Twenty-six items from Special Collections (c)
Exhibit 'C': medieval Italian. (Guido Cavalcanti, Ballad ["Era in penser d'amor quand' i' trovai..."], late 13th century)
Bibliography: The Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti, edited and translated by Lowry Nelson, Jr. (Garland Publishing, 1986). For some reason, this particular translation is hard to get. If you look at it, it doesn't look like anything special, but a lot of Garland items are like that. I have a copy of Medieval Literature of Poland: An Anthology (Garland, 1992), which friends bought for me for my forty-fifth birthday—$75. These are books that look like they should be fifteen bucks at Powell's. Anyway, the Nelson translation is by far my favorite (cf. Pound 1912, Cirigliano 1992, West 2009), because Nelson retains the rhythm and doesn't disturb the content. The poem was written around the year 1280.
I was deep in thought about love when I met
Two young little country girls.
One of them was singing: "It is raining
Joy of love in us."
The sight of them was so pleasant
And so calm, courteous, and benevolent
That I told them: "You have the key
Of every high and noble virtue.
Ah, little country girls, don't think me base
For the wound that I bear;
This heart of mine was killed
From the time I was in Toulouse."
They turned with their eyes just enough
To see how my heart was wounded
And how a little spirit born of tears
Had come out through the wound.
When they saw me so dismayed
One of them laughed and said:
"Look how the violence of Love
Has laid him low!"
The other one, pitying, full of mercy,
Transformed by joy into a figure of love,
Said: "Your wound, that can be seen over your heart,
Was drawn by eyes of overwhelming strength
Which left within a radiance
Such that I cannot look at it.
Tell me if you can
Remember those eyes."
To the hard and fearsome question
That the little country girl put to me
I replied: "I am reminded that in Toulouse
A lady appeared to me, tightly laced,
Whom Love called L'Amandeta;
She arrived so briskly and forcefully
That her eyes struck me,
Deep within, to death."
The one who had first laughed at me
Answered me with great courtesy.
She said: "The lady who, with love's violence,
Set all her sights on your heart,
Looked inside you through the eyes so intently
That she made Love appear.
If suffering is burdensome for you
Address yourself to him."
Go off to Toulouse, my little ballad,
And quietly enter La Dourade,
And there request that you be brought,
By courtesy of some lovely lady,
Before her for whose sake I've bidden you,
And if she receives you,
Tell her in a soft voice:
"For mercy I come to you."
Appendix: Original Italian version.
Era in penser d'amor quand' i' trovai
due foresette nove.
L'una cantava: "E' piove
gioco d'amore in noi."
Era la vista lor tanto soave
e tanto queta, cortese e umile,
ch'i' dissi lor: "Vo' portate la chiave
di ciascuna vertu alta e gentile.
Deh, foresette, no m'abbiate a vile
per lo colpo ch'io porto;
questo cor mi fue morto
poi che 'n Tolosa fui."
Elle con gli occhi lor si volser tanto
che vider come 'l cor era ferito
e come un spiritel nato di pianto
era per mezzo de lo colpo uscito.
Poi che mi vider cosi sbigottito,
disse l'una, che rise:
"Guarda come conquise
forza d'amor costui!"
L'altra, pietosa, piena di mercede,
fatta di gioco in figura d'amore,
disse: "'L tuo colpo, che nel cor si vede,
fu tratto d'occhi di troppo valore,
che dentro vi liasciaro uno splendore
ch'i' nol posso mirare.
Dimmi se ricordare
di quegli occhi ti puoi."
Alla dura questione e paurosa
la qual mi fece questa foresetta,
i' dissi: "E' mi ricorda che 'n Tolosa
donna m'apparve, accordellata istretta,
Amor la qual chiamava la Mandetta;
giunse si presta e forte,
che fin dentro, a la morte,
mi colpir gli occhi suoi."
Molto cortesemente mi rispuose
quella che di me prima avea riso.
Disse: "La donna che nel cor ti pose
co la forza d'amor tutto 'l su' viso,
dentro per li occhi ti miro si fiso,
ch'Amor fece apparire.
Se t'e greve 'l soffrire,
raccomandati a lui."
Vanne a Tolosa, ballatetta mia,
ed entra quetamente a la Dorata,
ed ivi chiama che per cortesia
d'alcuna bella donna sie menata
dinanzi a quella di cui t'ho pregata;
e s'ella ti riceve,
dille con voce leve:
"Per merze vegno a voi.”
Comment: Cavalcanti was not the original miglior fabbro—that was Arnaut Daniel. Just the same, Ezra Pound was obsessed with Cavalcanti for most of his life: Englished a bunch of stuff + Canto XXXVI is a translation of a famous Cavalcanti piece ("Donna me prega..."). Meanwhile, Eliot filched the beginning of a Cavalcanti ballad ("Perch'i' no spero di tornar giammai...") for the opening line of "Ash Wednesday" ("Because I do not hope to turn again"), which was itself spoofed by Nabokov at the end of Lolita ("Because you took advantage of a sinner / because you took advantage / because you took," and so on). ¶ Meanwhile, years ago, Kiki Petrosino and I were exchanging notes about poets from Dante's circle, and when I mentioned worshiping the piece that begins "It is raining joy of love in us," Kiki's memorable response was: BWAHAHAHA.