From The New Life of Dante Alighieri, translated by Charles Eliot Norton; Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Boston and New York; 1896; pp. 1-22.
IN that part of the book of my memory before which little can be read is found a rubric which says: Incipit Vita Nova [The New Life begins]. Under which rubric I find the words written which it is my intention to copy into this little book, — and if not all of them, at least their meaning.
Nine times now, since my birth, the heaven of light had turned almost to the same point in its own gyration, when the glorious Lady of my mind, who was called Beatrice by many who knew not what to call her, first appeared before my eyes. She had already been in this life so long that in its course the starry heaven had moved toward the region of the East one of the twelve parts of a degree; so that at about the beginning of her ninth year she appeared to me, and I near the end of my ninth 2 year saw her. She appeared to me clothed in a most noble color, a modest and becoming crimson, and she was girt and adorned in such wise as befitted her very youthful age. At that instant, I say truly that the spirit of life, which dwells in the most secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble with such violence that it appeared fearfully in the least pulses, and, trembling, said these words: Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur mihi [Behold a god stronger than I, who coming shall rule over me].
At that instant the spirit of the soul, which dwells in the high chamber to which all the spirits of the senses carry their perceptions, began to marvel greatly, and, speaking especially to the spirit of the sight, said these words: Apparuit jam beatitudo vestra [Now has appeared your bliss].
At that instant the natural spirit, which dwells in that part where our nourishment is supplied, began to weep, and, weeping, said these words: Heu miser! quia frequenter impeditus ero deinceps [Woe is me, wretched! because often from this time forth shall I be hindered].
I say that from that time forward Love lorded it over my soul, which had been so speedily wedded to him: and he began to exercise over me such control and such lordship, through the power which my imagination gave to him, that it behoved me 3 to do completely all his pleasure. He commanded me ofttimes that I should seek to see this youthful angel; so that I in my boyhood often went seeking her, and saw her of such noble and praiseworthy deportment, that truly of her might be said that word of the poet Homer, “She seems not the daughter of mortal man, but of God.” And though her image, which stayed constantly with me, gave assurance to Love to hold lordship over me, yet it was of such noble virtue that it never suffered Love to rule me without the faithful counsel of the reason in those matters in which it were useful to hear such counsel. And since to dwell upon the passions and actions of such early youth seems like telling an idle tale, I will leave them, and, passing over many things which might be drawn from the original where these lie hidden, I will come to those words which are written in my memory under larger paragraphs.
When so many days had passed that nine years were exactly complete since the above-described apparition of this most gentle lady, on the last of these days it happened that this admirable lady appeared to me, clothed in purest white, between two gentle ladies who were of greater age; and, 4 passing along a street, turned her eyes toward that place where I stood very timidly; and by her ineffable courtesy, which is to-day rewarded in the eternal world, saluted me with such virtue that it seemed to me then that I saw all the bounds of bliss. The hour when her most sweet salutation reached me was precisely the ninth of that day; and since it was the first time that her words came to my ears, I took in such sweetness, that, as it were intoxicated, I turned away from the folk; and, betaking myself to the solitude of my own chamber, I sat myself down to think of this most courteous lady.
And thinking of her, a sweet slumber overcame me, in which a marvellous vision appeared to me; for methought I saw in my chamber a cloud of the color of fire, within which I discerned a shape of a Lord of aspect fearful to whoso might look upon him; and he seemed to me so joyful within himself that a marvellous thing it was; and in his words he said many things which I understood not, save a few, among which I understood these: Ego Dominus tuus [I am thy Lord]. In his arms meseemed to see a person sleeping, naked, save that she seemed to me to be wrapped lightly in a crimson cloth; whom I, regarding very intently, recognized as the lady of the salutation, who had the day before deigned to salute me. And in one of 5 his hands it seemed to me that he held a thing which was all on fire; and it seemed to me that he said to me these words: Vide cor tuum [Behold thy heart]. And when he had remained awhile, it seemed to me that he awoke her that slept; and he so far prevailed upon her with his craft as to make her eat that thing which was burning in his hand; and she ate it timidly. After this, it was but a short while before his joy turned into the most bitter lament; and as he wept he gathered up this lady in his arms, and with her it seemed to me that he went away toward heaven. Whereat I felt such great anguish, that my weak slumber could not endure it, but was broken, and I awoke. And straightway I began to reflect, and found that the hour in which this vision had appeared to me had been the fourth of the night; so that, it plainly appears, it was the first hour of the nine last hours of the night.
