A Dante Poem on Love and Beauty

Love is in the air and Valentine’s Day approaches …

From the ‘Love Poems’ of Dante Alighieri …

XXXIV*

“I am a young girl, lovely and a marvel,
And have come here to show to men on earth
Some beauties of the place that gave me birth.

I came from heaven and there I shall return,
Delighting with my light the souls above;
The man who looks on me and does not burn
Will never have the mind to compass love;
For there is nothing fair He failed to give
Who granted Nature the full gift of me
And placed me, ladies, in your company.

There is no star which does not share its light
And power with these eyes; my beauties are
A marvel to the world, for from the height
Of heaven they came down, and from afar;
Knowledge of them cannot be found save where
There lives a man who in himself knows truly
How love makes entrance through another’s beauty.”

These words all men may read upon the face
Of the young angel here revealed, and I
Who gazed on it so fixedly to trace
Her form more truly, now am like to die;
For when I boldly looked her in the eye
I felt the wound which never lets me cease
From weeping, and since then I have no peace.

Dante – the above poem was translated from the Italian by Anthony Mortimer.

Note – * This poem was included in the collection Rhime – essentially a conglomeration of miscellaneous poems written by Dante over the course of his adult life-time.

Looking at the translation, and the line that stirs my thoughts …

How love makes entry through another’s beauty
^ ^ ^ ^^/ ^ ^^ ^^ … we see it is iambic pentameter. How truly the original rhyming flows through is unknown but it appears that Anthony Mortimer has put a lot of thought and poetic skill in producing this translation.

Commenting on each stanza –

S1 – A very strong, and you might say arrogant, statement on the merits of this young girl. But she is saying this as an example of the beauties found in the place of her heavenly birth.

The mind of the reader responds by creating an appropriate image of a beautiful young woman.

S2 – her statement continues … reinforcing her beauty and that she will eventually return to heaven where she delights the souls that live there … and if the man that looks on her does not burn then he knows not love … for she has been given every gift that nature can bestow … she is placed with other ladies (presumably older women and no comparison, highlighting her beauty)

S3 – this is the end of her statement … and it is here that she makes that definitive statement about love in the last line of the stanza … love makes entry through another’s beauty … love is nothing to do with ourselves as such it is how we respond to the beauty that is around us and in recognising that beauty we then have a chance of knowing something of the beauty within heaven

S4 – Dante is saying that everyone can face beauty and know love … note that when he became besotted and tried to trace her form more truly he was wounded without peace … hard to imagine a beauty of such intensity – but then we approach the divine who we can never see with our veiled eyes

… but it might be that he has been distracted from Beatrice  – the ultimate in beauty in his climb through the inferno … for looking at the background to this work …

This poem may well be connected with an incident in Purgatory XXXI (58-60) where Beatrice reproaches Dante for having been led astray by the love of a young girl (pargoletta)

You never should have let your either wing
Flag, for some further blows from some young girl
Or any trumpery, or ephemeral thing.

Reference – Love Poems – Dante Alighieri – Translated by Anthony Mortimer and J.G. Nichols – ALMA Classics (isbn 978-1-84749-345-3)

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