We are glad to announce a new project of fresh translations of Dante Alighieri's Canzoni (songs), the father of the Italian language and Italian Renaissance. They will now be regularly posted in installments on thechainedmuse.com.While there are many translations of Dante's Canzoni, all of which contribute something meaningful to the understanding of Dante, many were done by translators who were forced to make too much of a compromise between maintaining the integrity of the idea and also following the original Italian rhyme scheme and musicality. For this reason, one seldom succeeds in doing justice to Dante's poetry. Moreover, no matter how well Dante is translated, because of the fact his poems are born out of the innate musicality of Italian itself, and inextricably woven into the fabric of the Italian mode, one rarely gets a true glimmer of those hidden jewels, which are like pearls shining deep down from the bottom of the ocean floor. In sight of this, it was deemed an appropriate project to attempt not only an English translation of Dante's poems, but to attempt to render them into new authentic English poems.
Voi che ‘ntendendo il terzo ciel movete
Unmoving mind, who moves the third heaven,
Won’t you please listen to my inquiring heart
And its thoughts so strange I tell no other.
The heavens propelled by your loving art,
Who only with the angels is called even,
Has thrown me in such a state of bother
That only with you or the holy father
Can I speak and be heard truly.
Thus I ask for your most divine ear
To share with you this thought of love, of fear,
Of how my soul suffers unduly
As strange thoughts and songs from a spirit fly,
Which draw their force from that sphere on high.
The only life to my fast failing heart
Is a gentle thought that would always
Find its way to heaven’s highest peaks,
Where a glorious lady sits with starry fays,
Whose message ever made my soul depart
Saying “There lies the sweet salvation my heart longs for.”
But now my heart for mercy must implore,
For there appears a new strong thought which chases
All loveliness away and leaves me there,
Where on some strange new lady I must stare.
It says: “Let he who would see heaven’s graces
Let him then gaze into this lady’s eyes,
If he can bear the pain of seething sighs.”
So contrary to every other thought, it destroys
The humble one that ever did console
Me, of a lady in heaven divinely crowned.
Thus my soul weeps loudly decrying its dole
And says: “Oh Lord! What wicked guile this thought employs!”
See how the other now so quickly flies! Found
No more, to some new master now forever bound.”
Looking into my eyes she sorrowfully cries
“Why didn’t you heed my stern warning?
But I replied ‘Despite the man whose soul is burning
From her deep gaze every other thought flies.’
To no avail were those dire warnings sent
For look on her they did, and met their end.”
“Oh! But you are not dead, you’re only lost
Sweet soul, besieged with pain and hopeless fear.”
So spoke a gentle loving spirit from afar
“For this most loving lady you hold so dear
Has so transformed your very life and earthly post
That you can only weep, so helpless as you are.
But look! How bright, so steadfast like a star
She shines, as she walks with such celestial bearing -
Think to call her your lady.
Thus soon you’ll see, if you choose not to be deceived
You’ll see what true wisdom and daring
Can offer you. You’ll say: “Dear Love, my true
Master, here lies an angel, servant only to you.”
My song, I know that there will be but very few
Who truly understand your every way,
So different and lofty is your heavenly speech.
Therefore, if by some chance you happen to stray
Among those who won’t understand, who only imbue
Your words with foolish thoughts, what then you cannot teach
With words, then you need only gently say
“Notice the beauty that veils my every way."
*See here for notes on the poem and to compare with other translations.
Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona
Love, who within my mind now sweetly discourses,
Sings of the reasons why the lady I desire
Moves every thought and feeling I have to some higher
Land, where my weak intellect now wanders.
Her every word seems to issue from heavenly sources
Such that whoever would her words receive, like fire
Would feel themselves consumed and say “None have power
To tell what sights, what thoughts, what great wonders
Are found in this soul, who every earthly thought sunders
And leaves one wandering, longing to tell
Even the smallest part of what they’ve heard -
Which yet our human speech has not a word;
And which transfixes us in one fell
Swoop. 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 her above,
But of those who wish mere words would capture Love.
The sun in all its worldly revolutions
Never does shine upon something so virtuous
As when its golden rays fall upon her, impervious
To mortal stains. As she casts love’s shadow
All gaze upon her above who seek salvation
For all those who fall in Love and meet those numinous
Eyes, can’t help but find her aspect so wondrous.
A place which each of Love’s servants hallows.
Whoever walks within her shadow follows
The trail of virtue and delight unknown,
Exceeding what our mortal nature could conceive.
Her soul which does receive
This saving immutable grace from heaven flown,
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 desires from on high
Which take their flight in the form of wrenching sighs.
On her descends the same virtue divine
As it so graces angels who fly to earth;
And to any woman who questions her worth
Follow each of her gentle arts and learn
For wherever she speaks with speech so fine
She inspires in each who tread the earthly turf
To shun all the pestilence and all the dearth
Of this world, proving how she can spurn
All baseness, as she did from heaven learn.
So effortless her acts that each which sees
Her move must then believe in grace divine;
Her every gesture a heavenly 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
For in this our faith is ever raised
From its low place, and thus eternally praised.
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 his rightful dwelling.
She seizes every thought like streams that turn to ice,
Or as the blinding sky where Helios keeps his throne
Passed earthly sights, and over the horizon flown.
And thus, since every sight is met with blinding
Light, I content myself to give a humble telling,
Forever burning like the sun or stars,
Orbiting our minds like celestial cars
And shattering each vile thought with thunderous quelling.
Yet let those who by her beauty feel ashamed
Let them find in such radiance compelling
Proof of the humbleness that can be gained,
Whose ways have the power to tame each perverse
Thought, 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 angels 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, as mortal eyes can oft deface
And seem to blur dear heaven’s hidden trace.
Refrain from thinking thus some steadfast truth
Believing such things are as they seem;
For in this way you need not helplessly scream
Or let the fear which swims within your soul be proof
Of some bad star possessing you --
Rather go speak with her and stay aloof
So that you may without hesitation be true
Telling her: “My lady, only this I pray,
I’d like to sing of you through life’s winding way."
Translation © David B. Gosselin
*See here for notes on the poem and to compare with other translations.