Three Sonnets 

by Vittorio Alfieri (1749-1803)
translated by Adam Sedia



Melancholy, why take your only seat
On this, my miserable heart—oh, why?
A trembling supplicant, I yet entreat:
Oh, when will you relieve my tearful cry?

Is this dark pomp of your funereal suite—
Infernal phantasms of death now fly,
Released in me by you—the fate I meet,
To live forever dying, yet not die?

What, Melancholy? Do you wish I might
Put this long, heavy sorrow to an end
Before the pain can turn my temples white?

Then every hope of joy that time might send
Love shows me in a twofold divine light;
Let me chase it, and die while I contend.



Sweetest melancholy, you always come
Faithful and invisible, at my side,
Slowly reviving genius fallen dumb
(Although your action seems at first to hide).

The honest soul can only dart forth from
The world with your sweet company as guide:
No thought of beauty, so revered by some,
Nor speech, nor passion shall he be denied.

But you, aloof among the woods and hills,
Where clear and babbling waters intertwine,
You sate your children, whom your nectar fills.

I owe all to your spells that ring divine,
Which first soften my eyes as a tear spills,
Because I then seize others’ tears as mine.



written at Florence

Here, Michelangelo? Here, the sublime
And sweet transcriber of what love dares tell?
Here, the great poet who in mighty rhyme
Captured the wailing of the damned in hell?

Here, the discoverer, whose gaze could climb
And rule the planets from our deepest dell?
And here, the thinker of that noble time
Who states the prince’s painful task so well?

Here they were born, when it was not proscribed
To say, to read, to hear, to write, to think:
Crimes, now, that to them all would be ascribed.

Then no cowardly school would quake or shrink;
Nor was there seen a golden book inscribed
With spies who, seeking thought-crime, skulk and slink.


Original Italian


Malinconìa, perchè un tuo solo seggio
Questo mio core misero ti fai?
Supplichevol, tremante ancor tel chieggio;
Deh! quando tregua al mio pianger darai?

L’atra pompa del tuo feral corteggio
Ben tutta in me tu dispiegasti omai:
Infra larve di morte, or di’, mi deggio
Viver morendo ognor, nè morir mai?

Malinconìa, che vuoi? ch’io ponga fine
A questa lunga insopportabil noja,
Pria che il dolor giunga a imbiancarmi il crine?

Dunque ogni speme di futura gioja,
Che Amor mi mostra in due luci divine,
Caccia; e fa, ch’una intera volta io muoia.




Malinconía dolcissima, che ognora
Fida vieni e invisibile al mio fianco,
Tu sei pur quella che vieppiù ristora
(Benchè il sembri offuscar) l’ingegno stanco.

Chi di tua scorta amabil si avvalora,
Sol può dal Mondo scior l’animo franco;
Nè il bel Pensar, che l’uom pur tanto onora,
Nè gli affetti, nè il Dir, mai gli vien manco.

Ma tu, solinga infra le selve e i colli,
Dove serpeggin chiare acque sonanti,
Tuoi figli ivi di nettare satolli.

Ben tutto io deggio ai tuoi divini incanti,
Che spesso gli occhi a me primier fan molli,
Perch’io poi mieta a forza gli altrui pianti.




Qui Michel-Angiol nacque? e qui il sublime
Dolce testor degli amorosi detti?
Qui il gran poeta, che in sì forti rime
Scolpì d’inferno i pianti maladetti?

Qui il celeste inventor, ch’ebbe dall’ime
Valli nostre i pianeti a noi soggetti?
E qui il sovrano pensator, ch’esprime
Sì ben del prence i dolorosi effetti?

Qui nacquer, quando non venía proscritto
Il dir, leggere, udir, scriver, pensare;
Cose, ch’or tutte appongonsi a delitto.

Non v’era scuola allor del rio tremare;
Nè si vedeva a libro d’oro inscritto
Uom, per saper gli altrui pensier spïare.




Adam Sedia (b. 1984) lives in his native Northwest Indiana and practices law as a civil and appellate litigator. In addition to the Society’s publications, his poems and prose works have appeared in The Chained Muse Review, Indiana Voice Journal, and other literary journals. He is also a composer, and his musical works may be heard on his YouTube channel.

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9 Responses

  1. Monika Cooper

    These are wonderful. Florence continues to bear its astounding witness.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Although I do not speak or read Italian, these poems appear to be wonderful translations that in any event come out beautifully in English.

  3. Julian D. Woodruff

    It’s commendable how true you can stay to the sense and tone of these 3 sonnets, as Alfieri’s concentrated reliance on ellision must have posed a considerable challenge. The 3rd of this selection speaks with startling urgency. Thanks for introducing me to a figure new to me. These 3 certainly make me want to explore.

    • Adam Sedia

      Thank you! I found the elision actually was “cancelled out” by lengthy words in other places most of the time. A few deft restructurings of the sentence structure made this (I think) comparatively easy.

      I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of Alfieri until I bought a leatherbound edition of his complete works in Italian (for $20!) a few years ago, and I was impressed with the work. An early Romantic of sorts every bit the equal of the great English poets of his time, but sadly neglected.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    These are excellent Englishings of Alfieri’s sonnets. It is very difficult to translate a sonnet while maintaining the EXACT rhyme scheme of the original, and staying true to the sense of the poem.

    The choice to elide some final vowels is common in traditional Italian verse (“pianger” instead of “piangere,” “offuscar” instead of “offuscare”), in order to maintain the hendecasyllabic line.

  5. C.B. Anderson

    I cannot vouch for the original Italian, but your English versions are lovely. The first two sonnets made me think that the author was not a happy guy, but the third made me realize that part of his unhappiness was due to his ability to see into the future. Though it might be that the horrors of mistrust we witness today are also a thing of the past.

    • Adam Sedia

      Thank you! Alfieri was something of a stormy Romantic, so the two sonnets on melancholy reflect his “downs” rather than his “ups.” My general impression is that his mood was always dialed up to 11. I agree with you that the piece on Florence was timely, so I threw that into the mix, as well.

  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    These are all exquisite, especially the third one, with the profound conclusion expressed by the sestet, wrapped up in the last line by the statement about thought crime. I’m so glad you shared these with us.


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