From The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti
Translated by Ezra Pound
Published in Boston by Small, Maynard and Company. Copyright 1912.
From the Introduction by Ezra Pound
...I have in my translations tried to bring over the qualities of Guido's rhythm, not line for line, but to embody in the whole of my English some trace of that power which implies the man. The science of the music of words and the knowledge of their magical powers has fallen away since men invoked Mithra by a sequence of pure vowel sounds. That there might be less interposed between the reader and Guido, it was my first intention to print only his poems and an unrhymed gloze. This has not been practicable. I can not trust the reader to read teh Italian for the music after he has read the English for the sense.
These are no sonnets for an idle hour. It is only when the emotions illumine the perceptive powers that we see the reality. It is in the light born of this double current that we look upon the face of the mystery unveiled. I have lived with these sonnets and ballate daily month in and month out, and have been daily drawn deeper into them and daily into contemplation of things that are not of an hour. And I deem, for this, that voi altri pochi who understand, will love me better for my labor in proportion as you read more carefully.
YOU, who do breach mine eyes and touch the heart,
And start the mind from her brief reveries,
Might pluck my life and agony apart,
Saw you how love assaileth her with sighs,
And lays about him with so brute a might
That all my wounded senses turn to flight.
There's a new face upon the seigniory,
And new is the voice that maketh loud my grief.
Love, who hath drawn me down through devious ways,
Hath from your noble eyes so swiftly come!
'T is he hath hurled the dart, wherefrom my pain,
First shot's resultant! and in flanked amaze
See how my affrighted soul recoileth from
That sinister side wherein the heart lies slain.
I SAW the eyes, where Amor took his place
When love's might bound me with the fear thereof,
Look out at me as they were weary of love.
I say: The heart rent him as he looked on this.
And were't not that my Lady lit her grace,
Smiling upon me with her eyes grown glad,
Then were my speech so dolorously clad
That Love should mourn amid his victories.
The instant that she deigned to bend her eyes
Toward me, a spirit from high heaven rode
And chose my thought the place of love's verities
That all Love's powers did my sight accost
As though I'd won unto his heart's mid-most.
O LADY mine, doth not thy sight allege
Him who hath set his hand upon my heart,
When parched responses from my faint throat start
And shudder for the terror of his edge?
He was Amor, who since he found you, dwells
Ever with me, and he was come from far;
An archer is he as the Scythians are
Whose only joy is killing someone else.
My sobbing eyes are drawn upon his wrack,
And such harsh sighs upon my heart he casteth
That I depart from that sad me he wasteth,
With Death drawn close upon my wavering track,
Leading such tortures in his sombre train
As, by all custom, wear out other men.
IF I should pray this lady pitiless
That Mercy to her heart be no more foeman,
You'd call me clownish, vile, and say that no man
Was so past hope and filled with vanities.
Where find you now these novel cruelties?
For still you seem humility's true leaven.
Wise and adorned, alert and subtile even,
And fashioned out in ways of gentleness.
My soul weeps through her sighs for grievous fear
And all those sighs, which in the heart were found,
Deep drenched with tears do sobbing thence depart,
Then seems that on my mind there rains a clear
Image of a lady, thoughtful, bound
Hither to keep death-watch upon that heart.
Sonnet IV (Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation)
To a Friend who does not pity his Love
IF I entreat this lady that all grace
Seem not unto her heart an enemy,
Foolish and evil thou declarest me,
And desperate in idle stubbornness.
Whence is such cruel judgement thine, whose face,
To him that looks thereon, professeth thee
Faithful, and wise, and of all courtesy,
And made after the way of gentleness?
Alas! my soul within my heart doth find
Sighs, and its grief by weeping doth enhance,
That, drowned in bitter tears, those sighs depart:
And then there seems a presence in the mind,
As of a lady's thoughtful countenance
Come to behold the death of the poor heart.
LADY, my most rash eyes, the first who used
To look upon thy face, the power-fraught,
Were, Lady, those by whom I was accused
In that harsh place where Amor holdeth court.
And there before him was their proof adduced,
And judgment wrote me down: "Bondslave" to thee,
Though still I stay Grief's prisoner, unloosed,
And Fear hath lien upon the heart of me.
For the which charges, and without respite,
They dragged me to a place where a sad horde
Of such as love and whom Love Tortureth
Cried out, all pitying as I met their sight,
"Now art thou servant unto such a Lord
Thou'lt have none other one save only Death."
