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.

Like Flitting Philomel Who Flies So Proudly Free

06-18 Tullia
Tullia d’Aragona
Italian
1510 – 1556

 

Like flitting Philomel, who flies so proudly free
having escaped the prison of her hated cage,
who goes among the wooded groves and greens
returning to her former happy life in liberty,

so had I escaped from love’s handcuffs,
scorning all suffering and the special bitter pain
of the sorrow beyond belief, reserved for the one
who has lost her soul through excess, loving love.

As the Cyprian knows well (oh, merciless star!)
I had gathered up my spoils from her temple
and for their proud price I had gone elsewhere;

when to me, Love said: I will alter
(to renew my pangs) your perverse will.

And made me your virtue’s prisoner.

Love Sonnet III

We present this work in honor of the 425th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Madeleine de l’Aubespine
French
1546 – 1596

 

Let the earth cease its turning, suddenly,
And the fixed stars travel the firmament;
Let somber Saturn shine, benevolent;
Jupiter rule the hosts beneath the sea;

Let Mars turn peaceful; Sun’s lush clarity
Turn dim, then dark; grow motionless, outspent;
Venus unloving; Mercury, content,
Changeless; Moon square, no more a circle be;

Let fire weigh heavy and the earth weigh light;
Water feel dry and warm; and let the flight
Of fish go coursing, grazing through the sky,

Sooner than might another know my love.
Born was I but to grant you all thereof;
For you alone I live, and for you, die.

Qasadi 25 in Praise of Sultan Suleyman

Hayâlî
Turkish
c.1500 – 1557

 

In the garden, the rose commanded a cavalry of flowers,
And put to flames again the dwelling place of the bulbul.

In the crucible of the bud the nightingale purifies gold,
That the rose might craft itself a ring for its ear.

The rose will not open the opium-vial of the bud to the knowers of mysteries,
So long as it is withdrawn, master of the secret of the trance.

The bulbul teaches the Parliament of birds to the garden of children,
Like the Perfumer, ‘Attar, the rose makes clear its every chapter.

Eager waiting opens wounds in the nightingale’s heart.
O Lord! Why does the rose keep such a tight collar on the bud?

Know this! In the rosebower every leaf is a page of delicate meaning,
Each bud The treasury of inner truth, each rose The dawn of illumination.

Truly, the flame and cotton can have no dance together.
The roses enfold the bulbul, like a salamander, in flames.

It is the black burn at its breast that makes each poppy loved,
So the rose in the meadow cannot shy from the cruelty of the thorn.

No wonder the flames of jealousy turn the bulbul to ash;
The playful rose hangs, laughing from the neck of every branch.

The rose made the bulbul’s nest a howdah for its kin,
Thus it seems to have made ready its caravan of exile.

It is time the rose caused the mouths of baby nightingales to open,
And thus make shepherd’s pipes of the bulbul’s nest.

The rose begs the morning breeze for the dust of the Monarch’s feet
As salve to cure the eye of the ailing narcissus of the garden.

What a Lord is Sultan Suleyman, the sound and firm of heart,
For whom the sun is but a gilded rosette on the portico of his palace!

The scent that wafts from the markets of China is but a trace of his virtue’s scent.
The rose, lord of flowers, is but a leaf in the chapter of his generosity.

Were it not, once a year, to bow its head in the dust at his feet,
The rose would not have bejewelled its ruby crown with pearls of dew.

Your enemy’s head, drenched in blood on the point of your spear,
Is like that tall and slender sapling tipped by a rose.

In the era of your justice, it is time that the rose beg mercy, O Shah!
For taking the blood of the bulbul, to rouge its face.

The bud is ever tight-lipped but in describing your justice;
And the rose recites no litany but that of your kind gifts.

My Lord, I came but to rub my face in the tracks of your hounds.
To me they are the only thornless roses in the bower of this world.

The rose made the nest of the bulbul a bowl for begging,
And thus came importunate to your court like a ragged dervish.

The rose-bush has adorned itself with brands all bloody,
O lord of beauty, since it became the lover of your face.

Tears made of dew are born on the rose’s face,
As it bewails the ill fortune of your slave Hayâlî.

O you, mighty as Jemshid, though I be transitory, my words live on.
The rose itself is destroyed but its traces remain in the rose-water.

Though I have come after Necâtĺ and Nevâyî, why sorrow?
The thorn sprouts first from the branch and after the thorn, a rose.

Though the thorn of grief bloodied my heart like the bud,
The fruit of the sprout of my fortune’s garden is a rose.

Just as every point of rain has for its source a cloud,
As the roses are drawn without compasses in the shapes of circles,

Let prosperity be the bud of the rose-bower of your reign,
And you, with rose-garden cheeks, smile like a rose at every breath.

I Swear to You Love By Your Arrows

Gaspara Stampa
Italian
1523 – 1554

 

I swear to you, Love, by your arrows,
And by your powerful holy flame,
I care not if by one I-m maimed,
My heart burned, wasted by the other:
However far through times past or coming,
There never was nor will be woman
Whomever of them you wish to name,
Could know such sharpness, such devouring:

For there-s a virtue born from suffering,
That dims and conquers the sense of pain,
So that it-s barely felt, seems scarcely hurting.
No! This, that torments soul and body again,
This is the real fear presaging my dying:
What if my fire be only straw and flame?

from As You Like It

We present this work in honor of the 405th anniversary of the poet’s death.

William Shakespeare
English
1564 – 1616

 

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

I Live on This Depraved and Lonely Cliff

Vittoria Colonna
Italian
1492 – 1547

 

I live on this depraved and lonely cliff
like a sad bird abhorring a green tree
or splashing water. I move forcefully
away from those I love, and I am stiff
even before myself so that my thoughts
may rise and fly to him: sun I adore
and worship. Though their wings could hurry more,
they race only to him. The forest rots
until the instant when they reach that place.
Then deep in ecstasy, though quick, they feel
a joy beyond all earthly joy. I reel,
and yet if they could recreate his face
as my mind craving and consuming would,
then here perhaps I’d own the perfect good.

The Rose

We present this work in honor of the 435th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Pierre Ronsard
French
1524 – 1585

 

See, Mignonne, hath not the Rose,
That this morning did unclose
Her purple mantle to the light,
Lost, before the day be dead,
The glory of her raiment red,
Her colour, bright as yours is bright?

Ah, Mignonne, in how few hours,
The petals of her purple flowers
All have faded, fallen, died;
Sad Nature, mother ruinous,
That seest thy fair child perish thus
‘Twixt matin song and even tide.

Hear me, my darling, speaking sooth,
Gather the fleet flower of your youth,
Take ye your pleasure at the best;
Be merry ere your beauty flit,
For length of days will tarnish it
Like roses that were loveliest.

Within This Body

In honor of Gandhi Jayanti, we present this work by one of India’s greatest Hindi language poets.

Tulsidas
Indian
1532 – 1623

 

Within this body
breathes the secret essence.
Within this body
beats the heart of the Vedas.

Within this body
shines the entire Universe,
so the saints say.

Hermits, ascetics, celibates —
all are lost
seeking Him
in endless guises.

Seers and sages perfectly parrot
the scriptures and holy books,
blinded by knowledge.

Their pilgrimage,
and fasting,
and striving
but delude.
Despite their perfect practice,
they discover no destination.

Only the saints
who know the body’s heart
have attained the Ultimate, O Tulsi.
Realize this, and you’ve found your freedom.

While teachers trapped in tradition
know only the mirage
in the mirror.