To Marco Venier

We present this work in honor of the 430th anniversary of the poet’s death.

07-22 Franco
Veronica Franco
Italian
1546 – 1591

 

If I could be certain of your love,
from what your words and face display,
which often conceal a changing mind;
if external signs revealed what the mind
conceals within, so that a person
were not so often entrapped by deceit,
I would cast aside this fear, for which,
however I tried to protect myself,
I would be mocked as simple and unwise;
“to the same place one can take many roads,”

the proverb says; and it is never safe
to change one’s direction according to appearances.
Let no one stray from the beaten path
who is trying to find safe shelter
before the night comes to catch up with him.
The path of hope is not straightforward,
for more often than not, it leads astray
with lying words and false pretense;
the path of certainty is the right way,
which always leads to peaceful rest

and is safe on both sides and from. behind;
to this path I raise up my eyes’ thought
and, disappointed by words and charm,
I leave behind all their misleading lures.
May you find this an acceptable excuse,
may it acquit me of the charge that I believe
neither your gestures nor your words.
And if you truly love me, it grieves me very much
that you do not reveal yourself by deeds,
as a man who loves truly usually does:

I am sorry, on one hand, that you feel pain,
and on the other, that you frustrate me
in my desire to satisfy your true love.
Since I will not believe that I am loved,
nor should I believe it or reward you
for the pledge you have made me up to now,
win my approval, sir, with deeds:
prove yourself through them, if I, too,
am expected to prove my love with deeds;
but if instead you long for fictions,

as long as you persist in spinning out tales,
my welcome to you will be just as false;
and, when, fatigued and annoyed by fictions,
you show me your love in deeds,
I will assure you of mine in the same way.
I will show you my heart open in my breast,
once you no longer hide yours from me,
and my delight will be to please you;
and if you think I am so dear to Phoebus
for composing poems, in the works of love
you’ll find me dearer still to Venus.

Certain qualities concealed within me,
I will reveal to you, infinitely sweetly,
which prose or verse has never shown another,
on this condition: that you prove your love to me
by other means than compliments, for I
take care not to be fooled by them;
please me more with deeds and praise me less,
and where your courtesy overflows into praise,
distribute it in some other way.
Does what I say seem right to you,

or do you instead perhaps think I am wrong,
lacking experience to choose the right path?
Sir, being mocked is a most painful thing,
especially in love; and let whoever
does not believe this show his reason why.
I am ready to walk in step with you,
and I will love you beyond any doubt,
just as your merit requires I should.
If in your breast you have love’s burning fire
I’ll feel it by your side, for it will have

The power to set my heart aflame, too;
it’s not possible to escape its blows,
and whoever feels truly loved
is bound to love the lover in return;
but attempting to make white pass for black
is something that everybody dislikes,
even those whose judgment is weak.
So show me the fruits of your love for me,
for only foolish folk are deceived
by the lure of empty words.

Despite what I now answer you,
I’d not want you to think me greedy for gain,
for that vice is not concealed in my breast;
but I would like you to believe
that when I love, my courteous desires,
if not chaste, are decidedly chary;
and as soon as I have understood
that a man is brave and that he loves me,
I’ve returned his principal with interest.
But whoever, on this account, should decide

to try to fool me is himself a fool;
and anyone he asks could tell him so.
And what I now request from you
is not that you express your love
for me with silver or with gold;
for to make a deal with a gentleman
in order to extract a treasure from him
is most improper if one’s not entirely venal.
Such an act doesn’t suit my profession,
but I want to see, I say it clearly,

your love in deeds instead of words.
You know well what I most cherish:
behave in this as I’ve already told you,
and you’ll be my special, matchless lover.
My heart falls in love with virtues,
and you, who possess so many of them
that in you all the finest wisdom dwells,
don’t deny me your effort in such a great cause
let me see you longing in this way
to acquire a lover’s claim upon me;

be diligent and eager in this task
and in order to grant my wish,
do not be idle in your free time.
This will be no burden to you
for to your prowess any undertaking,
however difficult, comes with ease.
And if such a small task weighs you down,
think of how iron and stone fly aloft,
when set in motion by a burning flame;
whatever by nature tends to sink downward

