COMPANION TO CANTO XXXVI
From this poem and from passages elsewhere it would seen that Guido had derived certain notions from the Aristotelian commentators, the ‘filosofica famiglia’, Ibn Sina, for the spiriti, spiriti of the eyes, of the senses; Ibn Rachd, che il gran commento feo, for the demand for intelligence on the part of the recipient; Albertus Magnus, for the proof by experience; and possibly Grosseteste, De Luce et de Incohatione Formarum, although this will need proving.
At any rate for any serious thought in Guido’s time we must suppose the Arabian background: the concentric spheres of the heavens, Ibn Baja’s itinerary of the soul going to God, Averroes’s specifications for the degrees of comprehension; and we may perhaps consider Guido as one of that ‘tenuous line who from Albertus Magnus to the renaissance’ meant the freedom of thought, the contempt, or at least a moderated respect for stupid authority.
Ezra Pound “Cavalcanti.” [1910-1931] Literary Essays 158.
Cavalcanti, as bringing together all of these strands [speech; speech in relation to music; general summary of state of human consciousness], the consciousness, depth of same almost untouched in writing between his time and that of Ibsen or James; meaning if you come at it not as platonic formulation of philosophy but as psychology.
Ezra Pound “Dateline”  Literary Essays 83.
Annotations in the List of Works Cited:
Author’s Last name, First name. “Title of the Article or Individual Page.” Title of the Website, Name of the Publisher [if different from website name], Date of Publication in Day Month Year format, URL. [MLA 8 format].
Example: Preda, Roxana. “Companion to Canto IV.” The Cantos Project, 5 August 2016. thecantosproject.ed.ac.uk/index.php/a-draft-of-xvi-cantos-overview/canto-iv/companion-to-canto-iv
OCCEP – The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound
(Contributor name, OCCEP IV: n.no).
Example: (Bressan, OCCEP IV: n.3). If no name is indicated, the gloss was written by Roxana Preda. In this case, the citation will have this format: (OCCEP IV: n.13).
References to The Cantos
As The Cantos Project is numbering the lines of The Cantos, references to cantos already glossed will be by canto number and line number(s), as standard with classical works. Example: III: ll.7–17.
For cantos that are not yet glossed within the project, the references will be by canto number slash page number, as standard in the research on the poem. Example: III/12. The page number refers to the American edition of The Cantos by Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998.
© Roxana Preda. Companion to Canto XXXVI, 20 April 2019.
Updated 14 June 2021.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
Pound, Ezra. Guide to Kulchur. New York: New Directions, 1970.
Pound, Ezra. “Guido’s Relations.” The Dial, July 1929. Included in his essay “Cavalcanti,” LE 191-200.
Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno of Dante Alighieri. London: Dent, 1904. Digital Dante.
Pound, Ezra. Literary Essays. Ed. T. S. Eliot. London: Faber, 1954; New York: New Directions, 1968.
Preda, Roxana. The Online Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. The Cantos Project.
Pound, Ezra and James Joyce. Pound/Joyce: The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, With Pound's Critical Essays and Articles About Joyce. 1967. Ed. Forrest Read. New York: New Directions, 1970.
Alighieri, Dante. The Paradiso of Dante Alighieri. London: Dent, 1904. Digital Dante.
Cavalcanti, Guido. Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti. Translated with an introduction by Ezra Pound. London: Stephen Swift 1912.
Pound, Ezra. Spirit of Romance. Ed. Richard Sieburth. New York: New Directions, 2005.
A Lady asks me – Lines 1-84 of canto XXXVI are a translation of Guido Cavalcanti’s poem, “Donna mi prega.”
“Donna mi prega” is a canzone: a poem meant to be sung, made up of five 14-line stanzas and a five-line envoi (75 lines in all). Listen to aria. Read full score.
