From The New Life of Dante Alighieri, translated by Charles Eliot Norton; Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Boston and New York; 1896; pp. 22-46.
After this above-described vision, having now spoken the words that Love had imposed on me to speak, many and diverse thoughts began to assail and to try me, and against each I was as it were without defence. Among which thoughts four chiefly hindered the repose of my life. One of them was this: “The lordship of Love is good, in that it withdraws the inclination of his liegeman from all vile things.” The next was this: “The lordship of Love is not good, because the more fidelity his liegeman bears to him, so much the heavier and more grievous trials he must needs endure.” The next was this: “The name of Love is so sweet to hear, that it seems to me impossible that his effects in most things should be other than sweet, seeing that names follow the things named, 23 as it is written, Nomina sunt consequentia rerum” [Names are consequences of things]. The fourth was this: “The lady through whom Love thus binds thee is not as other ladies that her heart may be lightly moved.” And each thought so assailed me that it made me stand like one who knows not by which way to take his journey, and who desires to go, and knows not whither he should go. And if I thought of desiring to seek a way common to them, namely, that wherein all would accord, this way was very hostile to me, namely, to call upon and put myself in the arms of Pity. And while I abode in this condition, the will came to me to write some rhymed words thereon, and I devised then this sonnet: —
This sonnet may be divided into four parts. In the first, I say and declare that all my thoughts are concerning Love: in the second, I say that they are diverse, and I relate their diversity: in the third, I say in what they all seem to accord: in the fourth, I say that, wishing to speak of Love, I know not from which to take my theme, and if I wish to take it from them all, I needs must call upon my foe, my Lady Pity. I say “my Lady,” as it were in a scornful mode of speech. The second begins here: “And have in them:” the third, “Only in craving;” the fourth, “Thus know I.”
After the battle of the diverse thoughts, it happened that this most gentle lady went to a place where many gentle ladies were assembled; to which place I was conducted by a friendly person, who thought to give me a great pleasure in leading me where so many ladies were displaying their beauties. Wherefore I, hardly knowing whereunto I had been led, and trusting myself to the person who had conducted his friend to the verge of life, said: “Wherefore are we come to these ladies?” Then he said to me: “To the end that they may be worthily served.”
And the truth is, that they were met together 25 here to attend on a gentle lady who was married that day; and therefore, according to the custom of the above-mentioned city, it behoved them to bear her company at her first sitting at table in the house of her new-made husband. So that I, believing to do the pleasure of this friend, determined to stand in company with him at the service of the ladies. And as soon as I had thus resolved, I seemed to feel a wonderful tremor begin in my breast on the left side, and extend suddenly through all the parts of my body. Then I say that, dissembling, I leaned against a painting which ran around the wall of this house, and fearing lest my trembling should be observed by others, I lifted mine eyes, and, looking at the ladies, saw among them the most gentle Beatrice. Then were my spirits so destroyed by the force that Love acquired, on seeing himself in such neighborhood to this most gentle lady, that none remained alive except the spirits of the sight, and even these remained outside of their instruments, because Love wished to stand in their most noble place to look upon this marvellous lady. And although I was other than at first, I grieved much for these little spirits, who were lamenting bitterly, and saying, “If he so like a thunderbolt had not smitten us from our place, we might stand to gaze upon the marvel of this lady, as do the others our peers.”26
I say that many of these ladies, perceiving my transfiguration, began to wonder; and, talking, make a mock of me with this most gentle lady. Thereupon my friend, who in good faith had been deceived, took me by the hand, and, leading me out from the sight of these ladies, asked me what ailed me. Then, having somewhat reposed, and my dead spirits having risen again, and those that were driven out having returned to their possessions, I said to this my friend these words: “I have held my feet on that part of life beyond which no man can go with intent to return.”
