Sonetto I

Matteo Maria Boiardo
1441 – 1494


The song of little birds from spray to spray,
The fragrant breeze that wafts among the flowers,
The lights that in transparent liquors play,
Awaking laughter in these eyes of ours,

Are here since nature and the heavens agree
With him who willeth that the whole world fall
Under love’s spell; hence sweetest melody
And fragrance thrill earth, wind, and waters all.

Wherever foot doth tread and eye doth rove
A passionate spirit kindleth, fraught with love,
Which giveth warmth before the summer days;
At his caressing smile and soft, sweet gaze

The flowers don brilliant hues, the grass grows green,
The waves are quieted, the skies serene.

Translation by Lorna de’ Lucchi

Ballad XVIII

Christine de Pizan
1364 – c. 1430


Ha, the gentlest that there ever was made!
The pleasantest that any woman knew!
Most perfect to receive a high acclaim!
The best beloved of any woman too!
Of my true heart ever the sweetest food!
My only love on earth, my paradise,
All that I love, my sweetest desire,
And the most perfect joy of my eyes!
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

Your sweetness has truly forced its way
Into a heart, that never thought to rue
Such a state, yet has been so inflamed,
By ardent desire, life would leave it too,
If Sweet Thought did not comfort it anew:
But Memory comes to lie with it, and I
Hold and embrace you in my thought the while,
Yet when your sweet kisses are denied,
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

My sweet love, loved with all my heart, I say,
The thought does not exist that could remove
That sweet glance from my heart, that your gaze
Enclosed within it: Nothing could so do –
Nor your voice, nor gentle touch of those two
Dear hands, that barely causing me to sigh,
Wish everywhere to search and to enquire:
Yet when I cannot see you with my eyes,
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.

Fairest and best to capture my heart, I
Pray you, remember me: this I require,
For when I cannot see you as I desire
Your sweetness in me fierce war does inspire.


06-30 Boccaccio
Giovanni Boccaccio
1313 – 1375


Beside a fountain in a little grove
That fresh green fronds and pretty flowers did grace,
Three maidens sat and talked methinks of love.
Mid golden locks, o’ershadowing each sweet face,

For coolness was entwined a leaf-green spray,
And all the while a gentle zephyr played
Through green and golden in a tender way,
Weaving a web of sunshine and of shade.

After a while, unto the other two
One spoke, and I could hear her words: “Think you
That if our lovers were to happen by
We would all run away for very fright?”

The others answered her: “From such delight
She were a little fool who’d wish to fly!”


Translation by Lorna de Lucchi

Elegy III

z 06-18-22
6th century


It is now worthwhile to recall some of my youth
and say a bit regarding my old age,

from which a reader may uplift a mind undone
by change and try to grasp a sad affair.

Seduced by love for you, I went mad, Aquilina,
morose and pale, seduced by love for you.

I did not know what love or fiery lust was yet;
instead I suffered from my awkwardness.

She, smoldering, not any less love-struck than me,
would wander unrestrained all through the house.

Beloved carding combs, raw wool were tossed aside,
and love alone became her heart’s obsession.

She found no method that would feed the hidden fire,
no guidance for response with two-way signals.

She showed so much affection in her foolish gaze
with just one glance reliving anxious feelings.

Her tutor chased me. Her grim mother guarded her,
a second punishment for such misfortune.

Throughout it all they scrutinized our eyes and nods—
and coloring that tends to signal thoughts.

When possible, in silence we both stifled longing
and hid our sweet deceits in different ways,

though after modesty emerged on her young face,
deep hidden passion failed to be concealed.

Soon both of us began to seek out times and places,
to converse with eyebrows and our eyes,

to dupe the guards, to put a foot down gingerly,
and in the night to run without a sound.

But not for long! Her mother sensed our secret love
and, getting set to treat the wounds with wounds,

she nagged and slapped; the blaze was kindled by her slaps
like tinder tossed on pyres to stoke the flames.

Our fiery hearts ignite a doubled frenzied passion,
and so an anguish mixed with love is raging,

then, with a panting heart, she looks around for me,
who she believes her purchase through her pleas.

She’s shameless rolling back stained clothes to recollect;
joyful, she even credits them to me.

She says, “I’m glad to suffer pains endured for you.
You’ll be the sweet return on so much blood.

Just let your faith be certain and your will unbroken;
passion that ruined nothing never was.”

I constantly endured these goads, and while in love
I languished, and I had no hope of rescue.

Unthreatened, I was bothered by a silent wound,
though shock and wasting took the place of words.

Boethius, great searcher of important things,
only you, showing pity, bring assistance,

for while you often saw me focused on my worries,
you could not know the reasons for my woes.

Sensing at last that I am gripped by violent sickness,
you softly order opening what’s closed:

“Speak! From whom did you catch this new ignited fever?
Speak! And accept the cure for your claimed pain!

