the stars.
Might I see pity in her, for one day,
before I return to you, bright stars,
or turning back into cherished woodland,
leave my body changed to dry earth,
it would restore many years, and before dawn
enrich me at the setting of the sun.
May I be with her when the sun departs,
and seen by no one but the stars,
for one sole night, and may there be no dawn:
and may she not be changed to green woodland,
issuing from my arms, as on the day
when Apollo pursued her down here on earth.
But I will be beneath the wood’s dry earth,
and daylight will be full of little stars,
before the sun achieves so sweet a dawn.
Note: Apollo pursued Daphne who was transformed into a laurel bough, a play on Laura’s name.
‘Apollo and Daphne’ - Pieter van Gunst (Dutch, 1659 - 1731), The Rijksmuseum
23. ‘Nel dolce tempo de la prima etade’
I’ll sing of the sweet time of my first youth,
that saw the birth and the first leafing
of fierce desire that blossomed to my hurt,
since grief is rendered less bitter by being sung:
I’ll sing of when I lived in liberty,
while Love was disdained in my house.
Then follow it with how I scorned him
too deeply, and say what came of it,
of how I was made an example to many men:
even though my harsh ruin
is written of elsewhere, so that a thousand pens
are not yet weary of it, and almost every valley
echoes again to the sound of my deep sighs
that add credence to my painful life.
And if memory does not aid me
as it once did, blame my sufferings,
and one thought which is anguished
it makes me turn my back on every other,
and by the same light makes me forget myself:
ruling what is inside me, I the shell.
I say that many years had passed
since Love tried his first assault on me,
so that I had lost my juvenile aspect,
and frozen thoughts about my heart
had almost made a covering of enamel,
so that its hardness left nothing lacking.
Still no tears had bathed my cheeks,
my sleep unbroken, and what I could not feel
seemed like a marvel to me in others.
Alas what am I? What was I?
Life is ended, and evening crowns the day.
That savage adversary of whom I speak,
seeing at last that not a single shot
of his had even pierced my clothes,
brought a powerful lady to help him,
against whom intellect, or force,
or asking mercy never were or are of value:
and the two transformed me to what I am,
making green laurel from a living man,
that loses no leaves in the coldest season.
What a state I was in when I first realized
the transfiguration of my person,
and saw my hair formed of those leaves
that I had hoped might yet crown me,
and my feet with which I stand, move, run,
since each member accords with the spirit,
turned into two roots by the water
not of Peneus, but a nobler river,
and both my arms changed to branches!
The memory still chills me,
of being clothed then in white plumage,
when my hope that had tried to climb too high
was lightning-struck and lying dead,
and I, who had no idea where or when
I might retrieve it, went weeping alone
day and night where I had lost it,
searching the banks and beneath the water:
and while I might my tongue was never silent
from that moment about hope’s evil fall:
until I took on, with its voice, the colour of a swan.
So I went along the pleasant stream,
and wishing to speak I found I always sang,
calling for mercy in a strange voice,
but never making my loving sorrows echo
in so sweet or in so soft a mode
as to make that harsh and savage heart relent.
What was it to feel so? How the memory burns me:
but I need to say more than this
of my sweet and bitter enemy,
more than ever before,
though she is such as is beyond all telling.
She who maddens men with her gaze,
opened my chest, and took my heart in her hand,
saying to me: ‘Speak no word of this.’
Then I saw her alone, in a different dress,
so that I did not know her, oh human senses,
and full of fear told her the truth:
and she turning quickly back
to her usual guise, made me, alas,
semi-living and dumb stone.
She spoke to me, so angered in aspect
that she made me tremble inside the rock,
saying: ‘Perhaps I am not what you believe.’
And I said to myself: ‘If only she releases me
from the rock, no life will make me troubled or sad:
return, my lord, and let me weep.’
I moved my feet then, I don’t know how,
still blaming no-one but my own self,
between living and dying, all that day.
But because the time is short
my pen cannot keep pace with my true will:
I must pass over many more things
inscribed in my mind, and only speak of those
that will seem marvellous to those who hear.
Death circled round about my heart,
which I could not rescue by being silent,
nor could I help my afflicted senses:
a living voice was forbidden me:
so I cried out with paper and ink:
‘I am not my own. If I die the loss is yours.’
I truly thought I could turn myself in her eyes
from worthlessness to a thing of worth,
and that hope had made me eager:
but hope at times is quenched by disdain
at times takes fire: and so I found it then,
placed in the shadows for so long,
for at my prayers my true light had left me.
And not finding a shadow of her, her or there,
nor even the print of her foot,
one day I flung myself down on the grass
like a traveller who sleeps on the way.
Accusing the fugitive ray of light, from there,
I loosed the reins of my sad tears,
and let them fall as they wished,
I felt myself melt wholly, as snow
never vanished so in the sun,
becoming a fount at a beech-tree’s foot.
I held that moist course for a length of time.
Who ever heard of fountains born of men?
Yet I tell you something manifest and known.
The soul whose gentleness is all from God,
since such grace could come from nowhere else,
holds a virtue like that of its maker:
it grants pardon, and never wearies,
to him of humble face and heart,
whatever sins he comes to mercy with.
And if contrary to its nature it suffers
being prayed to often, it mirrors Him,
and so makes the sin more fearful:
for he does not truly repent
who prepares for one sin with another.
So my lady moved by pity
deigned to look down on me, and seeing
I revealed a punishment matched to the sin,
she kindly returned me to my first state.
But there’s nothing a man can trust to in this world:
praying to her still, I felt my bone and nerves
turn to hard flint: and only a voice shaken
from my former being remained,
calling on Death, and calling her by name.
A grieving spirit (I recall) I wandered
through empty and alien caverns,
weeping my errant ardour for many years:
and at least reached its end,
and I returned to my earthly limbs,
I think in order to suffer greater pain.
I followed my desire so closely
that hunting one day as was my custom,
I saw that creature, wild and beautiful,
in a pool, when the sun shone most brightly.
I, because no other sight so pleases me,
stood and gazed: she covered in her shame:
and for revenge or to hide herself,
she splashed water in my face, with her hand.
