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From The New Life of Dante Alighieri, translated by Charles Eliot Norton; Houghton, Mifflin and Company; Boston and New York; 1896; pp. 46-67.





A few days after this it fell out that a grievous infirmity came upon me in a certain part of my body, from which I suffered for many days most bitter pain, which brought me to such weakness that I was forced to lie as one who cannot move. I say that on the ninth day, feeling almost intolerable pain, a thought came to me which was of my lady. And when I had thought somewhat of her, I returned in thought to my enfeebled life, and seeing how slight was its duration, even were it sound, I began lamenting within myself at such wretchedness. Wherefore, sighing deeply, I said within myself: “It must needs be that the most gentle Beatrice shall at some time die.”

And thereupon a strong bewilderment so overcame me, that I closed my eyes, and began to be distracted like a person in a frenzy, and to imagine in this wise: that, at the beginning of the wandering which my fancy made, certain faces of ladies with hair dishevelled appeared to me, and they said to me: “Thou too shalt die.” And after these ladies, there appeared to me certain strange 47 faces, and horrible to behold, which said to me: “Thou art dead.”

Thus my fancy beginning to wander, I was brought to such a pass that I knew not where I was; and it seemed to me that I saw ladies with hair dishevelled go by, weeping, marvellously sad; and it seemed to me that I saw the sun grow dark, so that the stars showed themselves of such a color as to make me deem they wept; and it seemed to me that the birds as they flew fell dead, and that there were very great earthquakes. And in this fantasy, marvelling and much afraid, I imagined that a certain friend came to me to say: “Dost thou then not know? thine admirable lady is departed from this world.” Then I began to weep very piteously; and wept not only in my imagination, but wept with my eyes, bathing them with real tears.

I imagined that I looked toward heaven, and it seemed to me that I saw a multitude of angels, who were returning upwards, and had before them a little cloud of exceeding whiteness; and it seemed to me that these angels sang gloriously, and the words of their song it seemed to me were these: “Osanna in excelsis!” — and aught else meseemed not to hear. Then it seemed to me that the heart wherein was so much love said to me: “True is it that our lady lies dead.” And forthwith 48 it seemed to me that I went to behold the body in which that most noble and blessed soul had dwelt. And so strong was the erring fancy, that it showed to me this lady dead; and it seemed to me that ladies had covered her head with a white veil, and it seemed to me that her face had such an aspect of humility that it seemed to say: “Now do I behold the beginning of peace.”

In this imagination there came to me such humility through seeing her, that I called upon Death, and said: “Most sweet Death, come unto me, and be not discourteous to me; for thou oughtest to be gentle, in such place hast thou been. Come then unto me, who greatly desire thee; and thou seest it, for I already wear thy color.” And when I had seen all the mournful ministries completed which are wont to be rendered to the bodies of the dead, it seemed to me that I returned to my chamber; and here it seemed to me that I looked toward heaven, and so strong was my imagination that, weeping, I began to say with my real voice: “O most beautiful soul, how blessed is he who sees thee!” And as I said these words, with a grievous sob of weeping, and called upon Death to come to me, a young and gentle lady, who was at the side of my bed, believing that my weeping and my words were lamentation on account of the pain of my infirmity, with great fear began to weep. 49 Wherefore other ladies who were in the chamber became aware that I was weeping, through the tears they saw her shed; wherefore making her, who was connected with me in the nearest kingship, depart from me, they drew towards me to wake me, believing that I had been dreaming, and said to me: “Sleep no more, nor be discomforted.” And as they thus spoke to me, the strong fantasy ended at the moment when I was about to say: “O Beatrice, blessed be thou!” And I had already said, “O Beatrice,” when, arousing myself, I opened my eyes and saw that I had been deluded. And although I had uttered this name, my voice was so broken by sobs that those ladies had not been able to understand me. And notwithstanding I was sore ashamed, nevertheless, by some admonition of Love, I turned me to them. And when they saw me, they began to say: “He seems far gone:” and to say each to other: “Let us try to comfort him.” Thereupon they said many words to comfort me; and then they asked me of what I had been afraid. Wherefore I, being somewhat comforted, and having recognized the falsity of my imagining, replied to them, “I will tell you what has ailed me.” Then, beginning at the beginning, I told them even to the end that which I had seen, keeping silent the name of this most gentle lady.