Each stanza is written in hendecasyllabic meter (11 syllables) articulated by 14 terminal and 12 inner rhymes (LE 168). See also diagram. Dante Alighieri referred to it as a metric analogue to his own “Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore” (De Vulgari Eloquentia II: XII; Vita Nuova XIX). Pound worked from one of the manuscripts held in the Laurentian Library in Florence and edited the Italian base text himself, by comparing it with other manuscript variants and the first printed edition (Di Giunta 1527) – he thus carried over the capitals he found in the manuscript. His lineation of the Italian text is unique in the editorial history of the poem and is followed in the use of caps in the canto. This base text is also quoted in the glosses below.
Though Cavalcanti started his poem with the phrase “A Lady asks me,” the poem is his answer to his friend Guido Orlandi, who “in a lady’s name” had sent him the sonnet “Onde si muove and donde nasce l’Amore” (“Whence does Love move and where is it born?”) (del Garbo 151). Pound translated Orlandi’s sonnet twice, in SR (1910) and GR (1929). See Sources.
Onde si move, e donde nasce Amore?
Qual è ’l su’ propio luogo, ov’ ei dimora?
Sustanza o accidente, o ei memora?
È cagion d’occhi, o è voler di core?
Da che procede suo stato o furore
Como foco si sente che divora?
Di che si nutre, domand’io ancora.
Come, e quando, e di cui si fa signore?
Che cosa è, dico, amor? ae figura ?
A per sé forma, o pur somiglia altrui?
È vita questo amore, ovvero è morte?
(Italian text reproduced in LE 199)
Whence does love move, and where is it born?
What is its proper place, where does it reside?
Is it substance or accident, or memory?
Is it reason of the eyes, or will of the heart?
Whence ensues its state or the passion
Which feels like fire that devours?
What does it feed on, I ask again.
How, and when, and whom does it master?
What is love, I say? Does it have a shape?
Has it form itself, or takes another’s likeness?
Is it life, this love, or is it death?
(Translated by Roxana Preda, March 2019)
- I speak in season – Pound here replaces Guido’s phrase “Perch’i volglio dire.” The phrase is not a definite translation and was not used in Pound’s 1928 version. One reason for this may be, as David Pearlman suggested, that Pound aimed to create a parallel with the beginning of Eleven New Cantos, which he introduced by “Tempus loquendi/Tempus tacendi” (Pearlman 157; Bacigalupo 82).
Additionally, the line creates resonance by an internal rhyme with the word “reason,” which is central to the canto. Guido’s text used internal rhymes throughout, but it is only here that Pound manages to replicate this procedure in English. See diagram of Guido’s rhyme-scheme.
- affect – Pound’s translation of Cavalcanti’s term “accidente.” The poet is answering Orlandi’s question: “is it [love] substance, or accident, or memory?” Following Aristotle, “accident” is a non-essential attribute of an object, the opposite of “substance” (defined as a concept denoting matter shaped to a form and indivisible from it). The Aristotelian distinction between substance and accident was familiar to both Orlandi (see his sonnet in n.1) and Dante, as evident in the Vita Nuova XXV.
In his translation, Pound is following Dino del Garbo’s “Commentary,” which explains “accident” as “passion.” Love is an “accident,” because it is “an appetite of the soul… such as anger, sadness, fear, and the like.” It is an accident because it comes and goes and is extrinsic to the person feeling it (del Garbo 178-9).
“I am aware that I have distorted ‘accidente’ into ‘affect’ but I have done so in order not to lose the tone of my opening line by introducing an English word of double entendre” (LE 159).
Pound’s decision here, as in other key points in the poem, is to distance Cavalcanti’s vocabulary from its specific references to 13th century philosophy and adapt it to a level of generality which would make it comprehensible to modern readers unacquainted with the terminological refinements of medieval philosophy. By using “affect” instead of “accident,” Pound makes the Aristotelian substance/accident distinction invisible. Further in the poem, he would use the specialized term “diafan” in its general acceptance of “transparency,” and would invert the concept of “possible intellect” into the more general “intellect possible.” The inversion does away with the Averroistic distinction between active and possible intellect as well as the dissociation between a transcendental and a human form of it.