I speak the truth (though I may seem to lie)
that I felt myself altered from my true form,
and swiftly transmuted to a lonely stag,
wandering from wood to wood:
and fleeing from my own pack of hounds.
Song, I was never that golden cloud
that once fell as a precious shower,
so that Jove’s flame was quenched a little:
but I have been the fire that a lovely look kindled,
and the bird that rises highest in the air,
exalting her with my words in honour:
nor could I leave the highest laurel
for some new shape, for by its sweet shade
all lesser beauties that please the heart are scattered.
Notes: Daphne was changed to a laurel on the banks of the Peneus. Petrarch compares it with the Sorgue, Durance, or Rhone. Cycnus was changed into a swan mourning for Phaethon. Battus revealed a secret, to Mercury in disguise, and was turned to flint. Byblis was turned into a fountain, after rejecting her brother’s love. Echo turned into a voice echoing Narcissus. Actaeon saw Diana bathing and was turned into a stag and hunted to death by his hounds. Jupiter raped Danae in a shower of gold, and as an eagle carried off Ganymede. See Ovid’s Metamorphoses for all these references.
‘The Rape of Ganymede’ - Niccolò dell' Abat (Italian, ca. 1509 - 1571), The National Gallery of Art
24. ‘Se l’onorata fronde che prescrive’
If the honoured branch that wards off
heaven’s anger when great Jupiter thunders
had not refused me its laurel crown
which usually wreathes those who write poetry,
I would be a friend of those Muses of yours
that this unworthy age has abandoned:
but that injustice keeps me far from
Minerva who first gave us olive trees:
for the sands of Ethiopia could not burn
hotter under the burning sun than I blaze
at losing a thing so beloved, as my own.
Search out a steadier fount than mine,
which only wells in an impoverished stream,
except for that which distils from my tears.
Note: A reply to a poem from Andrea Stramazzo da Perugia, asking for verses.
25. ‘Amor piangeva, et io con lui tavolta’
Love wept, and sometimes I wept with him,
from whom my steps never strayed far,
gazing, since the effect was bitter and strange,
at your spirit, set loose from all Love’s bonds.
Now God has returned you to the true way,
I lift my hands with all my heart to heaven,
thankful to him who in his mercy listens
benignly to honest human prayers.
And if in returning to the loving path,
you found hills and ditches in your way
enough to almost make you turn back,
it was to show how thorny is the road,
and how mountainous and hard the climb,
if a man would find where true worth lies.
26. ‘Piú di me lieta non si vede a terra’
No ship, beaten and conquered by the waves,
ever made land more happily than me,
when people who were crying for mercy
kneel down on the shore to give thanks:
he who has the rope already round his neck
is no happier to be freed from his bonds,
than me, seeing all those swords shattered
that made so long a war against my lord.
And all who praise Love in your rhymes,
give honour now to the true writer
of loving songs who once went astray:
for there’s more joy, in the realms of the chosen,
in a penitent spirit, and he is more esteemed
than the ninety-nine others who were perfect.
Note: See Luke XV.7
27. ‘Il successor di Karlo, che la chioma’
Charlemagne’s scion, whose head is adorned
with the royal crown of his ancestor,
has taken up arms to bring Babylon down
and all that take their name from her.
and the Vicar of Christ returns to the nest
with the mantle and the burdensome keys,
and if no further accident deters him,
he’ll reach Bologna, and then noble Rome.
That mild and gentle lamb of yours
destroys the fierce wolves: and so may it be
with all who shatter lawful alliances.
Console her then, you whom she waits for,
and Rome who still complains of her spouse,
and take up the sword now for Christ.
Notes: Philip VI of France proclaimed a crusade in 1333 against Islam, symbolised here by Babylon. The Papacy is to return from Avignon to Rome. The poem may be addressed to Orso dell’Anguillara.
‘Catherine Asks Pope Gregory XI to Return to Rome’ - Pieter de Jode (I) (Flemish, 1570 – 1634), The Rijksmuseum
28. ‘O aspectata in ciel beata et bella’
O blessed and lovely spirit expected in Heaven
truly clothed with our humanity,
but not imprisoned in it like others:
oh God’s delight, obedient servant,
so that you ever find the gentler road,
by which we cross from here to his kingdom,
see how recently your boat
has turned its back on the blind world
to sail to a better harbour
with the sweet comfort of a western wind:
you’ll be conducted through the midst
of this dark valley where we weep for our
and another’s sin, from ancient bonds broken,
through the straightest path,
to the true East, towards which you have turned.
Perhaps the devoted and loving prayers
and the sacred tears of mortal beings
have made their way towards the highest pity:
and perhaps they were not great enough nor such
as to merit eternal justice bending
even a little from its course:
but the benign king who governs the heavens
through grace turns his eyes
to the sacred place where one hung on the cross,
breathing vengeance into the heart
of the new Charlemagne, so that delay would hurt us,
since Europe has sighed for it for many years:
so he brings aid to his beloved spouse
so that merely at his voice
Babylon trembles, and stands amazed.
Every place between the Garonne and the mountains,
between Rhone and Rhine and the salt waves
follows the highest ensign of Christ:
and those who ever sought true honour,
from the Pyrenees to the furthest horizon
empty Spain to follow Aragon:
England with the islands Ocean bathes
between the Pillars and the Bear,
as far as where the doctrine resounds
from the most sacred Helicon,
men of varied tongues and arms and dress,
spur to Heaven’s high enterprise.
What love, so lawful and worthy,
whether of children or of wife,
was the subject of such a just design?
There is a part of the world frozen,
always beneath the ice and cold snow,
so far is it from the sun’s path:
the day there is clouded and brief,
and bears a people that death does not grieve,
the natural enemies of peace.
So that if they became more devout than they are,
and took up swords with German fury,
we would soon find out the worth
of the Turks, and Arabs, and Chaldeans,
with all the gods they place their hopes in,
this side of the sea with blood-red waters:
lazy and fearful, naked peoples,
who never fight with steel,
but commit their weapons to the winds.
Now is the time to throw off the yoke
of ancient slavery, and the thick veil
that has long been draped over our eyes:
and for the noble wit you possess
from heaven by the grace of the immortal Apollo,
and your eloquence, to show its power
now in the spoken, now the written word:
for if you don’t marvel at the legends
of Orpheus and Amphion,
less should you at rousing Italy’s sons
with the sound of your clear speech,
so they take up the lance for Christ:
for if this ancient motherland seeks truth,
in none of her intentions
was ever so lovely or noble a cause.