Wherefore afterwards, being healed of this infirmity, 50 I resolved to speak concerning that which had befallen me, since it seemed to me that it would be a thing delightful to hear; and so I devised this canzone concerning it: —

A lady, pitiful, and young in years,
     Adorned full well with human gentilesse,
     Who present was where oft I called on Death,
     Seeing my eyes to be filled up of woe,
     And hearing the vain words that fell from me,
     Was by her fear impelled to weep aloud;
     And other ladies who were thus made ware
     Of me, through her who with me there was weeping,
     Made her go away,
     While they drew near to cause me to awake.
     One said: “No longer sleep;”
     And one: “Why art thou so discomforted?”
     Thereon the novel fantasy I left
     In giving utterance to my lady’s name.
So mournful was my voice, and broken so
     By anguish and by tears, that I alone
     The name within my heart did understand.
     And thereon, with the look of utter shame,
     Which had gained full possession of my face,
     Love did compel me unto them to turn.
     And such my color was to look upon,
     As made these others to discourse of death.
     “Ah! let us comfort him,”
     One lady to the other humbly prayed;
     And oftentimes they said:
     “What hast thou seen that thou no strength hast
51      And when a little I was comforted,
     “Ladies,” I said, “I will tell it to you.
While I was thinking of my fragile life,
     And saw how slight continuance it hath,
     Love wept within my heart, where he abides;
     Whereby, indeed, my soul was so dismayed,
     That then I, sighing, said within my thought:
     ‘Sure it must be my lady too shall die.’
     Then into such bewilderment I fell,
     I closed my eyes that basely were weighed down;
     And consternated so
     My spirits were, that each went straying off.
     And then imagining,
     Bereft of consciousness alike and truth,
     Ladies with looks of wrath appeared to me,
     Who said to me: ‘Thou too shalt die, shalt die.’
Then saw I many fearful things within
     The false imagining wherein I lay;
     Meseemed to be I know not in what place,
     And to see ladies pass dishevelled by,
     Some weeping and some uttering laments,
     So that the fire of sadness they shot forth.
     Then, as it seemed, I by degrees beheld
     The sun grow dark, and then the star appear,
     And he and she to weep;
     The birds in their mid-flight through air fell down,
     And the earth seemed to shake;
     And I beheld a man pale-faced and hoarse,
     Who said: ‘What ails thee? Knowst thou not the
     Dead is thy lady, she that was so fair.’
I raised my eyes which with my tears were bathed,
     And saw what seemed to be a rain of manna, —
52      The Angels, who to heaven were returning,
     And had in front of them a little cloud,
     Following which, they all ‘Hosanna!’ sang;
     Had they said more, to you I would it tell.
     And then Love said: ‘No more I hide from thee;
     Come thou to see our lady where she lies.’
     The false imagining
     Conducted me to see my lady dead;
     And, as I looked, I saw
     That ladies with a veil were covering her;
     And she had a humility so true,
     It seemed as if she said, ‘I am in peace.’
So humble in my sorrow I became
     Seeing in her such humbleness displayed,
     That I said: ‘Death, thee very sweet I hold;
     Thou oughtest now to be a gentle thing,
     Since thou within my lady hast abode,
     And thou shouldst pity have, and not disdain.
     Behold! I am so eager among thine
     To be, that I resemble thee in truth.
     Come! my heart calleth thee.’
     Then I departed, the sad rites complete;
     And when I was alone,
     Looking unto the realm on high, I said,
     ‘Blessëd is he who sees thee, beauteous soul!’
     Ye called me thereupon, thanks be to you.”

This canzone has two parts. In the first, I tell, speaking to an undefined person, how I was roused from a vain fantasy by certain ladies, and how I promised them to tell it. In the second, I tell how I told it to them. The second begins 53 here: “While I was thinking.” The first part is divided into two; in the first, I tell that which certain ladies, and that which one alone, said and did on account of my fantasy, before I had returned to true consciousness; in the second, I tell that which these ladies said to me after I left this frenzy, and this part begins here: “So mournful was my voice.” Then when I say, “While I was thinking,” I tell how I told them this my imagination, and of this I make two parts. In the first, I tell this imagination in its order; in the second, telling at what point they called me, I thank them at the close; and this part begins here: “Ye called me.”


After this my vain imagination, it came to pass one day that, as I sat thoughtful in a certain place, I felt a trembling begin in my heart, just as if I had been in the presence of this lady. Then I say that an imagination of Love came to me; for it seemed to me that I saw him coming from that place where my lady dwelt; and it seemed to me that he joyfully said to me in my heart: “Mind thou bless the day on which I took possession of thee, for thou oughtest so to do.” And of a truth it seemed to me that my heart was so 54 gladsome, that it did not seem to me to be my heart, because of its new condition.