THOU fill'st my mind with griefs so populous
That my soul irks him to be on the road.
Mine eyes cry out, "We cannot bear the load
Of sighs the grievous heart sends upon us."
Love, sensitive to thy nobility,
Saith, "Sorrow is mine that thou must take thy death
From this fair lady who will hear no breath
In argument for aught save pitying thee."
And I, as one beyond life's compass thrown,
Seem but a thing that's fashioned to design,
Melted of bronze or carven in tree or stone.
A wound I bear within this heart of mine
Which by its mastering quality is grown
To be of that heart's death an open sign.
Who is she coming, drawing all men's gaze,
Who makes the air one trembling clarity
Till none can speak but each sighs piteously
Where she leads Love adown her trodden ways?
Ah God! The thing she's like when her glance strays,
Let Amor tell. "T is no fit speech for me.
Mistress she seems of such great modesty
That every other woman were called "Wrath."
No one could ever tell the charm she hath
For toward her all the noble Powers incline,
She being beauty's godhead manifest.
Our daring ne'er before held such high quest;
Be ye! There is not in you so much grace
That we can understand her rightfully.
AH why! why were mine eyes not quenched for me,
Or stricken so that from their vision none
Had ever come within my mind to say
"Listen, dost thou not hear me in thine heart?"
Fear of new torments was then so displayed
To me, so cruel and so sharp of edge
That my soul cried, "Ah mistress, bring us aid,
Lest th' eyes and I remain in grief always."
But thou hast left them so that Amor cometh
And weepeth over them so piteously
That there's a deep voice heard whose sound in part
Turned unto words, is this: "Whoever knoweth
Pain's depth, let him look on this man whose heart
Death beareth in his hand cut cruciform."
Sonnet VIII (Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation)
Of his Pain from a new Love
WHY from the danger did mine eyes not start,--
Why not become even blind,--ere through my sight
Within my soul thou ever couldst alight
To say: "Dost thou not hear me in thy heart?"
New torment then, the old torment's counterpart,
Filled me at once with such a sore affright,
That, Lady, lady, (I said,) destroy not quite
Mine eyes and me! O help us where thou art!
Thou hast so left mine eyes, that Love is fain--
Even Love himself--with pity uncontroll'd
To bend above them, weeping for their loss:
Saying: "If any man feel heavy pain,
This man's more painful heart let him behold:
Death has it in her hand, cut like a cross."
I AM reduced at last to self compassion,
For the sore anguish that I see me in;
At my great weakness; that my soul hath been
Concealed beneath her wounds in such a fashion:
Such mine oppression that I know, in brief,
That to my life ill's worst starred ills befall;
And this strange lady on whose grace I call
Maintains continuous my stour of grief,
For when I look in her direction,
She turns upon me her disdeigning eyen
So harshly that my waiting heart is rent
And all my powers and properties are spent,
Till that heart lieth for a sign ill-seen,
Where Amor's cruelty hath hurled him down.
ALAS, my spirits, that ye come to find me
So painful, poor, waylaid in wretchedness,
Yet send no words adorned with deep distress
Forth from my mind to say what sorrows bind me.
Alas, ye see how sore my heart is wounded
By glance, by fair delight and by her meekness;
'Las! Must I pray ye that ye aid his weakness,
Seeing him power-stripped, naked, confounded.
And now a spirit that is noble and haut
Appeareth to that heart with so great might
That all th' heart's virtues turn in sudden flight.
Woe! and I pray you greet my soul as friend,
Who tells through all her grief what things were wrought
On her by Love, and will be to the end.
IF Mercy were the friend of my desires,
Or Mercy's source of movement were the heart,
Then, by this fair, would Mercy show such art
And power of healing as my pain requires.
From torturing delight my sighs commence,
Born of the mind where Love is situate,
Go errant forth and naught save grief relate
And find no one to give them audience.
They would return to the eyes in galliard mode,
With all harsh tears and their deep bitterness
Transmuted into revelry and joy;
Were't not unto the sad heart such annoy,
And to the mournful soul such rathe distress
That none doth deign salute them on the road.
THE grace of youth in Toulouse ventureth;
She's noble and fair, with quaint sincerities,
Direct she is and is about her eyes
Most like to our Lady of sweet memories.
So that within my heart desirous
She hath clad the soul in fashions peregrine.