You who’ve enriched yourself
turning the ancient and modern pages,
flying to heaven in an earthly body,
you know, from the empire of Mars’ son
to when great Augustus three times
crowned his head with green laurel,
how many times through injury to others
Rome was generous with her blood:
and should she not be now,
not generous but dutiful and pious
in avenging the impious injury
to the Son of our glorious Mary?
What hope can the enemy have
or human defence
if Christ fights against them?
Remember the rash audacity of Xerxes
who outraged the sea with alien bridges
made in order to land on our shores:
and see how all the Persian women
were dressed in black for their dead husbands:
and the sea at Salamis tinted red.
And not only is victory promised
by that ruinous misery for the sad
but Marathon, and that vital pass
that the Spartan lion defended with the few,
and other battles you have heard of or read:
so we should certainly bow to God,
our knees and spirit,
He who has preserved our age for so much good.
Song, you’ll see Italy and the famous river,
not hidden from my eyes, not concealed
by sea, or hill, or stream,
but only by Love that with his other light
binds me closer the more he fires me:
nor is Nature more opposed to habit.
Now go, without losing other friends,
since Love for which we smile and weep
does not live only beneath women’s veils.
Notes: Addressed to Giacomo Colonna. Amphion and Orpheus moved stones and trees with their music. Romulus was the son of Mars. Xerxes famously bridged the Hellespont but was countered at the naval battle of Salamis in 480BC. Darius his father had been defeated at Marathon in 490BC. Leonidas, the Spartan King, stalled the Persians at Thermopylae through his heroic resistance.
‘Xerxes Crossing the Hellespont’ - Simon Fokke (Dutch, 1722 - 1784), The Rijksmuseum
29. ‘Verdi panni, sanguigni, oscuri o persi’
Green dresses, crimson, black or purple,
were never worn by ladies,
nor golden hair tied in a fair braid,
as beautifully as she who robs me
of my will, and takes away the path
of my liberty, so I cannot even
tolerate a lighter yoke.
And even if my spirit begins to grieve,
losing its judgement,
when suffering brings doubt,
the loose will is quickly restrained
by the sight of her, who razes from my heart
every mad project, and makes all
disdain sweet through seeing her.
I will have revenge, for all that Love
has made me suffer, all I must still suffer
until she heals the heart she ravaged,
she, alien to pity, but still enticing,
unless Anger and Pride opposing Humility
close off and deny the way
that leads to her.
And the day and the hour that opened my eyes
to the lovely dark and the lovely white
that emptied me of that where Love now lives,
were the new roots of the life that troubles me,
as she does in whom our age is reflected,
for he is made of lead or stone
whom she does not make afraid.
So no tear of those I weep,
because of these arrow-tips
bathing my heart, that first felt them, in blood,
signifies that I un-wish what I wished,
the punishment falls in the right place:
through the eyes my soul sighs, and it’s right
that they bathe my wounds.
My own thoughts struggle against me:
so Dido, weary as I am now,
turned her beloved sword against herself:
yet I do not pray for my freedom,
since all other roads to heaven are less true,
and there is no safer ship in which to aspire
to the glorious kingdom.
Benign stars that were friends
to that fortunate womb
when that beauty came to this world!
She is a star on earth, and she keeps
her chastity as laurel stays green,
so no lightning strikes her, no shameful breeze
can ever force her.
I know that to capture her praise in verse
would be to exceed
the most worthy that set hand to writing.
What cell of memory is there in which to hold
so much virtue and so much beauty together
that shine in her eyes, the sign of all value,
the key to unlock my heart.
Lady, beneath the sun’s circle, Love has
no greater treasure than you.
30. ‘Giovene donna sotto un verde lauro’ (Sestina form)
I saw a girl under green laurel
colder and whiter than the snow
untouched by the sun for many years:
and her speech, her lovely face, her hair
so please me that she’s before my eyes,
and will be always, wherever, on sea or shore.
My thoughts at last will come to shore,
when there are no green leaves on laurel:
when I’ve quieted my heart, dried my eyes,
we’ll see freezing fire and burning snow:
and there’s not as many strands in my hair
as the years I’d wait to see that, and years.
But since time flies and they vanish, those years,
so that death comes to us, and so sure
either with dark hair or with white hair
I’ll follow the shadow of that sweet laurel,
through the brightest sun and through the snow,
until the last day closes my eyes.
Such lovely eyes were never seen
in our age or in earlier years,
that melt me as sun melts the snow:
from which proceeds a tear-drenched shore
a stream that Love leads under harsh laurel,
that has branches of steel, and golden hair.
I fear I’ll be altered in face and hair
before I see real pity in her eyes,
my idol sculptured from living laurel:
if I’ve not miscounted it’s seven years
today that I’ve sighed from shore to shore,
night and day, in heat and snow.
Fire inside, outside white snow
alone with these thoughts, with altered hair,
I’ll walk weeping along every shore
so that pity perhaps will appear in eyes
not to be born for a thousand years,
if such is the span of cultured laurel.
The laurel, topaz in sun on snow,
is exceeded by blonde hair near the eyes
that bring my years so slowly to shore.
31. ‘Questa anima gentil che si diparte’
That gentle spirit that departs,
called to the other life before its time,
will join the most blessed region of the sky
when it is welcomed as it is sure to be.
If it passed between Venus, the third light, and Mars,
it would lessen the brightness of the sun,
since noble spirits would gather round her
merely to gaze at her infinite beauty.
If it passed below the fourth, the Sun
all the lesser lights would seem less lovely,
and it alone would have the fame and glory:
it could not exist in Mars’ fifth sphere:
but if it flies higher, I believe truly
Jupiter will be conquered and every star.
32. ‘Quanto piú m’avicino al giorno extremo’
The closer I come to that last day
that puts an end to human misery
the more swiftly and lightly I see time go by,
and my hopes of it deceive and fade.
