Poems from the Vita Nuova

Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore

Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore,
I’ vo’ con voi de la mia donna dire,
Non perch’io creda sua laude finire,
Ma ragionar per isfogar la mente.
Io dico che pensando il suo valore,                5
Amor sì dolce mi si fa sentire,
Che s’io allora non perdessi ardire,
Farei parlando innamorar la gente:
E io non vo’ parlar sì altamente
Ch’io divenisse per temenza vile;                  10
Ma tratterò del suo stato gentile,
A respetto di lei leggeramente,
Donne e donzelle amorose, con vui,
Ché non è cosa da parlarne altrui.
Angelo clama in divino intelletto                    15
E dice: “Sire, nel mondo si vede
Maraviglia ne l’atto che procede
D’un’anima che ‘nfin qua su risplende.
Lo cielo, che non have altro difetto
E ciascun santo ne grida merzede                20
Che d’aver lei, al suo segnor la chiede,
Sola Pietà nostra parte difende,
Ché parla Dio, che di madonna intende:
“Diletti miei, or sofferite in pace
Che vostra spene sia quanto me piace           25
Là ‘v’è alcun che perder lei s’attende
E che dirà ne lo inferno: ‘O mal nati,
Io vidi la speranza de’ beati’”.
Madonna è disiata in sommo cielo:
Or voi’ di sua virtù farvi savere.                      30
Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere
vada con lei, che quando va per via,
Gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo,
Per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere;
E qual soffrisse di starla a vedere                 35
Diverria nobil cosa, o si morria.
E quando trova alcun che degno sia
Di veder lei, quei prova sua vertute,
Ché li avvien, ciò che li dona, in salute,
E sì l’umilia ch’ogni offesa oblia.                   40
Ancor l’ha Dio per maggior grazia dato
Che non pò mal finir chi l’ha parlato.
Dice di lei Amor: “Cosa mortale
Come esser pò sì adorna e sì pura?”.
Poi la reguarda, e fra se stesso giura            45
Che Dio ne ‘ntenda di far cosa nova.
Color di perle ha quasi, in forma quale
Convene a donna aver, non for misura:
Ella è quanto de ben pò far natura;
Per essemplo di lei bieltà si prova.                50
De li occhi suoi, come ch’ella li mova,
Escono spirti d’amore inflammati,
Che feron li occhi a qual che allor la guati,
E passan sì che ‘l cor ciascun retrova:
Voi le vedete Amor pinto nel viso,                 55
Là ‘ve non pote alcun mirarla fiso.
Canzone, io so che tu girai parlando
A donne assai, quand’io t’avrò avanzata.
Or t’ammonisco, perch’io t’ho allevata
Per figliuola d’Amor giovane e piana,             60
Che là ‘ve giugni tu dichi pregando:
“Insegnatemi gir, ch’io son mandata
A quella di cui laude so’ adornata”.
 se non vuoli andar sì come vana,
Non restare ove sia gente villana;                  65
Ingegnati, se puoi, d’esser palese
Solo con donne o con omo cortese,
Che ti merranno là per via tostana:
Tu troverai Amor con esso lei;
Raccomandami a lui come tu dèi.                 70

