Canzone VIII.

A poem by Francesco Petrarca

Perchè la vita è breve.


Since human life is frail,
And genius trembles at the lofty theme,
I little confidence in either place;
But let my tender wail
There, where it ought, deserved attention claim,
That wail which e'en in silence we may trace.
O beauteous eyes, where Love doth nestling stay!
To you I turn my insufficient lay,
Unapt to flow; but passion's goad I feel:
And he of you who sings
Such courteous habit by the strain is taught,
That, borne on amorous wings,
He soars above the reach of vulgar thought:
Exalted thus, I venture to reveal
What long my cautious heart has labour'd to conceal.

Yes, well do I perceive
To you how wrongful is my scanty praise;
Yet the strong impulse cannot be withstood,
That urges, since I view'd
What fancy to the sight before ne'er gave,
What ne'er before graced mine, or higher lays.
Bright authors of my sadly-pleasing state,
That you alone conceive me well I know,
When to your fierce beams I become as snow!
Your elegant disdain
Haply then kindles at my worthless strain.
Did not this dread create
Some mitigation of my bosom's heat,
Death would be bliss: for greater joy 'twould give
With them to suffer death, without them than to live.

If not consumèd quite,
I the weak object of a flame so strong:
'Tis not that safety springs from native might,
But that some fear restrains,
Which chills the current circling through my veins;
Strengthening this heart, that it may suffer long.
O hills, O vales, O forests, floods, and fields,
Ye who have witness'd how my sad life flows,
Oft have ye heard me call on death for aid.
Ah, state surcharged with woes!
To stay destroys, and flight no succour yields.
But had not higher dread
Withheld, some sudden effort I had made
To end my sorrows and protracted pains,
Of which the beauteous cause insensible remains.

Why lead me, grief, astray
From my first theme to chant a different lay?
Let me proceed where pleasure may invite.
'Tis not of you I 'plain,
O eyes, beyond compare serenely bright;
Nor yet of him who binds me in his chain.
Ye clearly can behold the hues that Love
Scatters ofttime on my dejected face;
And fancy may his inward workings trace
There where, whole nights and days,
He rules with power derived from your bright rays:
What rapture would ye prove,
If you, dear lights, upon yourselves could gaze!
But, frequent as you bend your beams on me,
What influence you possess you in another see.

Oh! if to you were known
That beauty which I sing, immense, divine.
As unto him on whom its glories shine!
The heart had then o'erflown
With joy unbounded, such as is denied
Unto that nature which its acts doth guide.
How happy is the soul for you that sighs,
Celestial lights! which lend a charm to life,
And make me bless what else I should not prize!
Ah! why, so seldom why
Afford what ne'er can cause satiety?
More often to your sight
Why not bring Love, who holds me constant strife?
And why so soon of joys despoil me quite,
Which ever and anon my tranced soul delight?

Yes, 'debted to your grace,
Frequent I feel throughout my inmost soul
Unwonted floods of sweetest rapture roll;
Relieving so the mind,
That all oppressive thoughts are left behind,
And of a thousand only one has place;
For which alone this life is dear to me.
Oh! might the blessing of duration prove,
Not equall'd then could my condition be!
But this would, haply, move
In others envy, in myself vain pride.
That pain should be allied
To pleasure is, alas! decreed above;
Then, stifling all the ardour of desire,
Homeward I turn my thoughts, and in myself retire.

So sweetly shines reveal'd
The amorous thought within your soul which dwells,
That other joys it from my heart expels:
Hence I aspire to frame
Lays whereon Hope may build a deathless name,
When in the tomb my dust shall lie conceal'd.
At your approach anguish and sorrow fly;
These, as your beams retire, again draw nigh;
Yet outward acts their influence ne'er betray,
For doting memory
Dwells on the past, and chases them away.
Whatever, then, of worth
My genius ripens owes to you its birth.
To you all honour and all praise is due--
Myself a barren soil, and cultured but by you.

Thy strains, O song! appease me not, but fire,
Chanting a theme that wings my wild desire:
Trust me, thou shalt ere long a sister-song acquire.