I say in thought: ‘No time is left now
to speak of love, for this hard and heavy
earthly burden has begun to melt
like fresh snow: so we’ll find peace:
since with the body hope too will vanish,
that made us rave for so many years,
with laughter and tears, fear and anger:
for so we see how it often happens
that through uncertain things we advance,
and often we sigh to no real purpose.’
33. ‘Già fiammeggiava l’amorosa stella’
Already Venus, the star of love, was blazing
in the east, and that other northern constellation
Callisto’s Great Bear, that makes Juno jealous,
was wheeling round its bright and lovely rays:
the little old woman had risen to her spinning,
barefoot, dishevelled, and had raked the coals,
and that time had arrived for lovers
that calls them by custom to weep again:
when my hope that was already fading
entered my heart, that sleep kept closed
and grief moistened, but not by her usual way:
alas, how altered from how she used to be!
And she seemed to say: ‘Why do you lose courage?
The sight of these eyes is not yet taken from you.’
34. ‘Apollo, s’anchor vive il bel disio’
Apollo, if that sweet desire is still alive
that inflamed you by the river of Thessaly,
and if with the passing years you’ve not already
forgotten that beloved blonde hair:
defend the honoured and sacred leaves now,
where you long ago, and I lately, were caught,
through the slow frost and harsh and cruel time
that is endured while you hide your face:
and by the power of that amorous hope
that sustained you, though life was bitter,
disburden the air of this dark weather:
so we may see by a miracle together
our lady seated on the grass
lifting her arms to make herself a shade.
35. ‘Solo et pensoso i piú deserti campi’
Alone and thoughtful, through the most desolate fields,
I go measuring out slow, hesitant paces,
and keep my eyes intent on fleeing
any place where human footsteps mark the sand.
I find no other defence to protect me
from other people’s open notice,
since in my aspect, whose joy is quenched,
they see from outside how I flame within.
So now I believe that mountains and river-banks
and rivers and forests know the quality
of my life, hidden from others.
Yet I find there is no path so wild or harsh
that love will not always come there
speaking with me, and I with him.
36. ‘S’io credesse per morte essere scarco’
If I believed I could free myself, by dying,
from amorous thoughts that bind me to the earth,
I would already have laid these troubled limbs
and their burden in the earth myself:
but because I fear to find a passage
from tears to tears, and one war to another,
I remain in the midst, alas, of staying and crossing
on this side of the pass that is closed to me.
There has been enough time now
for the merciless bow to fire its final arrow
bathed and dyed already with others’ blood:
yet Love does not take me, or that deaf one
who has painted me with his own pallor,
and still forgets to call me to him.
37. ‘Si è debile il filo a cui s’attene’
The thread on which my heavy life hangs
is worn so thin,
that if no one supports it
it will soon have arrived at its end:
for after I had suffered the cruel parting
from my sweet good
only one hope
remained that gave reason for living,
saying: ‘Since you are deprived
of the beloved sight,
endure, sad spirit:
Who knows if better times will not return
and more joyful days,
and the good you have lost be regained?
This hope sustained me for a time:
but now it fails I spend too much time on it.
Time passes and the hours are so quick
to complete their journey,
that I have no space
even to think how I race towards death.
A ray of sunlight has hardly appeared
in the east before you see it strike a high peak
on the opposite horizon,
by a long curving path.
Life is so short,
the bodies of mortal men
so burdensome and weak,
that when I recall how I am separated
from that lovely face,
unable to move the wings of my desire,
my usual solace is of little help,
and how long can I live in such a state.
All places sadden me where I do not see
those beautiful bright eyes
which carried off the keys
of my thoughts, sweet while it pleased God:
and all to make my harsh exile harder,
if I sleep or walk or sit,
I long for nothing more,
and nothing I see after them can please me.
How many mountains and waters,
how many seas and rivers,
hide me from those two eyes,
that almost made a clear sky at noon
from my shadows,
only for memory to consume me more,
and to show how joyous my life was before
while my present is harsh and troubled.
Ah, if speaking of it so rekindles
that ardent desire
that was born on the day
when I left the better part of me behind,
and if Love fades away with long neglect
why am I drawn to the bait
that makes my sorrow grow?
And why not rather be turned to silent stone?
Surely crystal or glass
never showed colour
hidden within more clearly
than my desolate soul reveals
and the savage sweetness in my heart
through eyes that always wish to weep
day and night so she might give it rest.
How human wit often turns to seek out
new pleasures, and loves
whatever is new
gathering a greater crowd of sighs!
And I am one whom weeping delights:
and as I bend my wits
to fill my eyes with tears,
so my heart fills with grief:
and since it induces passion
to speak of her lovely eyes
and nothing touches me
or makes me feel so deeply,
I often rush to return
to that which fills me with greater pain,
and with my heart both my eyes are punished
that led me along the road of Love.
That golden hair that might make the sun
move far away in envy,
and that lovely serene gaze,
where Love’s rays burn so,
that makes me fade before my time,
and the deft speech
rare in this world, alone,
that has already granted me courtesy,
are taken from me: and I could pardon
any other offence more easily
than lose that greeting
like a kind angel’s welcome
that lifted my heart to virtue
blazing with one sole desire:
so that I never expect to hear a thing now
that will stir me to anything but deep sighs.
And so I may weep with more delight
her slender white hands
and her gentle arms
and her gestures sweetly noble
and her sweet disdain proudly humble
and her lovely young heart,
a tower of noble feeling,
are hidden from me by wild mountainous places:
and I do not truly hope
to see her before I die:
since hope rises from time
to time, but then does not stand firm,
and recedes, confirming
that I will never see her, whom the heavens honour,
where Honesty and Courtesy reside,
and where I pray my residence might be.
Song, if you see my lady
in that sweet place,
I know well you think
she’ll stretch out her lovely hand to you
that I am far away from.
Do not touch it: but do reverence at her feet
and say I shall be there as swiftly as I can,
as naked spirit, or man of flesh and bone.
38. ‘Orso, e´ non furon mai fiumi né stagni,’
Orso, there never was lake or river
or sea, into which all rivers flow,
or shadow of wall, or branch, or hill,
or cloud hiding the sky, bathing the world,
or other obstacle, to make me grieve,
however much it masked human sight,
as the veil that shadows two lovely eyes,
and says by it: ‘Now pine away and weep.’
