Canzoniere/Poem XXIII

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Canzoniere by Petrarch, translator not mentioned


_Nel dolce tempo della prima etade._


      In the sweet season when my life was new,
    Which saw the birth, and still the being sees
    Of the fierce passion for my ill that grew,
    Fain would I sing--my sorrow to appease--
    How then I lived, in liberty, at ease,
    While o'er my heart held slighted Love no sway;
    And how, at length, by too high scorn, for aye,
    I sank his slave, and what befell me then,
    Whereby to all a warning I remain;
    Although my sharpest pain
    Be elsewhere written, so that many a pen
    Is tired already, and, in every vale,
    The echo of my heavy sighs is rife,
    Some credence forcing of my anguish'd life;
    And, as her wont, if here my memory fail,
    Be my long martyrdom its saving plea,
    And the one thought which so its torment made,
    As every feeling else to throw in shade,
    And make me of myself forgetful be--
    Ruling life's inmost core, its bare rind left for me.

    Long years and many had pass'd o'er my head,
    Since, in Love's first assault, was dealt my wound,
    And from my brow its youthful air had fled,
    While cold and cautious thoughts my heart around
    Had made it almost adamantine ground,
    To loosen which hard passion gave no rest:
    No sorrow yet with tears had bathed my breast,
    Nor broke my sleep: and what was not in mine
    A miracle to me in others seem'd.
    Life's sure test death is deem'd,
    As cloudless eve best proves the past day fine;
    Ah me! the tyrant whom I sing, descried
    Ere long his error, that, till then, his dart
    Not yet beneath the gown had pierced my heart,
    And brought a puissant lady as his guide,
    'Gainst whom of small or no avail has been
    Genius, or force, to strive or supplicate.
    These two transform'd me to my present state,
    Making of breathing man a laurel green,
    Which loses not its leaves though wintry blasts be keen.

    What my amaze, when first I fully learn'd
    The wondrous change upon my person done,
    And saw my thin hairs to those green leaves turn'd
    (Whence yet for them a crown I might have won);
    My feet wherewith I stood, and moved, and run--
    Thus to the soul the subject members bow--
    Become two roots upon the shore, not now
    Of fabled Peneus, but a stream as proud,
    And stiffen'd to a branch my either arm!
    Nor less was my alarm,
    When next my frame white down was seen to shroud,
    While, 'neath the deadly leven, shatter'd lay
    My first green hope that soar'd, too proud, in air,
    Because, in sooth, I knew not when nor where
    I left my latter state; but, night and day,
    Where it was struck, alone, in tears, I went,
    Still seeking it alwhere, and in the wave;
    And, for its fatal fall, while able, gave
    My tongue no respite from its one lament,
    For the sad snowy swan both form and language lent.

    Thus that loved wave--my mortal speech put by
    For birdlike song--I track'd with constant feet,
    Still asking mercy with a stranger cry;
    But ne'er in tones so tender, nor so sweet,
    Knew I my amorous sorrow to repeat,
    As might her hard and cruel bosom melt:
    Judge, still if memory sting, what then I felt!
    But ah! not now the past, it rather needs
    Of her my lovely and inveterate foe
    The present power to show,
    Though such she be all language as exceeds.
    She with a glance who rules us as her own,
    Opening my breast my heart in hand to take,
    Thus said to me: "Of this no mention make."
    I saw her then, in alter'd air, alone,
    So that I recognised her not--O shame
    Be on my truant mind and faithless sight!
    And when the truth I told her in sore fright,
    She soon resumed her old accustom'd frame,
    While, desperate and half dead, a hard rock mine became.

    As spoke she, o'er her mien such feeling stirr'd,
    That from the solid rock, with lively fear,
    "Haply I am not what you deem," I heard;
    And then methought, "If she but help me here,
    No life can ever weary be, or drear;
    To make me weep, return, my banish'd Lord!"
    I know not how, but thence, the power restored,
    Blaming no other than myself, I went,
    And, nor alive, nor dead, the long day past.
    But, because time flies fast,
    And the pen answers ill my good intent,
    Full many a thing long written in my mind
    I here omit; and only mention such
    Whereat who hears them now will marvel much.
    Death so his hand around my vitals twined,
    Not silence from its grasp my heart could save,
    Or succour to its outraged virtue bring:
    As speech to me was a forbidden thing,
    To paper and to ink my griefs I gave--
    Life, not my own, is lost through you who dig my grave.

    I fondly thought before her eyes, at length,
    Though low and lost, some mercy to obtain;
    And this the hope which lent my spirit strength.
    Sometimes humility o'ercomes disdain,
    Sometimes inflames it to worse spite again;
    This knew I, who so long was left in night,
    That from such prayers had disappear'd my light;
    Till I, who sought her still, nor found, alas!
    Even her shade, nor of her feet a sign,
    Outwearied and supine,
    As one who midway sleeps, upon the grass
    Threw me, and there, accusing the brief ray,
    Of bitter tears I loosed the prison'd flood,
    To flow and fall, to them as seem'd it good.
    Ne'er vanish'd snow before the sun away,
    As then to melt apace it me befell,
    Till, 'neath a spreading beech a fountain swell'd;
    Long in that change my humid course I held,--
    Who ever saw from Man a true fount well?
    And yet, though strange it sound, things known and sure I tell.

    The soul from God its nobler nature gains
    (For none save He such favour could bestow)
    And like our Maker its high state retains,
    To pardon who is never tired, nor slow,
    If but with humble heart and suppliant show,
    For mercy for past sins to Him we bend;
    And if, against his wont, He seem to lend,
    Awhile, a cold ear to our earnest prayers,
    'Tis that right fear the sinner more may fill;
    For he repents but ill
    His old crime for another who prepares.
    Thus, when my lady, while her bosom yearn'd
    With pity, deign'd to look on me, and knew
    That equal with my fault its penance grew,
    To my old state and shape I soon return'd.
    But nought there is on earth in which the wise
    May trust, for, wearying braving her afresh,
    To rugged stone she changed my quivering flesh.
    So that, in their old strain, my broken cries
    In vain ask'd death, or told her one name to deaf skies.

    A sad and wandering shade, I next recall,
    Through many a distant and deserted glen,
    That long I mourn'd my indissoluble thrall.
    At length my malady seem'd ended, when
    I to my earthly frame return'd again,
    Haply but greater grief therein to feel;
    Still following my desire with such fond zeal
    That once (beneath the proud sun's fiercest blaze,
    Returning from the chase, as was my wont)
    Naked, where gush'd a font,
    My fair and fatal tyrant met my gaze;
    I whom nought else could pleasure, paused to look,
    While, touch'd with shame as natural as intense,
    Herself to hide or punish my offence,
    She o'er my face the crystal waters shook
    --I still speak true, though truth may seem a lie--
    Instantly from my proper person torn,
    A solitary stag, I felt me borne
    In winged terrors the dark forest through,
    As still of my own dogs the rushing storm I flew
    My song! I never was that cloud of gold
    Which once descended in such precious rain,
    Easing awhile with bliss Jove's amorous pain;
    I was a flame, kindled by one bright eye,
    I was the bird which gladly soar'd on high,
    Exalting her whose praise in song I wake;
    Nor, for new fancies, knew I to forsake
    My first fond laurel, 'neath whose welcome shade
    Ever from my firm heart all meaner pleasures fade.