Tre donne intorno al core by Dante Alighieri
Three courtly ladies gathered round my heart,
Seating themselves outside,
While Love remained inside,
The one whose lordship governs all my days.
Virtuous like fine works of tragic art,
Love knew nothing could hide
The grief that he espied
Among this tortured trio of frail maids.
An aspect rife with sorrow was displayed
By each, like vagrant spirits or exiles,
Haunted by many trials—
Their graces spurned without reason or rhyme.
And yet there was a time,
According to themselves, when they rejoiced.
But now they’re hounded by the populace;
Voiceless and merriless,
They gathered here, as if some old friend’s home,
Knowing that here was where my lord Love roamed.
With many bitter words the first one cried,
Head drooping in her hand,
Like a rose fallen in sand:
Her naked arm, a column for her grief,
Held up the raging storm within her mind.
The other hand concealed
A furtive trail of tears:
Unveiled, barefoot, a maid of firm belief.
Love, after peering through her tattered gown,
Witnessed the sacredness of the unsaid.
With hesitance and dread,
He asked her why she cried, showing much ruth.
“Alas, how few are fed by Truth,”
Rejoined the lady in sigh-laden tones.
“Our nature of our own accord has led us here:
The sad and fallen ones,
Your mother’s sister, I’m named Duty;
As you can see, I’m penniless and weary.”
After hearing this lady’s name and pain,
Deep shame made my lord reel:
He asked her to reveal
The names of her two fellow wanderers.
And she whose tears could barely be contained,
Giving a careful ear,
Feeling her sorrows sear,
Replied, “Can you not tell we’re troubled travelers?”
And then went on, “As our Lord remembers,
The Nile at birth was birthed by springs and sprays
Beneath the scorching rays,
The earth deprived of all its osiers—
Upon the virgin waters,
I bore the one who sits and weeps right next to me—
The one who dries her tears with her own tress.
This lovely brood of mine,
Mirroring herself in a silver wave,
Begot the one who sits most far away.”
Love, made a little slow by many a sigh,
Held the tears from his eyes,
Which first had been unwise,
Acknowledging each sad maid’s suffering.
He seized two arrows, then made his reply,
Saying, “Stand up and mark me:
These are the arms I offer,
Which you can well behold are somewhat worn.
Largess and Temperance, and others born
Of our same blood go begging, wandering.
But if here’s where we’re ending,
Let those villains on whom these arrows rain
Remonstrate and complain,
Let them lament when they are targeted.
But we who are of the eternal rock
Should refrain from our grief:
We will live on and recruit other souls,
Who will make these arms brilliant once more.”
And I, who listened to their tragic tales,
Nursing time after time
These vagrants divine,
Found myself honored by my sentenced exile:
Were this the fate that destiny entails,
Giving the world new signs,
White roses over black ensigns,
To perish with the good would not be vile.
And were it not due to mile after mile
Separating me from yesterday’s dreams,
Which still enflame me—
I’d count these gravest burdens as still light.
But flames have already
Eaten away at both my flesh and bones.
Now, only death holds the key to my heart.
And thus will any guilt,
After so many suns and moons are spent,
Dissolve, if guilt can die and men repent.
Canzone, let no one touch your drifting dress
And see the lovely lady it conceals:
May your bare parts suffice,
Denying and withholding all sweet fruits
To each importunate hand.
But if at some point one should wander by
Who numbers among Virtue’s loyal friends,
Wear your colors anew,
And show yourself: the bud so fair outside,
Which may once more in loving hearts abide.
Canzone, with white-feathered birds take flight;
O song, hunt with black hounds!
For I was forced to flee,
But they could grant me as a gift sweet peace.
However, they won’t since I am unknown:
But pardon’s door the wise will never close,
Pardon’s a victory amid war’s woes.
Translation © David B. Gosselin