May 23, 2011 1 Comment
Mai non vo’ più cantar com’ io soleva, I never wish to sing again as I used to, for I was not
ch’ altri no m’intendeva, ond’ ebbi scorno, understood, wherefore I was scorned, and one can be
et puossi in bel soggiorno esser molesto. miserable in a pleasant place.
Il sempre sospirar nulla releva. Always to be sighing helps nothing.
Già su per l’ alpi neva d’ogn’ intorno; 5 Up in the mountains it is already snowing all around;
et è già presso al giorno, ond’ io son desto. dawn is already close, so I am awake.
Un acto dolce honesto è gentil cosa; A virtuous sweet action is a noble thing, and it pleases me
et in donna amorosa ancor m’aggrada, that a lady worthy of love
che ’n vista vada altera et disdegnosa, seems high and disdainful,
non superba et ritrosa. 10 but not proud and stubborn.
Amor regge suo imperio senza spada. Love governs his empire without a sword.
Chi smarrita à la strada, torni indietro; He who has lost his way, let him turn back;
chi non à albergo, posisi in sul verde; He who has no dwelling, let him sleep on the grass;
chi non à l’auro, o ’l perde, He who has no gold or loses it,
spegna la sete sua con un bel vetro. 15 Let him quench his thirst from a glass.
I’ die’ in guarda a san Pietro, or non più, no, I entrusted things to St. Peter, now no more, no,
intendami chi po, ch’i’ m’intend’io. understand me who can, for I understand myself.
Grave soma è un mal fio a mantenerlo. An ill tribute is a heavy load to bear;
Quanto posso, mi spetro et sol mi sto. As much as I can, I disentangle myself and stand free.
Fetonte odo che ’n Po cadde et morìo 20 I hear that Phaeton fell in the Po, and died;
et già di là dal rio passato è ’l merlo. and already the blackbird has crossed the river.
Deh venite a vederlo, or i’ non voglio; Ah, come to see it, I am not willing to;
non è gioco uno scoglio in mezzo l’onde, a rock amid the waves is no light matter,
e ’ntra le fronde il visco. Assai mi doglio nor is the birdlime among the leaves. It pains me much
quando un soverchio orgoglio 25 when excessive pride
molte vertuti in bella donna asconde. hides many virtues in a beautiful lady.
Alcun è che risponde a chi no’l chiama; There are some who answer when none calls them;
altri chi ’l prega si delegua et fugge, some disappear and flee from those who beg them;
altri al ghiaccio si strugge, some are melted by ice;
altri dì et notte la sua morte brama. 30 some day and night wish for death.
Proverbio “Ama chi t’ama” è fatto antico; The proverb “Love him who loves you” is an ancient fact.
i’ so ben quel ch’io dico, or lass’andare, I know well what I am saying, now let be;
ché conven ch’altri impare a le sue spese. each must learn at his owm expense.
Un’humil donna grama un dolce amico. A humble lady makes a sweet friend suffer.
Mal si conosce il fico; a me pur pare 35 Figs are hard to judge. It seems to me
senno a non cominciar tropp’alte imprese; prudent not to begin undertakings that are too difficult,
et per ogni paese è bona stanza. and in every country there are pleasant dwellings.
L’infinita speranza occide altrui, Infinite hope kills people;
et anch’io fui alcuna volta in danza. and i too have sometimes joined the dance.
Quel poco che m’avanza 40 What little is left to me
fia chi no’l schifi s’i’ ’l vo’ dare a lui. will please someone, if I wish to give it to him.
I’ mi fido in colui che ‘l mondo regge I rely on Him who rules the world
et ch’ e’ seguaci suoi nel boscho alberga and shelters his followers even in the wood,
che con pietosa verga to lead me now with a merciful staff
mi meni a passo omai tra le sue gregge. 45 among His flocks.
