« AnteriorContinuar »
"And thereat so strong a bewilderment smote me that I shut my eyes, and began to agitate myself like one distract, and to imagine in this wise: that (at the beginning of my fantasy's wandering) there appeared to me divers faces of dishevelled ladies, which said to me, 'Thou wilt surely die.' And after these ladies, divers other faces, dreadful to behold, which said to me, 'Thou art dead.'
"Thus my fantasy beginning to wander, I came to this—that I knew not where I was. And methought I saw ladies going dishevelled along the way, wondrous sad, and methought I saw the sun darken so that the stars showed of a colour that made me judge that they were weeping, and methought that the birds flying through the air dropped dead, and there were very great earthquakes. And wondering at such fantasy, and dreading not a little, I imagined that a friend came to me, and said: 'What knowest thou not? Thy rare lady is departed this world.' Then began I to weep very piteously; and not only did I weep in imagination, but I wept with my eyes, bathing them with real tears.
"I imagined that I gazed towards Heaven, and methought I saw a multitude of angels that were returning upwards, and they had before them a very white cloudlet. And methought these angels sang gloriously, and the words of their song were these: Osanna in exeelsis, and I heard nought else. Then methought that my heart, where was so great love, said to me: 'True is it that our lady lieth dead.' And thereat I went to see the body wherein had lain that most noble and blessed soul. And so strong was the wandering fantasy that it showed me this lady dead. And methought ladies covered her head with a white veil, and her countenance had so great a look of humility that it seemed to say: 'I am beholding the source of peace.'
"As I thus imagined, there fell upon me so great humility through beholding her, that I called Death, and said: 'Most sweet Death, come to me, and be not churlish, forasmuch as thou must have become gentle, in such quarter hast thou been. Now come to me, who much yearn for thee; and do thou behold it, for already I bear thy colour.'"
Towards the end of the Vita Nuova Dante records how he saw a young and very beautiful lady gazing compassionately at him from a window. She became to him his lady of pity and consolation, and, as Scartazzini guesses, was none other than his future wife, Gemma Donati. Dante's own account of her is as follows: "I say and affirm that the lady of whom I became enamoured after the first love was the most beautiful and honest daughter of the Ruler of the Universe, on whom Pythagoras bestowed the name of Philosophy" (Convivio, ii. 16). This passage, however, must be read in conjunction with others, and in no way affects the existence of the "gentle lady "in a literal, as well as allegorical, sense.
The unfaithfulness to which he confesses was only for a time. Before the record closes we find mention in it of a sharp spiritual conflict. Dante's remorse is terrible. He curses his eyes for their vanity, and tells them that Death alone should cause them to forget "our lady." Finally his heart triumphs over his eyes, and he concludes (save for the benediction) with the memorable words: "I hope to say of her what never was said of any." The application of these words to the Commedia, their relation as promise and performance, is obvious and universally admitted. What is considerably less familiar to most persons is an earlier, more obscure, perhaps wholly fortuitous anticipation of the same great achievement in one of the canzoni. Dante is under a cloud. Beatrice, displeased with him, withholds her greeting; but this tacit rebuke does but lift her in his esteem, renders him more reverent. He pictures to himself an angel crying aloud in heaven, and claiming Beatrice as the only boon that heaven yet lacks. The saints all support this petition, and Pity alone defends Dante's cause. God charges His beloved to suffer "their hope" to remain during His pleasure in the world. Yonder is one who looks to lose her, and who will say to the vile, " I saw the hope of the blessed."
I have mentioned earlier in the chapter that Dante
borrowed the sestina directly from Provence. His
sestine, as well as certain canzoni, excite
A difficulty. .
interest other than attaches to the mere form, since they are sensuous, and erotic, and so unlike the lyric, whether of the Vita Nuova or Convivio. A great pother has been made over the cold and unimpressionable pietra. Who was she? Nobody knows, but it is conceded on all hands that she was neither Beatrice nor yet the Lady of Consolation. These poems attest sympathy on Dante's part with the frankly carnal and sexual, no less than with the intellectual and spiritual, kinds of love; but, suggestive as some of the phrases are, I do not think it necessary to conclude that there was ever a time in Dante's life when he gave rein to his passions. These, if sins at all, were probably sins of imagination. Whatever view we may be disposed to take of these un-Dantesque compositions, one way of escape which might at first appear open is absolutely barred. We cannot dismiss them as apocryphal, for that which is perhaps the most "objectionable "—Cost nel mio parlar—is cited in the De Vulgari ffloquentia. My own solution is that contained in the lines already quoted:—
"Wenn er in seliger Betrachtung sich
If these lines do not — they surely do — apply to Dante, Petrarch, at least, would have adopted them Petrarch with eagerness. The most important event and Laura. of petrarch's life, from a personal and psychological standpoint, occurred on the 6th of April 1327, when he first saw in St Clara's Church at Avignon the lady whom he calls—and very likely it was her actual name—Laura, and immediately fell in love with her. The identity of this lady is not altogether free from doubt, but, in spite of the clumsy frauds (the sonnet, the medal, &c.) with which its earliest champion sought to support the theory, it is not in any way improbable that she was the daughter of Audibert
de Noves; that she wedded in 1325 Hugh de Sade, by whom she had eleven children; and that she died in 1348 of the plague. As regards this last point, some have found rather fanciful confirmation of it in Petrarch's ode, Standomi un giorno, where he uses the expression " tempesta oriental" of the storm. Plagues, like the wise men, came from the East. The day and the hour when he first saw Laura are scrupulously recorded in his sonnet, Voglia mi sprona, but nowhere in his writings does he give any hint that she was the wife of Hugh de Sade, and many have doubted whether she was a married woman at all. The chief evidence in favour of the common belief is the general agreement of the manuscript notes in Petrarch's copy of Virgil with Laura's will produced by the Abbe* de Sade in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The genuineness of both documents has, however, been called in question.
So far as outward development is concerned, Petrarch's love for Laura was as barren as that of Dante for Beatrice. Neither poet knew the joy of possession. To Dante, as I have attempted to show, this was not a subject for regret; but Petrarch, it will hardly be gainsaid, felt otherwise. It seems evident that, had the matron's virtue not been inexpugnable, there were phases of his passion when he would have welcomed a frail moment. But a frail moment never came, and though they may have met, as we say, in society, there was no question of reciprocal affection. When the poor lady was gone, and it mattered little what were his speculations concerning her, Petrarch