There is a gentle thought that often springs
to life in me, because it speaks of you.
Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true,
the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.
‘Who is this’ the mind enquires of the heart,
‘who comes here to seduce our intellect?
Is his power so great we must reject
every other intellectual art?
The heart replies ‘O, meditative mind
this is love’s messenger and newly sent
to bring me all Love’s words and desires.
His life, and all the strength that he can find,
from her sweet eyes are mercifully lent,
who feels compassion for our inner fires.’

Love and the gentle heart are one same thing,
Even as the wise man in his ditty saith.
Each, of itself, would be such life in death
As rational soul bereft of reasoning.
'Tis Nature makes them when she loves: a king
Love is, whose palace where he sojourneth
Is call'd the Heart; there draws he quiet breath
At first, with brief or longer slumbering.
Then beauty seen in virtuous womankind
Will make the eyes desire, and through the heart
Send the desiring of the eyes again;
Where often it abides so long enshrined
That Love at length out of his sleep will start.
And women feel the same for worthy men.

For certain he hath seen all perfectness
Who among other ladies hath seen mine:
They that go with her humbly should combine
To thank their God for such peculiar grace.
So perfect is the beauty of her face
That is begets in no wise any sigh
Of envy, but draws round her a clear line
Of love, and blessed faith, and gentleness.
Merely the sight of her makes all things bow:
Not she herself alone is holier
Than all; but hers, through her, are raised above.
From all her acts such lovely graces flow
That truly one may never think of her
Without a passion of exceeding love.

Love and the gentle heart are one thing,
just as the poet says in his verse,
each from the other one as well divorced
as reason from the mind’s reasoning.

Nature craves love, and then creates love king,
and makes the heart a palace where he’ll stay,
perhaps a shorter or a longer day,
breathing quietly, gently slumbering.

Then beauty in a virtuous woman’s face
makes the eyes yearn, and strikes the heart,
so that the eyes’ desire’s reborn again,
and often, rooting there with longing, stays,

Till love, at last, out of its dreaming starts.
Woman’s moved likewise by a virtuous man.

In that book
which is
My memory . . .
On the first page
That is the chapter when
I first met you
Appear the words . . .
Here begins a new life

O Intelligences moving the third heaven,
the reasons heed that from my heart come forth,
so new, it seems, that no one else should know.
The heaven set in motion by your worth,
beings in gentleness created even,
keeps my existence in its present woe,
so that to speak of what I feel and know
means to converse most worthily with you:
I beg you, then, to listen to me well.
Of something in me new I now will tell—
how grief and sadness this my soul subdue,
and how a contradiction from afar
speaks through the rays descending from your star.

A thought of loveliness seems now to be
life to my ailing heart: it used to fly
oft to the very presence of your Sire;
and there a glorious Lady sitting high
it also saw, who spoke so pleasingly,
my soul would say “Up there dwells my desire.”
Now one appears, which I in dread admire
a mighty lord that makes it flee away,
so mighty, terror from my heart outflows.
To me he brings a lady very close,
and “Who salvation seeks,” I hear him say,
“let him but gaze into this lady’s eyes,
if he can suffer agony of sighs.”

Such is the contradiction, it can slay
the humble thought that is still telling me
of a fair angel up in heaven crowned.
My soul bemoans its present misery,
saying, “Unhappy me! How fast away
went he, in whom I had some solace found!”
And of my eyes it says, with mournful sound,
“When was it such a lady pierced their sight?
Why did they fail to see me in her guise?
I said, ‘Oh, surely, in this lady’s eyes
the one must dwell who kills my peers with fright.’
To no avail I warned them (Oh, my dread!),
but look at her they did, and I fell dead.”

“Oh, no, not dead, you are bewildered much,
O my poor soul, so pained and grieving so,”
replies a loving spirit, kind and sweet,
“For the fair woman, that you feel and know,
has changed your life so quickly and so much,
you now are trembling in your vile defeat.
Look how humility and mercy meet
in one so wise and gentle in her height:
so call her Lady, as by now you must.
And you will see, if steadfast is your trust,
such lofty miracles, such full delight,
you’ll say, ‘O Love, true lord, do as you please:
here is your humble handmaid on her knees.’”