Forse ch’ogni uom che legge non s’intende, Perhaps not everyone who can read can understand,
et la rete tal tende che non piglia; and he who sets up the net does not always catch,
et chi troppo assotiglia si scavezza. and he who is too subtle breaks his own neck.
Non sia zoppa la legge ov’altri attende. When folk await let not the law be lame.
Per bene star si scende molte miglia. 50 One may go many miles to be at ease;
Tal par gran meraviglia et poi si sprezza; A thing seems a great marvel but then is despised.
una chiusa bellezza è più soave. Hidden beauty is sweetest.
Benedetta la chiave che s’avvolse Blessed be the key that turned
al cor et sciolse l’alma et scossa l’àve in my heart and let loose my soul and feed it
di catena sì grave 55 from so heavy a chain,
e ’nfiniti sospir del mio sen tolse. and freed my breast of numberless sighs.
Là dove più mi dolse altri si dole, Where I most sorrowed, another sorrows,
et dolendo adolcisce il mio dolore, and by sorrowing, makes sweet my sorrow;
ond’io ringratio Amore, wherefore I thank Love,
che più no ’l sento et è non men che suole. 60 for I feel it no more, and it is no less than it was.
In silentio parole accorte et sagge In silence, words skillful and wise
e ‘l suon che mi sottragge ogni altra cura, are the sound that takes every other care from me,
et la pregione oscura ov’è ’l bel lume; and the dark prison where there is a lovely light;
le nocturne vїole per le piagge, violets at night along the shore,
et le fere selvagge entr’ a le mura, 65 wild beasts within the walls,
et la dolce paura, e ’l bel costume, sweet fear and dear custom,
et di duo fonti un fiume in pace vòlto and from two fountains one river turned in peace
dov’io bramo, et raccolto ove che sia; to where I desire, and gathered anywhere.
amor et gelosia m’anno il cor tolto, love and jealousy have taken away my heart
e i segni del bel vòlto 70 and the stars of that lovely face,
che mi conducon per più piana via which lead me along the smoothest way
a la speranza mia, al fin de gli affanni. to my hope at the end of my troubles.
O riposto mio bene et quel che segue, O my hidden sweetness, and what follows,
or pace or guerra or triegue, now peace now war now truce,
mai non m’abbandonate in questi panni. 75 you never abandon me in this garment.
De’ passati miei danni piango et rido, For my past harms I weep and laugh,
perché molto mi fido in quel ch’i’ odo; for I rely much on what I hear;
del presente mi godo et meglio aspetto, I enjoy the present and expect better,
et vo contando gli anni, et taccio et grido. and I go counting the years and I am silent and cry out,
E ’n bel ramo m’annido et in tal modo 80 I make my nest on a good branch and in such a way
ch’i’ ne ringratio et lodo il gran disdetto, that I thank and praise the great refusal
che l’indurato affecto alfine à vinto, that has finally vanquished the hardened affect
et ne l’alma depinto: “I’ sare’ udito, and has engraved in my soul: “I would be heard of,
et mostràtone a dito” et ànne extinto and pointed out for it”; and she has erased from it,
(tanto inanzi son pinto 85 (I am driven so far forward
ch’i’ ’l pur dirò): “Non fostu tant’ardito,” that I will even say it): “You were not bold enough!”
chi m’à ’l fianco ferito et chi ’l risalda, she who has wounded my side and heals it,
per cui nel cor via più che ’n carta scrivo, for whom I write in my heart even more than on paper;
chi mi fa morto et vivo, who makes me die and live,
chi ’n un punto m’agghiaccia et mi riscalda. 90 who at the same time makes me freeze and burn.
