. I Met a Shepherdess by Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1250-1300) translated by Joseph S. Salemi I met a shepherdess in a small copse. More beautiful than starlight, the girl seemed. Her hair was blonde-ish, with a swirl of curls. Eyes full of love, and face-blush like a rose, She guided flocks of sheep with her small crook. Her skin fresh-bathed in dew, her feet unshod, She sang as if she were possessed by love And caught up in the savor of all pleasure. In tones of love I greeted her at once, Inquiring if she had companions near. She replied to me, in those same tones, That she was all alone in that small grove And added, “You know, when I hear birds cry, Then desire has my heart in thrall.” After she spoke, describing how it was, I heard the song of birds up in the trees, And thought to myself “Well, now the time is ripe To take this winsome little shepherdess.” I asked her only for the chance to kiss And hold her in my arms (if she were willing). She took my hand with amorous intent And said her heart was given up to me. She led me underneath a leafy bough Where I saw flowers of every shade and scent, And felt so much of joy and torment sweet It seemed to me I saw the god of love. . Original Italian In un boschetto trova’ pasturella In un boschetto trova’ pasturella più che la stella bella, al mi’ parere. Cavelli avea biondetti e ricciutelli, e gli occhi pien’ d’amor, cera rosata; con sua verghetta pasturav’ agnelli; discalza, de rugiada era bagnata; cantava come fosse ’namorata: er’ adornata di tutto piacere. D’amor la saluta’ imantenente e domandai s’avesse compagnia; ed ella mi rispose dolzemente che sola sola per lo bosco gia, e disse: “Sacci, quando l’augel pia, allor disïa ’l me’cor drudo avere.” Po’ che mi disse di sua condizione e per lo bosco augelli audìo cantare, fra me stesso diss’ i’: “Or è stagione di questa pasturella gio’ pigliare.” Merzé le chiesi sol che di basciare ed abracciar, se le fosse ’n volere. Per man mi prese, d’amorosa voglia, e disse che donato m’avea ’l core; menòmmi sott’ una freschetta foglia, là dov’i’ vidi fior’ d’ogni colore; e tanto vi sentìo gioia e dolzore, che ’l dio d’amore mi parea vedere. . A Brief Note Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1250-1300) was, along with Dante, one of the exponents of the dolce stil nuovo poetic renaissance in thirteenth-century Italy. This “sweet new style” simply took the older poetry of the Provençal troubadours and the courtly Sicilian school of King Frederick II and updated it with a slightly more philosophical and allegorical approach. It also focused more on the intense emotional and psychological reactions of a smitten lover. The main thematic concern is still the love relationship, but with the exaltation of the beloved lady into a kind of terrestrial divinity who leads the male lover to a higher level of perception and feeling. He is tormented by her, but also elevated by her. I chose this particular poem to translate because it remains closer to the older sources of the dolce stil nuovo tradition. It is an example of the medieval genre known as the pastourelle, or poem of seduction involving a shepherd girl and a young knight. The previous pastourelle that I posted here (September 15, 2017) by Marcabru was a highly moralistic one, where the girl sarcastically rejects the advances of the knight who attempts to lure her away from virtue. In this one, however, the speaker has no trouble at all in seducing the girl, who is more than willing to give in—so willing, in fact, that he barely needs to speak to her at all. Cavalcanti’s poem follows the traditional genre closely: The speaker finds the shepherdess with her flock, notices her beauty, confirms that she is alone, and then goes about seducing her. But there is no Ideal Lady here, showing disdain and driving the would-be lover to despair and self-reproach. Instead we are given a picture of a shepherdess just as amorous as the speaker, and who takes the lead in drawing him to a secluded place for lovemaking. The only softening of the straightforward sexuality is the careful indication that no rape is involved—the speaker has politely requested nothing but a kiss and an embrace, and only if the girl is totally agreeable to his advances. The ending of the poem is slightly ambiguous. The speaker concludes by mentioning his experience of many “flowers” (fior’ di ogni colore), which can be understood as a common metaphor for sexual activity with the shepherdess. But then he adds that this encounter gave him a great deal of joy (gioia), and dolzore. This last word can mean either sweetness or pain, which is why I have translated it as “torment sweet.” This final description is where Cavalcanti touches upon a major issue of the love theme in the dolce stil nuovo manner. Love is deeply satisfying and ecstatic, but also a kind of excruciating torture. And the last line, where the speaker imagines seeing the god of love, lifts the poem from a simple narrative of a sexual encounter to an otherworldly experience. . Some Vocabulary Items boschetto - diminutive of bosco (forest), referring to a small grove near a meadow where sheep are grazing. imantenente - quickly, right away; from Latin in manu tenente (“in a holding hand”). This is also the source of the French maintenant (“now”). To understand the etymology, consider the British idiom “that’s now in hand,” which means “that’s now being prepared.” l’augel - a bird (from Vulgar Latin aucellus). drudo - a faithful person, a lover, or a vassal (from Teutonic dreu, a friend or dear one). freschetta foglia - a green leaf, foliage. dolzore - sweetness or pain (probably a conflation of the derivatives from Latin dulcor and dolor, via the accusatives dulcorem and dolorem). . . Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.