And a little after these words which my heart had said to me with the tongue of Love, I saw coming toward me a gentle lady who was famous for her beauty, and who had now long been the lady of him my first friend. And the name of this lady was Joan, but on account of her beauty, as some believe, the name of Primavera [Spring] had been given to her, and thus she was called. And behind her, as I looked, I saw coming the marvellous Beatrice. These ladies passed near me thus one after the other; and it seemed to me that Love spoke to me in my heart, and said: “This first is called Primavera solely because of this coming of to-day; for I moved the giver of the name to call her Primavera, that is to say, prima verrà [she will come first] on the day that Beatrice shall show herself after the imagination of her vassal. And if thou wilt further consider her original name, it means the same as Primavera, because her name, Joan, is derived from that John who preceded the true Light, saying, Ego vox clamantis in deserto: Parate viam Domini [I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord]. And also it seemed to me that after these he said to me other words, namely: “He who should consider subtilely would call that 55 Beatrice Love, because of the great likeness she has to me.” Wherefore I, then thinking this over, resolved to write of it in rhyme to my first friend, (keeping silent certain words which it seemed should be kept silent,) for I believed that his heart still admired the beauty of this gentle Primavera. And I devised this sonnet: —

An amorous spirit in my heart that lay
     I felt awaken from his slumber there;
     And then I saw Love come from far away,
     But scarce I knew him, for his joyous air.
“Honor to me,” he said, “think now to pay,”
     And with his every word did smiles appear.
     Then did my Lord a little with me stay,
     And from that part wherefrom he came whilere
I Lady Joan and Lady Bicè see,
     Unto the place approaching where I was;
     One marvel following the other came;
And, as my mind reporteth unto me,
     Love said, “This one is Spring, and this, because
     She so resembleth me, hath Love for name.”

This sonnet has many parts; the first of which tells how I felt the wonted tremor awake in my heart, and how it seemed that Love appeared to me joyous from afar; the second tells how it seemed to me that Love spoke to me in my heart, and what he seemed to me; the third tells how, after he had been thus with me for some time, I 55 saw and heard certain things. The second part begins here: “Honor to me;” the third, here: “Then did my Lord.” The third part is divided into two; in the first, I tell that which I saw; in the second, I tell that which I heard, and it begins: “Love said.”


It may be that some person, entitled to have every doubt cleared away, may here be perplexed at my speaking of Love as if it were a thing in itself, and not only an intellectual substance, but as if it were a corporeal substance. The which thing, in truth, is false, for Love exists not in itself as substance, but is an accident in substance. And that I speak of it as if it were a body, and, further, as if it were a man, appears from three things which I say of it. I say that I saw it come from far off; wherefore, since coming implies a local motion, and, according to the Philosopher, only a body is locally movable in itself, it appears that I assume Love to be a body. I say further of it, that it laughed, and also that it spoke, which things appear to be properties of man, especially the faculty of laughing, and thus it appears that I assume that it is a man.

To explain this matter so far as is meet for the 57 present occasion, it must first be understood that formerly there were no rhymers of Love in the vulgar tongue, but certain poets in the Latin tongue were rhymers of Love; among us, I mean, although perchance among other people it happened, and still happens that, as in Greece, not the vulgar, but the lettered poets treated of these things. And no great number of years have passed since these poets in the vulgar tongue first appeared; for to write in rhyme in the vulgar is, after a manner, the same thing as to write in verse in Latin. And the proof that it is but a short time is, that, if we undertake to search in the tongue of the oco, and in the tongue of the , we do not find anything written more than a hundred and fifty years before the present time. And the reason why some illiterate persons acquired the fame of skill in writing verse is, that they were, so to speak, the first who wrote in the tongue of the . And the first who began to write as a poet in the vulgar tongue was moved to do so because he wished to make his words intelligible to a lady who could not easily understand Latin verses. And this is against those who rhyme on any other them than Love, since this mode of speech was from the beginning invented in order to speak of Love.

It follows that, since a greater license of speech is granted to poets than to writers of prose, and 58 these writers in rhyme are no other than poets using the vulgar tongue, it is fitting and reasonable that greater license of speech should be permitted to them than to the other writers in the vulgar tongue; hence, if any figure or rhetorical coloring is allowed to poets, it is allowed also to the rhymers. Therefore, if we see that the poets have spoken of inanimate things as if they had sense and reason, and have made them speak together, and not only real things, but also things not real (that is, that they have said of things which have no existence that they speak, and have often made contingent things speak as if they were substances and human beings), it is fitting that the writer in rhyme should do the like, not, indeed, without some reason, but with a reason which it may be possible afterwards to explain in prose.