[English translation by Robert Durling]
A canzone from the “In vita” section of the Canzoniere, composed of a dense tissue of proverbs, allusions, abstract images, and references which resist interpretation, leading Leopardi to declare in his 1826 commentary on Petrarch that: “Questa canzone (che che se ne fosse la causa) è scritta a bello studio in maniera che ella non si intenda. Per tanto a noi basterà di intenderne questo solo; e io non mi affanerò a ridurla in chiaro a dispetto del proprio autore”. The canzone form typically signals a desire to engage with the loftiest of subjects in a register which reflects the seriousness of the topic at hand. This poem, however, has come to known as a canzone frottolata, a designation which reflects its liberal borrowing of proverbial maxims and aphorisms more typical of the popular frottola verse form. It begins with a revolutionary statement declaring Petrarch’s intention to change his style due to the fact that he has been misinterpreted, leading to the conclusion in l. 4 that love poetry is futile. This recantation is gradually undermined as the poem progress, and the reader begins to wonder whether Petrarch is totally committed to the adoption of a new style which can itself be construed, as it was by Leopardi, as an experiment in the very futility which the poet claims was the fruit of his previous sospirar. The poem constitutes something of a milestone in the context of the collection as a whole, as it is the first attempt by Petrarch to present Laura as an agent of transcendence. The narrative of the love story of Petrarch and Laura seems to stop as the poet undertakes an assessment of his current situation, which he finds unsatisfactory. At the same time, the possibility of poetic and personal development is suggested, but this eventually proves to be something of a false start for the poet, who proves himself unable or unwilling to fulfil the promise of the opening line.
Petrarchan Parody and Dialogue with Dante
There is a strong parodistic strain running through the poem. The focus on intendere (ll. 2, 17, 32, 46) calls to mind one of the great concerns of the Fedeli d’amore, while l. 32 – Proverbio “Ama chi t’ama” è fatto antico” – seems to suggest that the old style of writing love poetry is redundant. Is Petrarch enacting the death of stilnovismo as a shared language of love by means of a process of emptying the litany of proverbs recalling courtly wisdom of their meaning? At the same time, he seems to proffer a warning to the reader which advises against attempts to interpret the poem in ll. 46-48. In doing so, he absolves the poet and places the responsibility for non-comprehension totally on the reader – after all, as he states in l. 17, the poet knows what he is saying. The importance of experience for the correct understanding of poetry (ll. 32-33, 39) again seems to warn against an over-intellectualising of the interpretative process.
Certain hapax legomena (assottiglia, scavezza, disdetto) seem to indicate a determination to follow through on the promise made in the first line, but it is hard to avoid the sense that the Dantesque rhyme-words like scavezza indicate that Petrarch is perhaps trying a little too hard to break out of his own personal code. The opening of the poem reminds us of Dante’s “Le dolci rime d’amor ch’i’ solia”, which sees Dante, in an effort to counter his lady’s indifference to him, settle on a new theme for his poetry – the contemplation of true nobility. Thus, Dante has presented a solution to the problem of what to write about when the connection between the poet and the beloved is broken. Petrarch has no such solution and instead attempts to fill the void with apparently meaningless aphorisms which invite interpretation, but gesture to nothing beyond themselves.
A number of images may be interpreted as allusions to Dante, all of which take on a somewhat parodistic quality when compared with their more serious literary sources. The first of these occurs in l. 12 – chi smarrita à la strada – recalling the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno. Petrarch’s advice to turn back seems farcical in light of the subsequent epic, otherworldly quest undertaken by Dante over the course of the Commedia. A similar dynamic presents itself in l. 42, where Petrarch’s bosca stands in opposition to Dante’s selva oscura. The wood is the location in which Dante loses himself, and from which he struggles to escape, but it is where Petrarch finds redemption in the form of the good shepherd. The gran disdetto has a double Dantean resonance. It is all but impossible to read these words without thinking of Celestine V’s gran rifiuto, condemned by Dante in the third canto of the Inferno. In view of the seemingly half-hearted manner in which Petrarch attempts to change his style in this poem, are we being invited to associate him with the pusillanimous souls of the antinferno? Indeed, could it be that Petrarch is “chasing the flag” for the duration of the Canzoniere by his refusal to commit himself fully to his oft-stated desire to renounce earthly pleasures? There is also something of Beatrice’s denial of her greeting to the poet contained in this turn of phrase which invites us to compare Petrarch’s response to that of Dante’s. While Dante is distraught at the lady’s refusal, Petrarch welcomes it as the means by which he has been saved. This is perhaps a more serious subtext which recalls the moment in the Triumphus Mortis II in which Laura reveals to Petrarch that she had always loved him, but had attempted to discourage his attraction to her in order to save their souls from damnation. Thus, we may discern an element of harmony between the separated lovers, whose grief is lessened by the fact that it is shared. Nevertheless, Petrarch again seems intent of placing himself in opposition to Dante throughout the poem.