And thinking on what had appeared to me, I resolved to make it known to many who were famous poets at that time; and since I had already seen in myself the art of discoursing in rhyme, I resolved to make a sonnet in which I would salute all the liegemen of Love, and, praying them to give an interpretation of my vision, would write to them that which I had seen in my slumber. And I began then this sonnet: —6
This sonnet is divided into two parts. In the first part I offer greeting, and ask for a reply; in the second I signify to what the reply is to be made. The second part begins here: “Now of.”
To this sonnet reply was made by many, and of diverse opinions. Among those who replied to it was he whom I call first of my friends, and he then wrote a sonnet which begins, “All worth, in my opinion, thou hast seen.” And this was, as it were, the beginning of the friendship between him and me, when he knew that I was he who had sent it to him.
The true meaning of this dream was not then seen by any one, but now it is plain to the simplest.7
After this vision my natural spirit began to be hindered in its operation, for my soul was wholly given over to the thought of this most gentle lady; whereby in brief time I fell into so frail and feeble a condition, that my appearance was grievous to many of my friends; and many full of envy eagerly sought to know from me that which above all I wished to conceal from others. And I, perceiving their evil questioning, through the will of Love, who commanded me according to the counsel of reason, replied to them, that it was Love who had brought me to this pass. I spoke of Love, because I bore on my face so many of his signs that this could not be concealed. And when they asked me: “For whom has Love thus wasted thee?” I, smiling, looked at them and said nothing.
One day it happened that this most gentle lady was sitting apart, where words concerning the Queen of Glory were to be heard; and I was in a place from which I saw my bliss. And in the direct line between her and me sat a gentle lady of very pleasing aspect, who often looked at me, wondering at my gaze, which seemed as if it ended 8 upon her; so that many observed her looking. And such note was taken of it, that, as I departed from this place, I heard say near me: “Behold how that lady wastes the life of this man;” and naming her, I understood that they spoke of her who had been in the path of the straight line which, parting from the most gentle Beatrice, had ended in my eyes. Then I took great comfort, being sure that my secret had not been communicated to others on that day through my eyes; and at once I thought to make of this gentle lady a screen of the truth; and in a short time I made such show of it that many persons who held discourse about me believed that they knew my secret.
With this lady I dissembled for some months and years; and in order to establish in others a firmer credence, I wrote for her certain trifles in rhyme, which it is not my intention to transcribe here, save in so far as they might serve to treat of that most gentle Beatrice; and therefore I will leave them all, save that I will write something of them which seems to be praise of her.9
I say that, during the time while this lady was the screen of so great a love as possessed me, the will came to me to record the name of that most gentle one, and to accompany it with many names of ladies, and especially with the name of this gentle lady; and I took the names of sixty of the most beautiful ladies of the city where my lady had been placed by the Most High Lord, and I composed an epistle in the form of a serventese, which I will not transcribe; and of which I would not have made mention, but for the sake of telling this which fell out marvellously in its composition, namely, that in no other place did the name of my lady endure to stand, but as the ninth in number among the names of these ladies.
The lady with whom I had so long concealed my will was obliged to depart from the above-mentioned city, and go to a very distant place; whereat I, wellnigh dismayed by reason of the fair defence which had failed me, did more discomfort me than I myself would beforehand have believed. And, thinking that, if I did not speak somewhat grievingly of her departure, people would sooner 10 become acquainted with my secret, I resolved to make some lament for it in a sonnet, which I will transcribe because my lady was the immediate occasion of certain words which are in the sonnet, as is evident to whoever understands it; and then I devised this sonnet: —
This sonnet has two principal parts; for in the first I intend to cry to the liegemen of Love with those words of Jeremy the prophet: O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte, 11 si est dolor sicut dolor meus [All ye that pass by, behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow]: and to pray them to deign to listen to me. In the second I relate where Love had set me, with other intent than that which the last parts of the sonnet indicate; and I tell that which I have lost. The second part begins here: “’T was not my.”
