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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From ‘The New Life’
By Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)
 
Translation of Charles Eliot Norton

I
The Beginning of Love

NINE times now, since my birth, the heaven of light had turned almost to the same point in its own gyration, when the glorious Lady of my mind, who was called Beatrice by many who knew not why she was so called, first appeared before my eyes. She had already been in this life so long that in its course the starry heaven had moved toward the region of the East one of the twelve parts of a degree; so that at about the beginning of her ninth year she appeared to me, and I near the end of my ninth year saw her. She appeared to me clothed in a most noble color, a modest and becoming crimson, and she was girt and adorned in such wise as befitted her very youthful age….
  1
  From that time forward Love lorded it over my soul, which had been so speedily wedded to him: and he began to exercise over me such control and such lordship, through the power which my imagination gave to him, that it behoved me to do completely all his pleasure. He commanded me ofttimes that I should seek to see this youthful angel; so that I in my boyhood often went seeking her, and saw her of such noble and praiseworthy deportment, that truly of her might be said that word of the poet Homer, “She seems not the daughter of mortal man, but of God.” And though her image, which stayed constantly with me, gave assurance to Love to hold lordship over me, yet it was of such noble virtue that it never suffered Love to rule me without the faithful counsel of the reason in those matters in which it was useful to hear such counsel. And since to dwell upon the passions and actions of such early youth seems like telling an idle tale, I will leave them, and, passing over many things which might be drawn from the original where these lie hidden, I will come to those words which are written in my memory under larger paragraphs.  2
 
II
The First Salutation of His Lady

  When so many days had passed that nine years were exactly complete since the above-described apparition of this most gentle lady, on the last of these days it happened that this admirable lady appeared to me, clothed in purest white, between two gentle ladies, who were of greater age; and, passing along a street, she turned her eyes toward that place where I stood very timidly, and by her ineffable courtesy, which is to-day rewarded in the eternal world, saluted me with such virtue that it seemed to me then that I saw all the bounds of bliss…. And since it was the first time that her words came to my ears, I took in such sweetness that, as it were intoxicated, I turned away from the folk, and betaking myself to the solitude of my own chamber, I sat myself down to think of this most courteous lady.
  3
  And thinking of her, a sweet slumber overcame me, in which a marvelous vision appeared to me…. And [when I awoke] thinking on what had appeared to me, I resolved to make it known to many who were famous poets at that time; and since I had already seen in myself the art of discoursing in rhyme, I resolved to make a sonnet, in which I would salute all the liegemen of Love, and would write to them that which I had seen in my slumber.  4
 
III
The Praise of His Lady

  Inasmuch as through my looks many persons had learned the secret of my heart, certain ladies who were met together, taking pleasure in one another’s company, were well acquainted with my heart, because each of them had witnessed many of my discomfitures. And I, passing near them, as chance led me, was called by one of these gentle ladies; and she who had called me was a lady of very pleasing speech; so that when I drew nigh to them and saw plainly that my most gentle lady was not among them, reassuring myself, I saluted them and asked what might be their pleasure. The ladies were many, and certain of them were laughing together. There were others who were looking at me, awaiting what I might say. There were others who were talking together, one of whom, turning her eyes toward me, and calling me by name, said these words:—“To what end lovest thou this thy lady, since thou canst not sustain her presence? Tell it to us, for surely the end of such a love must be most strange.” And when she had said these words to me, not only she, but all the others, began to await with their look my reply. Then I said to them these words:—“My ladies, the end of my love was formerly the salutation of this lady of whom you perchance are thinking, and in that dwelt the beatitude which was the end of all my desires. But since it has pleased her to deny it to me, my lord Love, through his grace, has placed all my beatitude in that which cannot fail me.”
  5
  Then these ladies began to speak together: and as sometimes we see rain falling mingled with beautiful snow, so it seemed to me I saw their words issue mingled with sighs. And after they had somewhat spoken among themselves, this lady who had first spoken to me said to me yet these words:—“We pray thee that thou tell us wherein consists this beatitude of thine.” And I, replying to her, said thus:—“In those words which praise my lady.” And she replied:—“If thou hast told us the truth, those words which thou hadst said to her, setting forth thine own condition, must have been composed with other intent.”  6
  Then I, thinking on these words, as if ashamed, departed from them, and went saying within myself:—“Since there is such beatitude in those words which praise my lady, why has my speech been of aught else?” And therefore I resolved always henceforth to take for theme of my speech that which should be the praise of this most gentle one. And thinking much on this, I seemed to myself to have undertaken a theme too lofty for me, so that I dared not to begin; and thus I tarried some days with desire to speak, and with fear of beginning.  7
  Then it came to pass that, walking on a road alongside of which was flowing a very clear stream, so great a desire to say somewhat in verse came upon me, that I began to consider the method I should observe; and I thought that to speak of her would not be becoming unless I were to speak to ladies in the second person; and not to every lady, but only to those who are gentle, and are not women merely. Then I say that my tongue spoke as if moved of its own accord, and said, Ladies that have intelligence of Love. These words I laid up in my mind with great joy, thinking to take them for my beginning; wherefore then, having returned to the above-mentioned city, after some days of thought, I began a canzone with this beginning.  8
 