Ladies, Who Understand Love’s Every Way

Ladies, who understand Love’s every way,
with you I must my lady’s worth unfold,
not that I think her praises can be told,
but I will simply talk to ease my mind.
Musing upon her wonder, so I say,                        5
I feel so tenderly by Love controlled
that, should I not grow suddenly less bold,
my words would surely kindle all mankind.
So I will not such lofty phrases find
as might encumber all my heart with fear.             10
In the most simple way, how sweet and dear
she is, I will now tell you, and how kind.
O loving maidens, what I say to you
would to all other ears sound most untrue.
Upon God’s intellect an angel calls;                      15
“Sire,” he says, “on earth the wonder’s seen
of one whose life proceeds with such a sheen,
as far as here in heav’n this soul shines bright.”
Heaven, that short of its perfection falls
without her, begs its Lord to intervene,                  20
and all imploring Saints are joining in.
Mercy alone defends us in our plight
till God, who understands my lady’s might,
“O my beloved,” says, “most peacefully
bear that your hope remain as I decree                 25
there, where is one who dreads to lose her sight,
and will down in hell to each lost spirit say,
‘The hope of all the Blest I saw one day.’
My lady’s longed for in the highest heaven,
and so I must reveal her virtue’s glow.                   30
If gentleness a lady wants to know,
let her go with her, for, as she goes by,
by Love all wicked hearts are frozen so,
all their thoughts perish in the gelid blow;
and those who could withstand her, noble so,        35
would soon become as noble, or would die.
And when a worthy person lifts his eye
and gazes on her, he’ll experience
her worth—salvation as his recompense,
and sin’s forgotten in humility.                              40
A grace God gave her, that is greater still:
who spoke to her, he shuns eternal ill.”
Love says of her, “How can a mortal thing
be so adorned with beauty, and so pure?”
Gazing on her again, he now can swear                45
God wanted to create a wonder new.
Nearly perlaceous in her coloring,
as moderate as other women share:
she is the best Nature on earth can bare,
a paragon and proof of beauty true.                       50
Out of her eyes, howe’er she looks at you,
such love-enkindled spirits soon depart,
the eyes they pierce and go straight to the heart
of any man that comes within her view.
Painted upon her face Love shines so bright,         55
no one can fixedly sustain its light.
My Song, how well I know your words will reach
many a woman when I bid you go.
I warn you now, who have been taught to grow
as Love’s own daughter, youthful and so plain:       60
wherever you arrive, say and beseech,
“Teach me to find the one to whom I go,
the one whose very praises make me glow.”
And, if you do not wish to fare in vain,
from every wicked, loveless crowd abstain.            65
Try, if you can, only to meet and find
women or men in love, who’ll be so kind
as to escort you on the shortest lane.
You’ll see Love in her company, I trust:
to him remember me then, as you must.               70


Ladies, Who Understand Love’s Every Way — (Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore)—(XIX)

The poet is walking along a very clear river and is overcome by the desire to speak of the gentle lady. Since it is not appropriate to speak to her directly he addresses all those ladies who “understand Love’s every way.” In De vulgari, II,viii Dante defines the canzone as “nothing else but the act of singing harmoniously disposed in which ever meter”. He considers the canzone the highest, most excellent form of vernacular poetry. He mentions “Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore” as he discusses it in terms of “tragica coniugatio,” a concatenation in tragic style. The canzonetta, instead, is of comic style. II,8.

My words would surely kindle all mankind —The poetic of praise has such power that it would confer on others the understanding of true Love, “intelletto d’amore”. At the same time the poet expresses a topos of humility for “he will not such lofty phrases find,” to praise the woman’s qualities. II,13. “would down in hell to each lost spirit say”. This does not seem to be a forewarning of Dante’s journey through Hell in the Divine Comedy. It is simply the opposite of Heaven. Such is the beatitude and worth of this gentle woman that she is being claimed by the angels and saints and can make the poet exclaim: “The hope of all the Blest I saw one day.” The motifs and images of the third stanza bear strong Stilnovistic echoes, from Guinizelli to Cavalcanti to Cino da Pistoia. Every one who sees her is transformed for she is the bearer of spiritual gifts that ennoble and humble the onlooker. The fifth stanza proposes the topos of purity and angelification. She is the most perfect creature that nature can create. In her one can see a tangible proof of what beauty can be in its highest form. In the envoi the poet speaks to the canzone, his creature, as to a child or daughter for she must go only among virtuous people (see Cavalcanti’s ballad “Perch’io non spero”). This is the first of Dante’s great canzoni, considered a turning point in his life as a poet and in the history of Italian love poetry (see Purgatorio 24:49-63). As noted above, in the De vulgari eloquentia he cites this canzone as the first example of that modus excellentissimus, the most sublime form of writing poetry, superbissimum carmen. It inaugurates the new style and represents the canticum novum.

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