through the fury of fire, more than any other force,
turns to rise from the center to the rim;
so love for me has no place within you
since it lacks the power to make you do
what even without love would be a small thing.
And do you then hope to make me love
as if you believed that with one single leap
I should suddenly fall in love with you?
I don’t glory in this or exalt myself;
but, to tell you the truth, you want to fly

without wings and rise too high all at once;
let your desire match your ability,
for you can easily reach a height
that others, with effort, cannot attain.
I long to have a real reason to love you
and I leave it up to you to decide,
so that you have no right to complain.
There’ll be no gap between merit and reward
if you’ll give me what, though in my opinion
it has great value, costs you not a thing;

your reward from me will be
not only to fly but to soar so high
that your hope will match your desires.
And my beauty, such as it is,
which you never tire of praising,
I’ll then employ for your contentment;
sweetly lying at your left side,
I will make you taste the delights of love
when they have been expertly learned;
And doing this, I could give you such pleasure

that you could say you were fully content,
and at once fall more deeply in love.
So sweet and delicious do I become,
when I am in bed with a man
who, I sense, loves and enjoys me,
that the pleasure I bring excels all delight,
so the knot of love, however tight
it seemed before, is tied tighter still.
Phoebus, who serves the goddess of love,
and obtains from her as a sweet reward

what blesses him far more than being a god,
comes from her to reveal to my mind
the positions that Venus assumes with him
when she holds him in sweet embraces;
so that I, well taught in such matters,
know how to perform so well in bed
that this art exceeds Apollo’s by far,
and my singing and writing are both forgotten
by the man who experiences me in this way,
which Venus reveals to people who serve her.

If your soul is vanquished by love for me,
arrange to have me in far sweeter fashion
than anything my pen can declare.
Your valor is the steadfast knot
that can pull me to your lap,
joined to you more tightly than a nail in hard wood;
your skill can make you master of my life,
for which you show so much love
that skill that miraculously stands out in you.
Let me see the works I’ve asked for from you,

for then you’ll enjoy my sweetness to the full;
and I will also take pleasure in yours,
in the way that mutual love allows,
which provides delight free from all pain.
I yearn and long to have a good reason
to love you: decide what you think best,
for every outcome depends on your will.

I have no more to say; go in peace.

One thought on “To Marco Venier

  1. There are my translations/interpretations of Veronica Franco …

    Capitolo 19: A Courtesan’s Love Lyric (I)
    by Veronica Franco
    loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    “I resolved to make a virtue of my desire.”

    My rewards will be commensurate with your gifts
    If only you give me the one that lifts

    Me, laughing. If it comes free,
    Still, it is of immense value to me.

    Your reward will be—not just to fly,
    But to soar—so incredibly high

    That your joys eclipse your desires
    (As my beauty, to which your heart aspires

    And which you never tire of praising,
    I employ for your spirit’s raising).

    Afterwards, lying docile at your side,
    I will grant you all the delights of a bride,

    Which I have more expertly learned.
    Then you, who so fervently burned,

    Will at last rest, fully content,
    Fallen even more deeply in love, spent

    At my comfortable bosom.
    When I am in bed with a man I blossom,

    Becoming completely free
    With the man who freely enjoys me.

    ***

    Free verse version:

    Capitolo 19: A Courtesan’s Love Lyric (II)
    by Veronica Franco
    loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    “I resolved to make a virtue of my desire.”

    My rewards will be commensurate with your gifts
    if only you give me the one that lifts
    me laughing …

    And though it costs you nothing,
    still it is of immense value to me.

    Your reward will be
    not just to fly
    but to soar: so high
    that your joys vastly exceed your desires.

    And my beauty, to which your heart aspires
    and which you never tire
    of praising,
    I will employ for the raising
    of your spirits. Then, lying sweetly at your side,
    I will shower you with all the delights of a bride,
    which I have more expertly learned.

    Then you who so fervently burned
    will at last rest, fully content,
    fallen even more deeply in love, spent
    at my comfortable bosom.

