Canzoniere 128

Italia mia, benché ‘l parlar sia indarno                                           My Italy, though words cannot heal

a le piaghe mortali                                                                              the mortal wounds

che nel bel corpo tuo sí spesse veggio,                                        so dense, I see on your lovely flesh,

piacemi almen che ‘ miei sospir’ sian quali                                 at least I pray that my sighs might bring

spera ‘l Tevero et l’Arno,                                                                    some hope to the Tiber and the Arno,

e ‘lPo, dove doglioso et grave or seggio.                                       and the Po, that sees me now sad and grave.

Rettor del cielo, io cheggio                                                               Ruler of Heaven, I hope

che la pietà che Ti condusse in terra                                              that the pity that brought You to earth,

Ti volga al Tuo dilecto almo paese.                                                 will turn you towards your soul-delighting land.

Vedi, Segnor cortese,                                                                         Lord of courtesy, see

di che lievi cagion’ che crudel guerra;                                            such cruel wars for such slight causes;

e i cor’, che ‘ndura et serra                                                               and hearts, hardened and closed

Marte superbo et fero,                                                                        by proud, fierce Mars,

apri Tu, Padre, e ‘ntenerisci et snoda;                                           and open them, Father, soften them, set them free:

ivi fa che ‘l Tuo vero,                                                                           and, whatever I may be, let your Truth

qual io mi sia, per la mia lingua s’oda.                                          be heard in my speech.

Voi cui Fortuna à posto in mano il freno                                         You lords to whose hands Fortune entrusts the reins

de le belle contrade,                                                                           of the beautiful region

di che nulla pietà par che vi stringa,                                                 for which you seem to show no pity,

che fan qui tante pellegrine spade?                                                what is the purpose of these foreign swords?

perché ‘l verde terreno                                                                        Why is our green land

delbarbarico sangue si depinga?                                                    so stained with barbarous blood?

Vano error vi lusinga:                                                                          Vain error flatters you:

poco vedete, et parvi veder molto,                                                    you see little, and think you see much,

ché ‘n cor venale amor cercate o fede.                                           if you look for love or loyalty in venal hearts.

Qual piú gente possede,                                                                   He who has more troops,

colui è piú da’ suoi nemici avolto.                                                    has more enemies under his command.

O diluvio raccolto                                                                                 O waters gathered

di che deserti strani                                                                            from desert lands

per inondar i nostri dolci campi!                                                       to inundate our sweet fields!

Se da le proprie mani                                                                         If our own hands

questo n’avene, or chi fia che ne scampi?                                    have done it, who can rescue us now?

Ben provide Natura al nostro stato,                                                Nature provided well for our defence,

quando de l’Alpi schermo                                                                setting the Alps as a shield

pose fra noi et la tedesca rabbia;                                                   between us and the German madness:

ma ‘l desir cieco, e ‘ncontr’al suo ben fermo,                              but blind desire, contrary to its own good,

s’è poi tanto ingegnato,                                                                    is so ingenious,

ch’al corpo sano à procurato scabbia.                                          that it brings plague to a healthy body.

Or dentro ad una gabbia                                                                  Now wild beasts

fiere selvagge et mansüete gregge                                              and gentle flocks sleep in one pen

s’annidan sí che sempre il miglior geme:                                   so the gentler always groan:

et è questodelseme,                                                                         and this, to add to our grief,

per piú dolor,delpopol senza legge,                                              from that race, that lawless people,

al qual, come si legge,                                                                     of whom, as we read,

Mario aperse sí ‘l fianco,                                                                  Marius so pierced their flank,

che memoria de l’opra ancho non langue,                                  that the memory of the deed can never fade,

quando assetato et stanco                                                              how thirsty and weary

non piú bevvedelfiume acqua che sangue.                                  he no longer drank river water but blood!

Cesare taccio che per ogni piaggia                                                I’ll say nothing of Caesar

fece l’erbe sanguigne                                                                        who painted the grass crimson

di lor vene, ove ‘l nostro ferro mise.                                                with their blood, where he raised the sword.

Or par, non so per che stelle maligne,                                           Now it seems, no one knows by what evil star,

che ‘l cielo in odio n’aggia:                                                               heaven hates us:

vostra mercé, cui tanto si commise.                                               mercy, oh you who so beset us.

Vostre voglie divise                                                                             Your warring wills

guastandelmondo la piú bella parte.                                              waste the better part of the world.

Qual colpa, qual giudicio o qual destino                                        For what fault, by what justice, through what fate,

fastidire il vicino                                                                                   do you trouble your poor

povero, et le fortune afflicte et sparte                                               neighbours, and persecute those afflicted

perseguire, e ‘n disparte by fortune,                                                and scattered, and search

cercar gente et gradire,                                                                      out foreign people and accept them,

che sparga ‘l sangue etvendal’alma a prezzo?                             they who spill blood and sell their souls for money?

