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From An Anthology of Italian Poems 13th-19th Century selected and translated by Lorna de’ Lucchi, Alfred A. Knopf, New York; 1922; pp. 144-151, 354-355.

[For purists, the Italian text of the poems follows the English translation.]


Notes and translation by Lorna de’ Lucchi


Biographical Note

TORQUATO TASSO, born at Sorrento; at the age of five years was sent to Naples and studied under the Jesuits there; distinguished by a precocious genius; in 1565 went to the Court of Ferrara and became attached to the service of Count Luigi d’ Este, and later to that of Duke Alfonso II. In 1562 he published his Rinaldo, and 355 while at Ferrara worked at his Gerusalemma Liberata. About this time he showed the first signs of that insanity which was to overshadow at intervals the rest of his life. In 1572 he wrote Aminta; in 1576 had to put under restraint, but escaped to Sorrento; wandered about Italy, and was again confined in the asylum of St. Anna in Ferrara. He was released in 1586, and spent the rest of his life wandering miserably from place to place, for his passionate, morbid sensibility allowed him no rest. His final refuge was the convent of Sant’ Onofrio in Rome, where he died on the eve of his coronation as laureate on the Capitol by Clement VIII. Tasso owes his immortality to the epic Gerusalemme Liberata, on which masterpiece he was engaged between 1563 and 1575, and in which he describes the first Crusade under Godfrey de Bouillon: in it the classical and romantic elements are marvellously fused. His religious scruples induced him to a revision of the poem, but it is the original form that has given him fame. In addition he wrote: Aminta, a pastoral play; Lettere; Dialoghi; Prose diverse; and about 2,000 lyrics, among which a few excellent sonnets and madrigals amidst many inadequate imitations of Petrarch.

[For an essay on some of the romantic distortions applied to Tasso’s life, and a fuller description of it, see Father Reuben Parsons’ essay, Tasso and His Imprisonment, on this site. — Elf.Ed.]




Madrigal I

ONCE a mosquito came a-buzzing round
The happy place
Where in his mother’s lap Love lay sleep-bound
With pretty grace;
Said Love, aroused from slumber by the hum:
“How from so small
A body can so great a clamour come,
Awaking all?”
   Beguiling him with song, Venus replied:
“Thou too art small,
Yet mortals wake who on the earth abide
And the Gods all
Up in the sky,
Hearing thee cry.”

[This poem is popular and Tasso, along with many other poets since, re-modeled this poem on this site written by Anacreon, a very early Greek poet. — Elf.Ed.]

Madrigal II

THIS is not death, immortal Margaret,
But early passing to another day,
Nor pain nor sorrow doth in thee beget
This pilgrimage along an unknown way,
But only pity for the last farewell;
Now taking leave of earth, O spirit pure,
With us thy thoughts compassionately dwell,
But thou thyself art happy and secure.


Madrigal III

FROM the mantle of night,
From the pale, star-strewn sky,
What tears in my sight,
What dews gather nigh?
White moon, why dost sow
Crystal stars in a ring?
Where the green grasses grow,
Why dolefully sing
Wandering breezes alway
From the dusk to the day?
Is it presage of death,
O breath of my breath?

Sonetto I

ANCIENT, winged god, thou who didst first draw breath
With sun and stars together at one birth,
Thou who to all things givest life and death,
Flying by devious pathways through the earth,
My heart which languish the in bitter pain,
Seeking for thorny and malignant grief
A thousand remedies, but all in vain,
In thee, O Time, alone findeth relief
   Thought thou uprootest, with forgetfulness
Healest our wounds, and lastly dost dispel
The mists which have these royal cloisters sealed;
Truth in her pure, unveilèd loveliness
Thou hast uplifted even from the well
Where she lay hid, and to all eyes revealed.

[Love, Eros in Greek (Cupid), is the winged god referred to above. The ancients believed that Love was the first of the gods created after the sun and stars from chaos. See Murray’s Manual of Mythology here on this subject. — Elf.Ed.] 149

Sonetto II

O SWALLOW, thou departest to return
Year after year in summer to thy nest;
For softer winters by the Nile dost yearn,
And in far Memphis seekest a new rest:
But storm or shine Love in my heart I hold,
Until with growing scorn he sets at nought
His mother’s shrines and temples manifold
In Paphos and in Gnidus, richly wrought.
   And here he sitteth brooding and is plumed
Like to a bird, and from a fragile shell
Sends pretty little cupids forth; in vain
Their numbers pen or tongue would strive to tell,
They are so many and one heart is doomed
To hold them all; sad nest of passionate pain !

Sonetto III

LOVE is he heart and soul of all the world,
He drives the sun obliquely through the sky,
In varying dance the wandering stars are whirled
To lilt of his celestial lyre on high;
Air, water, earth, and burning fire he sways,
Mingled with the great whole, feeds and inspires,
Whence hope, delight, and pain reveal their ways
To man with expectations, wraths, desires.
   But though the maker and the king Love be
Of one and all and though his glory shine
In every place, we feel his power the most;
As if they were supernal rays, so he
In the sweet splendours of thine eyes doeth boast
His kingdom, and within my heart his shrine.


Sonetto IV

IN tender youth a red, red rose didst seem
Who in the tepor of the early light
Veileth her breast and, virgin still, doth dream
Shyly in her green drapery out of sight;
Or, since no mortal thing resembleth thee,
Thou wast more kin to the celestial dawn,
Dewy and bright in Heaven’s serenity,
Crowning the hills with gold, pearling the lawn;
   But riper age no charm from thee withholds,
And thou to-day art sweeter, though forlorn,
Than in the bloom of girlhood, or as sweet;
Thus lovelier is the blossom who unfolds
Her fragrant petals, greater light and heat
Flow from the sun at noonday than at morn.