- low-hearted – I. “om di basso chore” (“[man] base in heart” (Dial 1928)). For the poet and his friends, the capacity to love was a mark of nobility which was independent of wealth and birth. Superficiality of feeling, lack of steadfastness in love, easily forgotten loyalties to the beloved, were marks of vulgarity and low status. Cavalcanti makes it a point that his canzone is not for these men, who would have neither the emotional nor the intellectual depth to understand it. He repeats the point in his envoi, see ll.83-84. The real readers of Cavalcanti’s canzone are the “cognoscenti,” the men whom Dante called “fedeli d’amore” (Vita Nuova III) who would have both the nobility of heart and the philosophical education to understand his argument.
- bring sight to such reason – I. “A tal ragione portj chonoscenza.” It is here that Pound begins to adapt Cavalcanti’s vocabulary by replacing verbs or nouns pertaining to knowledge with terms of vision: to know is to “bring sight.”
As Henricksen noted, in these lines of Guido’s poem
“The faculty of vision is not involved; on the contrary the canzone will finally prove that love cannot be shown ‘to sight.’ Pound ends this stanza on ‘sight’ and the repetition of the word at the very centre of the stanza (central word of line 8 of 15) gives the term a certain prominence that it does not have in Guido’s text” (Henriksen 39).
- Natural demonstration – I. “Natural dimonstramento.” The concept of “natural demonstration” was one of the more difficult dilemmas in the terminology of the canzone, as Pound repeatedly returned to it in his comments (LE 183-4). He even asked Joyce for a clarification (P/J 230-1, see Chronology). Pound’s difficulty was compounded by what he knew of Cavalcanti’s life as seen by his near contemporaries: Boccaccio’s assertion that Cavalcanti was one of the “best logicians in the world and an excellent natural philosopher” (Decameron Day VI, story IX) and Dante’s tacit assumption that he was an “Epicurean” like his father, i.e. someone who did not believe in life after death (Inf X: ll. 13-72).
The term pertains to everything that in Cavalcanti’s time could be brought under the umbrella of knowledge about the physical world, connected to, but not wholly determined by theology. Among his contemporaries, polymaths like Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus or Roger Bacon had followed Aristotle in investigating the physical world, valuing logic, proof and even experiment. Cavalcanti’s canzone uses the metaphysical vocabulary of the day, but his approach falls into the domain of what we now call “psychology”: the poet uses personal experience and keeps a certain distance both from theology and philosophy. In Donna, he does not assume a religious transcendence of love, as Dante does in the Vita nuova and the Divina Commedia; on the other hand, even if his approach is abstract and does not refer to an actual lady, even if he structures his canzone as an argument and a response to a suite of definite questions, Cavalcanti asserts that love cannot be “proved” but felt: ([love] “cometh from that perfection/ Which is so postulate not by reason / But ’tis felt, I say” (ll.30-2).
Pound remarked that Cavalcanti is inclined towards but does not really adopt natural demonstration: “We may trace [Guido’s] ideas to Averroes, Avicenna; he does not definitely proclaim any heresy, but he shows leanings toward not only the proof by reason, but toward the proof by experiment” (LE 149).
- Or say – Cavalcanti uses his first stanza as a preamble to his response and rephrases Orlandi’s questions in the following lines (ll.10-14; ll.11-15 in the canto). See also Italian text and n. 1.
- Where memory liveth – Having specified that love is not substance, but “accidente,” contingent passion, Cavalcanti locates love in the memory and proceeds to answer Orlandi’s questions in his second stanza: “Whence does love move, and where is he born?/ What is his proper place, where does he reside?” and “Is it by reason of eyes, or will of the heart”?
