Medieval Love Poetry was enriched by Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova
Dante's unique contributions to medieval love poetry is mainly his work of narratives and poems idealising his unrequited amor Beatrice Portinari, called La Vita Nuova written in 1292. These early sonnets from him set the standard for the genre thereafter.
On this page, you can see a selection of 11 sonnets chosen carefully to showcase his finest examples of medieval love poetry.
It is significant that Dante's first book is on love poetry. He dedicated it to the poet Guido Cavalcanti, and in its opening narrative, he tells us:
"...Thinking to myself about what had appeared to me, I decided to make it known to many who were famous poets of the time: and as it was a fact that I had already gained for myself to some extent the art of speaking words in rhyme, I decided to shape a sonetto, in which I would greet all those faithful to Amor: and begging them to interpret my vision, I wrote for them what I had seen in my sleep. And then I began this sonetto, that which begins: A ciascun´alma presa e gentil core ( To every captive soul and gentle heart).
(1) A ciascun´alma presa e gentil core.
To every captive soul and gentle heart
into whose sight this present speech may come,
so that they might write its meaning for me,
greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.
Already a third of the hours were almost past
of the time when all the stars were shining,
when Amor suddenly appeared to me
whose memory fills me with terror.
Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently, she fearing,
afterwards he went not to be seen
Dante's narrations makes his style of medieval love poetry unique. In his own words, Beatrice...
"The lady by means of whom I had concealed my wishes for so long had to leave the city I mentioned above, and travel to a distant region: because of this, I, greatly troubled by the loss of the beautiful defence I had acquired, was much discomforted, more than I myself would have believed before. And thinking that if I did not write sorrowfully enough about her departure people would more quickly be aware of my pretence, I decided to create a lament as a sonetto: which I will write down, since my lady was the direct cause for certain words that are in the sonetto, as is apparent to anyone who understands it. And so I wrote this sonetto, which begins: ‘O voi che par la via.’ (O you who on the way of Love go by)
2. ‘O voi che par la via.’
O you who on the way of Love go by,
listen and see
if there is any grief, as grave as mine:
and I beg you only to suffer me to be heard,
and then reflect
whether I am not the tower and the key of
Amor, indeed not for my slight worth
but through his nobility
placed me in a life so sweet and gentle,
that often I would hear it said behind me:
‘God, for what virtue
does this heart own so much delight?’
Now I have lost all my eloquence
which flowed so from love’s treasure:
and I am grown so poor
in a way that speech barely comes to me.
So that I desire to be like one
who to conceal his poverty through shame,
shows joy outwardly,
and within my heart am troubled and weep.
The third sonnet, "Weep you lovers" is a good example of medieval love poetry:
3. ‘Piangete, amanti,’
Weep you lovers, since Love is also weeping,
and hear the reason that makes him full of tears.
Amor feels ladies calling on Pity,
revealing a bitter sorrow in their eyes,
because the villain Death in gentle heart
has set his cruel machinations,
destroying what the world has given praise to
in gentle lady, all except honour.
Hear how Amor has honoured her,
who in his true form I saw lamenting
bending above the lifeless image:
and often gazing upwards to the heavens,
where the gentle soul had already fled,
that was a lady of such joyful semblance.
There are more examples of Dante's medieval love poetry:
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