Io parlo per ver dire,                                                                             I speak to tell the truth,

non per odio d’altrui, né per disprezzo.                                           not in hatred of anyone, nor scorn.

Né v’accorgete anchor per tante prove                                            Are you still ignorant of German deceit,

delbavarico inganno                                                                            with so many clear examples,

ch’alzando il dito colla morte scherza?                                            they who lift their fingers in mock surrender?

Peggio è lo strazio, al mio parer, che ‘l danno;                              Their scorn is worse, it seem to me, than their harm:

ma ‘l vostro sangue piove                                                                   while your blood flows

piú largamente, ch’altr’ira vi sferza.                                                  more freely, as other’s anger flails you.

Da la matina a terza                                                                             From matins to tierce

di voi pensate, et vederete come                                                       think to yourself, consider how

tien caro altrui che tien sé cosí vile.                                                  any can care for others who behave so vilely.

Latin sangue gentile,                                                                            People of Latin blood,

sgombra da te queste dannose some;                                            free yourself from this harmful burden:

non far idolo un nome                                                                          don’t make an idol of a name

vano senza soggetto:                                                                            empty, and without substance:

ché ‘l furor de lassú, gente ritrosa,                                                     that the berserkers from there, that backward race,

vincerne d’intellecto,                                                                              defeat our intelligence

peccato è nostro, et non natural cosa.                                               is our sin, and not nature’s.

Non è questo ‘l terren ch’i’ toccai pria?                                              Is this not the earth that I first touched?

Non è questo il mio nido                                                                       Is this not my nest

ove nudrito fui sí dolcemente?                                                             where I was so sweetly nourished?

Non è questa la patria in ch’io mi fido,                                               Is this not the land I trust,

madre benigna et pia,                                                                            benign and gentle mother,

che copre l’un et l’altro mio parente?                                                  that covers both my parents?

Perdio, questo la mente                                                                         By God, let this move you

talor vi mova, et con pietà guardate                                                      a little, and gaze with pity

le lagrimedelpopol doloroso,                                                                at the tears of your sad people,

che sol da voi riposo                                                                               who place their hopes in you

dopo Dio spera; et pur che voi mostriate                                            next to God: if only you show

segno alcun di pietate,                                                                           signs at least of pity,

vertú contra furore                                                                                    virtue will take up arms

prenderà l’arme, et fia ‘l combatter corto:                                            against madness, and cut short the warring:

ché l’antiquo valore                                                                                  if ancient courage

ne gli italici cor’ non è anchor morto.                                                    is not yet dead in Italian hearts.

Signor’, mirate come ‘l tempo vola,                                                       Lords, see how time flies,

et sí come la vita                                                                                        and how life

fugge, et la morte n’è sovra le spalle.                                                    flies too, and death is at our shoulder.

Voi siete or qui; pensate a la partita:                                                      You are here now: but think of the parting:

ché l’alma ignuda et sola                                                                         how the naked lonely soul

conven ch’arrive a quel dubbioso calle.                                                must arrive at the dangerous pass.

Al passar questa valle                                                                               As you go through this valley

piacciavi porre giú l’odio et lo sdegno,                                                  of tears, lay aside hatred and anger,

vènti contrari a la vita serena;                                                                  running counter to a peaceful life:

et quel che ‘n altrui pena                                                                          and all the time you spend

tempo si spende, in qualche acto piú degno                                       causing others pain, is more worthy

o di mano o d’ingegno,                                                                              of actions or thought

in qualche bella lode,                                                                                 in which there is sweet praise,

in qualche honesto studio si converta:                                                   in which honest study is involved:

cosí qua giú si gode,                                                                                  so there is joy down here,

et la stradadelciel si trova aperta.                                                            and the way to heaven will be open.

Canzone, io t’ammonisco                                                                         Song, I advise you

che tua ragion cortesemente dica,                                                          to speak with courteous words,

perché fra gente altera ir ti convene,                                                       since you must go among proud people,

et le voglie son piene                                                                                  whose will is already

già de l’usanza pessima et antica,                                                           formed by ancient, adverse custom,

delver sempre nemica.                                                                              always inimical to truth.

Proverai tuaventura                                                                                     Seek your fortune

fra’ magnanimi pochi a chi ‘l ben piace.                                                 among those favourable to true peace.

Di’ lor: – Chi m’assicura?                                                                           Say to them: ‘Who will defend me?

I’ vo gridando: Pace, pace, pace. –                                                           I go calling out: Peace, peace, peace.’

(Translated by A. S. Kline)

Presentation by Maria Pavlova

Report by Jennifer Rushworth

This canzone is the most famous political canzone of the Canzoniere. Formally, each stanza is composed of an interesting and dramatic mix of settenari and endecasillabi. Linguistically, it is much more concrete than much of Petrarch’s poetry, and challenges the view of Petrarchan language as abstract, rarefied and ethereal. It also makes use of rime aspre (e.g. rabbia, gabbia, abbia, which also appear in Inferno 29). This poem speaks of wounds, blood, weaponry, not as metaphors of the action of the god of Love, but as political reality. In fact, it is arguable that the poet comes across as more passionate in this poem than in much of his love poetry. Here, Petrarch uses the erotic code as a language for politics, while he has elsewhere used political and bellicose codes as love language.