- diafan – Gr. διαφανές (“transparent”). The term appears in Aristotle’s De Anima (“On the Soul”) – the philosopher explained it as “that which, though visible, is not properly speaking visible in itself, but by reason of extrinsic colour. Air, water and many solid bodies answer to this description” (De Anima II.7 2. See also Epifania 152.). For Aristotle, the diaphanous is the transparent medium whereby the visual perception of objects becomes possible, it is obscure until it is informed by light (del Garbo 181-5).
- shadow cometh of Mars –
La qual da Marte
viene e fá dimora.
The darkness that comes from Mars may be referring to the influences on mind and temperament that astrology associated with the planet: impulsivity, passion, sex drive, masculinity, desire, violence. Cavalcanti defines the accident of love as fero (“wild”) and altero (“proud”) – understood as a diafan of light, it partakes of the darkness in the (masculine) mind under the influence of the planet. (See also del Garbo 190.)
Pound gave a Neoplatonic spin to Cavalcanti’s line:
“Da Marte: I suppose as ‘impulse’. At any rate there is a Neoplatonic gradation of the assumption of faculties as the mind descends into matter through the seven spheres, via the gate of Cancer: in Saturn, reason; in Jupiter, practical and moral; in Mars, the ‘spirited’; in Venus, the sensuous. Cf. Dante’s voi ch’intendendo il terzo ciel movete. Macrobius, In Somnium Scipionis; and Plotinus, Ennead” (LE 184).
- name sensate –
Egli é creato
e a sensato
Possible echo of Dante’s “nomina sunt consequentia rerum” (“names are the consequence of things” Vita Nuova XIII.4) the idea that the sound of a word expresses a quality of its corresponding real object.
Étienne Gilson commented on the passage in his review of Pound’s edition, Guido Cavalcanti Rime (Criterion October 1932):
“I am just wondering if we have not here a case of mediaeval etymology […] Guido means, perhaps, nothing deeper than this: ‘Love is created, it has taken its name, amor, from anima (for it has its seat in the soul) and cor (for it derives its will from heart). Deriving amore for alma and chor is by no means absurd in the thirteenth century; I would not affirm that this is the real meaning of the verses, it is at least very likely that Guido had something of that kind in mind when he wrote them” (in Homberger 277-8). Pound strongly disagreed, replying that Cavalcanti was too good a poet for this kind of pseudo-etymology (Pound to Gilson, 6 November 1932, Ardizzone 170).
- Cometh from a seen form –
Vien da veduta forma che s’intende,
nel possibile intelletto,
come in subgetto,
loco e dimoranza.
In quella parte mai non ha possanza
In his review of Rime, Étienne Gilson provided a lucid explanation of this passage which Pound read when composing the canto in October 1932:
“This part of the text is not really obscure, for it is a commonplace application of a conception of human knowledge almost universally admitted in the thirteenth century. The origin of our concepts is a form perceived by our senses (veduta forma [seen form]), abstracted from the sensible image by an act of understanding (che s’intende [being understood]), and impressed by the active intellect in the possible intellect (nel possible intelletto), where it stays as in its receiving and conserving subject (chome in subgetto locho e dimoranza). Considered as a form that is simply understood in the intellect, love has no real power (e in quella parte mai non a possanza); in other words, being then a purely rational quality, it does not generate delight, but knowledge (non a diletto ma consideranza)” (in Homberger 276).
Pound may have decided to fuse these elements into his version of the lines, but not translate literally. Particularly he chooses to render “non ha possanza” (“does not have power”) with “neither weight nor still standing.”