And leaving him, I returned to the chamber of tears, in which, weeping and ashamed, I said within myself, “if this lady knew my condition, I do not believe that she would thus have made mock of my person; nay, I believe that she would feel much pity therefor.” And being in this grief, I resolved to say some words in which, speaking to her, I would explain the cause of my transfigurement, and would say that I know well that it is not known, and that, were it known, I believe that it would move others to pity; and I resolved to say them, desiring that peradventure they might come to her hearing. And then I devised this sonnet: —
This sonnet I do not divide into parts, because the division is made only for the sake of disclosing the meaning of the thing divided; therefore, since, through what has been said of its occasion, it has been made sufficiently plain, there is no need of division. It is true that among the words whereby the occasion of this sonnet is set forth, certain ambiguous words are found; namely, when I say that Love slays all my spirits, and only those of vision remain alive, and even they outside of their instruments. And this ambiguity it were impossible to solve to one who is not in like degree the liegeman of Love; and to such as are so, that is already plain which would solve these ambiguous words; and therefore it is not well for me to explain this ambiguousness, since my speech would be vain or superfluous.28
After this strange transfiguration, a strong thought came to me which seldom left me, nay, rather continually recurred to me, and held this discourse with me: “Since thou presentest so contemptible an appearance when thou art near this lady, why then seekest thou to see her? Behold, if she were to ask thee this, what wouldst thou have to answer? supposing that all thy faculties were free, so that thou couldst answer her.” And to this another humble thought replied, and said: “if I lost not my faculties and were free so that I could answer, I should say to her, that so soon as I picture to myself her marvellous beauty, so soon a desire to see her comes to me, which is of such great virtue that it slays and destroys in my memory that which might rise against it; and therefore past sufferings hold me not back from seeking the sight of her.” Wherefore, moved by such thoughts, I resolved to say certain words, in which, excusing myself to her from blame on this account, I would also set down what befell me in her presence; and I devised this sonnet: —
This sonnet is divided into two parts. In the first, I tell the reason why I abstain not from seeking the presence of this lady; in the second, I tell that which befalls me when I draw nigh to her, and this part begins here: “And I hear Love.” And this second part is also divided into five, according to the five different facts related; for in the first I tell that which Love, counselled by the reason, says to me when I am near her; in the second, I set forth the state of my heart by the example of my face; in the third, I tell how every reliance fails me; in the fourth, I say that he sins who shows not pity for me, inasmuch as this would be some comfort to me; in the last, I tell why others ought to have pity, namely, because of the piteous look which comes into my eyes, which piteous look is destroyed, that is, is not apparent unto others, on account of the derision of this lady which draws to the 30 like disposition those who perchance might see this woe. The second part begins here: “My face;” the third, “And as I tremble;” the fourth, “He who may then;” the fifth, “Through that compassion.”
After I had devised this sonnet, a wish moved me to say also some words in which I would tell four things further in regard to my state, which it seemed to me had not yet been made manifest by me. The first of which is, that ofttimes I grieved when my memory excited my fancy to imagine what Love did to me; the second is, that ofttimes Love assailed me on a sudden with such force that naught remained alive in me save a thought which spoke of my lady; the third is, that, when this onset of Love thus attacked me, I went, almost quite without color, to look on this lady, believing that the sight of her would be my defence from this attack, forgetting that which befell me in approaching gentleness so great; the fourth is, how this sight not only defended me not, but finally discomfited my little remaining life. And therefore I devised this sonnet: —
This sonnet is divided into four parts, inasmuch as four things are related in it; and since these are spoken of above, I concern myself only to distinguish the parts by their beginnings: wherefore I say that the second part begins here: “For on a sudden;” the third, here: “Then to mine aid;” the fourth: “And if to look.”
After I had devised these three sonnets, in which I had spoken to this lady, since they left little of my condition untold, thinking to be silent and to say no more of this, because it seemed to me that I had sufficiently disclosed myself, although ever afterwards I should abstain from addressing her, it behoved me to take up a new theme, and one more noble than the foregoing. And because the occasion of the new theme is pleasant to hear, I will tell it as briefly as I can.32
Inasmuch as through my looks many persons had learned the secret of my heart, certain ladies who were met together, taking pleasure in one another’s company, were well acquainted with my heart, because each of them had witnessed many of my discomfitures. And I, passing near them, as chance led me, was called by one of these gentle ladies; and she who had called me was a lady of very pleasing speech; so that, when I drew nigh to them, and saw plainly that my most gentle lady was not among them, reassuring myself, I saluted them, and asked what might be their pleasure. The ladies were many, and certain of them were laughing together. There were others who were looking at me, awaiting what I might say. There were others who were talking together, one of whom, turning her eyes toward me, and calling me by name, said these words: “To what end lovest thou this thy lady, since thou canst not sustain her presence? Tell it to us, for surely the end of such a love must be most strange.” And when she had said these words to me, not only she, but all the others, began to await with their look my reply. Then I said to them these words: “My ladies, the end of my love was formerly the salutation of this lady of whom you perchance are 33 thinking, and in that dwelt the beatitude which was the end of all my desires. But since it has pleased her to deny it to me, my lord Love, through his grace, has placed all my beatitude in that which cannot fail me.”
