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Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona by Dante Alighieri

We present a new installment of original Dante translations. To our knowledge, Dante’s lyric poems have never been presented in a way which allows English readers to experience the full scope of Dante’s unmatched mastery of the “Canzone” form. The Canzone form served as the inspiration for such great poets as John Keats, notably his "Great Odes." From Shakespeare’s immortal sonnet series to Keats and Shelley’s famous Odes, much of the greatest English poetry can be traced back to musical and poetic innovations of the Italian school, later lead by Dante Alighieri.

Love, who discourses deep inside my frail mind,

Sings now of reasons why she who I desire

Moves my every thought and feeling to higher

Lands, where my weak intellect now wanders.

Each word appears drawn from a heavenly kind,

Such that whoever would hear her speak, like fire,

Would feel themselves struck and say, “None have power

To tell what sights, what thoughts and what great wonders

Are found in her, who each earthly thought sunders,

And who leaves one wandering, longing to tell

Even the smallest part of what he's heard—

For which man has not a word,

But which sounds with the force of a death knell.

And thus, whatever shortcoming or defect

My verses may succumb to as they tell the tale

Of my sweet lady, it is not her virtue derelict,

Nor any shortcomings of Him above,

But of those who wish mere words could capture Love.

The sun in all its worldly revolutions

Never shines on something so virtuous

As when its rays fall upon her, impervious

To mortal nature. When she casts love’s shadow,

All gaze upon her hoping for salvation.

For all those who encounter her numinous

Eyes, can't help but discover something wondrous—

A place which each true servant of Love hallows.

Whoever walks within her shadow follows

A trail of virtue and delight unknown,

Exceeding what man’s mortal nature conceives.

My lady's soul, which receives

A saving immutable grace from the heavenly dome,

Displays its power in each smallest gesture;

For such things are felt with each sweet tone

That all who see or hear find early rapture:

Their hearts are flooded with desire from on high,

Which lets itself be known in one wrenching sigh.

Upon her descends the same virtue divine

That graces the angels who fly to Earth.

And to any woman who questions her worth,

Follow each of her gentle arts and learn.

For, whenever she utters that speech so fine,

She inspires the souls of those who tread the Earth

To shun all the pestilence and worldly dearth,

Proving that she posses the strength to spurn

All baseness—such things her kind learns in heaven.

Her acts are so effortless that he who sees

Her move must be convinced of her grace divine;

Each gesture is a hallowed sign.

So it’s said, her eyes are deeper than the seas,

Virtuous all that which women with her share,

And fair all that resembles her true beauty.

Thus no mortal can doubt her true duty,

In this way our doubting faith is ever raised

From its low place, to that of eternal praise.

Appearing in her aspect is Paradise,

Which makes itself and all its joys directly known;

That is, within those eyes I’ve seen it shone,

Left by Love, who chose them as his dwelling.

She seizes every thought like streams imprisoned in ice,

Or as the blinding sky where Helios keeps his throne,

Passed earthly sights and over the horizon flown.

And since every sight is met with blinding

Light, I'm content to give a humble telling:

Forever burning like the sun or stars,

Orbiting our minds like celestial cars;

With a thunderous quelling,

She shatters each vile thought. And let those with shame

Unearth in such radiance a compelling

Proof of the humbleness, which can be gained

By such ways that have force to tame each perverse

Thought, just as He who wrought the universe.

My song, you seem to contradict a sister

Of yours who speaks in such a different way.

For while one says she speaks disdainfully, you say

She is humble, with an angel's grace.

Despite our fate, which the stars oft' temper,

You know the sky is clear as day,

Which never turns its back on us though sights betray

Our confidence. Our mortal eyes can oft deface

And seem to blur the heavens' hidden trace.

But refrain from thinking such tainted truth,

Believing such things are as they seem;

There's no need to helplessly scream

Or let the fear, which swims within your soul be proof.

Instead go seek her out and stay aloof,

So that you may—without hesitation—be true,

Telling her, “My lady, only this I pray:

Let me sing your praises through life's winding way."

Translation © David B. Gosselin


Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona de la mia donna disiosamente, move cose di lei meco sovente, che lo ’ntelletto sovr’esse disvia. Lo suo parlar sì dolcemente sona, che l’anima ch’ascolta e che lo sente dice: "Oh me lassa! ch’io non son possente di dir quel ch’odo de la donna mia!" E certo e’ mi conven lasciare in pria, s’io vo’ trattar di quel ch’odo di lei, ciò che lo mio intelletto non comprende; e di quel che s’intende gran parte, perché dirlo non savrei. Però, se le mie rime avran difetto ch’entreran ne la loda di costei, di ciò si biasmi il debole intelletto e ’l parlar nostro, che non ha valore di ritrar tutto ciò che dice Amore.

Non vede il sol, che tutto ’l mondo gira, cosa tanto gentil, quanto in quell’ora che luce ne la parte ove dimora la donna di cui dire Amor mi face. Ogni Intelletto di là su la mira, e quella gente che qui s’innamora ne’ lor pensieri la truovano ancora, quando Amor fa sentir de la sua pace. Suo esser tanto a Quei che lel dà piace, che ’nfonde sempre in lei la sua vertute oltre ’l dimando di nostra natura. La sua anima pura, che riceve da lui questa salute, lo manifesta in quel ch’ella conduce: ché ’n sue bellezze son cose vedute che li occhi di color dov’ella luce ne mandan messi al cor pien di desiri, che prendon aire e diventan sospiri.

In lei discende la virtù divina sì come face in angelo che ’l vede; e qual donna gentil questo non crede, vada con lei e miri li atti sui, Quivi dov’ella parla si dichina un spirito da ciel, che reca fede come l’alto valor ch’ella possiede è oltre quel che si conviene a nui. Li atti soavi ch’ella mostra altrui vanno chiamando Amor ciascuno a prova in quella voce che lo fa sentire. Di costei si può dire: gentile è in donna ciò che in lei si trova, e bello è tanto quanto lei simiglia.

E puossi dir che ’l suo aspetto giova a consentir ciò che par maraviglia; onde la nostra fede è aiutata: però fu tal da etterno ordinata.

Cose appariscon ne lo suo aspetto che mostran de’ piacer di Paradiso, dico ne li occhi e nel suo dolce riso, che le vi reca Amor com’a suo loco.

Elle soverchian lo nostro intelletto, come raggio di sole un frale viso: e perch’io non le posso mirar fiso, mi conven contentar di dirne poco. Sua bieltà piove fiammelle di foco, animate d’un spirito gentile ch’è creatore d’ogni pensier bono; e rompon come trono li ’nnati vizii che fanno altrui vile. Però qual donna sente sua bieltate biasmar per non parer queta e umile, miri costei ch’è essemplo d’umiltate! Questa è colei ch’umilia ogni perverso: costei pensò chi mosse l’universo.

Canzone, e’ par che tu parli contraro al dir d’una sorella che tu hai; che questa donna che tanto umil fai ella la chiama fera e disdegnosa. Tu sai che ’l ciel sempr’è lucente e chiaro, e quanto in sé, non si turba già mai; ma li nostri occhi per cagioni assai chiaman la stella talor tenebrosa. Così, quand’ella la chiama orgogliosa, non considera lei secondo il vero, ma pur secondo quel ch’a lei parea: ché l’anima temea, e teme ancora, sì che mi par fero quantunqu’io veggio là ’v’ella mi senta. Così ti scusa, se ti fa mestero; e quando poi, a lei ti rappresenta: dirsi: "Madonna, s’ello v’è a grato, io parlerò di voi in ciascun lato".

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