- intellect possible – Pound understood it as “receptive intellect” (LE 175, 185). See also Liebregts for a Neoplatonic equivalent in the concept of “lower phantastikon” (Liebregts, 2004, 205-6)
Pound found Averroes’ definition of “possible intellect” in Ernest Renan’s Averroès et l’Averroisme and quoted it in Latin in LE 186:
“The possible intellect, on receiving the objects for contemplation, takes with them into itself the light of the agent intellect, to which it becomes more similar day by day. And when the possible intellect has received all the contemplated or understood objects, it has the light of the agent intellect adhering to it like a Form… The adept (=acquired) intellect is composed from the possible and the agent intellect, and it is called divine, and then man is perfect. And through this intellect man is in a certain way similar to God, in that he can thus perform divine acts, and give to himself and others divine intelligibles, and receive all intelligibles in a certain way, and this is that knowing that all men desire, in which contemplative felicity consists” (translated by Peter Liebregts 209).
The passage would become again significant in Cantos LI and XC (Liebregts 210-1).
Pound inverts the word sequence of the concept term thus allowing for a non-philosophical reading, away from the Averroistic vocabulary that Cavalcanti employs. See Gilson’s view in the preceding note and Henriksen 44.
- Descendeth not by quality – Listen to aria.
E in quella parte mai non a possanza
PERCHÈ da qualitatde non disciende
in sé perpetuale effecto
Non a diletto
Perche non pote laire simiglglianza:
As love does not have its own substance, it cannot derive from an essential attribute it can call its own, something that Cavalcanti repeats at the start of the next stanza (“non è virtute”). Having no substance, it cannot project a “likeness” that would make love manifest itself, but is awareness, or thought: (“non ha diletto – ma consideranza”). See Dante Vita Nuova XXV. See also Gilson’s view in n.12.
- his own effect unendingly – translation of “[risplende] in sé perpetuale effecto.” Key phrase pertaining to light, as defined by Robert Grosseteste and summed up by Étienne Gilson, whom Pound cites in his essay “Cavalcanti.” For years Pound was tantalized by the thought that Cavalcanti may have read and been influenced by Grossesteste, yet he could not prove it. In E. Gilson’s Philosophie au Moyen Age, he read a French rendering that looked almost like a translation:
“La lumière est une substance corporelle très subtile et qui se rapproche de l’incorporel. Ses propriétés caractéristiques sont d’engendrer elle-même perpetuellement et de se diffuser sphériquement autour d’un point d’une manière instantanée.” LE 160.
(“Light is a very subtle, corporeal substance which is nearly incorporeal. Its characteristic properties are to perpetually create and diffuse itself spherically around a point in an instantaneous manner.”)
Going to Grosseteste’s original, Pound found “Lux enim per se in omnem partem se ipsam diffundit” (“light, by its essential nature, diffuses itself in all directions”) and other equivalent expressions which he found less similar to Cavalcanti’s phrase. (LE 161. Translation from Latin by Liebregts Neoplatonism 215.)
- vertu – “the potency, the efficient property of a substance or person” SB 3. In his third stanza, Cavalcanti focuses on the power and lordship of love, responding to Orlandi’s questions: “How and when and whom does it master?” and “Is it life, this love, or is it death?” Pound does not translate closely, his rendering is a free approximation. See also Hesse 331.
- beyond salvation – I. “fuor di salute”
for di salute – giudicar mantene,
ch la ’ntenzione – per ragione – vale:
discerne male – in cui è vizio amico.
Di sua potenza segue spesso morte,
se forte – la vertù fosse impedita,
La quale aita la contrara via
“Here an idea of the dangers implicit in Cavalcanti’s dark Amor-Mars shines through into Pound’s radiant love. Guido lists the traditional effects that love has upon the lover within the tradition of courtly love. Love makes the lover employ his judging power (‘guidichar’) ‘beyond salvation’ (‘fuor di salute’). This is because intention (‘antenzione’) replaces (‘vale’) reason (‘ragione’). This love may even lead to death. By ‘death’ Cavalcanti must here be concerned with moral death, a notion that we often find in medieval poetry and scholastic philosophy. Cavalcanti adds a conditional clause to the notion of death; man may come ‘on death in the end’: ‘Se forte la virtú fosse impedita/ La quale aita la contrara via— ‘if the virtue [the use of reason] which helps man follow the opposite way [the one of salvation] is hindered.’” (Henriksen 46).
