Poems from the Vita Nuova

A ciascun’alma presa e gentil core
 
A ciascun’alma presa e gentil core
Nel cui cospetto ven lo dir presente,
In ciò che mi rescrivan suo parvente,
Salute in lor segnor, cioè Amore.
 
Già eran quasi che atterzate l’ore                     5
Del tempo che onne stella n’è lucente,
Quando m’apparve Amor subitamente,
Cui essenza membrar mi dà orrore.
 
Allegro mi sembrava Amor tenendo
Meo core in mano, e ne le braccia avea             10
Madonna involta in un drappo dormendo.
 
Poi la svegliava, e d’esto core ardendo
Lei paventosa umilmente pascea:
Appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.
 
To Every Loving, Gentle-Hearted Friend
 
To every loving, gentle-hearted friend,
to whom the present rhyme is soon to go
so that I may their written answer know,
greetings in Love’s own name, their lord, I send.
 
The third hour of the time was near at end       5
when every star in heaven is aglow:
‘twas then Love came before me, dreadful so
that my remembrance is with horror rent.
 
Joyous appeared he in his hand to keep
my very heart, and, lying on his breast,      10
my lady, veil-enwrapped and full asleep.
 
But he awakened her, and of my heart,
aflame, he humbly made her, fearful, taste:
I saw him, finally, in tears depart.

Notes:

To Every Loving Gentle-Hearted Friend (“A ciascun’alma presa e gentil core”) — From Chapter III 

This is the first sonnet of the Vita Nuova (1283-1291) which Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) sent to “many who were famous troubadours” of his days, hoping to obtain a written reply in poetic form. Cavalcanti (1250-1300) replied with the sonnet “Vedeste, al mio parere, onne valore”. 

1. Gentle-hearted friend: gentil core—Poetic term of the Dolce Stil Nuovo (The Sweet New Style, cfr. Purgatorio 24:57), the nobility of the heart is an integral part of “every soul in love.” See also Guido Guinizelli (d. in c.1276) and his poem Al cor gentil

4. Greetings in Love”s name (salute in lor Signor): the word salute(i) assumes the function of a salutatio in epistolary correspondence (ars dictandi) and it also embodies the notion of spiritual health (salus), when conveyed by the loved one.

5. The third hour—The third part of the twelve nocturnal hours, which is the first of the last 9 hours. Dante insists on the numerical symbolism of Beatrice as a nine, multiple of three, therefore a Trinitarian number (see Vita Nuova, II,1, III,1 and XXIX).

7. Dreadful so—the remembrance of Love and its nature gives rise to fear. This is a recurrent theme in medieval love poetry especially when the lover eats of the Lover’s heart, foreshadowing the theme of the Lady’s death. At first Love appears happy, but when at his behest the Lady partakes of the lover’s heart, the poet sees him leave in “tears.” It is an allegorical exposition of the Lady’s death. The partaking of the lover’s heart, found already in the Italo-Provençal poet Sordello (“The Planh for Blancaz”) and in the vida of the troubadour Guillaume de Cabessanh which is the subject of Boccaccio’s tale in the Decameron (IV,9), has a well established tradition as far back as the Tristan of Thomas and it may have come from the Orient.


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