Poems from the Vita Nuova

Donna pietosa e di novella etate
Donna pietosa e di novella etate,
Adorna assai di gentilezze umane,
Ch’ era là ‘v’io chiamava spesso Morte, Veggendo li occhi miei pien di pietate
E ascoltando le parole vane,                         5
Si mosse con paura a pianger forte.
E altre donne, che si fuoro accorte
Di me per quella che meco piangia,
Fecer lei partir via,
E appressarsi per farmi sentire.                    10
Qual dicea: “Non dormire”.
E qual dicea: “Perché sì ti sconforte?”
Allor lassai la nova fantasia,
Chiamando il nome de la donna mia.
Era la voce mia sì dolorosa                          15
E rotta sì da l’angoscia del pianto,
Ch’io solo intesi il nome nel mio core;
E con tutta la vista vergognosa
Ch’era nel viso mio giunta cotanto,
Mi fece verso lor volgere Amore.                    20
Elli era tale a veder mio colore,
Che facea ragionar di morte altrui:
Deh, consoliam costui ”
Pregava l’una l’altra umilemente;
E dicevan sovente:                                      25
“Che vedestù, che tu non hai valore? ”
E quando un poco confortato fui,
Io dissi: “Donne, dicerollo a vui.
Mentr’io pensava la mia frale vita,
E vedea ‘l suo durar com’è leggiero,              30
Piansemi Amor nel core, ove dimora;
Per che l’anima mia fu sì smarrita
Che sospirando dicea nel pensero:
Ben converrà che la mia donna mora.—
Io presi tanto smarrimento allora                   35
Ch’io chiusi li occhi vilmente gravati,
E furon sì smagati
Li spirti miei, che ciascun giva errando;
E poscia imaginando,
Di caunoscenza e di verità fora,                    40
Visi di donne m’apparver crucciati,
Che mi dicean pur:—Morra’ti, morra’ti. —
Poi vidi cose dubitose molte
Nel vano imaginare ov’io entrai;
Ed esser mi parea non so in qual loco,         45
E veder donne andar per via disciolte,
Qual lagrimando, e qual traendo guai
Che di tristizia saettavan foco.
Poi mi parve vedere a poco a poco
Turbar lo sole e apparir la stella,                   50
E pianger elli ed ella;
Cader li augelli volando per l’are,
E la terra tremare;
Ed omo apparve scolorito e fioco,
Dicendomi:—Che fai? non sai novella?          55
Morta è la donna tua, ch’era sì bella.—
Levava li occhi miei bagnati in pianti,
E vedea, che parean pioggia di manna,
Li angeli che tornavan suso in cielo,
E una nuvoletta avean davanti,                      60
Dopo la qual gridavan tutti: Osanna;
E s’ altro avesser detto, a voi dire’lo.
Allor diceva Amor:—Più nol ti celo;
Vieni a veder nostra donna che giace.—
Lo imaginar fallace                                      65
Mi condusse a veder madonna morta;
E quand’io l’avea scorta,
Vedea che donne la covrian d’un velo;
Ed avea seco umilità verace,
Che parea che dicesse:—Io sono in pace—   70
Io divenia nel dolor sì umile,
Veggendo in lei tanta umiltà formata,
Ch’io dicea:—Morte, assai dolce ti tegno;
Tu dèi omai esser cosa gentile,
Poi che tu se’ ne la mia donna stata,            75
E dèi aver pietate e non disdegno.
Vedi che sì desideroso vegno
D’esser de’ tuoi, ch’io ti somiglio in fede.
Vieni, chè ‘l cor te chiede.—
Poi mi partia, consumato ogne duolo;           80
E quand’io era solo,
Dicea, guardando verso l’alto regno:
—Beato, anima bella, chi te vede!—
Voi mi chiamaste allor, vostra merzede”.
A Kindly Lady in Her Youthful Years
A kindly lady in her youthful years,
greatly adorned with human gentleness,
stood there, where I for Death did often long.
Seeing my eyes so sadly filled with tears,
and hearing all my words of emptiness,                 5
fearful, she started weeping, loud and strong.
And other women, when they noticed me
because of her who wept with me along,
suddenly bade her go,
and, to be heard, drew closer to my bed.               10“Oh, sleep no more,” some said;
some other, “Why your sadness so prolong?”
Out of my recent vision so I came,
calling repeatedly my lady’s name.
So was my voice by bitter sobbing rent,                15
and so by anguish broken every word,
that her name echoed in my heart alone.
Yet notwithstanding what was evident—
shame that had gravely on my face appeared—
Love bade me turn towards them with a moan.       20
My pallor was so pitifully shown,
it made all of them think my death was near.
“Let’s comfort this man here,”
they begged each other with humility,
and often said to me,                                           25
“What did you see, that makes you sad and wan?”
And after I was somewhat comforted,
“Ladies, I’ll tell you everything,” I said.
Musing on my frail life with every thought,
and seeing how short were its remaining days,      30
here in my heart—his home—I heard Love cry,
which made my soul so utterly distraught,
it soon addressed my mind with all its sighs,
“My lady, too, my lady, too, will die.”
Oh, such was at that moment my dismay,            35
I closed my eyes, so heavy and afraid,
and all my spirits swayed
so lifeless, each meandered lost and blind.
‘Twas then that in my mind,
straying from truth and knowledge far away,          40
sad women’s faces I beheld convening,
“You will die! You will die!” all of them keening.
Many a doubtful object then I viewed
in the strange nightmare that my fancy kept.
It seemed to me I was I know not where,               45
and ‘long that road I saw a multitude
of women, who, disheveled, wailed and wept,
making a flame of sadness round me glare.
Then, slowly, very slowly in the air,
I saw the sun and the night-star appear,                50
shedding a mingled tear;
I saw birds falling from the firmament,
and the earth tremble bent;
and, raucous, pale, a man said then and there,
“Are you, are you here still? Did you not hear?       55
Dead is your lady, who was once so fair.”
I lifted then my gaze, which tears had stained,
and saw (they looked to me like rain of manna)
angels returning quickly to their sky,
borne by a blessed cloudlet, light and faint,           60
behind which they, as one , sang all “Hosannah!”
If they had spoken else, oh, so would I.
“Now I must tell you,” I heard Love reply;
“Come! See our lady, lying now so still.”
That vision brought my will                                   65
there, where my lovely lady lifeless lay.
I looked at her, until
women I saw who wrapped her in a veil:
there, of such true humility possessed,
my lady seemed to say, “In peace I rest.”              70
So humble grew I in my misery,
seeing so much humility on her mien,
that I said, “Death, I hold you very dear.
A thing of gentleness you must now be,
for on my lady you indeed have been,                   75
and must now have compassion and no sneer.
Willingly, see, I come, and without fear,
into your kingdom, for I look like you.
Come, to my heart be true!”
When grief was spent, I moved from there away,    80
and, when alone I lay,
I said, still gazing at the lofty sphere,
“Blessèd, fair soul, those who enjoy your view!”
 was then your voices called me, thanks to you.”