After the departure of this gentle lady it pleased the Lord of the Angels to call unto His glory a lady young and of exceeding gentle aspect, who had been very lovely in the above-mentioned city; whose body I saw lying without its soul, in midst of many ladies who were weeping very pitifully. Then, remembering that formerly I had seen her in company with that most gentle one, I could not restrain some tears; nay, weeping, I resolved to say some words about her death, in guerdon for that I had seen her sometimes with my lady. And thereon I touched somewhat in the last part of the words that I said of her, as plainly appears to him who understands them. And I devised then these two sonnets; the first of which begins, Lovers, lament; the second, Discourteous death: —12
This first sonnet is divided into three parts. In the first, I call and solicit the liegemen of Love to weep; and I say that their Lord weeps, and that, hearing the cause why he weeps, they should be the more ready to listen to me. In the second, I relate the cause. In the third, I speak of certain honor that Love paid to this lady. The second part begins here: “Love seëth:” the third, here: “Hear ye.”
This sonnet is divided into four parts. In the first I call Death by certain names proper to her; in the second, speaking to her, I tell the reason why I am moved to reproach her; in the third, I revile her; in the fourth, I turn to speak to an indefinite person, although definite as regards my meaning. The second part begins here: “Since sorrow;” the third, here: “And since I wish;” the fourth, with “Who merits.”
Some days after the death of this lady, a thing happened wherefore it behoved me to leave the above-mentioned city, and to go toward those parts 14 where that gentle lady was who had been my defence, though the end of my journey was not distant so far as she was. And notwithstanding I was outwardly in company with many, the journey displeased me, so that hardly could sighs relieve the anguish which the heart felt, because I was going away from my bliss. And then that most sweet Lord, who was lording it over me through virtue of the most gentle lady, appeared in my imagination like a pilgrim lightly clad and in mean raiment. He seemed disheartened, and was looking upon the ground, save that sometimes it seemed to me his eyes were turned upon a beautiful, swift and very clear stream which was flowing along by the road upon which I was.
It seemed to me that Love called me, and said to me these words: “I come from that lady who has been so long thy defence, and I know that she will not come back; and therefore that heart which I made thee keep with her I have it with me, and I carry it to a lady who will be thy defence, as this one was;” and he called her by name, so that I knew her well. “But, however, of these words which I have spoken unto thee, if thou shouldst tell any of them, tell them in such wise that the feigned love which thou hast shown for this lady, and which it will behove thee to show for another, shall not be revealed through them.” And when 15 he had thus spoken, all this my imagination disappeared of a sudden, through the exceeding great part of himself which, it seemed to me, Love bestowed on me. And, as if changed in my aspect, I rode that day very pensive and accompanied by many sighs. The next day I began this sonnet: —
This sonnet has three parts. In the first part I tell how I found Love, and what he seemed to me; in the second, I tell that which he said to me, though not completely, through the fear that I had of disclosing my secret; in the third, I tell how he disappeared. The second begins here: “When me he saw;” the third, here: “Thereon I took.”16
After my return, I set myself to seek out that lady whom my Lord had named to me on the road of sighs. And to the end that my speech may be more brief, I say that in short time I made her my defence to such degree, that very many people spoke of it beyond the terms of courtesy; wherefore many times it weighed heavily upon me. And on this account, namely, because of this injurious talk, which seemed to impute vice to me, that most gentle lady, who was the destroyer of all the vices and the queen of the virtues, passing by a certain place, denied me her most sweet salute, in which lay all my bliss. And departing a little from the present subject, I will declare that which her salutation with its virtue wrought in me.
