Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321)
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy, in 1265 and was generally considered the greatest of Italian poets. He was also a philosopher and political thinker. He wrote most of his poetry in the Italian vernacular instead of Latin, a choice that would influence the entire course of western literary development.
As a young man, Dante fought as a cavalryman and entered public office in his thirties. In 1300, Dante along with his fellow magistrates confirmed anti-papal measures. When in 1302, the French prince acting under orders from the Pope captured power in Florence, Dante was sentenced on charges of corruption and opposition to the Church and exiled from Florence on pain of execution by burning if he ever returned. In 1316 he was invited to return to Florence, but the terms were those used for pardoned criminals, and he refused.
His first book was the Vita Nuova (The New Life), published in 1294, in which he relates how he fell in love with Beatrice Pornari, whom he met as a child. Though Beatrice and Dante both married other people, Dante's spiritual love for her persisted and she functioned as his chief Muse and inspiration.
In 1304 or shortly thereafter he published De Vulgari Eloquentia, an argument for writing poems and other works in the language that people speak (in his case, Italian) rather than in Latin. At the same time he wrote Il Convivio . (The Banquet), in which he discusses grammar, and styles of poetry. In 1313 he published De Monarchia (On Monarchy) in which he argued that the authority of a secular prince is not derived from the authority of the church, and is not given him by the pope, but comes directly from God.
It is not known exactly when Dante began work on Divina Commedia. He had been moving about from court to court after his exile and had settled at Ravenna, where he completed his great work. Extant correspondence shows that the first and second parts of The Divine Comedy, the "Inferno" and the "Purgatario" were generally known around 1319. The last part, the "Paradiso" was completed only in 1321. Dante died at Ravenna on 14 September 1321 and the last thirteen Cantos of the "Paradiso" were published posthumously.
I have come, alas, to the great circle of shadow,
to the short day and to the whitening hills,
when the colour is all lost from the grass,
though my desire will not lose its green,
so rooted is it in this hardest stone,
that speaks and feels as though it were a woman.
And likewise this heaven-born woman
stays frozen, like the snow in shadow,
and is unmoved, or moved like a stone,
by the sweet season that warms all the hills,
and makes them alter from pure white to green,
so as to clothe them with the flowers and grass.
When her head wears a crown of grass
she draws the mind from any other woman,
because she blends her gold hair with the green
so well that Amor lingers in their shadow,
he who fastens me in these low hills,
more certainly than lime fastens stone.
Her beauty has more virtue than rare stone.
The wound she gives cannot be healed with grass,
since I have travelled, through the plains and hills,
to find my release from such a woman,
yet from her light had never a shadow
thrown on me, by hill, wall, or leaves’ green.
I have seen her walk all dressed in green,
so formed she would have sparked love in a stone,
that love I bear for her very shadow,
so that I wished her, in those fields of grass,
as much in love as ever yet was woman,
closed around by all the highest hills.
The rivers will flow upwards to the hills
before this wood, that is so soft and green,
takes fire, as might ever lovely woman,
for me, who would choose to sleep on stone,
all my life, and go eating grass,
only to gaze at where her clothes cast shadow.
Whenever the hills cast blackest shadow,
with her sweet green, the lovely woman
hides it, as a man hides stone in grass.
Sonnet: All My Thoughts
All my thoughts always speak to me of love,
Yet have between themselves such difference
That while one bids me bow with mind and sense,
A second saith, 'Go to: look thou above';
The third one, hoping, yields me joy enough;
And with the last come tears, I scarce know whence:
All of them craving pity in sore suspense,
Trembling with fears that the heart knoweth of.
And thus, being all unsure which path to take,
Wishing to speak I know not what to say,
And lose myself in amorous wanderings:
Until (my peace with all of them to make),
Unto mine enemy I needs must pray,
My lady Pity, for the help she brings.