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.”