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The Rime Petrose of Dante Alighieri

Dante Sculpture at the Entrance of the Uffizzi in Florence

Dante wrote a series of Canzoni (songs) entitled the Rime Petrose, the "Stone Rhymes." Here is the first installment of the Stone Rhymes.

Io son venuto al punto de la rota

I’ve come to conjunction of the wheel,

Where the horizon meets the sunset,

And traces Gemini within the skies;

As Love's own star steals into the distance,

Its bright light is by the sun's rays met,

Such that a veil is cast which belies

Its light; and the sphere which shields the frost lies

In sight along the great celestial arch,

Where the seven cast a faint shadow:

And yet it does not follow

That the faintest image of Love departs

From my mind, which has become a hardened stone,

Storing those thoughts of love as if in stone.

Rising from scorching Ethiopian sands,

The pilgrim winds stir all the air

As they’re warmed by the sun’s resplendent rays;

And as the winds cross over distant lands,

So is the copious snow spread everywhere,

Such that if not disturbed it coldly stays,

Then scattering its flakes, it falls and lays

Its sheets of frigid snow and plaguing rains

While Love—as all the sky so sadly weeps—

Seeks solace from the storm. And yet he keeps

My heart still clenched. With aching pains,

He never leaves, so beautiful this woman—

So beautiful and cruel, my only woman.

Fled is each bird as it trails warmer seasons

From European lands, which keeps its sights

On those seven frigid stars above;

The others rest their voices, with no reason

To cry or sing, until the sun's rays light

Our lands and paint them green from above;

And all the beasts, by nature lively and in love

Now recede into nature’s womb, freed,

As their spirits are tamed;

By the cold season. Yet mine is ever enflamed,

Not a word of liberation is decreed

On my behalf, while my sweet thoughts with time

Are quickly slayed, taken by one with little time.

Gone are the greener leaves, their term elapsed

When they adorned the world; dead is the grass;

So all the boughs of green have fled our sights—

Save for the laurel sprigs or pine and fir trees,

Or all whose leaves through every season last.

And how bitter is this season passed

That has killed the flowers on each bank,

Too pretty and frail to withstand the frost;

And yet the thorn is never lost,

Sunk deep in my heart’s softened flank,

Such that I have resolved to forever

Bear her, even if this pain is forever.

Unleashing its breath from the ocean bed,

Warm vapors rise from the earth’s deepest bowels

And gradually climb from the darken depth.

Thus, the sweet path that I once carelessly tread

Has turned into a brook, which now persists

As long as one still feels the winter’s breath.

So long as earth is covered in all breadth

With an enameled floor, where frozen waters

Imprison all that once was filled with life,

I in still perpetual strife

Take no step back, and my stance never totters;

Nor would I think to flee, for if pain is sweet,

Then death must far surpass everything sweet.

My song, what ever will become of me

In the new sweet season, when the warming rains

Fall like flamlets of Love from the bright skies,

If Love— even at present—still lies

In me, while in all others he refrains

From being felt. I must soon turn to marble,

Since this fair maiden’s heart is made of marble.

Translations © David B. Gosselin

Cosi nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro

My every word has become filled with harshness

As my beautiful stone is in her ways,

She who increasingly displays

Such scorn and such implacable disdain;

Where even her most gentle glance is ruthless,

And even the greatest of marksman betrays

The arrow's flight. Despite endless forays

Against her, all is endeavored in vain.

For none can escape her never straying blows,

Which as if decked with wings,

Descend upon our helpless forms and sunder

Every shield and every form of earthly armor.

There is neither a shield to which she yields,

Nor place which can hide me from her gaze,

But as frond is to its flower,

So she holds the summit of my intellect.

She seems as concerned about my pain, whose cause she wields,

As a ship is on the sea's tranquil ways.

Thus the pain that weighs

On my tormented soul finds no rhyme adequate.

Oh ceaseless anguish, why elect

Such endless suffering on one helpless soul,

As I am from naming her who takes this toll.

For my heart beats ever faster when I think

Of her in places where others might dwell,

Fearing they can tell

My thoughts, which by their outward form are known.

But death is not so frightening a thing

When the teeth of Love can fell

My every sense, seeming to dispel

All vital forces, which in past days had born

Me on life’s way. Though now, thrown

To the floor by him, he stands above me

With the same deadly sword which once slew Dido—

I cry for mercy, but he's deaf to all my woe.

Ever so often he raises his hand

And challenges my weary intellect,

But I, unable to protect

My helpless self, lie prostrate, unable to move,

As my imprisoned soul fails to withstand

The pain, and so cries out which such effect

That the blood through my body becomes subject

To a sudden reversal towards my heart,

Such that all color of life fades from me.

She so fiercely wounds me under my left arm

That I can't help but say:

“Were he to lift his arm just once more,

Death will have taken me before his reaches the floor."

So might I see him break her heart in half,

The heart of her who sunders mine to pieces!

For then death ceases

To be a thing that I should scorn.

For never does a cheerful smile or laugh

Pass across my face, as this fatal woman teases

My life. Oh Lord! Why won’t she cry

For me as I for her as I'm born

Into this fiery pit. For quickly would I adorn

Her sweet temples with garlands

Then I would happily, as Love gilds

And curls her tresses for my death,

Snatch her before I breathe my final breath.

If I could grab those beautiful tresses,

Fashioned for punishment like whips and lashes,

I would instead make them

Into ringing bells to sound through night and day.

Nor would I pity her or be so kind,

But as a playful bear who tosses and smashes

As he plays. And since Love still lashes

Me, I would avenge myself a thousandfold:

Staring into her eyes, those fires so bold

That my heart catches fire and dissolves,

With unwavering resolve

I'd gaze deep into her eyes and so avenge

Myself, rejoicing in that sweet revenge.

My song, go straight away to this woman,

Who’s sundered my heart and still withholds

That which ever bounds

Me in this love-starved state. Then with an arrow

Pierce her proud heartsweet revenge for my sorrow!

Translations © David B. Gosselin

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