Poems from the Vita Nuova

O voi che per la via d’Amor passate
O voi che per la via d’Amor passate,
Attendete e guardate
S’elli è dolore alcun, quanto ‘l mio, grave;
E prego sol ch’audir mi sofferiate,
E poi imaginate                                              5
S’io son d’ogni tormento ostale e chiave.
 
Amor, non già per mia poca bontate,
Ma per sua nobiltate,
Mi pose in vita sì dolce e soave
Ch’io mi sentia dir dietro spesse fiate:               10
“Deo, per qual dignitate
Così leggiadro questi lo core have?”
 
Or ho perduta tutta mia baldanza,
Che si movea d’amoroso tesoro;
Ond’io pover dimoro,                                       15
In guisa che di dir mi ven dottanza,
 
Sì che volendo far come coloro
Che per vergogna celan lor mancanza,
Di fuor mostro allegranza,
E dentro da lo core struggo e ploro.                    20
You, Who Along the Road of Love Proceed
 
You, who along the road of Love proceed,
stop, and pay kindly heed
if there be any grief as grave as mine.
I beg you but to listen to my plea,
and then you will agree                                 5
that to all torment I am door and key.
 
Not for the little goodness that’s in me—
for his own noble breed
did Love so sweet a life to me assign
as made me often times behind me hear,       10
“O God, what dignity
could give this man a heart so rich and rare?”
All of my boldness I have lost today,
which from my loving treasure used to stir,
and so in poverty                                      15
now dwell I, most afraid all this to say.
 
And, eager still to imitate all those
who out of shame their inner want conceal,
bliss I without reveal,
but weep within and fret from all my woes.      20

Notes:

You, Who Along The Road Of Love Proceed -- (“O voi che per la via d’Amor passate”)—(Ch.VII)

The first of two paraphrases of Jeremiah’s Lamentations (1:12), which Dante himself quotes soon after (vii,7). The second is in Vita Nuova XXVIII.
 
6. Door and key: The poet is seen as repository of every sorrow which is born with him. The key as image appears in the Provençal poet Arnaut de Maruelh in whose poetry one finds often a dream vision of one’s beloved. It is also found in the Italian poet Baldo da Passignano (see Contini) and in Dante’s famous episode of Pier delle Vigne (Inferno, 13:58).
 
8. For his own noble breed: This is a theological concept governing the relationship between God and His creatures. It is no created being that determines God’s gift, but God’s own generosity.
 
11. What dignity— meaning privilege, merit, which renders him worthy. In the De Vulgari, there is a whole discussion on dignity, “cognita dignitate cognoscemus et dignum” (having known dignity we shall know that which is worthy). The principle guiding the Stilnovistic concept of love is that in order to love and to be loved one must possess  this dignity, and have a “heart so rich and rare,” ) which is part of this poetic terminology, as is leggiadro, (from the Provençal leujaria, leu, Lat. levis), revealing the joy manifest on the lover’s face (l. 19).
 
Having been deprived of the fullness, richness that Love gave him, he is fearful and unable to speak of it. The previous metaphor of the key runs throughout these images as well. The poet does “weep within” of pain, hidden and camouflaged by the apparent joy. A device made more famous by Petrarch. The last verse bears also a distinct echo from Cavalcanti with the presence of pain and fear.

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