Then these ladies began to speak together: and as sometimes we see rain falling mingled with beautiful snow, so it seemed to me I saw their words issue mingled with sighs. And after they had somewhat spoken among themselves, this lady who had first spoken to me said to me yet these words: “We pray thee that thou tell us wherein consists this beatitude of thine.” And I, replying to her, said thus: “In those words which praise my lady.” And she replied; “If thou hast told us the truth, those words which thou hast said to her, setting forth thine own condition, must have been composed with other intent.”
Then I, thinking on these words, as if ashamed, departed from them, and went saying within myself: “Since there is such beatitude in those words which praise my lady, why has my speech been of aught else?” And therefore I resolved always henceforth to take for theme of my speech that which should be the praise of this most gentle one. And thinking much on this, I seemed to myself to have undertaken a theme too lofty for me, so that I dared not to begin; and 34 that I tarried some days with desire to speak, and with fear of beginning.
Then it came to pass that, walking on a road alongside of which was flowing a very clear stream, so great a desire to say somewhat in verse came upon me, that I began to consider the method I should observe; and I thought that to speak of her would not be becoming unless I were to speak of her would not be becoming unless I were to speak to ladies in the second person; and not to every lady, but only to those who are gentle, and are not women merely. Then I say that my tongue spoke as if moved of its own accord, and said, Ladies that have intelligence of Love. These words I laid up in my mind with great joy, thinking to take them for my beginning; wherefore then, having returned to the above-mentioned city, after some days of thought I began a canzone with this beginning, arranged in the mode which will be seen below in its division.
In order that this canzone may be better understood, I shall divide it more elaborately than the other preceding things, and therefore I make of it three parts. The first part is a proem to the words which follow; the second is the subject treated of; the third is, as it were, a handmaid to the words which precede. The second begins here: “An angel crieth;” the third here: “I know, Canzonè.” The first part is divided into four; in the first, I tell to whom I wish to speak of my lady, and wherefore I wish to speak; in the second, I tell what she seems to myself, when I think upon her worth, and how I would speak if I lost not hardihood; in the third, I tell how I think to speak in order that I may not be hindered by faintheartedness; in the fourth, repeating yet once more to whom I intend to speak, I tell the reason why I speak to them. The second begins here: “I say;” the third, here: “And I wish not;” the fourth here: “Ye loving dames.”
Then when I say, “An angel crieth,” I begin to treat of this lady, and this part is divided into two; in the first, I tell what is comprehended of her in heaven; in the second, I tell what is comprehended of her on earth, — here: “My lady is desired.”
This second part is divided into two; for in 38 the first I speak of her in respect of the nobility of her soul, recounting some of the virtues which proceed from her soul; in the second, I speak of her in respect of the nobility of her body, recounting some of her beauties, — here: “Love saith concerning her.” This second part is divided into two; for in the first I speak of some of the beauties which belong to her whole person; in the second, I speak of some of the beauties which belong to special parts of her person, — here: “From out her eyes.” This second part is divided into two; for in one I speak of the eyes which are the beginning of Love; in the second, I speak of the mouth which is the end of Love. And in order that every evil thought may be removed hence, let him who reads remember what is written above, that the salutation of this lady, which was an action of her mouth, was the end of my desires so long as I was able to receive it.
Then when I say, “I know, Canzonè,” I add a stanza, as if for a handmaid to the others, in which I tell what I desire of this my canzone. And since this last part is easy to be understood, I do not trouble myself with more divisions.
I say, indeed, that to make the meaning of this canzone more clear, it might be needful to employ more minute divisions; but nevertheless it will not displease me that he who has not wit enough 39 to understand it by means of those already made should let it alone; for surely I fear I have communicated its meaning to too many even through these divisions which have been made, if it should happen that many should hear it.
After this canzone had been somewhat divulged to the world, inasmuch as one of my friends had heard it, a desire moved him to beg me that I should tell him what Love is, entertaining perhaps through the words he had heard a hope of me beyond my desert. Wherefore I, thinking that after such a treatise it were beautiful to treat somewhat of Love, and thinking that my friend was to be served, resolved to speak words in which I would treat of Love, and then I devised this sonnet: —
This sonnet is divided into two parts. In the first, I tell of him in respect of what he is potentially; in the second, I tell of him in respect to his potentiality being brought into act. The second begins here: “Beauty in lady sage.” The first is divided into two; in the first, I tell in what subject this potentiality exists; in the second, I tell how this subject and this potentiality are brought together into being, and how one is related to the other, as form to matter. The second begins here: “When Nature.” Then, when I say: “Beauty in lady,” I tell how this potentiality is brought into act; and first, how it is brought in man, then, how it is brought in woman, — here: “The like in lady.”
