Poems from the Convivio

Le dolci rime d’amor ch’i’ solia
 
Le dolci rime d’amor ch’i’ solia
cercar ne’ miei pensieri,
convien ch’io lasci; non perch’io non speri
ad esse ritornare,
ma perché li atti disdegnosi e feri                    5
che ne la donna mia
sono appariti m’han chiusa la via
de l’usato parlare.
E poi che tempo mi par d’aspettare,
diporrò giù lo mio soave stile,                         10
ch’i’ ho tenuto nel trattar d’amore;
e dirò del valore,
per lo qual veramente omo è gentile,
con rima aspr’e sottile;
riprovando ‘l giudicio falso e vile                      15
di quel che voglion che di gentilezza
sia principio ricchezza.
E, cominciando, chiamo quel signore
ch’a la mia donna ne li occhi dimora,
per ch’ella di se stessa s’innamora.                20
 
Tale imperò che gentilezza volse,
secondo ‘l suo parere,
che fosse antica possession d’avere
con reggimenti belli;
e altri fu di più lieve savere,                             25
che tal detto rivolse,
e l’ultima particula ne tolse,
ché non l’avea fors’elli!
Di retro da costui van tutti quelli
che fan gentile per ischiatta altrui                    30
che lungiamente in gran ricchezza stata
ed è tanto durata
la così falsa oppinion tra nui,
che l’uom chiama colui
omo gentil che può dicere: “Io fui                    35
nepote, o figlio, di cotal valente”,
benché sia da niente.
Ma vilissimo sembra, a chi ‘l ver guata,
cui è scorto ‘l cammino e poscia l’erra,
e tocca a tal, ch’è morto e va per terra!            40
 
Chi diffinisce: “Omo è legno animato”,
prima dice non vero,
e, dopo ‘l falso, parla non intero;
ma più forse non vede.
Similemente fu chi tenne impero                     45
in diffinire errato,
chi prima puose ‘l falso e, d’altro lato,
con difetto procede;
chè le divizie, sì come si crede,
non posson gentilezza dar né tòrre,                50
però che vili son da lor natura:
poi chi pinge figura,
se non può esser lei, non la può porre,
né la diritta torre
fa piegar rivo che da lungi corre.                     55
Che siano vili appare ed imperfette,
ché, quantunque collette,
non posson quietar, ma dan più cura;
onde l’animo ch’a dritto e verace
per lor discorrimento non si sface.                   60
 
Né voglion che vil uom gentil divegna,
né di vil padre scenda
nazion che per gentil già mai s’intenda;
questo è da lor confesso:
onde lor region par che sé offenda                  65
in tanto quanto assegna
che tempo a gentilezza si convegna,
diffinendo con esso.
Ancor, segue di ciò che innanzi ho messo,
che siam tutti gentil o ver villani,                     70
o che non fosse ad uom cominciamento;
ma ciò io non consento,
ned ellino altressì, se son cristiani!
Perché a ‘ntelletti sani
è manifesto i lor diri esser vani,                      75
e io così per falsi li riprovo,
e da lor mi rimovo;
e dicer voglio omai, sì com’io sento,
che cosa è gentilezza, e da che vene,
e dirò i segni che ‘l gentile uom tene.              80
 
Dico ch’ogni vertù principalmente
vien da una radice:
vertute, dico, che fa l’uom felice
in sua operazione.
Questo è, secondo che l’Etica dice,                85
un abito eligente
lo qual dimora in mezzo solamente,
e tai parole pone.
Dico che nobiltate in sua ragione
importa sempre ben del suo subietto,              90
come viltate importa sempre male;
e vertute cotale
di sempre altrui di sì buono intelletto;
per che in medesmo detto
convegnono ambedue, ch’en d’uno effetto.       95
Onde convien da l’altra vegna l’una,
o d’un terzo ciascuna;
ma se l’una val ciò che l’altra vale,
e ancor più, da lei verrà più tosto.
E ciò ch’io dett’ho qui sia per supposto.          100
 
È gentilezza dovunqu’è vertute,
ma non vertute ov’ella;
sì com’è ‘l cielo dovunqu’è la stella,
ma ciò non è converso.
E noi in donna e in età novella                      105
vedem questa salute,
in quanto vergognose son tenute,
ch’è da vertù diverso.
Dunque verrà, come dal nero il perso,
ciascheduna vertute da costei,                     110
o vero il gener lor, ch’io misi avanti.
Però nessun si vanti
dicendo: “Per ischiatta io son con lei”,
ch’elli son quasi dei
quei c’han tal grazia fuor di tutti rei;                115
ché solo Iddio a l’anima la dona
che vede in sua persona
perfettamente star: sì ch’ad alquanti
che seme di felicità si accosta,
messo da Dio ne l’anima ben posta                120
 
L’anima cui adorna esta bontate
non la si tiene ascosa,
ché dal principio ch’al corpo si sposa
la mostra infin la morte.
Ubidente, soave e vergognosa                       125
è ne la prima etate,
e sua persona adorna di bieltate
con le sue parti accorta;
in giovinezza, temperata e forte,
pien d’amore e di cortese lode,                     130
e solo in lealtà far si diletta;
è ne la sua senetta
prudente e giusta, e larghezza se n’ode,
e ‘n se medesma gode
d’udire e ragionar de l’altrui prode,                 135
poi ne la quarta parte de la vita
a Dio si rimarita,
contemplando la fine che l’aspetta,
e benedice li tempi passati
Vedete omai quanti son l’ingannati.                140
 
Contra-li-erranti mia, tu te n’andrai;
e quando tu sarai
in parte dove sia la donna nostra,
non le tenere il tuo mestier coverto:
tu le puoi dir per certo:                                 145
“Io vo parlando de l’amica vostra”.
The Soothing Rhymes of Love I Used One Day
 