My song, I do believe that those are few
who can unravel your most hidden sense,
so intricate and mighty is your wit.
Therefore, if by some fate or circumstance
you stray and venture among people who
seem not completely to have fathomed it,
oh, then, I pray, console yourself a bit,
and say, O lovely latest song, to them,
“Notice, at least, how beautiful I am!”

My lady carries love within her eyes;
All that she looks on is made pleasanter;
Upon her path men turn to gaze at her;
He whom she greeteth feels his heart to rise,
And droops is troubled visage, full of sighs,
And of his evil heart is then aware:
Hates loves, and pride becomes his worshipper.
O women, help to praise her in somewise.
Humbleness, and the hope that hopeth well,
By speech of hers into the mind are brought,
And who beholds is blessed oftenwhiles.
The look she hath when she a little smiles
Cannot be said, nor holden in the thought;
'Tis such a new and gracious miracle.

I launched her with my small remaining band
and, putting out to sea, we set the main
on that lone ship and said farewell to land.

Far to starboard rose the coast of Spain,
astern was Sardi, Islas at our bow,
and soon we saw Morocco port abeam.

Though I and comrades now were old and slow,
we hauled till nightfall for the narrow sound
where Hercules had shown what not to do,

by setting marks for men to stay behind.
At dawn the starboard lookout made Seville,
and at the straits stood Ceuta t'other hand.

'Brothers,' I shouted, 'who have had the will
to come through danger, and have reached the west!
our time awake is brief from now until

the senses die, and so I say we test
the sun's own motion and do not forego
the worlds beyond, unknown and peopleless.

Think of the roots from which you sprang, and show
that you are human: not unconscious brutes
but made to follow virtue and to know.'

Know'st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

And how the swift beat of the brain
Falters because it is in vain,
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf
Knowest thou not? and how the chief
Of joys seems--not to suffer pain?

Know'st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the soul feels like a dried sheaf
Bound up at length for harvesting,
And how death seems a comely thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders,
Vested already with that planet's rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart's lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously.

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o'er!

And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion's aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires,
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E'en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent.

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
'Have pity on me, ' unto him I cried,
'Whiche'er thou art, or shade or real man! '

He answered me: 'Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

'Sub Julio' was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned.

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb'st thou not the Mount Delectable,
Which is the source and cause of every joy? '

'Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech? '
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

'O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.'

'Thee it behoves to take another road, '
Responded he, when he beheld me weeping,
'If from this savage place thou wouldst escape;

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,
Suffers not any one to pass her way,
But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,
That never doth she glut her greedy will,
And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,
And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound
Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

He shall not feed on either earth or pelf,
But upon wisdom, and on love and virtue;
'Twixt Feltro and Feltro shall his nation be;

Of that low Italy shall he be the saviour,
On whose account the maid Camilla died,
Euryalus, Turnus, Nisus, of their wounds;

Through every city shall he hunt her down,
Until he shall have driven her back to Hell,
There from whence envy first did let her loose.

Therefore I think and judge it for thy best
Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide,
And lead thee hence through the eternal place,

Where thou shalt hear the desperate lamentations,
Shalt see the ancient spirits disconsolate,
Who cry out each one for the second death;

And thou shalt see those who contented are
Within the fire, because they hope to come,
Whene'er it may be, to the blessed people;

To whom, then, if thou wishest to ascend,
A soul shall be for that than I more worthy;
With her at my departure I will leave thee;

Because that Emperor, who reigns above,
In that I was rebellious to his law,
Wills that through me none come into his city.

He governs everywhere, and there he reigns;
There is his city and his lofty throne;
O happy he whom thereto he elects! '

And I to him: 'Poet, I thee entreat,
By that same God whom thou didst never know,
So that I may escape this woe and worse,

Thou wouldst conduct me there where thou hast said,
That I may see the portal of Saint Peter,
And those thou makest so disconsolate.'

Then he moved on, and I behind him followed.

I felt a spirit of love begin to stir
Within my heart, long time unfelt till then;
And saw Love coming towards me fair and fain
(That I scarce knew him for his joyful cheer),
Saying, 'Be now indeed my worshipper!'
And in his speech he laughed and laughed again.
Then, while it was his pleasure to remain,
I chanced to look the way he had drawn near,
And saw the Ladies Joan and Beatrice
Approach me, this the other following,
One and a second marvel instantly.
And even as now my memory speaketh this,
Love spake it then: 'The first is christened Spring;
The second Love, she is so like to me.'

