From The Works of Aretino, Translated into English from the original Italian, with a critical and biographical essay by Samuel Putnam, Illustrations by The Marquis de Bayros in Two Volumes; Pascal Covici: Chicago; 1926; Volume II., pp. 245-268.
To Ben Hecht, Rabelais and Others
To render Aretino’s Sonneti lussuriosi into English (or, for that matter, into almost any other language) with anything approaching literalness would be to achieve a work of unredeemed pornography; and while pornography undoubtedly has its value in this republic, it is not the end sought here, which is to gve as accurate as possible an idea of Aretino’s work. Such a procedure on the part of the translator would, accordingly, be an unfaithfulness to his author; it would be, as translators too often do, to betray the latter by a false faithfulness. For the Italian, in portraying the nuances and delicate shadings of debauchery, possesses certain advantages which are not to be found outside the Latin dialects. Take the Seven Freudian Sins and set them to music and the effect is rather different from that attained by our harsh nordic gutturals. Even the Germans, whom we may sometimes take to have been the inventors of sensual expression in paint and words, have found this to be true. Upon reading over my own version, I am convinced it is nearer the spirit of the original than any of the alleged literal renderings I have seen. In view of the invincible pruderies (“reticences” is the college professor’s word) of our English speech, it is as faithful as it feasibly could be. Incidentally, it is better poetry.
Reader, I bring you here a perfumed song,
And yet, you’ll find, no sentimental ditties;
The songs I sing are of the little pretties,
And not for saints — if you think that, you’re wrong!
Sunrises are all right — where they belong!
I sing the ones that rise in hardened cities.
Of facades front and rear and — a thousand pities!
If we mix metaphors where truth’s too strong.
Our city, you’ll perceive, is all aflame;
But, strange to say, the elevations stand:
What’s architecture in a case like this?
And, street or alley, what is in a name?
Look at this pillar rising with a grand
And overawing gesture: let us kiss!252
Of Sylvan Tourneys
At sylvan tourneys let us joust, dear one,
As Adam did, and Eve, in Eden’s shade;
And if I break a lance, don’t be afraid:
That is the sequel to our rustic fun.
Speaking of Adam, it is sad that he has run
His last brave course and no more bends a blade;
Sad, too, that in that dull and heavenly glade
One cannot do as one on earth has done!
I know, they blame the apple: that’s not true;
Look at the birds and beasts, and you will see
That we on earth do merely what we must.
But this is not a time for jest; do you
Not feel the wave that’s swelling up in me?
Then, come! Take arms! against a sea of — Lust!253
Of Fireside Sports
And now, of feasts and fireside sports we’ll sing,
And I will teach you a new game to play;
But you must come around the other way,
Though not too fast! — tap gently: that’s the thing.
Oh, it’s a very merry prank to bring
A guest ’round by the rear! Then, let him stay —
From deepest midnight till the dawn’s first ray —
Let’s hurl a spear and stop this chattering!
And now, we enter a moist woodland dell,
Whose scenery would leave me breathless quite,
If I had any breath from that last kiss!
Is this not better than the tales they tell
Around the fire upon a winter night?
My tale, too, has a point you cannot miss.254
He Struts the Field
A knight, it seems to me, may be right proud
That kings and emperors do not possess
A pike or shaft of greater comeliness,
Or one with greater deadliness endowed.
I know that, till they wrap me in my shroud,
I’ll tourney with my lady and her dress;
I cast no puny dart, as you may guess,
For darts like those are by decorum cowed.
And you, my lady, like them quite as little —
Indeed, I know the counter-move you’d make,
If I were such a craven cannoneer.
But the arms I wield are neither small nor brittle;
And so, they may assail the front, or take
— Let’s say, their choice, though that’s too mild, I fear.255
Light Arms Practice
Then, light arms practice, dear! Yet not so light!
You must learn to hold a broadsword in your hand —
I need not tell you more; you’ll understand:
We’ll leave the rest to instinct and the night.
But there’s one lesson which you must not slight,
To be a member of our valiant band:
A lesson that is known throughout the land,
And one that even horses can recite.
I’ll help you learn it, though I know it’s hard,
And, dear, you must not let it slip away,
For you’re a backward pupil if you do!
To lances, then! For I would not retard
Your progress or the pleasure of the fray:
The Queen of France tonight might envy you.256
And next come breast-works; I must teach you how
To dig a trench — I’ll dig one for you, see?
Now, don’t you think that’s very kind of me?
That rampart, look! A beauty, you’ll allow.
But there are other tactics wait you now:
Tactics, dear one, you might learn from the bee;
The queen of the hive might teach you a strategy
That you will master very soon, I vow!
Oh, why does Nature love variety?
Why am I not all this, and you all that?
Then, this and that — well, that would be good sense.
But viewing Nature’s contrariety,
We must make the very best of it — have at!
And this must be a swordsman’s recompense.257
The weary warrior now grounds his arms,
And if his method is not orthodox,
Call him a lunatic or cunning fox:
My helmet’s found where there are most alarms.
In this bombardment, you will encounter charms
Which will remind you of the barnyard cocks
And other beasts; and if you find it shocks
Your modesty, learn rapture from the farms!
Do you not feel my gentle gunnery,
Which peppers from the rear with such fine aim
A duchess might be proud to be the mark?
Then, come my dear; this is no nunnery.