I say that, whenever she appeared in any place, in the hope of her marvellous salutation there no longer remained to me an enemy; nay, a flame of charity possessed me, which made me pardon every one who had done me wrong; and had any one at that time questioned me of anything, my only answer would have been “Love,” and my face would have been clothed with humility And 17 when she was about to salute me, a spirit of Love, destroying all the other spirits of the senses, urged forth the feeble spirits of sight, and said to them, “Go and do honor to your lady,” and he remained in their place. And whoever had wished to know Love might have done so by looking at the trembling of my eyes. And when this most gentle lady saluted me, Love was no such mediator that he had power to shade for me the insupportable bliss, but he, as if through excess of sweetness, became such, that my body, which was wholly under his rule, oftentimes moved like a heavy, inanimate thing. Hereby it plainly appears that in her salutation abode my bliss, which oftentimes surpassed and overflowed my capacity.
Now returning to my subject, I say that, after my bliss was denied to me, such grief came to me that, withdrawing from folk, I went into a solitary place to bathe the earth with most bitter tears. And when this weeping was a little assuaged, I betook myself to my chamber, where I could lament without being heard. And here, calling upon the lady of courtesy for pity, and saying, “Love, help thy liegeman!” I fell asleep, like a beaten child, in tears.18
It happened, about the middle of my sleep, that I seemed to see in my chamber a youth sitting at my side, clothed in whitest raiment, and very thoughtful in his aspect. He was looking upon me where I lay; and when he had looked upon me for some time, it seemed to me that, sighing, he called me and said to me these words: Fili mi, tempus est ut prætermittantur simulata nostra [My son, it is time that our feignings be given up]. Then it seemed to me that I recognized him, since he called me even as he had many times before called me in my slumbers.
And, looking at him, it seemed to me that he wept piteously, and it seemed that he waited for some word from me. Wherefore, taking heart, I began to speak thus with him: “Lord of nobleness, why dost thou weep?” And he said to me these words: Ego tanquam centrum circuli, cui simili modo se habent circumferentiæ partes; tu autem non sic [I am as the centre of a circle to which the parts of the circumference bear an equal relation; but thou art not so.] Then, thinking on his words, it seemed to me that he had spoken to me very obscurely, so that I forced myself to speak, and said to him these words: “What is this, Lord, which thou sayest to me with such obscurity?” And he said to me in the common tongue: “Ask no more than may be useful to thee.”19
And therefore I began to discourse with him of the salutation which had been denied me, and I asked of him the reason; whereupon in this wise he replied to me: “This our Beatrice heard from certain persons who talked of thee, that the lady whom I named to thee on the road of sighs was receiving from thee some harm. And therefore this most gentle lady, who is adverse to every harm, did not deign to salute thy person, fearing lest it should be harmful. Wherefore, to the end that the truth of thy long-kept secret may be somewhat known to her, I will that thou say certain words in rhyme, in which thou shalt set forth the power that I hold over thee through her, and how thou wert straightway hers even from thy boyhood; and for this, call as a witness him who knows it, and also do thou pray him that he should tell it to her. And I, who am he, willingly will speak to her of it; and through this she shall understand thy will, and, understanding it, shall interpret aright the words of the deceived. Make, as it were, a mediator of these words, so that thou speak not to her directly, for this is not befitting. And without me send them nowhere where they might be heard by her; but take care to adorn them with sweet harmony, wherein I shall be whenever there be need.”
And having said these words he disappeared, 20 and my sleep was broken. Then I, remembering myself, found that this vision had appeared to me in the ninth hour of the day; and before I went out from that chamber I resolved to make a ballad in which I would execute that which my Lord had laid upon me, and I made this ballad: —
This ballad is divided into three parts. In the first, I tell it whither it is to go, and encourage it that it may go the more assured; and I tell whose company it is to seek, if it wishes to go securely, and without any danger. In the second, I tell that which it is beholden to make known. In the third, I give it leave to go when it will, commending its going to the arms of fortune. The second part begins, “With dulcet sound;” the third, “When it may please thee.” Some 22 man may object against me and say, that he understands not to whom my speech in the second part is addressed, since the ballad is naught else but these words which I am speaking; and therefore I say that I intend to solve and clear up this doubt in this little book, even in a more difficult passage; and then he who may here be in doubt, or who may choose to object after that fashion, will understand.