That the poets have thus spoken as has been said, appears from Virgil, who says that Juno, that is, a goddess hostile to the Trojans, spoke to Æolus, lord of the winds, here, in the first of the Æneid: Æole, namque tibi, etc. [Æolus, for to thee, etc.]; and that this lord replied to her, here: Tuus, O regina, quid optes, etc. [Thine, O queen, what thou askest, etc.]. In this same poet the inanimate thing speaks to the animate thing, in the third of the Æneid, here: Dardanidæ duri, etc. [Ye hardy Trojans, etc.]. In Lucan the animate thing speaks 59 to the inanimate, here: Multum, Roma, tamen debes civilibus armis [Much dost thou owe, O Rome, to civic arms]. In Horace a man speaks to his own knowledge as to another person; and not only are they the words of Horace, but he says them as the interpreter of the good Homer, here, in his book on Poetry: Dic mihi, Musa, virum, etc. [Tell to me, Muse, of the man, etc.]. In Ovid, Love speaks as if he were a human person, at the beginning of the book of the Remedy for Love, here: Bella mihi, video, bella parantur, ait [Wars against me, I see, wars are preparing, he says].

And by this the matter may now be clear to any one who is perplexed in any part of this my little book.

And in order that no uncultured person may derive any over-boldness herefrom, I say, that the poets do not speak thus without reason, and that those who rhyme ought not to speak thus, unless they have some reason for what they say; since it would be a great disgrace to him who should rhyme anything under the garb of a figure or of rhetorical coloring, if afterward, being asked, he should not be able to denude his words of this garb, in such wise that they should have a true meaning. And my first friend and I are well acquainted with those who rhyme thus foolishly.



This most gentle lady, of whom there had been discourse in the preceding words, came into such favor among the people, that when she passed along the way, persons ran to see her; which gave me wonderful joy. And when she was near any one, such modesty came into his heart that he dared not raise his eyes, or return her salutation; and of this many, as having experienced it, could bear witness for me to whoso might not believe it. She, crowned and clothed with humility, took her way, showing no pride in that which she saw and heard. Many said, when she had passed: “This is not a woman; rather she is one of the most beautiful angels of heaven.” And others said: “She is a marvel. Blessed be the Lord who can work thus admirably!” I say that she showed herself so gentle and so full of all pleasantness, that those who looked on her comprehended in themselves a pure and sweet delight, such as they could not after tell in words; nor was there any who might look upon her but that at first he needs must sigh. These and more admirable things proceeded from her admirably and with power. Wherefore I, thinking upon this, desiring to resume the style of her praise, resolved to say words in which I would set forth her admirable and 61 excellent influences, to the end that not only those who might actually behold her, but also others, should know of her whatever words could tell. Then I devised this sonnet: —

So gentle and so gracious doth appear
     My lady when she giveth her salute,
     That every tongue becometh, trembling, mute;
     Nor do the eyes to look upon her dare.
Although she hears her praises, she doth go
     Benignly vested with humility;
     And like a thing come down, she seems to be,
     From heaven to earth, a miracle to show.
So pleaseth she whoever cometh nigh,
     She gives the heart a sweetness through the eyes.
     Which none can understand who doth not prove.
And from her countenance there seems to move
     A spirit sweet and in Love’s every guise,
     Who to the soul, in going, sayeth: Sigh!

This sonnet is so easy of understanding, through that which has been told, that it has no need of any division; and therefore, leaving it,


I say that this my lady reached such favor that not only was she honored and praised, but through her were many ladies honored and praised. Wherefore I, seeing this, and wishing to manifest it to whoever saw it not, resolved further to say 62 words in which this should be set forth; and I devised then this other sonnet, which relates how her virtue wrought in other ladies: —

All welfare hath he perfectly beheld
     Who amid ladies doth my lady see;
     And they who go with her are all compelled
     Grateful to God for this fair grace to be.
Her beauty of such virtue is indeed,
     That it no envy doth in others move;
     Rather she makes them with her to proceed,
     Clothed on with gentleness and faith and love.
Her sight creates in all humility,
     And maketh not herself to please alone,
     But each gains honor who to her is nigh.
So gentle in her every act is she,
     That she can be recalled to mind by none
     Who doth not, in Love’s very sweetness, sigh.

