“Di pensier in pensier, di monte in monte”

by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374)

__From thought to thought, from mountain to mountain,
Love guides me, and every path in which I’ve strayed
is hostile to a life of tranquility.
__But if a stream or gushing spring, like a fountain,
patters on a slope, or I see a valley’s shade
between two peaks, it quiets my anxiety,
__and while Love sports with me—
laughing, then sobbing, certain, then afraid—
my face, following Love wherever it appears,
turns cloudy and then clears,
remaining only briefly in any one state.
A man who has lived such a life, in view of his,
might say: “This man burns and hardly knows where he is.”

__In savage woods and high peaks, I have sought
and found repose; wherever there’s a trace
of human dwelling, I see a mortal foe.
__Each of my steps gives birth to a new thought
of her, so that the pain I bear each place
frequently changes to pleasure as I go;
__and this is why I know
I’m reluctant to change my sweet and bitter ways,
thinking to myself, “Maybe Love is keeping you
(even you) for better days;
hateful to yourself, perhaps you’re dear to someone too.”
And knowing this, I start sighing again:
“Could it be true? and how can it be? and when?”

__Wherever I see a tall pine or slope aloft
extend its shade, I halt, then see the face I miss—
picturing it on a rock to which I’ve come.
__Returning to myself, I sense my heart is soft
with pity, and so I question: “What is this
you’ve come to? and what are you divided from?”
__As long as I steer my thoughts (even some),
yearning and erring, to fix on that first thing,
see images of her, and forget myself in those,
I will feel Love is close
and my soul will find ecstasy in wandering.
(I see her so often, more beautiful than before,
if this deceit would last, I ask for nothing more.)

__Many times (who will believe me?) I have seen her
in the clear blue water and on the green grass
alive, or in a beech tree’s trunk, or a bay’s—
__or in a cloud, so beautiful that Leda
would have said that her own daughter was surpassed
like a star in the sun’s more brilliant rays;
__and the wilder the place—
the more forlorn the bank or shore where I might moan—
the more attractive I would paint her in those sites,
but then the piercing lights
of truth would shine through error, and I’d sit there alone,
cold, a dead stone trapped in a living stone,
in the form of a man who thinks and weeps and writes.

__There, where another mountain’s shadow cannot rise,
up to the highest, freest peak of the chain,
an intense desire draws me, which I’ve felt before.
__From there, I measure losses with my eyes
and, weeping, empty every cloud of pain
and every sorrow gathering in my heart’s core—
__and try to think no more
of all the sky dividing me from the face
always so near me and so far away;
and then I softly say:
“Who knows, you poor fool—there may be a place
where someone is sighing because you’re not there.”
And thoughts like these relieve me of some care.

My poem, far beyond these Alps,
where the sky is serene and the earth is floral
you’ll find me by a stream enclosed in leaves
where the scent of a breeze
is perfumed by the branches of a laurel:
my heart is there, with her whom I love most;
the only thing you see here is my ghost.



Original Italian

Rime sparse 129

Di pensier in pensier, di monte in monte
mi guida Amor, ch’ogni segnato calle
provo contrario a la tranquilla vita.
Se ’n solitaria piaggia, rivo, o fonte,
se ’nfra duo poggi siede ombrosa valle,
ivi s’acqueta l’alma sbigottita;
e come Amor l’envita,
or ride, or piange, or teme, or s’assecura;
e ’l volto che lei segue ov’ella il mena
si turba et rasserena,
et in un esser picciol tempo dura;
onde a la vista huom di tal vita experto
diria: Questo arde, et di suo stato è incerto.

Per alti monti et per selve aspre trovo
qualche riposo: ogni habitato loco
è nemico mortal degli occhi miei.
A ciascun passo nasce un penser novo
de la mia donna, che sovente in gioco
gira ’l tormento ch’i’ porto per lei;
et a pena vorrei
cangiar questo mio viver dolce amaro,
ch’i’ dico: Forse anchor ti serva Amore
ad un tempo migliore;
forse, a te stesso vile, altrui se’ caro.
Et in questa trapasso sospirando:
Or porrebbe esser vero? or come? or quando?