Sonetto V

SCIPIO, or dead is pity of downhurled
From royal hearts, and in celestial spheres
Dwells with the gods, unmindful of the world,
O may the voice reach thither of my tears !
Thus noble faith of mine, the noble token
Of perfect friendship, will be held to scorn,
And this iniquitous anguish last unbroken,
Constraining me ’twixt life and death forlorn.
   Tomb of the living, this wherein I lie
A breathing corpse; for none save dead men fly
Cell doors apart ! O Gods, O Heavens, alas !
If works of art, of passion, love, and skill
Win praise or pardon here on earth, fulful
My prayre, le me be heard, alas, alas !



Madrigale I

MENTE in grembo a la madre Amore un giorno
Dolcemente dormiva,
una zanzara zufolava introno
per quella dolce riva.
Disse allor, dest a quel susurro, Amore:
“Da si picciola forma
com’ esce sì gran voce e tal rumore,
che sveglia ognun che dorma?”
   Con maniere vezzose,
lusingandogli il sonno col suo canto,
Venere gli rispose:
“E tu piccolo sei;
ma pur gli uomini in terra col tuo pianto
e ’n ciel desti gli dei.”

Madrigale II

NON è questo un morire,
immortal Margherita,
ma un passar anzi tempo a l’ altra vita:
nè de l’ ignota via
duol ti scolori o tema,
ma sol pietà per la partenza estrema.
Di noi pensosa e pia,
di te lieta e sicura,
t’ accomitai del mondo, anima pura.


Madrigale III

QUAL rugiada o qual pianto,
qual lagrime eran quelle
che sparger vidi dal notturno manto
e dal candido volto de le stelle?
e perchè seminò la bianca luna
di cristalline stelle un puro nemb
a l’’ erba fesca in grembo?
perchè ne l’ aria bruna
s’ udian, quasi dolendo, intorno intorno
gir l’ aure insino al giorno?
Fûr segni forse de la tua partita,
vita de la mia vita?

Sonetto I

VECCHIO ed alto dio, nato col sole
ad un parto medesmo e con le stelle,
che distruggi le cose e rinnovelle,
mentre per torte vie vole e rivole,
il mio cor, che languendo egro si duole,
e de le cure sue spinose e felle
dopo mille argomenti una non svelle,
non ha, se non sei tu, chi più ’l console.
   Tu ne sterpa i pensieri, e giocondo
oblio spargi le piaghe, e tu disgombrla
la frode onde son pieni i regi chiostri;
e tu la verità traggi dal fondo
dov’ è sommersa, e, senza velo od ombra,
ignuda e bella a gli occhi altrui si mostri.


Sonetto II

TU parti, o rondinella, e poi ritorni
pur d’ anno in anno, e fai la state il nido,
a più tepido verno in altro lido
cerchi sul Nilo, e ’n Menfi altri soggiorni:
ma per algenti o per estivi giorni
io sempre nel mio petto Amore annido,
quasi egli a sdegno prenda in Pafo e ’n Gnido
gli altari e i tempi di sua madre adorni.
   E qui si cova e quasi augel s’ impenna,
e rotta molle scorza, uscendo fuori
produce i vaghi e pargoletti Amori.
E non li può contar lingua nè penna,
tanta è la turba; e tutti un cor sostiene,
nido infelice d’ amorose pene.

Sonetto III

AMORE alma è del mondo, Amore è mente
e ’n ciel per corso obliquo il sole ei gira,
e d’ astri erranti a la celeste lira
fa le danze lassù veloci o lente,
L’ aria, l’ acqua, la terra, e ’l foco ardente
regge, misto al gran corpo, e nutre e spira;
e quinci l’ uom desia, teme e s’ adira,
e speranza e diletto e doglia ei sente.
   Ma, ben che tutto crei, tutto governi
e per tutto risplenda, e ’l tutto allumi,
più spiega in noi di sua possanza Amore;
e come sien de’ cerchi in ciel superni,
posta ha la reggia sua ne’ dolci lumi
de’ bei vostri occhi, e ’l tempio in questo core.


Sonetto IV

NEGLI anni acerbi tuoi purpurea rosa
sembravi tu, ch’ ai rai tepidi, a l’ ôra
non apre ’l sen, ma nel suo verde ancora
verginella s’ asconde e vergognosa;
o più tosto parei, chè mortal cosa
non s’ assomiglia a te, celeste aurora,
che le campagne iperla e i monti indora,
lucida in ciel sereno e rugiadosa.
   Or la men verde età nulla te togli;
nè te, benchè negletta, in manto adorno
giovinetta beltà vince o pareggia.
Così più vago è ’l fior poi che le foglie
spiega odorate, e ’l sol nel mezzo giorno
via più che nel mattin luce e fiammeggia.

Sonetto V

SCIPIO, o pietade è morta od è bandita
de’ regi petti, e nel celeste regno
tra’ divi alberga e prende il mondo a sdegno,
sia la voce del mio pianto udita.
Dunque la nobil fè sarà schernita
ch’ è di mia libertà sì nobil pegno,
nè fine avrà mai questo strazio indegno
che m’ inforsa così tra morte e vita?
   Questa è tomba de’ vivi ov’ io son chiuso
cadavero spirante, e si disserra
solo il carcer de’ morti: oh divi, oh cielo !
s’ opre d’ arte e d’ ingegno, amore e zelo
d’ onore han premio o ver perdono in terra,
deh ! non sia, prego, il mio pregar deluso.


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