Petrarca's "Noble Spirit"

Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)

Canzoniere 53

Spirto gentil che quelle membra reggi

dentro a le qua’ peregrinando alberga

un signor valoroso accorto et saggio:

poi che se’ giunto a l’onorata verga

colla qual Roma et suoi erranti correggi

et la richiami al suo antiquo viaggio,

io parlo a te però ch’ altrove un raggio

non veggio di vertù, ch’ al mondo è spenta,

né trovo chi di mal far si vergogni.

Che s’aspetti non so, né che s’agogni

Italia, che suoi guai non par che senta,

vecchia oziosa et lenta;

dormirà sempre et non fia chi la svegli?

Le man l’avess’ io avolto entro’ capegli!

 

Non spero che giamai dal pigro sonno

 

mova la testa per chiamar ch’ uom faccia,

sì gravemente è oppressa et di tal soma;

ma non senza destino a le tue braccia

che scuoter forte et sollevar la ponno

è or commesso il nostro capo Roma.

Pon man in quella venerabil chioma

securamente, et ne le trecce sparte,

sì che la neghittosa esca del fango.

I’ che dì et notte del suo strazio piango

di mia speranza ò in te la maggior parte,

ché se ‘1 popolodi Marte

devesse al proprio onore alzar mai gli occhi,

parmi pur ch’ a’ tuoi dì la grazia tocchi.

 

L’antiche mura ch’ ancor teme et ama

 

et trema ‘1 mondo quando si rimembra

del tempo andato e ‘n dietro si rivolve,

e i sassi dove fur chiuse le membra

di ta’ che non saranno senza fama

se l’universo pria non si dissolve,

et tutto quel ch’ una ruina involve,

per te spera saldar ogni suo vizio.

O grandi Scipioni, o fedel Bruto,

quanto v’aggrada s’ egli è ancor venuto

romor là giù del ben locato offizio!

Come cre’ che Fabrizio

si faccia lieto udendo la novella,

et dice : “Roma mia sarà ancor bella!”

 

Et se cosa di qua nel ciel si cura,

 

l’anime che lassù son cittadine

et ànno i corpi abandonati in terra

del lungo odio civil ti pregan fine

per cui la gente ben non s’assecura,

onde ‘l camin a’ lor tetti si serra,

che fur già sì devoti, et ora in guerra

quasi spelunca di ladron son fatti,

tal ch’ a’ buon solamente uscio si chiude,

et tra gli altari et tra le statue ignude

ogni impresa crudel par che se tratti

(deh quanto diversi atti!),

né senza squille s’incomincia assalto

che per Dio ringraziar fur poste in alto.

 

Le donne lagrimose, e ‘1 vulgo inerme

 

de la tenera etate, e i vecchi stanchi

ch’ ànno sé in odio et la soverchia vita,

e i neri fraticelli, e i bigi, e i bianchi,

coll’altre schiere travagliate e ‘nferme,

gridan : “O signor nostro, aita, aita!”

et la povera gente sbigottita

ti scopre le sue piaghe a mille a mille,

ch’ Anibale, non ch’ altri, farian pio.

Et se ben guardi a la magion di Dio

ch’ arde oggi tutta, assai poche faville

spegnendo fien tranquille

le voglie che si mostran sì ‘nfiammate,

onde fien l’opre tue nel ciel laudate.

 

Orsi, lupi, leoni, aquile, et serpi

 

ad una gran marmorea colonna

fanno noia sovente et a sé danno;

di costor piange quella gentil donna

che t’à chiamato a ciò che di lei sterpi

le male piante che fiorir non sanno.

Passato è già più che ‘l millesimo anno

che ‘n lei mancar quell’anime leggiadre

che locata l’avean là dov’ ell’ era.

Ahi nova gente oltra misura altera,

irreverente a tanta et a tal madre!

Tu marito, tu padre:

ogni soccorso di tua man s’attende,

che ‘1 maggior padre ad altr’ opera intende.

 

Rade volte adiven ch’ a l’alte imprese

 

fortuna ingiuriosa non contrasti,

ch’ a gli animosi fatti mal s’accorda.

Ora sgombrando ‘1 passo onde tu intrasti

famisi perdonar molt’ altre offese,

ch’ al men qui da se stessa si discorda;

peró che quanto ‘1 mondo si ricorda

ad uom mortal non fu aperta la via

per farsi, come a te, di fama eterno,

che puoi drizzar, s’ i’ non falso discerno,

in stato la più nobil monarchia.

Quanta gloria ti fia

dir: “Gli altri l’aitar giovene et forte,

questi in vecchiezza la scampò da morte.”

 

Sopra ‘1 monte Tarpeio, canzon, vedrai

 

un cavalier ch’ Italia tutta onora,

pensoso più d’altrui che di se stesso.