Let’s play our pleasant little soldier’s game:
With weapons such as these, war’s but a lark.258
My fingers are but stragglers at the rear,
Who go a-foraging for what they find;
And they are not ashamed to lag behind,
Since there’s no foe in front they need to fear.
They’ve wandered through a tufted valley near.
And you yourself have said they were most kind,
And so, I know, my lady will not mind
If they see other booty, nor think it queer.
And yet, it may be, you prefer the Lance;
Then, let your stragglers reconnoiter, sweet,
And guide him like a blind man to safe cover.
He is no coward, since he takes a chance.
Though he, my dear, has neither eyes nor feet;
For a soldier always makes a perfect lover!259
The subject is a full one I would broach,
And very delicate, as you will see;
For I must reprimand your cruelty
In holding that there is but one approach.
Why do you never let me, then, encroach
Upon those fair preserves, that greenery
Which lies behind the hill; this scenery
Grows too well known: then, dearest, let me poach!
The poacher, after all, ’s a pleasant fellow,
And when you’ve seen him draw his bow and quiver,
You’ll know that he ’s right clever with the dart.
His manners, it is true, are old and mellow,
But still, they needn’t make our morals shiver
Since archery’s a very ancient art.260
Fortune of War
Quarter, my dear! You have me on my back,
And if there must be slaughter, let me slay;
You’ll like it just as well, I think, that way.
You are a prisoner, but you shall not lack
The amenities of war, though I hew and thwack
Right valiantly. Some men there are who may
Prefer to feast and drink, but I must say
That I prefer the battle and the snack.
To the field, then! I’m neighing for the fray,
My monstrous dart, my polished lance in place,
With my two henchmen bringing up the rear.
Then, do your duty on this glorious day,
And win your spurs, for you shall have to face
Quite soon again this doughty cavalier.261
The Secret Sin
There is, they say, a certain occult sin
That dwells in monasteries, where one brother
Doth sometimes turn for comfort to another:
’Tis a peccadillo that they revel in.
Then, pardon me, if my excuse is thin.
My lance is not — indeed, there is no other
Can cut so wide a swath and so can smother
An enemy in carnage. If you would win
The day with me — but I must not forget,
You are the victor, and the spoils are yours:
Do with me as you will, and with my sword,
That gallant shaft which even now I whet —
But what is this? You’ve stolen all my stores!
What matter? Drop compunction by the board.262
Narcissus was a very silly boy:
He looked into a pool and fell in love
With his own image; I am not above
Narcissus’ folly, as my glances toy
With what my lips would like well to enjoy:
Before the lancers come, with thrust and shove
Of amorous war, I, like a billing dove,
Survey the scene of bellicose employ.
For this is what I live for, if you’d know —
Dearest, the mystery is solved at last;
I’ll whisper it, before I turn to dust.
Lie still and listen till your blood runs slow,
Till flowers are withered, ecstasy is past;
And then, too late! you’ll know the answer: Lust.263
The Last Feast
They tell a sorry tale of old man Mars —
You know the chap, the blunderer of battle —
And lady Venus, comeliest of cattle,
And a certain night they spent beneath the stars.
But there are gods, it seems, have better spars,
Like Hercules, of whom the poets prattle:
Hand me my club, and stop this tittle-tattle;
Leave goddesses to those old Grecians’ jars!
Though you’re a goddess in my sight, dear one;
A marble goddess, too, in certain parts.
Bring music, then! We will be gay tonight.
God give me this one feast; when it is done,
Death, I am yours! Meanwhile, young Cupid’s darts
Flash home in an unmythologic light.264
Must I, then, be specific? Dear, I blush!
This is a theatre where every cue
Must be observed. I’ll teach them all to you.
Now, when you see me enter thus — but hush!
My role’s a rigid one; you see me flush —
And must I tell you what you are to do?
How you should turn your back when I pursue?
The part I play, you’ll see, is very lush.
While you may play the queen, but play it well:
A queen, you know, has certain royal duties,
And must be generous when closely pressed.
When you, my Queen, feel insurrections swell,
Marshal to meet them all your regal beauties,
And clutch at anything till you’re redressed!265
To Beatrice From Hell
’Tis an old torture that you put me to
Tonight, beloved, though, I know, they say
That in the fashions of an elder day
Lies, sometimes, novelty — or seeming-new.
I’m sure, my dear, I don’t know what to do.
The fires of an inferno lap and play
About me; I cannot forget, this way,
A sweeter torture I have taught to you!
Thus, Beatrice, I can but kneel and pray
That you’ll forgive me for my lack of ease;
My eyes and thoughts are on forbidden fruit.
But, in my punishment, I will be gay
And, even in hell’s fires, seek to please,
While dreaming of another, fairer loot!
I am a glutton for the thing called love,
A bigger glutton than the ones who sit
All day at table, as the full hours flit,
And hold they’re happier than the gods above.
They swill down wine, while I, my turtle-dove,
Choose milk and find I am content with it —
Turn on the spigot! let us draw a bit:
Yes, I’m a very glutton, dear, for love.
And what, in truth, is more divine than — Lust?
To Lust and Love we’ll raise a litany
And do a little genuflection, too;
Since when all’s said, we do but what we must,
Like any abbess in her priory,
For an abbess, dear, is just like me and you.
[The Serious Sonnets]