A Kindly Lady in Her Youthful Years — (Donna pietosa di novella etate) — (XXIII)

The narrator recounts how, a few days later, he became ill and for nine days, the symbolic and fatal number, he endured a most severe and distressing illness. In this weak condition he began to think of his gentle lady, of the frailty of life, of Beatrice’s unavoidable death. He closed his eyes, and, seized by a sense of loss, had a vision in which he saw frightening and wondrous natural phenomena the source of which is the Apocalypse (6:12-14) and the Evangelical narrative of Christ’s death (Matthew 28:51-54; Luke 23:44-49), thus suggesting Beatrice as a “typus Christi”. These are all announcements of Beatrice’s forthcoming death. Finally a gentle lady, of close parentage, most likely his sister, awakens him and offers him consolation. According to Boccaccio this sister of the poet married Leone Poggi in 1298. As the “kindly lady in her youthful years” and the other women want to know what is the vision that “makes you sad and wan,” the narration assumes a more dramatic tone and is imbued with Biblical imagery alluding even to Christ’s, thus Beatrice’s, resurrection “Did you not hear? Dead is your lady who was once so fair.’“ ( an echo of Luke 24:18).The theme of “Death” being “a thing of gentleness” is recurrent in religious and secular literature (Tommaso da Celano, Legenda secunda Francisci, Boccaccio’s Filocolo, and Guido Cavalcanti’s poetry). Note that in retelling the vision the protagonist does not reveal the woman’s name to the ladies.

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