    When I am in bed with a man I blossom,
    becoming completely free
    with the man who freely loves and enjoys me.

    Published by Sybarite’s Garden

    Franco published two books: Terze rime (a collection of poems) and Lettere familiari a diversi (a collection of letters and poems). She also collected the works of other writers into anthologies and founded a charity for courtesans and their children. And she was an early champion of women’s rights, one of the first ardent, outspoken feminists that we know by name today. For example …

    Capitolo 24
    by Veronica Franco
    loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    (written by Franco to a man who had insulted a woman)

    Please try to see with sensible eyes
    how grotesque it is for you
    to insult and abuse women!
    Our unfortunate sex is always subject
    to such unjust treatment, because we
    are dominated, denied true freedom!
    And certainly we are not at fault
    because, while not as robust as men,
    we have equal hearts, minds and intellects.
    Nor does virtue originate in power,
    but in the vigor of the heart, mind and soul:
    the sources of understanding;
    and I am certain that in these regards
    women lack nothing,
    but, rather, have demonstrated
    superiority to men.
    If you think us “inferior” to yourself,
    perhaps it’s because, being wise,
    we outdo you in modesty.
    And if you want to know the truth,
    the wisest person is the most patient;
    she squares herself with reason and with virtue;
    while the madman thunders insolence.
    The stone the wise man withdraws from the well
    was flung there by a fool …

    Life was not a bed of roses for Venetian courtesans. Although they enjoyed the good graces of their wealthy patrons, religious leaders and commoners saw them as symbols of vice. Once during a plague, Franco was banished from Venice as if her “sins” had helped cause it. When she returned in 1577, she faced the Inquisition and charges of “witchcraft.” She defended herself in court and won her freedom, but lost all her material possessions. Eventually, Domenico Venier, her major patron died in 1582 and left her with no support. Her tax declaration of that same year stated that she was living in a section of the city where many destitute prostitutes ended their lives. She may have died in poverty at the age of forty-five.

    Hollywood produced a movie based on her life: Dangerous Beauty.

    When I bed a man
    who—I sense—truly loves and enjoys me,
    I become so sweet and so delicious
    that the pleasure I bring him surpasses all delight,
    till the tight
    knot of love,
    however slight
    it may have seemed before,
    is wound tightly to the core.
    —Veronica Franco, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    We danced a youthful jig through that fair city—
    Venice, our paradise, so pompous and pretty.
    We lived for love, for primal lust and beauty;
    To please ourselves became our only duty.
    Floating there in a fog between heaven and earth,
    We grew drunk on excesses and wild mirth.
    We thought ourselves immortal poets then,
    Our glory endorsed by God’s illustrious pen.
    But paradise, we learned, is fraught with error,
    and sooner or later love succumbs to terror.
    —Veronica Franco, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

    In response to a friend urging Veronica Franco to help her daughter become a courtesan, Franco warns her that the profession can be devastating:

    “Even if Fortune were only benign and favorable to you in this endeavor, this life is such that in any case it would always be wretched. It is such an unhappy thing, and so contrary to human nature, to subject one’s body and activity to such slavery that one is frightened just by the thought of it: to let oneself be prey to many, running the risk of being stripped, robbed, killed, so that one day can take away from you what you have earned with many men in a long time, with so many other dangers of injury and horrible contagious disease: to eat with someone else’s mouth, to sleep with someone else’s eyes, to move according to someone else’s whim, running always toward the inevitable shipwreck of one’s faculties and life. Can there be greater misery than this? … Believe me, among all the misfortunes that can befall a human being in the world, this life is the worst.”

    I confess I became a courtesan, traded yearning for power, welcomed many rather than be owned by one. I confess I embraced a whore’s freedom over a wife’s obedience. – Dangerous Beauty

    I wish it were not considered a sin
    to have liked fucking.
    Women have yet to realize
    the cowardice that presides.
    And if they should ever decide
    to fight the shallow,
    I would be the first, setting an example for them to follow.
    —Veronica Franco, loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

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