Ove porge ombra un pino alto od un colle
talor m’arresto, e pur nel primo sasso
disegno co la mente il suo bel viso.
Poi ch’a me torno, trovo il petto molle
de la pietate; et alor dico: Ahi, lasso,
dove se’ giunto! ed onde se’ diviso!
Ma mentre tener fiso
posso al primo pensier la mente vaga,
et mirar lei, ed oblïar me stesso,
sento Amor sí da presso,
che del suo proprio error l’alma s’appaga:
in tante parti et sì bella la veggio,
che se l’error durasse, altro non cheggio.

l’ò piú volte (or chi fia che mi ’l creda?)
ne l’acqua chiara et sopra l’erba verde
veduto viva, et nel tronchon d’un faggio
e ’n bianca nube, sí fatta che Leda
avria ben detto che sua figlia perde,
come stella che ’l sol copre col raggio;
et quanto in piú selvaggio
loco mi trovo e ’n piú deserto lido,
tanto piú bella il mio pensier l’adombra.
Poi quando il vero sgombra
quel dolce error, pur lí medesmo assido
me freddo, pietra morta in pietra viva,
in guisa d’uom che pensi et pianga et scriva.

Ove d’altra montagna ombra non tocchi,
verso ’l maggiore e ’l piú expedito giogo
tirar mi suol un desiderio intenso;
indi i miei danni a misurar con gli occhi
comincio, e ’ntanto lagrimando sfogo
di dolorosa nebbia il cor condenso,
alor ch’i’ miro et penso,
quanta aria dal bel viso mi diparte
che sempre m’è sí presso et sí lontano.
Poscia fra me pian piano:
Che sai tu, lasso? forse in quella parte
or di tua lontananza si sospira.
Et in questo penser l’alma respira.

Canzone, oltra quell’alpe
là dove il ciel è piú sereno et lieto
mi rivedrai sovr’un ruscel corrente,
ove l’aura si sente
d’un fresco et odorifero laureto.
Ivi è ’l mio cor, et quella che ’l m’invola;
qui veder pôi l’imagine mia sola.



Steven Monte is an associate professor in the English Department at the College of Staten Island (City University of New York). He has also taught at the University of Chicago and at Yale University, from which he received his doctorate in Comparative Literature. Most of his scholarly writing is on Renaissance and modern French and English-language poetry, including his books: The Secret Architecture of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press), Victor Hugo: Selected Poetry in French and English (Carcanet, Routledge, 2002), and Invisible Fences: Prose Poetry as a Genre in French and American Literature (Nebraska, 2000). He has published verse translations and his own poetry in a variety of journals. His current translation project is a verse translation of Joachim Du Bellay’s Les Regrets. He lives and runs marathons in New York City.

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5 Responses

  1. Yael

    That’s beautiful! Thank you for making Petrarcus accessible for us non-Italian speakers. That’s a really nice translation and provides a very enjoyable reading experience.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I don’t read Italian, and am certainly no translator — but I am very impressed with the beauty I can see here, particularly the lovely rhyme scheme, and the thoughts expressed.

  3. David L Moore

    I would like to talk to someone about a book of poems, very sorry that many years ago my dog chewed the cover off, so I believe that its worth nothin to most people. I do believe that the the Society of Classical Poets may want the book. maybe it can be restored? the book is an copyright 1893 copy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Poems. by Charles Howard Johnson Frederich A. Stokes Company. All pages are here 487 pages with a blank note page, Looks like an old Bible with faded gold edges, page markers, Gold around the back and at one time the front. If you want it let me know. Thank You David L Moore

  4. Margaret Coats

    Exquisite presentation of the canzone shape! The rhyme scheme functions nicely to rein in the wandering meter. Having tried my hand at translating this magnificent form (although not this particular example), I admire the care you’ve taken with the many words, scenes, and thoughts that need to be put forth. And you have made a splendid conclusion by choosing “ghost” for “imagine.” That final word brings your poem to a spirited end that corresponds to the atmosphere of the poem as a whole.

  5. David S.

    It’s impressive how faithful this translation is to the original rhyme scheme, without sounding the least bit forced. The sense and flow of Petrarch’s lines are beautifully preserved. It has the deceptive air of effortlessness for which the best translations strive.


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