Milton’s Italian Poems Translations by George MacDonald

The Italian scholar will understand that the retention of the feminine rimes in translation from this language is an impossibility.

I.

O Lady fair, whose honoured name doth grace
Green vale and noble ford of Rheno’s stream–
Of all worth void the man I surely deem
Whom thy fair soul enamoureth not apace,
When softly self-revealed to time and space
By actions sweet with which thy will doth teem,
And fair gifts that Love’s bow and arrows seem–
But are the flowers that crown thy perfect race.
When thou dost lightsome talk or gladsome sing,–
A power to draw the hill-trees, rooted hard–
The doors of eyes and ears let that man keep
Who knows himself unworthy thy regard!
Grace from above alone him help can bring
That Passion in his heart strike not too deep.

II.

As in the twilight brown, on hillside bare,
Useth to go the little shepherd maid,
Watering some strange fair plant, poorly displayed,
Ill thriving in unwonted soil and air
Far from its native springtime’s genial care;
So on my ready tongue hath Love assayed
In a strange speech to wake new flower and blade,
While I of thee, proud yet so debonair,
Sing songs whose sense is to my people lost–
Yield the fair Thames, and the fair Arno gain.
Love willed it so, and I, at others’ cost,
Already knew Love never willed in vain:
Would my heart slow and bosom hard were found
To him who plants from heaven so fair a ground!

III.

CANZONE.

Ladies, and youths that in their favour bask,
With mocking smiles come round me: Prithee, why,
Why dost thou with an unknown language cope,
Love-riming? Whence thy courage for the task?
Tell us–so never frustrate be thy hope,
And the best thought still to thy thinking fly!
Thus me they mock: Thee other streams, they cry,
Thee other shores, another sea demands
Upon whose verdant strands
Are budding, even this moment, for thy hair
Immortal guerdon, bays that will not die:
An over-burden on thy back why bear?–
Song, I will tell thee; thou for me reply:
My lady saith–and her word is my heart–
This is Love’s mother-tongue, and fits his part.

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IV.

Diodati–and I muse to tell the tale–
This stubborn I, that Love was wont despise
And make a laughter of his snares, unwise,
Am fallen–where honest feet will sometimes fail.
Not golden tresses, not a cheek vermeil,
Dazzle me thus; but, in a new-world guise,
A foreign Fair my heart beatifies–
With mien where high-souled modesty I hail;
Eyes softly splendent with a darkness dear;
A speech that more than one tongue vassal hath;
A voice that in the middle hemisphere
Might make the tired moon wander from her path;
While from her eyes such gracious flashes shoot
That stopping hard my ears were little boot.

V.

Certes, my lady sweet, your blessed eyes–
It cannot be but that they are my sun;
As strong they smite me as he smites upon
The man whose way o’er Libyan desert lies,
The while a vapour hot doth me surprise
From that side springing where my pain doth won:
Perchance accustomed lovers–I am none
And know not–in their speech call such things sighs:
A part shut in, sore vexed, itself conceals,
And shakes my bosom; part, undisciplined,
Breaks forth, and all around to ice congeals;
But that which to mine eyes the way doth find,
Makes all my nights in silent showers abound,
Until my dawn[1] returns, with roses crowned.

[Footnote 1: Alba–where I suspect a hint at the lady’s name.]

VI.

A modest youth, in love a simpleton,
When to escape myself I seek and shift,
Lady, I of my heart the humble gift
Vow unto thee. In trials many a one,
True, brave, I’ve found it, firm to things begun;
By gracious, prudent, worthy thoughts uplift.
When roars the great world, in the thunder-rift,
Its own self, armour adamant, it will don,
From chance and envy as securely barred,
From fears and hopes that still the crowd abuse,
As inward gifts and high worth coveting,
And the resounding lyre, and every Muse:
There only wilt thou find it not so hard
Where Love hath fixed his ever cureless sting.

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