The Rime Petrose of Dante Alighieri
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 even the faintest thoughts of Love depart
From my mind, which has become a hardened stone,
Storing those thoughts of love as if in stone.
Rising from the 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 the warmer season
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 again alights
Our lands and paints 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 so quickly taken, taken by one with little time.
Gone are the greener leaves, their term elapsed
When they adorned the world; and 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 out each darkened depth.
Thus the careless path I once happily tread
Has turned into a brook, which persists
As long as one still feels the winter’s icy breath.
So long is earth covered in all its breadth
With an enameled floor, where frozen waters
Imprison all that once was colored with life,
I in perpetual strife
Take no step back, with a stance that never totters;
Nor would I think of retreat, for if pain is sweet,
Then death must far surpass everything sweet.
My song, what will soon become of me
In the new sweet season, when the warm rains
Fall like flames of Love from the skies,
If Love— even now—still lies
In me, while in all other beings he refrains
From being felt. I must soon turn to marble,
If this fair maiden’s heart is made of marble.
*See here for notes on the poem and to compare with other translations.
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:
As the 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 deathly sword which once slew Dido —
While I cry for mercy, 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 this woman's heart - sweet revenge for my sorrow!
Translations © David B. Gosselin