The soothing rhymes of love I used one day
to search for in my thoughts
I must now leave, oh, not because I hope
to look for them no more,
only because the fierce and scornful acts                5
my lady shows to me
have bolted fast the door
to my familiar speech.
And since, I see, this is but time to wait,
down will I lay the ever pleasing style                     10
I once employed in every song of love,
and speak, instead, of worth,
whereby a man is gentle truthfully,
with harsh and subtle rhyme,
refuting thus the cowardly and erring                      15
judgment of those who claim wealth is the only
base of true gentleness.
Beginning, then, I call upon that lord
who in my lady’s eyes is dwelling still—
which makes her so enamored of herself.               20
 
Someone, according to his wish and whim,
imperiously has ruled
that gentleness is ancient wealth of goods
with gracious manners shown.
Some other, in interpreting his phrase,                   25
proved of a lighter remind,
for he removed the latter part of it,
not owning it himself.
After him come all those who simply call
a person gentle, whose forefathers have                 30
dwelt in great riches many a century;
and so within our midst
is such a false opinion inured
that only he is called
a noble man, who so can boast, “I was                  35
grandson, or son, of such a mighty knight,”
though a nonentity.
Most pitiful to those who see the truth
is he who’s shown the way and loses it,
just like a man who treads, though dead, the ground.40
 
He who defines man “animated wood,”
first, does not speak the truth,
and then—falsehood aside—does not say all
(maybe he sees no more).
He who held empire proved likewise to be               45
in definition wrong,
for in the first place stated he the false,
and then proceeded he defectively:
riches, according to all men’s belief,
can neither give nor ban nobility,                           50
because they are by nature valueless.
A painter cannot be
the very image that he wants to paint,
nor is an upright tower
by a far-flowing river bent an inch.                          55
That wealth is base and wanting it’s well known:
whichever way amassed,
instead of quieting, more cares it brings;
wherefore a straight and truthful intellect
is never by its transience undone.                           60
 
They state a base man cannot noble be,
nor can from a base father
a family achieve nobility.
This is what they maintain,
and here their thesis contradicts itself,                   65
for it asserts that time
is a prerequisite of nobility,
henceforth defining it.
It follows from what I have said above
that we’re all either noble or else base                    70
or that man never had an origin;
which neither I nor they,
if they be Christians, in the least accept.
A healthy intellect
can see how futile all their sayings are,                  75
and so the same as falsehood I refute,
breaking from them away.
I want to speak now, as I feel within,
of gentleness’ true entity and source,
and by what signs a gentle man is known.              80
 
In principle I say that every virtue
comes to us from a root—
virtue, I mean, that gives man happiness
while exercising it.
This is, according as the Ethics says,                    85
selective habitude,
which has its sole abode right in the means—
to use their very words.
Nobility, I say, in its own essence
ever implies the good of its own subject                  90
as want of it ever implies its ill;
and such a virtue bids
one see the goodness of its intellect,
for on the selfsame point
they both agree—their singular effect.                    95
One, therefore, must out of the other come
or each out of a third;
but if the worth of one is just as much,
or even more, the other’s born of it.
Let what I have just said my premise be.              100
 
Nobility’s wherever virtue is,
not virtue where the other seems to be,
just as the sky wherever the star is,
but not the contrary.
So we in women and in youthful age                     105
this saving power see,
for both of them in bashfulness proceed—
no virtue to be sure.
Therefore, as perse from black, all virtues are
evolving just from her,                                           110
or their generic kind, as said before.
Let therefore no one boast:
“Virtue from my forefathers came to me,”
for such a grace to only those is given
who, far from guilty ones, are nearly gods.             115
‘Tis God alone who grants it to that soul
He sees himself to live
in perfect habitation: close to some
the seed of happiness, therefore, remains,
planted by God in the responsive soul.                  120
 
The soul that with such goodness is adorned
keeps it not hidden there,
because from the first day she weds the body
she shows it until death.
Obedient, sweet, and sensitive to shame,             125
in the first age is she,
and clothes in beauty her external frame
with its ingenious parts.
In manhood she is temperate and strong,
and, full of love and every kindly praise,                130
finds its delight in loyal deeds alone.
Subsequently, in old age,
she’s just and prudent, makes her bounty known,
and deep within rejoices
when other people’s worth is said and heard.        135
Finally, in the fourth part of her life,
to God she’s re-espoused,
and, gazing on the end awaiting her,
recalls and blesses every by-gone day.
See now how many the deceivèd are!                    140
 
You must, O my Contra-Errantes, go;
but when at last you reach
that region where our lady lives, do not
your mission hide from her.
Openly to her say:                                              145
“I’m only talking of a friend of yours.”

Notes

The Soothing Rhymes of Love I Used One Day - (Le dolci rime d’amor ch’io solia)

This is the third and last canzone of the Convivio, subject of the commentary of the fourth treatise. “Soothing” alludes to the “sweet style” (Purgatory 26:57) employed in his love poetry, whose subject was not philosophy. (Cfr. Vita Nuova, the previous two canzoni in Convivio and others in which allegory is employed). This doctrinal song deals with the theme of nobility which, the poet argues, does not reside in wealth and inheritance but in that virtue “planted by God in the responsive soul.” The method is Aristotelian, quaestio disputata, the demonstration begins with verse 18, followed by the confutation and the reprobation. In the congedo, Contra-Errantes shows and alludes to Dante’s intention of emulating the method of Thomas Aquinas in his Summa contra Gentiles. “I’m only talking of a friend of yours,” signifies that he is talking of nobility, a friend of “the gentle lady.”


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