The Collapse of the Code
On a linguistic level, poem 105 stages a breakdown in communication between the poet and the beloved – ch’ altri no m’intendeva (l.2). This rupture proves catastrophic for the language of love poetry, which shows itself incapable of surviving within the vacuum that this disconnect has created. Petrarch’s own code collapses, which forces him to fill the void with an external code, the proverbial language of the frottola. The mixture of stylistic registers is reminiscent of Dante’s celebrated plurilinguismo, however, Petrarch’s new extra-literary code is presented as empty of signification both within the context of the poem at hand and the collection as a whole. The result is an essentially metapoetic text which calls attention to the process of self-mirroring inherent in Petrarchan poetic composition. The fact that Petrarch’s complaint that he has not been understood (l. 2) leads to one of the most obscure and challenging poems in the Canzoniere may be seen as an indication of a self-conscious parodistic or ironic approach to the theme of literary production. The rimalmezzo focuses the reader’s attention on the technical aspect of poetic composition and away from the content. The poem continually contradicts itself, and this tension is reflected in the ventriloquisation of the poem, siginified by the rimalmezzo, which creates an impression of the canzone quarrelling with itself. While the opening line declares a desire to change his style, the ending sees the poet revert to the antithetical language which is a hallmark of the Petrarchan mode of expression. Although he claims that sighing relieves nothing (l. 4), poetic composition, in the form of the chiave of l. 53, is presented as a liberating process.
The Positioning of Poem 105
The poem’s position in the Canzoniere is puzzling. It appears illogical and contradictory to place a recantation so early in the sequence, and subsequent poems prove that (leaving aside the issue of the poet’s sincerity) no fundamental change in poetics has actually occurred at this point. On the other hand, such contradictions are a common feature of the sequence as a whole, and as such we should not be surprised by the appearance of a poem which continually subverts its apparent original purpose. The seeming discrepancy between the textual surface and the meaning which lies behind it is a similarly common theme in the Canzoniere and thus the poem may be seen as contributing to the metalinguistic discourse which runs throughout the sequence. The segni del bel volto of l. 70 draws attention to this aspect of Petrarch’s poetics, given the phrase’s double resonance which indicates both Laura’s eyes, here represented as leading the poet to salvation, and the illusory verbal senhals which have, on occasion, caused the poet to mistake the true nature of that which they purport to represent (cf. Canz. 67). The proverbs, despite their seeming randomness, also serve to undermine the stated intention of the poet. While representative of an accumulation of popular and literary wisdom, they may still be applied without much difficulty to the particular situation of the frustrated poet-lover.
The chiusa bellezza (l. 52) is another metapoetic reference to a theme which reoccurs throughout the Canzoniere – that poetry is hiding real truth which must be discovered by a process of interpretation by the reader. Is Petrarch attempting to justify a seemingly insensible way of writing poetry? This may relate to, or even offer a critique of Dante’s “Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore”, which engages in a similar intentional obfuscation of the subject matter.
The overall progression of this poem may suggest a prefiguration of the conclusion to the Canzoniere, which sees Petrarch implore the aid of another higher power – the Virgin Mary. Could it be that this canzone ultimately fails in its (prima facie) aim because the poet has not yet undergone the crucial experience – Laura’s death – which will eventually lead to his renunciation of the breve sogno of the earthly life?
– Summary by Mike Hodder