I’m working on putting together a chapbook of a poem of mine called “Unless As Stone Is,” which I wrote two summers ago and have been revising ever since. (It should be ready and reified in time for my reading on July 13th.) It’s based on Dante’s famous sestina from the “rime petrose” (stone rhymes, or poems for the stony lady). This blog post is brings together 3 English translations of the sestina , as well as the Italian original and a silly homeophonic version which was one of the early drafts of my poem.
by Dante Alighieri
Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio d'ombraSestina
son giunto, lasso! ed al bianchir de' colli,
quando si perde lo color ne l'erba:
e ‘l mio disio però non cangia ‘l verde,
sí è barbato ne la dura petra
che parla e sente come fosse donna.
Similmente questa nova donna
si sta gelata come neve a l'ombra;
ché non la move, se non come petra,
il dolce tempo che riscalda i colli,
e che li fa tornar di bianco in verde
perché li copre di fioretti e d'erba.
Quand'ella ha in testa una ghirlanda d'erba,
trae de la mente nostra ogn'altra donna;
perché si mischia il crespo giallo e ‘l verde
sí bel, ch'Amor lì viene a stare a l'ombra,
che m'ha serrato intra piccioli colli
più forte assai che la calcina petra.
La sua bellezza ha più vertù che petra,
e ‘l colpo suo non può sanar per erba;
ch'io son fuggito per piani e per colli,
per potere scampar da cotal donna;
e dal suo lume non mi può far ombra
poggio né muro mai né fronda verde.
Io l'ho veduta già vestita a verde,
sí fatta ch'ella avrebbe messo in petra
l'amor ch'io porto pur a la sua ombra:
ond'io l'ho chesta in un bel prato d'erba,
innamorata com'anco fu donna,
e chiuso intorno d'altissimi colli.
Ma ben ritorneranno i fiumi a' colli,
prima che questo legno molle e verde
s'infiammi, come suol far bella donna,
di me; che mi torrei dormire in petra
tutto il mio tempo e gir pascendo l'erba,
sol per veder do' suol parmi fanno ombra.
Quandunque i colli fanno più nera ombra,
sotto un bel verde la giovane donna
la fa sparer, com'uom petra sott'erba.
Prose version by George Kay
[This version, from The Penguin Book of Italian Verse, is the source of the title and several phrases in my poem.]
I have come to a short day and a great arc of shadow, alas! and to the hill’s whitening when color vanishes from the grass; and my desire does not, for this, change its green, it is so rooted in the hard stone that speaks and hears as if it were a woman.
Likewise this heaven-born woman remains frozen like snow in the shade; for she is not moved, unless as stone is, by the sweet time which warms the hills and makes them turn from white to green so that it may cover them with flowers and plants.
When she has a grass garland upon her head, she draws our mind from every other woman, because she mingles the waving yellow and green in such lovely wise that Love comes to stand in their shadow, he who has locked me between small hills much more firmly than lime locks stone.
Her beauty has more virtue than precious stones, and the wound she gives is not cured by herb; for I have fled by plain and hill to be able to escape such a woman, and neither mound nor wall nor green foliage can ever give me shade from her light.
I have seen her dressed in green, so fashioned that she would have inspired a stone with the love I bear her very shadow; so that I have wished her on a fair meadow of grass, surrounded by highest hills, as much in love as ever woman was.
But well may the rivers return to the hills before this soft green wood catches fire, as fair woman is wont to, for my sake; so that I would choose to sleep out my life on hard stone and go about feeding on grass, only to look where her garments cast shade.
Every time the hills cast blackest shade, it makes this young woman disappear amid fair green, as a man hides a precious stone in grass.
trans. James Schuyler
[I think this is a lovely translation. I didn’t look at it when I was writing my poem, but I think it was the first version I ever read this poem in, in one of Kenneth Koch’s anthologies.]
I have reached, alas, the long shadow
and short day of whitening hills
when color is lost in the grass.
My longing, all the same, keeps green
it is so hooked in the hard stone
that speaks and hears like a woman.
In that same way this new woman
stands as cold as snow in shadow,
less touched than if she had been stone
by the sweet time that warms the hills
and brings them back from white to green,
dressing them in flowers and grass.
Who, when she wreathes her hair with grass,
thinks of any other woman?