There is no treatment for undiagnosed disease,
and caverns bellow more with smothered flames.”

When it was shameful to confess and talk of sin,
He recognized clear signs of silent pain.

He quickly said, “The matter’s cause is clear enough.
Don’t fret; great strength will give you much forgiveness.”

I broke my shamefaced silence, prostrate at his feet,
while through tears sharing everything in sequence.

“Do it,” he said, “Or could a ‘gift’ of beauty please you?”
“Honor avoids such wishing,” I replied.

He broke up laughing, shouting, “What a wondrous will!
Speak up! When was a love from Venus chaste?

Young man, refrain from sparing your delightful girl!
If you’d be ‘proper’ here, you’ll be improper!”

Tender affairs are fed by scratches and a bite;
a violent business does not shun more blows.

Meanwhile, he pacifies her parents’ hearts with “gifts”
and lures soft touches to my goal with cash.

Blind love of money overcomes parental love;
they both begin to love their daughter’s guilt.

They give us room for secret sings; they acquiesce
to holding hands and filling days with play.

A sanctioned sin becomes cheap; lust becomes depleted.
Exhausted hearts defeated their disease.

She, seeing no pursuit advancing, hates the cause
and leaves dejected with an unspoiled body.

I banished phantom worries from a chastened heart
and quickly found out what a wretch I was.

I said, “Hail holy chastity, and always stay
untouched. Through me you’ll be most modest.”

Once everything had been conveyed to this great man
and he observed I rose above my moods,

he said, “Well done, young man, the lord of your own love!”
and “Gather up some trophies of your scorn.

To you may Cupid’s bow and arms of Venus yield,
and even bold Minerva yield to you.

And so a sanctioned license stole my zeal for sinning,
and even longing for such things departed.

We split up, equally resentful and unhappy;
the reason for the split was modest life.


Translation by A.M. Juster

Sonnet IV

z 05-24-22
Isabella Andreini
1562 – 1604

How often do we see a little stream
That trickles from Alpine springs so meagerly
Its scanty drops can scarcely slake at all
A weary pilgrim’s parched and burning thirst,

Enriched with rain, grow suddenly so proud
That nothing can restrain it in its course,
For, grown imperious, it carries all
In ample tribute to the mighty sea;

Likewise, at first, this tyrant love had but
A weak ability to do me harm
And begged in vain for victory o’er my thoughts.

But now, he overmasters so my heart
That speedily his furor drives to death
My Feelings, and my Reason, and my Soul.

from Cento Vergilianus de Laudibus Christi

03-30 Proba
Faltonia Betitia Proba
322 – 370

Once I wrote of leaders violating sacred tracts,
of those who cling to their terrible thirst for power;
of so many slaughters, the cruel campaigns of Kings,
of blood-brothers at battle, illustrious shields spattered
with kindred gore, trophies taken from would-be allies,
cities widowed once again of their countless peoples:
of these, I confess, I once wrote. It is enough to record such evil.
Now, all-powerful God, take, I pray, my sacred song,
loosen the voices of your eternal, seven-fold
Spirit; unlock the innermost chambers of my heart,
that I, Proba, the prophet, might reveal its secrets.
Now I spurn the nectar of Olympus, find no joy
in calling down the Muses from their high mountain haunts;
not for me to spread the idle boast that rocks can speak,
or pursue the theme of laureled tripods, voided vows,
the brawling gods of princes, vanquished votive idols:
Nor do I seek to extend my glory through mere words
or court their petty praise in the vain pursuits of men.
But baptised, like the blest, in the Castalian font –
I, who in my thirst have drunk libations of the Light –
now begin my song: be at my side, Lord, set my thoughts
straight, as I tell how Virgil sang the offices of Christ.

First Poem

01-23 Sulpicia
c. 40 B.C.


At last. It’s come. Love,
the kind that veiling
will give me reputation more
than showing my soul naked to someone.
I prayed to Aphrodite in Latin, in poems;
she brought him, snuggled him
into my bosom.
Venus has kept her promises:
let her tell the story of my happiness,
in case some woman will be said
not to have had her share.
I would not want to trust
anything to tablets, signed and sealed,
so no one reads me
before my love—
but indiscretion has its charms;
it’s boring
to fit one’s face to reputation.
May I be said to be
a worthy lover for a worthy love.


Translation by Lee Pearcy

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


10-23 Brembati
Isotta Brembati
1530 – 1586


Sublime thought always
unburdens my heart of other thought
like the brilliant sun lightens dark clouds
shows me the true path to heaven.

This alone rules my breast
and creates desire, forms rose and violet words,
as changing as April
under the majestic sun

Now, if Heaven and Nature
wish that the sun be within me
who is powerful enough then to take it away?

However much cruel Fortune might oppose this
she can never challenge
the mindful care of heaven.