Later Poems

Tre donne intorno al cor mi son venute
 
Tre donne intorno al cor mi son venute,
e seggonsi di fore;
ché dentro siede Amore,
lo quale è in segnoria de la mia vita.
Tanto son belle e di tanta vertute,
che ‘l possente segnore,                                5
dico quel ch’è nel core,
a pena del parlar di lor s’aita.
Ciascuna par dolente e sbigottita,
come persona discacciata e stanca,              10
cui tutta gente manca
e cui vertute né beltà non vale.
Tempo fu già nel quale,
secondo il lor parlar, furon dilette;
or sono a tutti in ira ed in non cale.                15
Queste così solette
venute son come a casa d’amico;
ché sanno ben che dentro è quel ch’io dico.
 
Dolesi l’una con parole molto,
e ‘n su la man si posa                                  20
come succisa rosa:
il nudo braccio, di dolor colonna,
sente l’oraggio che cade dal volto
l’altra man tiene ascosa
la faccia lagrimosa:                                      25
discinta e scalza, e sol di sé par donna.
Come Amor prima per la rotta gonna
la vide in parte che il tacere è bello,
egli, pietoso e fello,
di lei e del dolor fece dimanda.                      30
“Oh di pochi vivanda”,
rispose in voce con sospiri mista,
“nostra natura qui a te ci manda:
io che son la più trista
son suora a la tua madre, e son Drittura;        35
povera, vedi, a panni ed a cintura”.
 
Poi che fatta si fu palese e conta,
doglia e vergogna prese
lo mio segnore, e chiese
chi fosser l’altre due ch’eran con lei.              40
E questa, ch’era sí di pianger pronta,
tosto che lui intese,
più nel dolor s’accese,
dicendo: “A te non duol de gli occhi miei?”
Poi cominciò: “Sì come saper dei,                 45
di fonte nasce il Nilo picciol fiume
quivi dove ‘l gran lume
toglie a la terra del vinco la fronda:
sovra la vergin onda
generai io costei che m’è da lato                   50
e che s’asciuga con la treccia bionda.
Questo mio bel portato,
mirando sé ne la chiara fontana,
generò questa che m’è più lontana”.
 
Fenno i sospiri Amore un poco tardo;             55
e poi con gli occhi molli,
che prima furon folli,
salutò le germane sconsolate.
E poi che prese l’uno e l’altro dardo,
disse: “Drizzate i colli:                                  60
ecco l’armi ch’io volli;
per non usar, vedete, son turbate.
Larghezza e Temperanza e l’altre nate
del nostro sangue mendicando vanno.
Però, se questo è danno,                              65
piangano gli occhi e dolgasi la bocca
de li uomini a cui tocca,
che sono a’ raggi di cotal ciel giunti;
non noi, che semo de l’etterna rocca:
ché, se noi siamo or punti,                            70
noi pur saremo, e pur tornerà gente
che questo dardo farà star lucente”.
 
E io, che ascolto nel parlar
divino consolarsi e dolersi
così alti disperse,                                         75
l’essilio che m’è dato, onor mi tegno:
chi, se giudizio o forza di destino
vuol pur che il mondo versi
i bianchi fiori in persi,
cader co’ buoni è pur di lode degno.               80
E se non che de gli occhi miei ‘l bel segno
per lontananza m’è tolto dal viso,
che m’have in foco miso,
lieve mi conterei ciò che m’è grave.
Ma questo foco m’have                                 85
già consumato sí l’ossa e la polpa
che Morte al petto m’ha posto la chiave.
Onde, s’io ebbi colpa,
più lune ha volto il sol poi che fu spenta,
se colpa muore perché l’uom si penta.           90
 
Canzone, a’ panni tuoi non ponga uom mano,
per veder quel che bella donna chiude:
bastin le parti nude;
lo dolce pome a tutta gente niega,
per cui ciascun man piega.                           95
Ma s’elli avvien che tu alcun mai
truovi amico di virtù, ed e’ ti priega,
fatti di color novi,
poi li ti mostra; e ‘l fior, ch’è bel di fori,
fa’ disïar ne li amorosi cori.                          100
 
Canzone, uccella con le bianche penne;
canzone, caccia con li neri veltri,
che fuggir mi convenne,
ma far mi poterian di pace dono.
Però nol fan che non san quel che sono:       105
camera di perdon savio uom non serra,
ché ‘l perdonare è bel vincer di guerra.
 