Pilgrim to her he hath too great chagrin
To say what Lady is lord over us.
This soul looks deep into that look of hers,
Wherein he rouseth Love to festival,
For deep therein his rightful lady resteth.
Then with sad sighing in the heart he stirs,
Feeling his death-wound as that dart doth fall
Which this Tolosan by departure casteth.
Concerning the source, the affects and the progeny of the little spirit of pure love:
Born of the perception of beauty, he arouseth that power of the mind whence is born that quality of love which ennobleth every sense and every desire; misunderstanded of base minds who comprehend not his power, he is the cause of that love in woman which teacheth modesty. Thus from him is born that love in woman whence is born Mercy, and from Mercy "as a gentle rain from heaven" descend those spirits which are the keys of every spirit, perforce of the one spirit which seeth.
Sonnet XII (Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation)
Of the Eyes of a certain Mandetta, of Thoulouse, which resemble those of his Lady Joan, of Florence
A CERTAIN youthful lady in Thoulouse,
Gentle and fair, of cheerful modesty,
Is in her eyes, with such exact degree,
Of likeness unto mine own lady, whose
I am, that through the heart she doth abuse
The soul to sweet desire. It goes from me
To her; yet, fearing, saith not who is she
That of a truth its essence thus subdues.
This lady looks on it with the sweet eyes
Whose glance did erst the wounds of Love anoint
Through its true lady's eyes which are as they.
Then to the heart returns it, full of sighs,
Wounded to death by a sharp arrow's point
Wherewith this lady speeds it on its way.
SUBTLE the spririt striking through the eyes
Which rouseth up a sprit in the mind
Whence moves a spirit unto love inclined
Which breeds in other sprites nobilities.
No turbid spirit hath the sense which sees
How greatly empowered a spirit he appeareth;
He is the little breath which that breath feareth,
Which breedeth virginal humilities.
Yet from this spirit doth another move
Wherein such tempered sweetness rightly dwells
That Mercy's spirit followeth his ways,
And Mercy's spirit as it moves above
Rains down those spirits that ope all things else,
Perforce of One who seeth all of these.
SURELY thine intellect gives no embrace
To him who hath bred this day's dishonesty;
How art thou shown for beggared suddenly
By that red spirit showing in thy face!
Perhaps it is some love within thee breedeth
For her who's folly's circumspection,
Perhaps some baser light doth call thee on
To make thee glad where mine own grief exceedeth.
Thou art my grief, my grief to such extent
That I trust not myself to meet Milady,
Starving myself of what Love sweetest lent me
So that before my face that key's forbent
Which her disdeign turned in my heart and made me
Suitor to wrath and sadness and lamenting.
THOU hast in thee the flower and the green
And that which gleameth and is fair of sight,
Thy form is more resplendent than sun's sheen;
Who sees thee not, can ne'er know worth aright.
Nay, in this world there is no creature seen
So fashioned fair and full of all delight;
Who fears Amor, and fearing meets thy mien,
Thereby assured, he solveth him his fright.
The ladies of whom thy cortèconsisteth
Please me in this, that they've thy favour won;
I bid them now, as courtesy existeth,
Holding most dear thy lordship of their state,
To honour thee with powers commensurate,
Sith thou art thou, that art sans paragon.
To Guido Orlando
THIS most lief lady, where doth Love display him
So full of valour and so vestured bright,
Bids thy heart "Out!" He goes and none gainsay him;
And he takes life with her in long delight.
Her cloister's guard is such that should you journey
To Ind you'd see each unicorn obey it;
Its armed might against thee in sweet tourney
Cruel riposteth, thou canst not withstay it.
Though she be surely in her valliancies
Such that she lacks not now worth's anything,
Still I believe her to be mortal creature;
Whence seems it, that (and here some foresight is)
If thou wert made aware of this, thou'ldst bring
Her to partake somewhat of some such nature.
Concerning Pinella, he replies to a sonnet by Bernardo da Bologna and explains why they have sweet waters in Galicia (Liscian).
Sonnet XVI (Dante Gabriel Rossetti's translation)
To Guido Orlando
In Praise of Guido Orlandi's Lady
A LADY in whom love is manifest--
That love which perfect honour doth adorn--
Hath ta'en the living heart out of thy breast,
Which in her keeping to new life is born:
For there by such sweet power it is possest
As even is felt of Indian unicorn:
And all its virtue now, with firce unrest,
Unto thy soul makes difficult return.