After I had treated of Love in the above rhyme, the will came to me to speak further in praise of this most gentle lady words by which I would show how this Love is awakened by her, and how she not only awakens him there where he is sleeping, but there where he is not potentially she, marvellously working, makes him come; and I devised then this sonnet: —41
This sonnet has three parts. In the first, I tell how this lady reduces this potentiality into act, as respects that most noble part, her eyes; and in the third, I tell how this same thing is effected as respects that most noble part, her mouth. And between the first and the third is a little part, which beseeches aid, as it were, for the preceding part and for the following, and begins here: “Assist me, dames.” The third begins here: “All sweetness.” The first is divided into three; for in the first I tell how she with power makes gentle that which she looks upon; and this is as much as to say that she brings Love potentially there where he is not. In the second, I tell how she brings Love into act in the 42 hearts of all those upon whom she looks. In the third, I tell that which she then effects with power in their hearts. The second begins, “All toward;” the third, “And whom she greets.”
When, afterward, I say, “Assist me, dames,” I indicate to whom it is my intention to speak, calling upon these ladies to aid me to pay her honor. Then, when I say, “All sweetness,” I tell the same thing as has been said in the first part, according to two acts of her mouth, one of which is her most sweet speech, and the other her marvellous smile, except that I do not tell of this last how it works in the hearts of others, because the memory cannot retain it, nor its effects.
Not many days had passed after this, when it pleased the Lord of Glory, who refused not death for himself, that he who had been the begetter of such a marvel as this most noble Beatrice was seen to be, departing from this life, should go verily unto the eternal glory. Wherefore, inasmuch as such a departure is grievous to those who remain, and have been friends of him who is gone, — and there is no friendship so intimate as that of a good father with a good child, and of a good child with a good father; and this lady had been of the 43 highest degree of goodness, and her father, as is believed by many, and is true, had been good in a high degree, — it is plain that this lady was most bitterly full of grief.
And inasmuch as, according to the custom of the above-mentioned city, ladies assemble with ladies, and men with men, in such affliction, many ladies assembled where this Beatrice was weeping piteously. Wherefore, seeing certain of them returning from her, I heard them speak of this most gentle lady, how she was lamenting. Among their words I heard how they said: “Truly, she so weeps that whoever should behold her must die of pity.” Then these ladies passed on; and I remained in such grief that some tears bathed my face, so that, often putting my hands before mine eyes, I covered it. And had it not been that I expected to hear further of her, for I was in a place where most of the ladies who came from her passed by, I should have hidden myself as soon as the tears had assailed me.
And, therefore, still tarrying in the same place, more ladies passed near me, who went along talking together, and saying: “Who of us should ever be joyful, since we have heard this lady speak so piteously?” After these, others passed, who said, as they went by: “This one who is here is weeping neither more nor less than if he had seen her as 44 we have.” And then others said of me: “Behold, this man is become such that he seems not himself.” And thus these ladies passing by, I heard speech of her and of myself after this fashion which has been told.
Wherefore, afterwards musing, I resolved to speak words in verse, inasmuch as I had fit occasion to speak, in which I would include all that I had heard from these ladies. And since I would willingly have questioned them, had it not been for blame to me, I treated my theme as if I had questioned them, and they had replied to me. And I made two sonnets; and in the first I question, in the way in which the desire came to me to question; and in the other, I tell their answer, taking that which I heard from them as if they had said it in reply to me. And I began the first, “Ye who a semblance;” the second, “Art thou then he.”
This sonnet is divided into two parts. In the first, I call upon and ask these ladies if they come from her, saying to them that I believe it, because they return as if ennobled. In the second, I pray them to tell me of her; and the second begins here: “And if ye come.”
This sonnet has four parts, according to the four fashions of speech of the ladies for whom I reply. And because these are sufficiently shown above, I do not concern myself to tell the purport of the parts, and therefore I only mark them. 46 The second begins here: “Ah! wherefore weep’st thou;” the third: “Leave tears to us;” the fourth: “and on her face.”