Around My Heart Three Ladies Have Descended
 
Around my heart three ladies have descended,
and seated are outside,
not in, where Love abides,
holding my whole existence in his thrall.
So virtuous are they and, oh, so splendid,               5
that he, whose might is wide,
and chose in me to hide,
can hardly say a praising word at all.
Such grief on each of them now seems to fall,
they look forsaken, and worn out and won,             10
ignored by everyone,
despite the worth and wonder of their prime.
For, oh, there was a time
when, as they say, they lavished happiness:
they’re now the butt of all men’s wrath and blame.  15
Lost and companionless,
they have come here a friendly home to seek,
knowing full well the one of whom I speak.
 
With bitter words the first of them complains,
seen on one hand to rest—                                  20
a rose by storm oppressed:
her naked arm, a column to her fright,
feels the warm ray that from her aspect rains.
The other hand conceals her features, lest
her tears be manifest:                                          25
barefoot and bare, she’s mistress of her plight.
When Love through her all-tattered gown caught sight
of what is beautiful is left unsaid,
with truth as well as dread
he asked her who she was and why she cried.       30
Sighing, she so replied,
“Oh, food that but so few can fortify,
it is our nature sent us to your side.
I am the saddest—I, 
your mother’s sister: Duty is my name.                  35
Poverty is, you see, my only claim.”
 
After her name and anguish were so told,
my lord at once became
oppressed with grief and shame,
and begged her, her two escorts to reveal.             40
And she, whose weeping barely was controlled,
listening but to him,
felt sorrow more aflame,
and answered, “Do you no compassion feel
for these my eyes? As you must know too  well,    45
the Nile at birth is but a little stream:
I bore, where the great gleam
deprives the earth of osiers’ leafiness,
on waves of limpidness
the one you see beside me weep and pine            50
and dry her tears with her fair, golden tress.
This lovely child of mine,
mirroring soon herself in the clear spray,
begot the one from me most far away.”
 
Many a sigh makes Love a little slow,                   55
who, then, with tearful eyes,
that had been first unwise,
acknowledged the three sisters, so forlorn.
After he took both arrows, spoke he so,
“Now look at me, and rise:                                    60
these arms I did devise,
which are now altered, having not been borne.
Largess and Temperance, and others born
of our blood, wander begging everywhere.
But, if such harm is there,                                    65
let those men weep and mournfully complain,
who do expect such pain,
and for whose sight these rays have been predicted.
Let us of the eternal rock refrain
from grief, though still afflicted:                              70
we shall live on, and throngs we’ll find anew
who’ll give this arrow its most lucent hue.
 
And I, who such high refugees now heed
as make me know their plea
and soothe their misery,                                       75
honor I call this exile I have faced.
For, if harsh fate of what has been decreed
allows the world to see,
as black, white blooms of glee,
to perish with the good is to be praised.                 80
And, were it not that distance has erased
the goal of these my eyes and my desire—
which sets me all on fire—,
I would call every heavy burden light.
But so this flaming height                                     85
has gnawed already on both flesh and bone
that Death now holds its key on this breast tight.
Any fault of my own,
past many suns and moons, is wholly spent,
if human guilt can die though men repent.              90
 
My song, allow no one to touch your dress,
and see what a fair woman holds concealed:
may the bare parts suffice,
but from all people the sweet fruit withhold,
for which all hands are bold.                                 95
But if a friend of virtue comes in view,
and begs you, all your beauty to behold,
put on your colors new,
and show yourself: the bud, so fair outside,
make once again in loving hearts abide.               100
 
Song, among birds with your white feathers be;
O song, hunt with black hounds,
for I was forced to flee,
but they could give me back, as gift, my peace—
which they cannot, not knowing who I am:            105
never does a wise man lock pardon’s door,
for pardon’s a fine victory in war.

Notes:

Around my heart three ladies have descended  (Tre donne intorno al cor mi son venute)
 
The present is the canzone of Dante’s exile, which he accepted with dignity though with extreme pain. His own exile analogically corresponds to the banishment from the world of three moral virtues (three ladies). The first one is “Drittura” (Duty or Justice), the other two “Larghezza” (Largess) and “Temperanza” (Temperance). In the last stanza, therefore, the poet can proudly affirm that his own exile is to be considered an “honor.” The canzone, probably written soon after his banishment from Florence (1302), could also have become the subject of a commentary in the Convivio, since it deals with justice. It has two congedi, the second of which, advocating the virtue of humility and forgiveness, is generally considered an afterthought. The colors, black and white, do not necessarily refer to the Black and White factions, but simply to evil (black) having taken hold of the world, thus the poet can state “to perish with the good is to be praised.” (V,8).

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