Donna me Prega

Portrait of Guido Cavalcanti (Florence, 1258 - Florence, 1300), Italian poet, oil on board by Cristofano dell'Altissimo (1525-1605), 69x44 cm
Guido Cavalcanti
1255 – 1300


A lady asks me – I speak for that reason
Of an effect – that so often – is daring
And so haughty – he’s called Amore:
He who denies him – now realise the truth!
I speak – to those present – with knowledge,
Owning no expectation – that the base-hearted
Can gain understanding through explanation:
Nor that – without practical demonstration
I have the talent – to prove at will
Where he lives, or who gave him creation,
Or what his power is, or what his virtue,
His essence too – and his every movement,
Nor the delight – so that we say: ‘to love’,
Nor whether a man can show him to gazing.

In the place – that memory inhabits
He has his station – and takes on form
Like a veil of light – born of that shadow
Which is of Mars – that arrives and remains;
He is created – has sensation – name,
From the soul, manner – from the heart, will.
And comes from visible form that takes on,
And embraces – in possible intellect,
As in the subject – location and dwelling.
And yet he has no weight in that state
Since he is not as a quality descending:
Shines out – of himself perpetual impression;
Takes no delight – except in awareness;
Nor can scatter his likenesses around.
He is not virtue – but out of that comes
Which is perfection – (so self-established),
And through feeling – not rationally, I say;
Beyond balance – yet proclaiming judgement,
That will itself – ’stead of reason – is valid:
Poor in discernment – so vice is his friend.
Oft from his power then death will follow,
He’s strong – and, virtue opposing him,
Thus runs counter to what brings succour:
Not that he is by nature in conflict;
But twisted awry from true perfection
By fate – no man possessor of life can say
That once established – he has no lordship.
Likewise he has power though men forget.

He comes into being – when will is such
That a further measure – of nature’s – at play;
Then he will never adorn himself – with rest.
Moving – changing colour, laughing through tears,
Contorting – the features – with signatures of fear;
Scarce pausing; – yet you will note of him
He’s most often found with people of worth.
His strange quality gives rise to sighing,
And makes a man gaze – into formless places
Arousing the passion that stirs a flame,
(No man can imagine him who’s not known him)
Unmoving – yet he draws all towards him,
Not turning about – to discover joy:
Nor minded to know whether great or small.
From his like he elicits – the complex glance
That makes – the pleasure – appear more certain:
Nor can stay hidden – when he is met with.
Not savage indeed – yet beauty his arrow,
So that desire – for fear is – made skilful:
Following all merit – in the piercing spirit.
Nor can be comprehended from the face:
Seen – as blankness fallen among objects;
Listening deep – yet seeing not form itself:
But led by what emanates from it.
Far from colour, of separate being,
Seated – in midst of darkness, skirting the light,
Yet far from all deceit – I say, worthy of trust,
So that compassion is born from him alone.

Canzone, confidently, now you may go
Wherever you please, I’ve adorned you so
Your reasoning – will be praised by everyone
Who makes the effort to comprehend you: though
You will reveal no art to other than them.


Translation by A.S. Kline

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