To Laura In Death. Canzone IV.

A poem by Francesco Petrarca

Tacer non posso, e temo non adopre.


Fain would I speak--too long has silence seal'd
Lips that would gladly with my full heart move
With one consent, and yield
Homage to her who listens from above;
Yet how can I, without thy prompting, Love,
With mortal words e'er equal things divine,
And picture faithfully
The high humility whose chosen shrine
Was that fair prison whence she now is free?
Which held, erewhile, her gentle spirit, when
So in my conscious heart her power began.
That, instantly, I ran,
--Alike o' th' year and me 'twas April then--
From these gay meadows round sweet flowers to bind,
Hoping rich pleasure at her eyes to find.

The walls were alabaster, the roof gold,
Ivory the doors, the sapphire windows lent
Whence on my heart of old
Its earliest sigh, as shall my last, was sent;
In arrowy jets of fire thence came and went
Arm'd messengers of love, whereof to think
As then they were, with awe
--Though now for them with laurel crown'd--I shrink
Of one rare diamond, square, without a flaw,
High in the midst a stately throne was placed
Where sat the lovely lady all alone:
In front a column shone
Of crystal, and thereon each thought was traced
In characters so clear, and quick, and true,
By turns it gladden'd me and grieved to view.

To weapons such as these, sharp, burning, bright,
To the green glorious banner waved above,
--'Gainst which would fail in fight
Mars, Polypheme, Apollo, mighty Jove--
While still my sorrow fresh and verdant throve,
I stood defenceless, doom'd; her easy prey
She led me as she chose
Whence to escape I knew nor art nor way;
But, as a friend, who, haply, grieves yet goes,
Sees something still to lure his eyes and heart,
Just so on her, for whom I am in thrall,
Sole perfect work of all
That graced her age, unable to depart,
With such desire my rapt regards I set,
As soon myself and misery to forget.

On earth myself, my heart in Eden dwelt,
Lost in sweet Lethe every other care,
As my live frame I felt
To marble turn, watching that wonder rare;
When old in years, but youthful still in air,
A lady briefly, quietly drew nigh,
And thus beholding me,
With reverent aspect and admiring eye,
Kind offer made my counsellor to be:
"My power," she said, "is more than mortals know--
Lighter than air, I, in an instant, make
Their hearts exult or ache,
I loose and bind whate'er is seen below;
Thine eyes, upon that sun, as eagles', bend,
But to my words with willing ears attend.

"The day when she was born, the stars that win
Prosperity for man shone bright above;
Their high glad homes within
Each on the other smiled with gratulant love;
Fair Venus, and, with gentle aspect, Jove
The beautiful and lordly mansions held:
Seem'd as each adverse light
Throughout all heaven was darken'd and dispell'd,
The sun ne'er look'd upon a day so bright;
The air and earth rejoiced; the waves had rest
By lake and river, and o'er ocean green:
'Mid the enchanting scene
One distant cloud alone my thought distress'd,
Lest sometime it might be of tears the source
Unless kind Heaven should elsewhere turn its course.

"When first she enter'd on this life below,
Which, to say sooth, not worthy was to hold,
'Twas strange to see her so
Angelical and dear in baby mould;
A snowy pearl she seem'd in finest gold;
Next as she crawl'd, or totter'd with short pace,
Wood, water, earth, and stone
Grew green, and clear, and soft; with livelier grace
The sward beneath her feet and fingers shone;
With flowers the champain to her bright eyes smiled;
At her sweet voice, babbling through lips that yet
From Love's own fount were wet,
The hoarse wind silent grew, the tempest mild:
Thus clearly showing to the dull blind world
How much in her was heaven's own light unfurl'd.

"At length, her life's third flowery epoch won,
She, year by year, so grew in charms and worth,
That ne'er, methinks, the sun
Such gracefulness and beauty saw on earth;
Her eyes so full of modesty and mirth,
Music and welcome on her words so hung,
That mute in her high praise,
Which thine alone may sound, is every tongue:
So bright her countenance with heavenly rays,
Not long thy dazzled vision there may rest;
From this her fair and fleshly tenement
Such fire through thine is sent
(Though gentler never kindled human breast),
That yet I fear her sudden flight may be
Too soon the cause of bitter grief to thee."

This said, she turn'd her to the rapid wheel
Whereon she winds of mortal life the thread;
Too true did she reveal
The doom of woe which darken'd o'er my head!
A few brief years flew by,
When she, for whom I so desire to die,
By black and pitiless Death, who could not slay
A fairer form than hers, was snatch'd away!


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