The poem is most obviously comparable within the Canzoniere to canzoni 28 (expressing enthusiasm for a crusade) and 53 (lamenting the present state of Italy). Beyond the Canzoniere, it recalls the political invective frequent in Dante’s Commedia. The immediate historical context for the writing of canzone 128 is probably during the siege of Parma in the winter of 1344-45, as indicated in line 6 (‘’l Po, dove doglioso et grave or seggio’). Francesco Filelfo was the first to suggest that the poem is a specific condemnation of the violence of German mercenaries who helped Italian lords in their struggle to control Parma. In the Familiares 5.10 there is a description of Petrarch’s dramatic flight fromParma. Petrarch seems to be recommending acceptance of Milanese rule, in an expression of support for the Visconti.

The canzone also resonates with the penitential poems of the Canzoniere. Indeed, it seems like a microcosm of the collection as a whole if we consider that the first line defines words as useless (‘’benché ’l parlar sia indarno’) even as the poet goes on, paradoxically, to speak (compare with the proeminal sonnet, RVF 1, which undermines the collection right from the start with the admission that poetry is vanitas – ‘vaneggiar’, and also the appearance of the word ‘sospiri’ in both), while canzone 128 ends on the word ‘pace’ (repeated, in this case) which closes the collection (the last word of canzone 366). The opening stanza of RVF 128 is particularly rich in religious tones, calling on Christ as ‘Rettor del cielo’ and ‘Segnor cortese’. By the end of the poem, however, the ‘pace’ invoked seems secular not spiritual; religious concerns are overshadowed by civic matters from the moment ‘Fortuna’ is introduced in the second stanza. Similarly, Petrarch shifts from declaring his concern for divine truth (‘Tuo vero’, stanza one) to historical truth (‘Io parlo per ver dire’, stanza four).

The poem is not without its self-reflexive aspects. Much of the criticism which Petrarch directs outwards could also, on another level, be read as self-referential. For instance, Petrarch’s condemnation of civil war as a result of ‘voglie divise’ is also a good definition of the poetic condition of Petrarch’s lyric ‘I’, divided between Laura and God. Similarly, his imperative ‘non far idolo un nome / vano senza soggetto’, while it acts as a condemnation of desire for fame here, also recalls a passage from the Secretum where Augustinus condemns Franciscus for just this same offence, in relation to his poetic idolatry of Laura’s name. Petrarch also, in stanza seven, laments the fleetingness of time in language that he frequently uses (compare sonnet 272).

In contrast, Petrarch would seem to recommend his way of life as virtuous in stanza seven where he also extols the benefits of time spent wisely ‘in qualche bella lode, / in qualche honesto studio’.

By modern standards, the poem is shockingly racist. Petrarch celebrates the fact that Italians are descended from ancient Romans, and are therefore superior to all other nations, and in particular to the Germans, who are described as having ‘barbarico sangue’ (v.22) and as ‘fiere selvagge’ (v.40), in contrast to the ‘Latin sangue gentile’ of the Italians who live in ‘del mondo la più bella parte’ (v.56).

Petrarch’s politics contrast with Dante’s, since while Dante hoped and believed that the Roman Empire would be re-established with imperial forces coming from German bloodlines, Petrarch is aware of a great rift between past (‘l’antiquo valore’) and present, and does not consider continuity possible or desirable.

The question was raised as to what Petrarch meant by the proper noun ‘Italia’; it was assumed that, as with Dante (and before that, Virgil), Petrarch was thinking of the peninsula as an ideal geographical unit.

Further research was also carried out as the presence of ‘sangue’ in Petrarch more generally. It was concluded that the word particularly appears in political poems (and five times in this one canzone), although it also appears in reference to Laura’s affect on the poet’s blood, to Laura’s nobility, and to Christ’s blood. Besides, it was noted that ‘magnanimo’ only appears elsewhere in the Canzoniere in sonnet 7, again in relation to scarcity (‘Pochi compagni’).

It is worth remarking that this canzone has an interesting Nachleben. The optimistic lines:

Virtù contro a furore

Prenderà l’arme, e fia el combatter corto;

Ché l’antico valore

Nell’italici cor non è ancor morto

are cited at the close of Machiavelli’s Principe. We should not forget what an important role Petrarch’s writings had in the development of Renaissance political theory. It also interesting that Mario Luzi’s poem on the murder of Aldo Moro likewise references this canzone, ending on ‘pace pace pace’ similarly.

In conclusion, this poem should not be ignored or viewed as extraneous or strange in the context of the Canzoniere. Here we see an interesting and important side of Petrarch’s personality: Petrarch the historian, Petrarch the political commentator, for whom love and politics are not so very far apart.

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