And then the lowering of them from humility
or pride, so all my joy is dimmed,
is the reason I die before my time.
And I grieve for a white hand too
often lifted shrewdly to do me harm,
and rising like a rock before my eyes.
Note: Addressed to Orso dell’Anguillara.
39. ‘Io temo sí de’ begli occhi l’assalto’
I’m so afraid of those lovely eyes’ assault
in which Love and my death exist,
I run from them like a child from the rod,
and it’s long since I first took that step.
There is no difficult or high place
from now on, I would not reach
to avoid what scatters my senses
leaving me as if I were cold enamel.
So if I turned towards you only lately
not to be nearer what consumes me,
perhaps I am not without a true excuse.
More, to return to the place I fled from,
and free my heart from such deep fear,
is no light testimony to my loyalty.
Note: Assumed to be written to a friend in Provence.
40. ‘S’Amore o Morte non dà qualche stroppio’
If Love or Death do not bring some flaw
to this new cloth that I now weave,
and if I can keep free of clinging lime,
while I twine the one truth with the other,
perhaps I will create a double work
in modern style but with ancient content,
so that, I’m fearful of saying it too boldly,
you’ll hear the noise even as far as Rome.
But since, to finish the labour, I lack
some of those sacred threads revealed
in those works of my beloved teacher,
why do you close your hand to me,
against your custom? I beg you to open it,
and you’ll see something beautiful appear.
Note: Augustine is the beloved teacher. Petrarch is presumably seeking copies of his works.
41. ‘Quando dal proprio sito si remove’
When that tree that Apollo once loved
in its human form moves from its proper place,
Vulcan sighs and sweats at his work,
to refresh Jupiter’s sharp lightning-bolts:
who sends now thunder, now snow, or rain,
without regard to July or January:
the earth weeps, and the sun stays far away,
because he sees his dear friend vanish.
Then those fierce planets Saturn and Mars
blaze out again, and armed Orion
shatters the poor sailor’s tiller and shrouds:
and stormy Aeolus makes Neptune,
and Juno, and us, feel the departure
of that lovely face the angels wait for.
Notes: Vulcan the god’s smith, Aeolus the god of winds, and the sky, Neptune of the sea, Juno the goddess of earth. Mars signifies war and Saturn grief, while Orion is the constellation of storms.
‘Mars Receives Weapons from Venus and Vulcan’ - Thomas Willeboirts Bosschaert (Dutch, 1624 - 1654), The Rijksmuseum
42. ‘Ma poi che ’l dolce riso humile et piano’
But now that her clear sweet humble smile
no longer hides the freshness of her beauty,
that Sicilian smith of ancient times
works his arms at the forge in vain,
for Jupiter lets the weapons fall from his hand,
tempered though they were in Etna’s fires,
and Juno his sister begins to clear the air
under Apollo’s lovely gaze on every side.
A breeze blows from the western shore
that makes it safe to sail without art,
and fills the grass with flowers in every meadow.
Harmful stars vanish from the whole sky,
scattered by that beloved, lovely face,
for which I’ve already shed so many tears.
Note: A companion poem to 41. Vulcan is the Sicilian smith. The original says Mongibello rather than the better known Mount Etna where Vulvan had his forge.
43. ‘Il figliuol di Latona avea già nove’
Apollo, Latona’s son, had sent his gaze
down nine times, from his high balcony
looking for one who in former times moved
his sighs in vain, and now moves another’s.
So that tired of searching, not knowing where
she might be, whether near or far,
he appeared to us like one maddened by grief,
who cannot find again a much loved thing.
And positioned apart and being so sad
he did not see that face return, that if I live
will be praised in more than a thousand lines:
and suffering had even altered that face,
until the lovely eyes left off weeping:
so the sky remained in its former state.
Note: Suggests poems 41-43 concern a nine-day period of retreat by Laura due to mourning or perhaps illness.
44. ‘Que’che ’n Tesaglia ebbe le man’ sí pronte
Caesar who was all too ready, in Thessaly,
to paint the ground crimson in civil war,
wept for Pompey his dead son-in-law,
recognising his familiar features:
and David the shepherd-boy who shattered
Goliath’s skull, wept for Absalom his rebellious son,
and even drowned his eyes for the dead Saul,
so much so he cursed Gilboa’s cruel mountain.
But you whom pity never caused to pale,
who always have your veil to protect you
against the bow Love draws in vain,
see me tormented by a thousand deaths:
and yet have never let one tear fall
from your sweet eyes, only disdain and anger.
Notes: Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalia: later, after defeat in Egypt, Pompey’s severed head was sent to Caesar. See 2 Samuel i and xviii for David, Goliath and Saul.
‘Sextus the Son of Pompey Applying to Erictho, to Know the Fate of the Battle of Pharsalia’ - Robert John Dunkarton (English, 1744 - 1811), The Rijksmuseum
45. ‘Il mio adversaria in cui veder solete’
Mirror, my enemy, in which you are allowed
to see your eyes that Love and Heaven honour,
enamours you of beauties not its own,
sweet and delightful in more than mortal ways.
Through its promptings, Lady, I have been
driven from my sweet resting-place:
wretched exile, though I could not rightly stay
where you alone can have existence.
But if I had been fixed there with firm rivets,
that mirror would not have made you proud
and harsh, pleasing to yourself, to my harm.
Surely you can remember Narcissus:
that course and this runs to the same end,
though the grass is not worthy of such a flower.
Note: For Narcissus see Ovid’s Metamorphoses, falling in love with his own reflection he was changed into the narcissus flower.
‘Narcissus at the Fountain’ - Cornelis van Dalen (II) (Dutch, 1648 – 1664), The Rijksmuseum
46. ‘L’oro et le perle e i fior’ vermigli e i bianchi,’
The gold and pearls and flowers, crimson and white,
that winter should have made dry and withered,
are cruel and venomous thorns to me,
that sting me fiercely in the chest and side.
So my life will be tearful and short,
since great grief rarely withers or grows old:
but I blame those fatal mirrors more,
that you have wearied gazing at yourself.
They imposed their silence on my lord,
who prayed to you for me, so he was mute,
seeing you sate your passion with yourself:
they were created beneath the watery
depths, and tinted with eternal oblivion,
where the cause of my death was born.