This sonnet has three parts: in the first, I tell among what people this lady appeared most admirable; in the second, I tell how gracious was her company; in the third, I tell of those things which she wrought with power in others. The second begins here: “And they who go;” the third, here: “Her beauty of such virtue.” This last part is divided into three: in the first, I tell that which she wrought in ladies, namely, as regards themselves; in the second, I tell that which she wrought in them in respect to others; in the 63third, I tell how she wrought not only in ladies, but in all persons, and how she marvellously wrought not only in presence, but also in memory. The second begins here: “Her sight;” the third, here: “So gentle.”


After this I began to think one day upon what I had said of my lady, that is, in these two preceding sonnets; and seeing in my thought that I had not spoken of that which at the present time she wrought in me, it seemed to me that I had spoken defectively; and therefore I resolved to say words in which I would tell how I seemed to myself to be disposed to her influence, and how her virtue wrought in me. And not believing that I could relate this in the brevity of a sonnet, I began then a canzone which begins: —

So long hath Love retained me at his hest,
     And to his sway hath so accustomed me,
     That as at first he cruel used to be,
     So in my heart he now doth sweetly rest.
     Thus when by him my strength is dispossessed,
     So that the spirits seem away to flee,
     My frail soul feels such sweetness verily,
     That with it pallor doth my face invest.
     Then Love in me doth with such power prevail,
     He makes my sighs in words to take their way;
     And they go forth to pray
64      My lady that she give me grater hale.
     Where’er she sees me, this to me occurs;
     Nor can it be believed what humbleness is hers.


Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! facta est quasi vidua domina gentium [How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations].

I was yet full of the design of this canzone, and had completed this above-written stanza thereof, when the Lord of Justice called this most gentle one to glory, under the banner of that Holy Queen Mary, whose name was ever spoken with greatest reverence by this blessed Beatrice.

And although perchance it might be pleasing, were I now to treat somewhat of her departure from us, it is not my intention to treat of it here, for three reasons. The first is, that it is no part of the present design, if we consider the proem which precedes this little book. The second is, that, supposing it did belong to the present design, still my pen would not be sufficient to treat thereof as were meet. The third is, that, supposing both the one and the other, it is not becoming in me to 65 treat thereof, since, in so doing, it would be needful for me to praise myself, — a thing altogether blameworthy in whosoever does it, — and therefore I leave this theme to some other interpreter.

Nevertheless, since the number nine has often found place among the preceding words, which it seems cannot be without some reason, and in her departure this number seems to have occupied a large place, it is befitting to say something on this point, inasmuch as it seems to befit my design. Wherefore I will first tell how it had place in her departure, and then I will assign some reason wherefore this number was so friendly to her.


I say that, according to the mode of reckoning in Arabia, her most noble soul departed in the first hour of the ninth day of the month; and, according to the reckoning in Syria, she departed in the ninth month of the year, since the first month there is Tisrin, which with us is October. And according to our reckoning, she departed in that year of our indiction, that is, of the years of the Lord, in which the perfect number was completed for the ninth time in that century in which she had been set in this world: and she was of the Christians of the thirteenth century.


One reason why this number was so friendly to her may be this: since, according to Ptolemy and according to the Christian truth, there are nine heavens which move, and, according to the common astrological opinion, the said heavens work effects here below according to their respective positions, this number was her friend to the end that it might be understood that at her generation all the nine movable heavens were in most perfect relation. This is one reason thereof; but considering more subtilely and according to the infallible truth, this number was she herself; I mean by similitude, and I intend it thus: the number three is the root of nine, for, without any other number, multiplied by itself it makes nine, as we see plainly that three times three make nine. Therefore, since three is the factor by itself of nine, and the Author of miracles by himself is three, namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are three and one, this lady was accompanied by the number nine, that it might be understood that she was a nine, that is, a miracle, whose only root is the marvellous Trinity. Perchance even a more subtile reason might be seen herein by a more subtile person; but this is that which I see for it, and which best pleases me.



After the most gentle lady had departed from this world, all the above-mentioned city remained as if a widow, despoiled of every dignity, wherefore I, still weeping in this desolate city, wrote to the chief personages of the land somewhat of its condition, taking that beginning of Jeremiah the prophet, Quomodo sedet sola civitas! [How doth the city sit solitary!] And this I tell in order that others may not wonder why I have cited it above, as if for an entrance to the new theme that comes after. And if any one should choose to blame me because I do not write here the words which follow those cited, my excuse is, that from the first it was my design to write nothing except in the vulgar tongue; wherefore, since the words which follow those which have been cited are all Latin, it would be contrary to my design if I should write them; and I know that he, my first friend, for whom I write this, had a similar understanding, namely, that I should write to him only in the vulgar tongue.


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