The golden waves so mix with green
that Love himself seeks its shadow
that has me fixed between small hills
more strongly than cemented stone.
More potent than a precious stone,
her beauty wounds, and healing grass
cannot help; across plains and hills
I fled this radiant woman.
From her light I found no shadow
of mountain, wall, or living green.
I have seen her pass, dressed in green,
and thought the sight would make a stone
love, as I, even her shadow.
And I have walked with her on grass,
speaking like a lovesick woman,
enclosed within the highest hills.
But streams will flow back to their hills
before this branch, sappy and green,
catches fire (as does a woman)
from me, who would bed down on stone
and gladly for his food crop grass
just to see her gown cast shadow.
The heavy shadow cast by hills
this woman's light can change to green,
as one might hide a stone in grass.
Sestina of the Lady Pietra degli Scrovigni
trans. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
[The standard Victorian version, which I failed consult earlier, and now I wish I had. (Natheless?)]
To the dim light and the large circle of shadeI'll Poke a Journal
I have clomb, and to the whitening of the hills,
There where we see no color in the grass.
Natheless my longing loses not its green,
It has so taken root in the hard stone
Which talks and hears as though it were a lady.
Utterly frozen is this youthful lady,
Even as the snow that lies within the shade;
For she is no more moved than is the stone
By the sweet season which makes warm the hills
And alters them afresh from white to green
Covering their sides again with flowers and grass.
When on her hair she sets a crown of grass
The thought has no more room for other lady,
Because she weaves the yellow with the green
So well that Love sits down there in the shade,–
Love who has shut me in among low hills
Faster than between walls of granite-stone.
She is more bright than is a precious stone;
The wound she gives may not be healed with grass:
I therefore have fled far o’er plains and hills
For refuge from so dangerous a lady;
But from her sunshine nothing can give shade,–
Not any hill, nor wall, nor summer-green.
A while ago, I saw her dressed in green,–
So fair, she might have wakened in a stone
This love which I do feel even for her shade;
And therefore, as one woos a graceful lady,
I wooed her in a field that was all grass
Girdled about with very lofty hills.
Yet shall the streams turn back and climb the hills
Before Love’s flame in this damp wood and green
Burn, as it burns within a youthful lady,
For my sake, who would sleep away in stone
My life, or feed like beasts upon the grass,
Only to see her garments cast a shade.
How dark soe’er the hills throw out their shade,
Under her summer green the beautiful lady
Covers it, like a stone cover’d in grass.
homeophonic version, by me
I’ll poke a journal, grand search I adumbrate’s
on June, to lasso! and I’ll be on, cheered equally,
quondam. See paired a low color nail air; but
all my odyssey operates on changing verity,
see a barber to nail a door a picture:
cheaper, licentious, come, fosse donna.
Similarly, quest a nova, dawn, ah
see, stodgy lot, a comb, a nave of lumber;
chain on the move, say anon come aperture,
eldritch tempo, cherries, cold and calling,
itchily faught, ornately beyond, coinvaded,
perchingly, copper of florets aid Araby.
Go on, dell a haw in, test ungarlanded herb, a
trade I lament and a straggled tread on a
perch, easy mischief, crisp yellow a lover’d
see, belch Amor, leave any star all umbrage,
aim us erratic in trapeze, a shoal ecole,
peal forte, assay shellac, all seen, a picture.
Law, sue a belle, it’s a happier virtue; chap it raw,
I’ll cope or sue anon, pose an arbor herbal,
choose a fugitive per peony, percolate
perpetual scamper at a coattail, don a
dolls aluminum hippo far under a
porch, honey, marry me, never undiverted.
Yellow vied outage, a vestigial verity.
See fate arch elaborate mess in petrol.
A more choppered opera, lasso a number,
undo a locked chest in umbel, perturbed.
Enamored, come on, confute on a
choosy internal dull (Tease me!) colly.
Maw, bend, return-around, O I fume, I call, I
prime a check west, O lignum olive, earth,
so inflame me, come, asshole, far belladonna,
day me; chain me, torrid or mere in Petra;
toil me, O tempo, eager posse in dolor, be
sole pervader, do swipe any penumbra.
Conned on cake, a leaf in punier amber,
sot unbelievered, a large eve on a dawn, a
lawn for sparrow, come warm petra, soft erba.