47. ‘Io sentia dentr’al cor già venir meno’
I felt those spirits weakening in my heart
that receive their life from you:
and since every earthly creature
naturally protects itself from death,
loosed my desire, that now I rein in hard,
and sent it by a road that is almost lost:
so that it draws me there, day and night,
and I lead it, against its will, another way.
And it brought me, slowly and shamefully,
to look on those delightful eyes, that I
guard myself from so they may not grow cold.
Now I’ll live a while, since a mere glance of yours
has so much power to bring me to life:
then I’ll die, if I don’t follow my desire.
48. ‘Se mai foco per foco non si spense’
Since fire is never quenched with fire,
nor rivers ever dried by the rain,
but a thing’s always increased by its like,
and sometimes its opposite makes it blaze higher,
Love, who have power over my thoughts,
and nourish one soul in two bodies,
why do you there obey a different rule,
making desire weaken by desire?
Perhaps like the great falls along the Nile
that deafen those around with their vast roar,
or the sun that dazzles those who gaze too hard,
so desire that is not in tune with itself,
unrestrained in its object, comes to grief,
and by spurring hard its speed is slowed.
49. ‘Perch’io t’abbia guardato di menzogna’
Though I’ve protected you from lying,
and have allowed you honourable speech,
ungrateful tongue you’ve not returned the honour,
but caused me anger and embarrassment:
and the more I’m in need of your help
to ask for mercy, the more frozen you are
and the words you make sound imperfect
like those made by a man in dreams.
And you, sad tears, you stay with me
all night, when I wish to be alone,
then vanish before the face of my peace:
And you, sighs, so ready to bring me anguish
and grief, issue slowly and brokenly then,
so that only my look’s not silent about my heart.
50. ‘Ne la stagionche ’l ciel rapido inchina’
At the moment when the swift sky turns
towards the west, and our day flies
to people beyond, perhaps, who see it there,
the weary old woman on a pilgrimage
finding herself alone in a far country,
redoubles her steps, and hurries more and more:
and then so alone
at the end of her day
is sometimes consoled
with brief repose that lets her forget
the troubles and the evils of the way.
But, alas, every grief the day brings me,
grows when the eternal light
begins to depart from us.
While the sun turns his fiery wheel
to give space to the night,
while darker shadows fall from the highest peaks,
the greedy peasant gathers his tools,
and with the speech and music of the mountains,
frees every heaviness from his heart:
and then sets out the meal
of an impoverished life,
like those acorns in the Golden Age
that all the world rejects but honours.
But let whoever will be happy hour on hour
since I have never yet had rest an hour,
not to speak of happiness,
despite the wheeling of the sky and stars.
When the shepherd sees the rays
of the great star sink to the nest where they hide,
darkening the eastern landscape,
he rises to his feet, and with his usual staff,
leaving the grass, the fountains and the beeches,
gently moves his flock:
far from other men
in cave or hut,
he scatters green leaves,
and without thought lies down to sleep.
Ah cruel Love, instead you drive me on
to follow the sound, the path and the traces,
of a wild creature that consumes me,
one I cannot catch, that hides and flees.
And the sailors in some enclosed bay
as the sun vanishes, throw their limbs
on the hard boards, still in their soiled clothes.
But though he dives into the deep waves,
and leaves Spain behind his back,
Granada, and Morocco and the Pillars,
and men and women,
earth and its creatures,
are free of their ills,
I never put an end to my lasting trouble:
and grieve that every day adds to my harm,
already my passion has been growing
for nearly ten long years,
and I can’t imagine who could free me.
And, since speaking comforts me a little,
I see the oxen turn homewards in the evening,
from the fields and the furrows they have ploughed:
why has my sighing not been taken from me
at any time? Why not my heavy yoke?
Why are my eyes wet day and night?
Wretch that I am, what did I wish
when I first gazed
at that lovely face so fixedly
when I carved her image in that part
from which no force or art
can ever move it, till I am given as prey
to him who scatters all!
Nor even then can I say anything about him.
Song, if being with me
from dawn to evening
has made you of my company,
you’ll not wish to show yourself everywhere:
and you’ll care so little for other’s praise,
it’s enough for you to take thought, from hill to hill,
of how I’m scorched by fire
from this living stone, on which I lean.
51. ‘Poco era ad appressarsi agli occhi mei’
If the light had neared my eyes a little
that dazzles me even when far away,
then, as she changed her form in Thessaly,
I would have changed my form completely.
And since I could not be transformed to be
more hers than I am already (not that it gains me pity),
I think my aspect today would be
carved from whatever stone is hardest,
from diamond, or from a fine marble, white
perhaps through fear, or from rock-crystal,
praised by the greedy and foolish crowd:
and be free of this savage and heavy yoke,
because of which I even envy that old man,
Atlas, whose shoulders shadow Morocco.
52. ‘Non al suo amante piú Dïana piacque,’
Diana was not more pleasing to her lover,
when by chance he saw her all naked
in the midst of icy waters,
than, to me, the fresh mountain shepherdess,
set there to wash a graceful veil,
that ties her vagrant blonde hair from the breeze,
so that she makes me, now that the heavens burn,
tremble, wholly, with the chill of love.
53. ‘Spirto gentil, che quelle membra reggi’
Gentle spirit, that rules those members
in which a pilgrim lives,
a brave lord, shrewd and wise,
now you have taken up the ivory sceptre
with which you punish Rome and her wrongdoers,
and recall her to her ancient ways,
I speak to you, because I see no other ray
of virtue that is quenched from the world,
nor do I find men ashamed of doing wrong.
I don’t know what Italy expects or hopes for,
she seems not to feel her trouble,
old, lazy, slow,
will she sleep forever, no one to wake her?
I should grasp her by the hair with my hand.
I’ve no hope she’ll ever move her head
in lazy slumber whatever noise men make,
so heavily is she oppressed and by such a sleep:
not without the destiny in your right hand,
that can shake her fiercely and waken her,
now the guide of our Rome.
Set your hand to her venerable locks
and scattered tresses with firmness,
so that this sluggard might escape the mire.