IV
The Loveliness of His Lady

  This most gentle lady, of whom there has been discourse in the preceding words, came into such favor among the people, that when she passed along the way, persons ran to see her; which gave me wonderful joy. And when she was near any one, such modesty came into his heart that he dared not raise his eyes, or return her salutation; and of this many, as having experienced it, could bear witness for me to whoso might not believe it. She, crowned and clothed with humility, took her way, showing no pride in that which she saw and heard. Many said, when she had passed: “This is not a woman; rather she is one of the most beautiful angels of heaven.” And others said: “She is a marvel. Blessed be the Lord who can work thus admirably!” I say that she showed herself so gentle and so full of all pleasantness, that those who looked on her comprehended in themselves a pure and sweet delight, such as they could not after tell in words; nor was there any who might look upon her but that at first he needs must sigh. These and more admirable things proceeded from her admirably and with power. Wherefore I, thinking upon this, desiring to resume the style of her praise, resolved to say words in which I would set forth her admirable and excellent influences, to the end that not only those who might actually behold her, but also others, should know of her whatever words could tell. Then I devised this sonnet:—
  So gentle and so gracious doth appear
  My lady when she giveth her salute,
  That every tongue becometh, trembling, mute;
Nor do the eyes to look upon her dare.
Although she hears her praises, she doth go
  Benignly vested with humility;
  And like a thing come down she seems to be
From heaven to earth, a miracle to show.
So pleaseth she whoever cometh nigh,
  She gives the heart a sweetness through the eyes,
  Which none can understand who doth not prove.
And from her countenance there seems to move
  A spirit sweet and in Love’s very guise,
  Who to the soul, in going, sayeth: Sigh!
  9
 
V
The Death of His Lady

  After that I began to think one day upon what I had said of my lady, that is, in these two preceding sonnets; and seeing in my thought that I had not spoken of that which at the present time she wrought in me, it seemed to me that I had spoken defectively; and therefore I resolved to say words in which I would tell how I seemed to myself to be disposed to her influence, and how her virtue wrought in me. And not believing that I could relate this in the brevity of a sonnet, I began then a canzone.
          Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! facta est quasi vidua domina gentium. [How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations.]
  10
  I was yet full of the design of this canzone, and had completed [one] stanza thereof, when the Lord of Justice called this most gentle one to glory, under the banner of that holy Queen Mary, whose name was ever spoken with greatest reverence by this blessed Beatrice.  11
 
VI
The Anniversary of the Death of His Lady

  On that day on which the year was complete since this lady was made one of the denizens of life eternal, I was seated in a place where, having her in mind, I was drawing an angel upon certain tablets. And while I was drawing it, I turned my eyes and saw at my side men to whom it was meet to do honor. They were looking on what I did, and, as was afterwards told me, they had been there already some time before I became aware of it. When I saw them I rose, and saluting them, said, “Another was just now with me, and on that account I was in thought.” And when they had gone away, I returned to my work, namely, that of drawing figures of angels; and while doing this, a thought came to me of saying words in rhyme, as if for an anniversary poem of her, and of addressing those persons who had come to me.
  12
  After this, two gentle ladies sent to ask me to send them some of these rhymed words of mine; wherefore I, thinking on their nobleness, resolved to send to them and to make a new thing which I would send to them with these, in order that I might fulfill their prayers with the more honor. And I devised then a sonnet which relates my condition, and I sent it to them.
  Beyond the sphere that widest orbit hath
  Passes the sigh which issues from my heart:
  A new Intelligence doth Love impart
In tears to him, which guides his upward path.
When at the place desired, his course he stays,
  A lady he beholds in honor dight,
  Who so doth shine that through her splendid light,
The pilgrim spirit upon her doth gaze.
He sees her such, that dark his words I find—
  When he reports, his speech so subtle is
  Unto the grieving heart which makes him tell;
But of that gentle one he speaks, I wis,
  Since oft he bringeth Beatrice to mind,
  So that, O ladies dear, I understand him well.
  13
 
VII
The Hope to Speak More Worthily of His Lady

  After this, a wonderful vision appeared to me, in which I saw things which made me resolve to speak no more of the blessed one, until I could more worthily treat of her. And to attain to this, I study to the utmost of my power, as she truly knows. So that, if it shall please Him through whom all things live that my life be prolonged for some years, I hope to say of her what was never said of any woman.
  14
  And then may it please him who is the Lord of Grace, that my soul may go to behold the glory of its lady, namely of that blessed Beatrice, who in glory looks upon the face of Him qui est per omnia sæcula benedictus [who is blessed forever].  15
 
 
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