For this thy lady is virtue's minister
In suchwise that no fault there is to show,
Save that God made her mortal on this ground.
And even herein His wisdom shall be found:
For only thus our intellect could know
That heavenly beauty which resembles her.
 In old representations, the unicorn is seen often with his head in a virgin's lap.
NOW every cool small spring that springeth sweetly
Takes clarity and virtue in Liscian climes,
Bernard my friend, from one sole source, discretely:
'T is she who answereth thy sharpened rimes.
For in that place where Love's reports are laid
Concerning all who to his sight are led,
He saith that this so gracious and fair maid
Hath to herself all graces gatherèd.
Whereas my grief in this is grown more grave
And sighs have turned me to one light and flame,
I send my burning heart, in her acclaim
Unto Pinella, upon a magic stream
Where fairies and their fair attendants gleam,
In this wrecked barque! where their show is so brave!
BEAUTY of woman, of the knowing heart,
And courtly knights in bright accoutrement
And loving speeches and the small birds' art,
Adorned swift ships which on high seas are sent,
And airs grown calm when white the dawn appeareth
And white snow falling where no wind is bent,
Brook-marge and mead where every flower flareth,
And gold and silver and azure and ornament:
Effective 'gainst all these think ye the fairness
And valour of my Lady's lordly daring?
Yea, she makes all seem base vain gathering,
And she were known above whome'er you'd bring
As much as heaven is past earth's comparing;
Good seeketh out its like with some address.
He suggests to his kinsman Nerone that there may be one among all the Buondelmonti of whom they might in time make a man.
NEWS have I now for thee, so hear, Nerone,
How that the Buondelmonti shake with fear,
And all the Florentines can not assure them,
Seeing thou hast in thee the lion-heart.
They fear thee more than they would fear a dragon,
Seeing that face of thine, how set it is
That neither bridge nor walls could hold against it
Lest they were strong as is King Pharo's tomb.
Oh how dost of smoky sins the greatest
In that thou wouldst drive forth such haughty blood
Till all be gone, gone forth without retention.
But sooth it is, thou might'st extend the pawn
Of one whose soul thou mightest give salvation
Wert thou more patient in thine huckstering.
SO vilely is this soul of mine confounded
By strife grown audible within the heart
That is toward her some frail Love but start
With unaccustomed speed, she swoons astounded.
She is as one in whom no power aboundeth;
Lo, she forsakes my heart through fearfulness,
And any seeing her, how prone she is,
Would deem her one whom death's sure cloak surroundeth.
Through th' eyes, as through the breach in wall, her foes
Came first to attack and shattered all defense,
Then spoiled the mind with their down-rained blows.
Whoe'er he be who holdeth joy most close
Would, should he see my spirit going hence,
Weep for the pity and make no pretense.
(Cf. Sonnet I)
THE DRED SPIRIT
THOU mayest see, who seest me face to face,
That most dred spirit whom Love summoneth
To meet with man when a man meets with Death;
One never seen in any other case.
So close upon me did this presence show
That I thought he would slay my heart his dolour
And my sad soul clad her in the dead colour
That most accords the will and ways of woe.
Then he restrained him, seeing in true faith
The piteous lights forth-issue from your eyes
The which bore to my heart their foreign sweetness,
While the perceptive sense with subtle fleetness
Rescued those others who had considered death
The one sure ending for their miseries.
 The senses or the spirits of the senses.
To Dante, in answer to the first sonnet of the Vita Nuova.
THOU sawest, it seems to me, all things availing,
And every joy that ever good man feeleth.
Thou wast in proof of that lord valorous
Who through sheer honour lords it o'er the world.
Thou livest in a place where baseness dieth,
And holdest reason in the piteous mind;
So gently move the people in this sleep
That the heart bears it 'thout the feel of grief.
Love bore away the heart, because in his sight
Was Death grown clamorous for one thou lovest,
Love fed her with thy heart in dread of this,
Then, when it seemed to thee he left in sadness,
A dear dream was it which was there completed
Seeing it contrary came conquering.
Note: Dante, Vita Nuova III. "The true significance of the dream was not then seen by anyone."
To Dante, rebuking him for his way of life after the death of Beatrice.
I DAILY come to thee uncounting times
And find thee ever thinking over vilely;
Much doth it grieve me that thy noble mind