Digli: “Un che non ti vide ancor da presso,

se non come per fama uom s’innamora,

dice che Roma ogniora

con gli occhi di dolor bagnati et molli

ti chier mercé da tutti sette i colli.”

 

Translated and annotated by Robert M. Durling

 

Noble spirit,[1] you who govern those members within which dwells pilgrim a valorous, knowing, and wise lord: now that you have gained the honored staff wherewith you correct Rome and her erring citizens and call her back to her ancient path,

I speak to you because I do not see elsewhere a ray of virtue, which is extinguished in the world, nor do I find anyone who is ashamed of doing ill.  What Italy expects or yearns for I do not know, for she does not seem to feel her woes, being old, idle, and slow. Will she sleep forever, and will no one ever awaken her?  Might I have my hand clutched in her hair!

I do not hope that she will ever move her head from her sluggish sleep for any shouting one can do, she is so heavily oppressed and by such a weight; but not without destiny is our head, Rome, now entrusted to your arms, which can shake her strongly and raise her up.
Put your hand into those venerable locks confidently and into those unkempt tresses, so that this neglectful one may come out of the mud.  I, who day and night bewail her torment, place the greater part of my hopes in you: for if the people of Mars are ever to lift up their eyes to their own honor, it seems to me that the grace will befall in your days.

The ancient walls, which the world still fears and loves and trembles at when it remembers past time and looks back, and the stones where were enclosed the bodies of men who will not be without fame until the universe is dissolved,
and everything which this one ruin carries down, hope through you to repair their every flaw.  O great Scipios,[2] O faithful Brutus,[3] how pleasing to you is the news, if it has come to you down there, of how well the office has been placed!  How glad I believe Fabricius [4] is, hearing word of it, and he says: “My Rome shall be beautiful again!”

And, if there is any care in Heaven for earthly things, the souls who are citizens up there and have abandoned their bodies to earth beg you for an end to the long civil enmity, because of which the people are not safe, and the path of pilgrimage to their temples is closed,
which were so well tended and now in war have become almost the dens of thieves, and only to the good is the door closed, and among their altars and statues stripped of ornament every cruel enterprise takes place.  Ah, how changed these actions! nor do they begin assaults without sounding bells that were placed on high to give thanks to God.

The women in tears, and the defenseless throng of the young, and the exhausted old, who hate themselves and their too long life, and the black friars and the gray and the white, and all the other squadrons of the unfortunate and sick, cry: “O our Lord, help, help!”
and the terrified poor people show you their wounds by thousands and thousands, which would make Hannibal, not to speak of anyone else, pity them.  And, if you look well at the House of God, which today is all aflame, if you put out a few sparks the wills that today are so aflame will be calmed: for which your works will be praised in Heaven.

Bears, wolves, lions, eagles, and snakes [5] give frequent trouble to a great marble Column [6] and to themselves do harm; because of them that noble lady weeps who has called you to uproot from her the evil plants that do not know how to flower.
More than a thousand years have passed since those noble souls died who placed her where she was.  Ah new people, haughty beyond measure, irreverent to so great a mother!  You be her husband, you her father: all help is looked for at your hand, for the greater Father is intent on other works.

It rarely happens that injurious Fortune does not fight against high undertakings, for she agrees unwillingly to daring deeds.  Now, smoothing the steps by which you have entered, she makes me forgive many other offenses, for at least here she is different from herself;
for, as long as the world can remember, to no mortal man was ever the way so open, as it is to you, to make himself eternal in fame; for you can raise to her feet, if I do not discern falsely, the most noble monarchy in the world.  How much glory for you will be the saying: “The others helped her when she was young and strong: this man rescued her from death in her old age!”

On the Tarpeian Mount,[7] Song, you will see a knight whom all Italy honors, who cares more for others than for himself.  Say to him: “One who has not yet seen you from close by, except as . one falls in love through fame, says that Rome now with her eyes wet with tears keeps crying out to you for mercy from all her seven hills.”

 

[1] The recipient of this poem may have been the tribune Cola di Rienzo, whose attempt (1347) to reinstate the Roman Republic Petrarch initially supported.

[2] Scipios: the conquerors of Carthage.

[3] Brutus: L. Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic, who led the rebellion against the tyrannical king Tarquin (said to have occurred in 509 B.C.).

[4] Fabricius: C. Fabricius Luscinus, Roman general and consul, victor over Pyrrhus, king of Epirus (third century B.C.).

[5] Bears . .snakes: the various rival families in Rome opposed to the Colonna family.

[6] Column: Stefano Colonna the Elder.

[7] Tarpeian Mount: the Capitoline Hill in Rome, where the Tarpeian Rock was located.