Canzone XXI.

A poem by Francesco Petrarca

I' vo pensando, e nel pensier m' assale.


Ceaseless I think, and in each wasting thought
So strong a pity for myself appears,
That often it has brought
My harass'd heart to new yet natural tears;
Seeing each day my end of life draw nigh,
Instant in prayer, I ask of God the wings
With which the spirit springs,
Freed from its mortal coil, to bliss on high;
But nothing, to this hour, prayer, tear, or sigh,
Whatever man could do, my hopes sustain:
And so indeed in justice should it be;
Able to stay, who went and fell, that he
Should prostrate, in his own despite, remain.
But, lo! the tender arms
In which I trust are open to me still,
Though fears my bosom fill
Of others' fate, and my own heart alarms,
Which worldly feelings spur, haply, to utmost ill.

One thought thus parleys with my troubled mind--
"What still do you desire, whence succour wait?
Ah! wherefore to this great,
This guilty loss of time so madly blind?
Take up at length, wisely take up your part:
Tear every root of pleasure from your heart,
Which ne'er can make it blest,
Nor lets it freely play, nor calmly rest.
If long ago with tedium and disgust
You view'd the false and fugitive delights
With which its tools a treacherous world requites,
Why longer then repose in it your trust,
Whence peace and firmness are in exile thrust?
While life and vigour stay,
The bridle of your thoughts is in your power:
Grasp, guide it while you may:
So clogg'd with doubt, so dangerous is delay,
The best for wise reform is still the present hour.

"Well known to you what rapture still has been
Shed on your eyes by the dear sight of her
Whom, for your peace it were
Better if she the light had never seen;
And you remember well (as well you ought)
Her image, when, as with one conquering bound,
Your heart in prey she caught,
Where flame from other light no entrance found.
She fired it, and if that fallacious heat
Lasted long years, expecting still one day,
Which for our safety came not, to repay,
It lifts you now to hope more blest and sweet,
Uplooking to that heaven around your head
Immortal, glorious spread;
If but a glance, a brief word, an old song,
Had here such power to charm
Your eager passion, glad of its own harm,
How far 'twill then exceed if now the joy so strong."

Another thought the while, severe and sweet,
Laborious, yet delectable in scope,
Takes in my heart its seat,
Filling with glory, feeding it with hope;
Till, bent alone on bright and deathless fame,
It feels not when I freeze, or burn in flame,
When I am pale or ill,
And if I crush it rises stronger still.
This, from my helpless cradle, day by day,
Has strengthen'd with my strength, grown with my growth,
Till haply now one tomb must cover both:
When from the flesh the soul has pass'd away,
No more this passion comrades it as here;
For fame--if, after death,
Learning speak aught of me--is but a breath:
Wherefore, because I fear
Hopes to indulge which the next hour may chase,
I would old error leave, and the one truth embrace.

But the third wish which fills and fires my heart
O'ershadows all the rest which near it spring:
Time, too, dispels a part,
While, but for her, self-reckless grown, I sing.
And then the rare light of those beauteous eyes,
Sweetly before whose gentle heat I melt,
As a fine curb is felt,
To combat which avails not wit or force;
What boots it, trammell'd by such adverse ties,
If still between the rocks must lie her course,
To trim my little bark to new emprize?
Ah! wilt Thou never, Lord, who yet dost keep
Me safe and free from common chains, which bind,
In different modes, mankind,
Deign also from my brow this shame to sweep?
For, as one sunk in sleep,
Methinks death ever present to my sight,
Yet when I would resist I have no arms to fight.

Full well I see my state, in nought deceived
By truth ill known, but rather forced by Love,
Who leaves not him to move
In honour, who too much his grace believed:
For o'er my heart from time to time I feel
A subtle scorn, a lively anguish, steal,
Whence every hidden thought,
Where all may see, upon my brow is writ.
For with such faith on mortal things to dote,
As unto God alone is just and fit,
Disgraces worst the prize who covets most:
Should reason, amid things of sense, be lost.
This loudly calls her to the proper track:
But, when she would obey
And home return, ill habits keep her back,
And to my view portray
Her who was only born my death to be,
Too lovely in herself, too loved, alas! by me.

I neither know, to me what term of life
Heaven destined when on earth I came at first
To suffer this sharp strife,
'Gainst my own peace which I myself have nursed,
Nor can I, for the veil my body throws,
Yet see the time when my sad life may close.
I feel my frame begin
To fail, and vary each desire within:
And now that I believe my parting day
Is near at hand, or else not distant lies,
Like one whom losses wary make and wise,
I travel back in thought, where first the way,
The right-hand way, I left, to peace which led.
While through me shame and grief,
Recalling the vain past on this side spread,
On that brings no relief,
Passion, whose strength I now from habit, feel,
So great that it would dare with death itself to deal.

Song! I am here, my heart the while more cold
With fear than frozen snow,
Feels in its certain core death's coming blow;
For thus, in weak self-communing, has roll'd
Of my vain life the better portion by:
Worse burden surely ne'er
Tried mortal man than that which now I bear;
Though death be seated nigh,
For future life still seeking councils new,
I know and love the good, yet, ah! the worse pursue.


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