I who weep for her torment day and night,
place the greater part of my hopes in you:
for if the people of Mars
ever come to lift their eyes to true honour,
I think that grace will touch them in your days.
Those ancient walls the world still fears and loves
and trembles at, whenever it recalls
past times and looks around,
and those tombs that enclose the dust
of those who will never lack fame
until the universe itself first dissolves,
and all is involved in one great ruin,
trust in you to heal all their ills.
O famous Scipios, o loyal Brutus,
how pleased you must be, if the rumour has yet
reached you there, of this well-judged appointment!
I think indeed Fabricius
will be delighted to hear the news!
And will say: ‘My Rome will once more be beautiful!’
And if Heaven cares for anything down here,
the souls, that up there are citizens,
and have abandoned their bodies to earth,
pray you to put an end to civil hatred,
that means the people have no real safety:
so the way to their temples that once
were so frequented is blocked, and now
they have almost become thieves’ dens in this strife,
so that their doors are only closed against virtue,
and amongst the altars and the naked statues
they commit every savage act.
Ah what alien deeds!
And no assault begun without a peal of bells
that were hung on high in thanks to God.
Weeping women, the defenceless children
of tender years, and the wearied old
who hate themselves and their burdened life,
and the black friars, the grey and the white,
with a crowd of others troubled and infirm,
cry: ‘O Lord, help us, help us.’
And the poor citizens dismayed
show you their wounds, thousand on thousands,
that Hannibal, no less, would pity them.
And if you gaze at the mansion of God
that is all ablaze today, if you stamped out
a few sparks, the will would become calm,
that shows itself so inflamed,
then your work would be praised to the skies.
Bears, wolves, lions, eagles and serpents
commit atrocities against a great
marble column, and harm themselves by it.
Because this gentle lady grieves at it,
she calls to you that you may root out
those evil plants that will never flower.
For more than a thousand years now
she has lacked those gracious spirits
who had placed her where she was.
Ah, you new people, proud by any measure,
lacking in reverence for such and so great a mother!
You, be husband and father:
all help is looked for from your hands,
for the Holy Father attends to other things.
It rarely happens that injurious fortune
is not opposed to the highest enterprises,
when hostile fate is in tune with ill.
But now clearing the path you take,
she makes me pardon many other offences,
being out of sorts with herself:
so that in all the history of the world
the way was never so open to a mortal man
to achieve, as you can, immortal fame,
by helping a nobler monarchy, if I
am not mistaken, rise to its feet.
What glory will be yours, to hear:
‘Others helped her when she was young and strong:
this one saved her from death in her old age.’
On the Tarpeian Rock, my song, you’ll see
a knight, whom all Italy honours,
thinking of others more than of himself.
Say to him: ‘One who has not seen you close to,
and only loves you from your human fame,
tells you that all of Rome
with eyes wet and bathed with sorrow,
begs mercy of you from all her seven hills.’
Notes: The unknown addressee has received the senator’s ivory sceptre. Petrarch references the history of the Roman Republic. Brutus is one of the first consuls not Caesar’s assassin. The black, grey and white friars are the Dominicans, Franciscans and Carmelites. The column is a reference to the Colonna family. Petrarch dates Rome’s fall from Constantine’s transfer of the Empire to Byzantium (Constantinople) in AD330. The Holy Father is at Avignon in exile. The Tarpeian Rock is on the Capitoline Hill of Rome.
‘Triumph of Heraclius at Constantinople’ - Cassell's Illustrated Universal History (p77 vol 3, London 1893), Edmund Ollier, The British Library
54. ‘Perch’al viso d’Amor portava insegna,’
Because she bore Love’s emblems in her aspect,
a pilgrim, she vainly moved my heart,
so that all others seemed less worthy of honour.
And I followed her over the green grass:
hearing a loud voice from the distance:
‘Ah, how many steps you lose in this wood!’
I crouched in the shade of a lovely beech,
pensively: and looking all around me,
I saw many dangers on my road:
and turned back, almost at the point of noon.
55. ‘Quel foco ch’i’ pensai che fosse spento’
That fire that I thought had been quenched
by chill time and declining years,
rekindles flame and suffering in the soul.
They were not wholly spent, as I can see,
those last embers, but covered over,
and I fear this second error will be worse.
With all the thousands of tears I weep
sorrow flowing from my heart distils
from my eyes: sparks and tinder are with me:
it is not as it was, but seems to flare higher.
What fire would not by now be spent and dead
on which these sad eyes were always turned?
Love, though I have been so slow to see it,
stretches me between two contraries:
and spreads his nets in such diverse ways,
that when I’ve most hope my heart will escape,
I can no longer retreat from her lovely face.
56. ‘Se col cieco desir che ‘l cor distrugge’
If, through blind desire that destroys the heart,
I do not deceive myself counting the hours,
now, while I speak these words, the time nears
that was promised to pity and myself.
What shade is so cruel as to blight the crop
which was so near to a lovely harvest?
And what wild beast is roaring in my fold?
What wall is set between the hand and grain?
Ah, I do not know: but I see only too well
that in joyous hope love led me on
only to make my life more sorrowful.
And now I remember words that I have read:
before the day of our final parting
we should not call any man blessed.
Note: See Ovid: Metamorphoses iii. 136-7 for one possible source of the last lines.
57. ‘Mie venture al venir son tarde et pigre’
My luck is always late and slow to reach me,
hope is uncertain, desire grows and increases,
so that I grieve with loss or anticipation,
and it is quicker than a tigress to depart.
Alas, snow will be black and hot,
the sea without waves, fish on the hills,
and the sun set where Tigris and Euphrates
issue together from their source,
before I can find peace in my mind,
or Love or my lady alter their ways,
who have joined in wrong against me.
And any sweetness follows such bitterness
that through disdain the taste is lost:
I will never know what’s better from them.
58. ‘La guancia che fu già piangendo stancha’
My dear lord, rest that cheek of yours
already tired with weeping, on my first gift,
be more careful of yourself with that cruel one
who makes pallid all those who follow him.
With the second, block with your left hand
the path that his messengers pass along,
appear the same in August as January,
so as not to lose your time on the long road.
And drink a herbal mixture from the third,
to purge away all thought that pains the heart,
sweet at the last, though the start is bitter.
