Il Cinque Maggio

We present this work in honor of the 150th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Alessandro Manzoni
1785 – 1873


He was – As motionless as lay,
First mingled with the dead,
The relics of the senseless clay,
Whence such a soul had fled, –
The Earth astounded holds her breath,
Struck with the tidings of his death:
She pauses the last hour to see
Of the dread Man of Destiny;
Nor knows she when another tread,
Like that of the once mighty dead,
Shall such a footprint Leave impressed
As his, in blood, upon her breast.

I saw him blazing on his throne,
Yet hailed him not: by restless fate
Hurled from the giddy summit down;
Resume again his lofty state:
Saw him at last for ever fall,
Still mute amid the shouts of all:
Free from base flattery, when he rose;
From baser outrage, when he fell:
Now his career has reached its close,
My voice is raised, the truth to tell,
And o’er his exiled urn will try
To pour a strain that shall not die.

From Alps to Pyramids were thrown
His bolts from Scylla to the Don,
From Manzanares to the Rhine,
From sea to sea, unerring hurled;
And ere the flash had ceased to shine,
Burst on their aim, – and shook the world.
Was this true glory? – The high doom
Must be pronounced by times to come:
For us, we bow before His throne,
Who willed, in gifting mortal clay
With such a spirit, to display
A grander impress of his own.

His was the stormy, fierce delight
To dare adventure’s boldest scheme;
The soul of fire, that burned for might,
And could of naught but empire dream;
And his the indomitable will
That dream of empire to fulfil,
And to a greatness to attain
‘T were madness to have hoped to gain:
All these were his; nor these alone; –
Flight, victory, exile, and the throne; –
Twice in the dust by thousands trod,
Twice on the altar as a god.

Two ages stood in arms arrayed,
Contending which should victor be:
He spake: – his mandate they obeyed,
And bowed to hear their destiny.
He stepped between them, to assume
The mastery, and pronounce their doom;
Then vanished, and inactive wore
Life’s remnant out on that lone shore.
What envy did his palmy state,
What pity his reverses move,
Object of unrelenting hate,
And unextinguishable love!

As beat innumerable waves
O’er the last floating plank that saves
One sailor from the wreck, whose eye
Intently gazes o’er the main,
Far in the distance to descry
Some speck of hope, – but all in vain;
Did countless waves of memory roll
Incessant, thronging on his soul:
Recording, for a future age,
The tale of his renown,
How often on the immortal page
His hand sank weary down!

Oft on some sea beat cliff alone
He stood, – the lingering daylight gone,
And pensive evening come at last, –
With folded arms, and eyes declined;
While, O, what visions on his mind
Came rushing – of the past!
The rampart stormed, – lie tented field, –
His eagles glittering far and wide, –
His columns never taught to yield, –
His cavalry’s resistless tide,
Watching each motion of his hand,
Swift to obey the swift command.

Such thoughts, perchance, last filled his breast,
And his departing soul oppressed,
To tempt it to despair;
Till from on high a hand of might
In mercy came to guide its flight
Up to a purer air, –
Leading it, o’er hope’s path of flowers,
To the celestial plains,
Where greater happiness is ours
Than even fancy feigns,
And where earth’s fleeting glories fade
Into the shadow of a shade.

Immortal, bright, beneficent,
Faith, used to victories, on thy roll
Write this with joy; for never bent
Beneath death’s hand a haughtier soul;
Thou from the worn and pallid clay
Chase every bitter word away,
That would insult the dead:
His holy crucifix, whose breath
Has power to raise and to depress,
Send consolation and distress,
Lay by him on that lowly bed
And hallowed it in death.

A Friend Home from the Wars

65 B.C. – 8 B.C.


Pompey, often led, with me, by Brutus,
the head of our army, into great danger,
who’s sent you back, as a citizen,
to your country’s gods and Italy’s sky,

Pompey, the very dearest of my comrades,
with whom I’ve often drawn out the lingering
day in wine, my hair wreathed, and glistening
with perfumed balsam, of Syrian nard?

I was there at Philippi, with you, in that
headlong flight, sadly leaving my shield behind,
when shattered Virtue, and what threatened
from an ignoble purpose, fell to earth.

While in my fear Mercury dragged me, swiftly,
through the hostile ranks in a thickening cloud:
the wave was drawing you back to war,
carried once more by the troubled waters.

So grant Jupiter the feast he’s owed, and stretch
your limbs, wearied by long campaigning, under
my laurel boughs, and don’t spare the jars
that were destined to be opened by you.

Fill the smooth cups with Massic oblivion,
pour out the perfume from generous dishes,
Who’ll hurry to weave the wreathes for us
of dew-wet parsley or pliant myrtle?

Who’ll throw high Venus at dice and so become
the master of drink? I’ll rage as insanely
as any Thracian: It’s sweet to me
to revel when a friend is home again.

Translation by A.S. Kline

from A Versified Autobiography

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 240th birthday.

Gabriele Rossetti
1783 – 1854


Thrilled by the first Phœbean impulses,
Rough versicles I traced with facile hand:
And yet, to my surprise, those lines of mine
Almost took wing into a distant flight.
A hope of Pindus did I hear me named:
But praise increased my ardour, not my pride.
And yet some vanity there came and mixed
With the fair issue of my preluding:
But, all the more I heard the applause increase,
With equal force did study grow in me.
Not surely that I tried to load my page
With pomp abstruse extraneous to my drift;
But counterwise each image and each rhyme,
The more spontaneous, so meseemed more fair.
In trump of gold and in the oaten pipe
Let some seek the sublime, I seek for ease.
I shunned those verses which sprawl forth untuned
Even from my days of schoolboy tutelage:
I know they please some people, but not me:
Admiring Dante, Metastasio
I laud; and hold—a true Italian ear
Must not admit one inharmonious verse.
Some lines require a very surgeon’s hand
To make them upon crutches stand afoot.
So be they! But, to set them musical,
They must, by Heaven, be in themselves a song.
This seems a truthful, not a jibing, rule—
Music and lyric are a twinborn thing.
Yet think not that I deem me satisfied
With upblown empty sound without ideas:—
Then will a harmony be beautiful
When great emotions and great thoughts it stirs.

Translation by William Michael Rossetti


We present this work in honor of the poet’s 325th birthday.

Pietro Metastasio
1698 – 1782


Why, froward goddess, try and try again
To block my every step with brambles and rocks?
Wouldst cow me by your stare of high disdain
Or make me drag you toward me by your locks?
Such practices might well be the undoing
Of easily panicked souls, but be advised:
If the whole world fell suddenly into ruin
I’d watch it, curious yet unexercised.

To confrontations of this kid I feel
Quite equal now. I know you are still trying
To wear me down, eventually. Not so:
For I am like to steel which, in defying
The constant injuries of hammer and wheel,
Grows finer and more luminous with each blow.

Sweet and Dear Kisses

We present this work in honor of the 410th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Giovanni Battista Guarini
1538 – 1612


Sweet and dear kisses,
sustenance of my life,
which now steal away, now give back my heart
for your sake I must learn
how a stolen heart
feels no pain of dying and yet dies.
All that is sweet in love,
whenever I kiss you,
oh sweetest roses,
resides in you.
And if I could, with your sweet kisses,
end my life—
oh what a sweet death!

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.