from the Vita Nuova of Dante

Here is a poem from Dante’s Vita Nuova (xix, 31-36). I originally translated it for my book-in-progress that I’m calling Ethics from Fiction: Philosophy and Literature in Dante and Modern Times. I recently deleted this particular poem from the manuscript because I decided it was a digression. I don’t actually like it all that much, and I’m not sure that Dante did, either. Ever since Mark Musa’s Dante’s Vita Nuova: A Translation and an Essay (Bloomington, 1973), some have interpreted the Vita Nuova as Dante’s self-critique. His main problem is that he doesn’t know the object of his love poems, Beatrice, so his poems are self-indulgent. Here he uses the theme of the “Lady Passes” to praise a woman who is a distant figure him:

My lady is desired in highest heaven

And I want you to discern her virtue too.

If you’d seem a noble lady, I say: Go,

Walk with her as she passes through the streets,

For into villainous hearts Love drives ice,

And all thoughts freeze until they perish;

And anyone who dares remain and watch

Must become a noble thing, or else he dies.

It is better in Italian–click below.


Madonna è disiata in sommo cielo:

or voi di sua virtù farvi savere.

Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere

vada con lei, che quando va per via,

gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo

per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere;

e qual soffrisse di starla a vedere

diverria nobil cosa, o si morria.

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