Keep me where all your pleasures are stored,
so I will not fear the Stygian ferryman,
if the request I make does not seem proud.
Note: Sent to Agapito Colonna, Bishop of Luni with the gifts presumably of a pillow, book, and cup. The poem has indeed evaded Charon so far.
‘Wealth is Useless After Death’ - Philips Galle, Hadrianus Junius, 1563, The Rijksmuseum
59. ‘Perché quel che mi trasse ad amar prima,’
Though another’s fault takes me away
from what drew me to my first bitterness,
I am not moved from my fixed desire.
Love hid the noose he caught me with
among that golden hair:
and cold ice came from those lovely eyes
that passed into my heart,
with the power of a sudden splendour,
that, merely remembering it, all other wishes
are driven from my soul.
Alas, since then, the sweet sight of that blonde hair
has been taken from me:
and the vanishing of those two true and lovely eyes
has saddened me with their flight:
but since dying well brings us honour,
despite grief or death,
I do not wish Love to loose me from this knot.
60. ‘L’arbor gentil che forte amai molt’anni’
The gentle tree that I’ve loved many years,
while it’s lovely branches did not disdain me
made my feeble intellect flower beneath
its shade, and all my anxieties increase.
When, while I suspected no such deceit,
from sweetness it turned itself to pitiless wood,
I turned all my thoughts to one purpose,
to speak endlessly of that sad harm.
What can he say who sighs because of love,
if my new rhymes have given him fresh hope,
hope that now, because of her, he loses?
Let no poet gather it now, nor Jupiter
favour it, and let Apollo’s sun blaze in anger,
so that it withers all those green leaves.
61. ‘Benedetto sia ’l giorno, et ’l mese, et l’anno,’
Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year,
and the season, and the time, and the hour, and the moment,
and the beautiful country, and the place where I was joined
to the two beautiful eyes that have bound me:
and blessed be the first sweet suffering
that I felt in being conjoined with Love,
and the bow, and the shafts with which I was pierced,
and the wounds that run to the depths of my heart.
Blessed be all those verses I scattered
calling out the name of my lady,
and the sighs, and the tears, and the passion:
and blessed be all the sheets
where I acquire fame, and my thoughts,
that are only of her, that no one else has part of.
Index of First Lines in Italian
- 1. ‘Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il suono’
- 2. ‘Per fare una leggiadra sua vendetta’
- 3. ‘Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro’
- 4 ‘Que’ ch’infinita providentia et arte’
- 5. ‘Quando io movo i sospiri a chiamar voi,’
- 6. ‘Sí travïato è ’l folle mi’ desio’
- 7. ‘La gola e ’l sonno et l’otïose piume’
- 8. ‘ A pie’ de’ colli ove la bella vesta’
- 9. ‘Quando ’l pianeta che distingue l’ore’
- 10. ‘Gloriosa columna in cui s’appoggia’
- 11. ‘Lassare il velo o per sole o per ombra’
- 12. ‘Se la mia vita da l’aspro tormento’
- 13. ‘Quando fra l’altre donne ad ora ad ora’
- 14. ‘Occhi mei lassi, mentre ch’io vi giro’
- 15. ‘Io mi rivolgo indietro a ciascun passo’
- 16. ‘Movesi il vecchierel canuto et biancho’
- 17. ‘Piovonmi amare lagrime del viso’
- 18. ‘Quan’io son tutto vòlto in quella parte’
- 19. ‘Son animali al mondo de sí altera’
- 20. ‘Vergognando talor ch’ancor si taccia,’
- 21. ‘Mille fiate, o dolce mia guerrera,’
- 22. ‘A qualunque animale alberga in terra,’ (Sestina)
- 23. ‘Nel dolce tempo de la prima etade’
- 24. ‘Se l’onorata fronde che prescrive’
- 25. ‘Amor piangeva, et io con lui tavolta’
- 26. ‘Piú di me lieta non si vede a terra’
- 27. ‘Il successor di Karlo, che la chioma’
- 28. ‘O aspectata in ciel beata et bella’
- 29. ‘Verdi panni, sanguigni, oscuri o persi’
- 30. ‘Giovene donna sotto un verde lauro’ (Sestina form)
- 31. ‘Questa anima gentil che si diparte’
- 32. ‘Quanto piú m’avicino al giorno extremo’
- 33. ‘Già fiammeggiava l’amorosa stella’
- 34. ‘Apollo, s’anchor vive il bel disio’
- 35. ‘Solo et pensoso i piú deserti campi’
- 36. ‘S’io credesse per morte essere scarco’
- 37. ‘Si è debile il filo a cui s’attene’
- 38. ‘Orso, e´ non furon mai fiumi né stagni,’
- 39. ‘Io temo sí de’ begli occhi l’assalto’
- 40. ‘S’Amore o Morte non dà qualche stroppio’
- 41. ‘Quando dal proprio sito si remove’
- 42. ‘Ma poi che ’l dolce riso humile et piano’
- 43. ‘Il figliuol di Latona avea già nove’
- 44. ‘Que’che ’n Tesaglia ebbe le man’ sí pronte
- 45. ‘Il mio adversaria in cui veder solete’
- 46. ‘L’oro et le perle e i fior’ vermigli e i bianchi,’
- 47. ‘Io sentia dentr’al cor già venir meno’
- 48. ‘Se mai foco per foco non si spense’
- 49. ‘Perch’io t’abbia guardato di menzogna’
- 50. ‘Ne la stagionche ’l ciel rapido inchina’
- 51. ‘Poco era ad appressarsi agli occhi mei’
- 52. ‘Non al suo amante piú Dïana piacque,’
- 53. ‘Spirto gentil, che quelle membra reggi’
- 54. ‘Perch’al viso d’Amor portava insegna,’
- 55. ‘Quel foco ch’i’ pensai che fosse spento’
- 56. ‘Se col cieco desir che ‘l cor distrugge’
- 57. ‘Mie venture al venir son tarde et pigre’
- 58. ‘La guancia che fu già piangendo stancha’
- 59. ‘Perché quel che mi trasse ad amar prima,’
- 60. ‘L’arbor gentil che forte amai molt’anni’
- 61. ‘Benedetto sia ’l giorno, et ’l mese, et l’anno,’