Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) (1304-1374)

Biography of Petrarch (Encyclopedia Britannica)

Selected poems of Petrarch in side-by-side Italian and English translation.

The following literal translation of Petrarch's Sonnet 140, translated by Wyatt and Surrey, is taken from p. 9 of The English Sonnet by Patrick Cruttwell (1966, Longmans, Green & Co.).

Love, who lives and reigns in my thought and keeps his principal seat in my heart, comes like an armed warrior into my forehead, there places himself and there sets up his banner. She who teaches me to love and to suffer and who wishes that reason, modesty and reverence should restrain my great desire and burning hope, thrusts aside and disdains our ardour. Wherefore Love in terror flies to my heart, abandoning all his enterprise, and laments and trembles; there he hides himself and no more appears without. What can I do, when my lord is afraid, except stay with him until the last hour? For he makes a fine end who dies loving well.

In his interesting discussion of the sonnet, Cruttwell points out that although Surrey's translation is the more "faithful" one, Wyatt has created the finer English poem. He attributes some of the challenge of translation to the "full-bodied" sound of the abstract words in Italian as opposed to English and also to different values of the Italian and the pragmatic English literary cultures.

Below, some more English translations of Petrarch.

Soleasi Nel Mio Cor

She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
'Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room,
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.

Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Qual Donna Attende A Gloriosa Fama

Doth any maiden seek the glorious fame
Of chastity, of strength, of courtesy?
Gaze in the eyes of that sweet enemy
Whom all the world doth as my lady name!
How honour grows, and pure devotion's flame,
How truth is joined with graceful dignity,
There thou may'st learn, and what the path may be
To that high heaven which doth her spirit claim;
There learn soft speech, beyond all poet's skill,
And softer silence, and those holy ways
Unutterable, untold by human heart.
But the infinite beauty that all eyes doth fill,
This none can copy! since its lovely rays
Are given by God's pure grace, and not by art.

Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Gli Occhi Di Ch' Io Parlai

Those eyes, 'neath which my passionate rapture rose,
The arms, hands, feet, the beauty that erewhile
Could my own soul from its own self beguile,
And in a separate world of dreams enclose,
The hair's bright tresses, full of golden glows,
And the soft lightning of the angelic smile
That changed this earth to some celestial isle,
Are now but dust, poor dust, that nothing knows.
And yet I live! Myself I grieve and scorn,
Left dark without the light I loved in vain,
Adrift in tempest on a bark forlorn;
Dead is the source of all my amorous strain,
Dry is the channel of my thoughts outworn,
And my sad harp can sound but notes of pain.

Translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

(Texts from Sonnets of Europe.)