We present this work in honor of the 240th anniversary of the poet’s death.
If every man’s internal care Were written on his brow, How many would our pity share Who raise our envy now? The fatal secret, when revealed, Of every aching breast, Would prove that only while concealed Their lot appeared the best.
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.
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.
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.
We present this work in honor of the 430th anniversary of the poet’s death.
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 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?
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.