Petrarch – Il Canzoniere, 1327-1368, Sonnets 77, 78

Petrarca Laura de noves
Sonnet 77.

Per mirar Policleto a prova fiso

Polyclitus gazing fixedly a thousand years
with the others who were famous in his art,
would not have seen the least part
of the beauty that has vanquished my heart.

But Simone must have been in Paradise
(from where this gentle lady came)
saw her there, and portrayed her in paint,
to give us proof here of such loveliness.

This work is truly one of those that might
be conceived in heaven, not among us here,
where we have bodies that conceal the soul.

Grace made it: he could work on it no further
when he’d descended to our heat and cold,
where his eyes had only mortal seeing.

Sonnet 78.

Quando giunse a Simon l’alto concetto

When Simone had matched the high concept
I had in mind with the design beneath his hand,
if he had given to this noble work
intelligence and voice with the form,

he would have eased my heart of many sighs,
that make what’s dearer to others vile to me:
since she’s revealed to the sight, so humble,
promising peace to me in her aspect.

But when I come to speak with her,
benignly though she seems to listen,
her response to me is still lacking.

Pygmalion, what delight you had
from your creation, since the joy I wish
but once, you possessed a thousand times.

Petrarch, Francesco Petraca, 1304-1374 Il Canzoniere,1327-1368 Song Book, Sonnets 77 , 78, )

Polyclitus, was a 5th century BC Greek sculptor; Simone Martini,1283-1344, was a Sienese painter. He was a friend of Petrarch and painted a lost portrait of Laura referred to in the poem.

77
Per mirar Policleto a prova fiso
con gli altri ch’ebber fama di quell’arte
mill’anni, non vedrian la minor parte
de la belta che m’ave il cor conquiso.
Ma certo il mio Simon fu in paradiso
(onde questa gentil donna si parte),
ivi la vide, et la ritrasse in carte
per far fede qua giu del suo bel viso.
L’opra fu ben di quelle che nel cielo
si ponno imaginar, non qui tra noi,
ove le membra fanno a l’alma velo.
Cortesia fe’; ne la potea far poi
che fu disceso a provar caldo et gielo,
et del mortal sentiron gli occchi suoi.
78
Quando giunse a Simon l’alto concetto
ch’a mio nome gli pose in man lo stile,
s’avesse dato a l’opera gentile
colla figura voce ed intellecto,
di sospir’ molti mi sgombrava il petto,
che cio ch’altri a piu caro, a me fan vile:
pero che ‘n vista ella si mostra humile
promettendomi pace ne l’aspetto.
Ma poi ch’i’ vengo a ragionar co llei,
benignamente assai par che m’ascolte,
se risponder savesse a’ detti miei.
Pigmalion, quanto lodar ti dei
de l’imagine tua, se mille volte
n’avesti quel ch’i’ sol una vorrei.

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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