Canzone: “Le dolci rime d’amor, ch’i’ solìa”

Canzone Three

The tender rhymes of love

I once sought out within my thoughts

I must now leave; not that I do not hope

To return to them anew,

But because the proud and scornful manner

That my lady bears

Has barred my access

To my customary speech.

And since it seems a time for waiting,

I will put aside my pleasant style

Which I’ve sustained in writing poems of love;

Instead, with harsh and subtle rhymes,

I’ll speak about the quality

Which makes a person truly noble,

By refuting the false and base beliefs

Of those who claim that riches

Are the source of true nobility.

And first of all I call upon the lord

Who dwells within my lady’s eyes,

And makes this lady love herself.

 

One ruler held that nobility,

According to his view,

Consisted of ancestral wealth

Together with fine manners.

And someone else of lesser wit

Recast this saying,

Dispensing with the second half,

Since he himself was likely lacking!

There follow in his wake all those

Who count a man as noble if his stock

Has had great wealth for quite some time.

And so ingrained

Has this false view become among us

That one calls another noble

If he can say `I am the son,

Or grandson, of such and such

A famous man,’ despite his lack of worth.

But he appears the basest, to those who see the truth,

Who having been shown the way still goes astray

And walks the earth like one who’s dead.

 

He who claims “Man is a living tree”

First says what isn’t true

And, having said what’s false, leaves much unsaid;

But possibly he sees no deeper.

The ruler of the Empire likewise erred

By making such a claim,

For first he claims that which is false

And then proceeds, moreover, defectively.

For riches, as is generally thought,

Can neither give nor take away nobility,

Because by nature they are base.

And further, he who paints a form, if he

Cannot become this form, cannot portray it;

Nor can an upright tower be made to bend

By a river flowing far away.

It’s evident that riches are imperfect,

And base as well, for however great they are,

They bring no peace, but rather grief.

And so the true and upright mind

Is not undone by having lost them.

 

Nor will they grant that one born base may yet

Be noble, nor that a low-born father’s progeny

Be ever thought to qualify as noble;

For this is what they claim.

And so their argument, it seems, negates itself

Insofar as it asserts

That time is a prerequisite of nobility,

Defining it according to this rule.

It further follows from what was said above

That each of us is noble or each base,

Or else that mankind had no origin.

But this I do not grant,

Nor do they either, if they are Christian.

Thus it is clear to every mind that’s sound

That what they say lacks sense,

And hence I claim their words are false,

And so dissociate myself from them;

And now I wish to say, as I do feel,

What is nobility and where it comes from,

And specify the signs of noble bearing.

 

I say that every virtue, at its source,

Comes from a single root:

Virtue, I mean, which makes man happy

In his actions.

This is, as stated in theEthics,

A chosen habit

Which occupies the mean alone,

Those are its very words.

Nobility, I say, by definition

Always implies a good in one who’s noble,

As baseness always implies what’s bad.

And virtue, so defined,

Will always manifest itself as good,

So that within a single exegesis

The two agree, by having one effect.

Thus one must issue from the other,

Or else must both then issue from a third.

But if one has the value of the other,

And more besides, then it must be the source.

And let what I have said be taken for granted.

 

Nobility resides wherever virtue is,

But virtue not wherever there’s nobility,

Just as wherever there’s a star is heaven,

Although the converse does not hold.

And we perceive this state of well-being

In women and in those of tender age,

Insofar as they are capable of shame,

Which is a quality diverse from virtue.

And just as perse derives from black

So must each virtue come from her,

Or class of virtues, as I said above.

Let no one boast by saying:

“I belong to her by race,”

For they are almost gods

Who have such grace without a spot of vice.

For God alone bestows it on that soul

Which he perceives dwells perfectly

Within its person; and so, as some perceive,

It is the seed of happiness, instilled by God

Within the soul that’s properly disposed.

 

The soul which this goodness adorns

Does not keep it concealed,

For this, from the time she is wed to the body,

She displays till the moment of death.

Obedient, pleasant, and full of shame

Is she in life’s first interval,

And she adorns her body with the beauty

That derives from parts well harmonized.

In maturity she’s strong and self-restrained

And full of love and courteous praise,

And takes her sole delight in acting honestly.

In old age she’s just and prudent

And is renowned for generosity,

And in herself is gratified

To hear and speak of others’ worth.

And then in the fourth phase of life

She is married once again to God,

Reflecting on the end awaiting her

While blessing all the times gone by.

Now see how many there are who are deceived!

 

My song Against-the-erring-ones, go forth.

And when you come

To where our lady is,

Do not conceal from her your goal:

You can say to her with certainty:

“I speak about a friend of yours.”