Since mortal life is frail,
And my mind shrinks from lofty themes deterr'd,
But small the trust which I in either feel:
Yet hope I that my wail,
Which vainly I in silence would conceal,
Shall, where I wish, where most it ought, be heard.
Beautiful eyes! wherein Love makes his nest,
To you my song its feeble descant turns,
Slow of itself, but now by passion spurr'd;
Who sings of you is blest,
And from his theme such courteous habit learns
That, borne on wings of love,
Proudly he soars each viler thought above;
Encouraged thus, what long my harass'd heart
Has kept conceal'd, I venture to impart.

Yet do I know full well
How much my praise must wrongful prove to you,
But how the great desire can I oppose,
Which ever in me grows,
Since what surpasses thought 'twas mine to view,
Though that nor others' wit nor mine can tell?
Eyes! guilty authors of my cherish'd pain,
That you alone can judge me, well I know,
When from your burning beams I melt like snow,
Haply your sweet disdain
Offence in my unworthiness may see;
Ah! were there not such fear,
To calm the heat with which I kindle near,
'Twere bliss to die: for better far to me
Were death with them than life without could be.

If yet not wasted quite--
So frail a thing before so fierce a flame--
'Tis not from my own strength that safety came,
But that some fear gives might,
Freezing the warm blood coursing through its veins,
To my poor heart better to bear the strife.
O valleys, hills, O forests, floods, and plains,
Witnesses of my melancholy life!
For death how often have ye heard me pray!
Ah, miserable fate!
Where flight avails not, though 'tis death to stay;
But, if a dread more great
Restrain'd me not, despair would find a way,
Speedy and short, my lingering pains to close,
--Hers then the crime who still no mercy shows.

Why thus astray, O grief,
Lead me to speak what I would leave unsaid?
Leave me, where pleasure me impels, to tread:
Not now my song complains
Of you, sweet eyes, serene beyond belief,
Nor yet of him who binds me in such chains:
Right well may you observe the varying hues
Which o'er my visage oft the tyrant strews,
And thence may guess what war within he makes,
Where night and day he reigns,
Strong in the power which from your light he takes:
Blessèd ye were as bright,
Save that from you is barr'd your own dear sight:
Yet often as to me those orbs you turn,
What they to others are you well may learn.

If, as to us who gaze
Were known to you the charms incredible
And heavenly, of which I sing the praise,
No measured joy would swell
Your heart, and haply, therefore, 'tis denied
Unto the power which doth their motions guide.
Happy the soul for you which breathes the sigh,
Best lights of heaven! for whom I grateful bless
This life, which has for me no other joy.
Alas! so seldom why
Give me what I can ne'er too much possess?
Why not more often see
The ceaseless havoc which love makes of me?
And why that bliss so quickly from me steal,
From time to time which my rapt senses feel?

Yes, thanks, great thanks to you!
From time to time I feel through all my soul
A sweetness so unusual and new,
That every marring care
And gloomy vision thence begins to roll,
So that, from all, one only thought is there.
That--that alone consoles me life to bear:
And could but this my joy endure awhile,
Nought earthly could, methinks, then match my state.
Yet such great honour might
Envy in others, pride in me excite:
Thus still it seems the fate
Of man, that tears should chase his transient smile:
And, checking thus my burning wishes, I
Back to myself return, to muse and sigh.

The amorous anxious thought,
Which reigns within you, flashes so on me,
That from my heart it draws all other joy;
Whence works and words so wrought
Find scope and issue, that I hope to be
Immortal made, although all flesh must die.
At your approach ennui and anguish fly;
With your departure they return again:
But memory, on the past which doting dwells,
Denies them entrance then,
So that no outward act their influence tells;
Thus, if in me is nurst
Any good fruit, from you the seed came first:
To you, if such appear, the praise is due,
Barren myself till fertilized by you.

Thy strains appease me not, O song!
But rather fire me still that theme to sing
Where centre all my thoughts--therefore, ere long,
A sister ode to join thee will I bring.


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