All my thoughts always speak to me of love,
Yet have between themselves such difference
That while one bids me bow with mind and sense,
A second saith, 'Go to: look thou above';
The third one, hoping, yields me joy enough;
And with the last come tears, I scarce know whence:
All of them craving pity in sore suspense,
Trembling with fears that the heart knoweth of.
And thus, being all unsure which path to take,
Wishing to speak I know not what to say,
And lose myself in amorous wanderings:
Until (my peace with all of them to make),
Unto mine enemy I needs must pray,
My lady Pity, for the help she brings.

TWO ladies to the summit of my mind
Have clomb, to hold an argument of love.
The one has wisdom with her from above,
For every noblest virtue well designed:
The other, beauty's tempting power refined
And the high charm of perfect grace approve:
And I, as my sweet Master's will doth move,
At feet of both their favors am reclined.
Beauty and Duty in my soul keep strife,
At question if the heart such course can take
And 'twixt the two ladies hold its love complete.
The fount of gentle speech yields answer meet,
That Beauty may be loved for gladness sake,
And Duty in the lofty ends of life

At whiles (yea oftentimes) I muse over
The quality of anguish that is mine
Through Love: then pity makes my voice to pine
Saying, 'Is any else thus, anywhere?'
Love smileth me, whose strength is ill to bear;
So that of all my life is left no sigh
Except one thought; and that, because 'tis thine,
Leaves not the body but abideth there.
And then if I, whom other aid forsook,
Would aid myself, and innocent of art
Would fain have sight of thee as a last hope,
No sooner do I lift mine eyes to look
Than the blood seems as shaken from my heart,
And all my pulses beat at once and stop.

Then dark with dripping blood it gave a howl
and cried again: 'Our damaged branches ache!
Your pillage maims me! Can't you feel at all?

We who were men are now this barren brake.
You'd grant us your respect and stay your hand
were we a thicket not of souls but snakes.'

As wood still green starts burning at one end
and from its unlit end the burning stick
drips sap, and hisses with escaping wind,

so from the broken stump there oozed a mix
of words and blood: a frothy babbling gore.
I dropped the branch. My fear had made me sick.

'Poor wounded soul, could he have grasped before,'
my sage replied, 'what now he sees is true,
and blindly trusted in poetic lore,

then he need not have so insulted you.
But as there was no other way to learn
I urged him to a test that grieved me too.

Tell us who you were, that he, in turn,
can set your honor freshly back in style
among those he will teach when he returns.'

The trunk: 'Your speech, by raising hope that I'll
regain repute, makes words arise in me.
I mean to talk, if you will stay a while:

I was the one entrusted with the keys
to Federigo's mind, and it was sweet
to share his thought and guard his strategy

for noble ventures secret in my keep —
so faithfully I filled this glorious post,
I gladly sacrificed my health and sleep...'

1.1k
Sestina

I have come, alas, to the great circle of shadow,
to the short day and to the whitening hills,
when the colour is all lost from the grass,
though my desire will not lose its green,
so rooted is it in this hardest stone,
that speaks and feels as though it were a woman.

And likewise this heaven-born woman
stays frozen, like the snow in shadow,
and is unmoved, or moved like a stone,
by the sweet season that warms all the hills,
and makes them alter from pure white to green,
so as to clothe them with the flowers and grass.

When her head wears a crown of grass
she draws the mind from any other woman,
because she blends her gold hair with the green
so well that Amor lingers in their shadow,
he who fastens me in these low hills,
more certainly than lime fastens stone.

Her beauty has more virtue than rare stone.
The wound she gives cannot be healed with grass,
since I have travelled, through the plains and hills,
to find my release from such a woman,
yet from her light had never a shadow
thrown on me, by hill, wall, or leaves’ green.

I have seen her walk all dressed in green,
so formed she would have sparked love in a stone,
that love I bear for her very shadow,
so that I wished her, in those fields of grass,
as much in love as ever yet was woman,
closed around by all the highest hills.

The rivers will flow upwards to the hills
before this wood, that is so soft and green,
takes fire, as might ever lovely woman,
for me, who would choose to sleep on stone,
all my life, and go eating grass,
only to gaze at where her clothes cast shadow.

Whenever the hills cast blackest shadow,
with her sweet green, the lovely woman
hides it, as a man hides stone in grass.

— The End —