- Natural opposite…him no more –
Nonche opposito natural sia
Ma quanto che da ben perfett e torte
non po dir om ch abbi vita
non a singnioria
A simil puó valer quant uom l obblia : -
“Here Cavalcanti continues the description of the lover lacking control of himself and tells us that man cannot claim to be alive, when through love, he has lost the lordship of himself (‘Che stabilita non a singnioria’). The same situation occurs (Ά simil puo valer) if man forgets (‘quant uom l obblia’) his ideal end (‘ben perfett’). Pound, on the other hand, is describing an indeed powerful but also positive passion. He takes ‘love’ as the grammatical subject for ‘a singnioria,’ and tells us that love is not incidental and that it keeps lordship and power, even when lost to memory. Pound seems to be implying that love is stronger than memory: the ‘seen form’ that gave birth to love in the first place may be forgotten, but love still shines out. Pound’s translation thus focuses on the power of memory, another central idea in The Cantos” (Henriksen 47).
- Cometh he to be – In his fourth stanza, Cavalcanti returns to Orlandi’s first question: “Whence does love move, and where is it born?”
“Here Guido tells us that the essence (the ‘essenza’ [‘being’] of stanza one) of love lies in a distortion of the will which comes to exceed the limits given it by nature (‘oltre misura di natura’). The passage adds new traditional consequences of love to those given in the previous stanza: love makes the lover go pale (‘changiando cholr’), it makes laughter (‘riso’) turn into weeping (‘pianto’)and distorts the lover’s face with fear. Pound has here followed Cavalcanti quite faithfully” (Henriksen 48).
- forméd trace – I. “formato locho.”
“The line Έ vol ch om mirj/ in un formato locho’ (in Pound’s translation ‘Willing man look into that forméd trace in his mind.’ A more literal translation goes ‘And [Love] wants that man look in a formed place’）is probably the most discussed of the entire canzone. The tradition to which Pound’s manuscript belongs reads ‘un formato locho’ and the formed place becomes a platonic reference to the ‘seen form’ which took ‘locus’ in the lover’s mind in stanza two. In Pound’s poem, the lover thus looks at the idea of his love which he carries in his mind, with uneasiness as the result” (Henriksen 49).
- such uneasiness – Cavalcanti’s line “destandos’ira la qual manda focho” can be literally translated as “awakening the anger that sends the fire” very much in the spirit of Mars to whose darkness he refers in stanza two. Pound obviously decided to tone this down, probably to emphasize the intellectual and sensitive rather than the passional aspect of love.
- He draweth likeness – In his 5th stanza, Cavalcanti answers Orlandi’s question: “Does it have a figure/ Has it itself form, or someone else’s likeness?”
- from his face… emanation – I. “per lo viso.”
Ε non si puo chonosciere per lo viso
biancho in tale obbietto chade
Ε chi ben aude
forma non si vede
Perchè lo mena chi dallui procede
“Here Pounds translation diverges almost completely from Guido’s original. I shall look at the Italian text first. Cavalcanti tells us that ‘non si puo chonosciere per lo viso’一love cannot be known ‘per lo viso’ that is ‘from sight’ (‘viso’ = ‘vista’). (Pound gives the translation ‘from his face.’）This is because even the colour white (‘biancho’), the most elemental of colours, has no effect (‘chade’) in such an object (‘in tale obbietto’), that is, in love. That is to say, love is totally deprived of colour, and thus not visible. Furthermore, we know that forms cannot be seen, ‘forma non si vede,’ so much less so than that which issued from that form. This reading is based upon a version of the last of these lines which differs a lot from Pound’s ‘Perche lo mena chi dallui procede.’ A literal translation of Pound’s text says, ‘because it is led by the one that is issued from it.’ Favati gives (‘dun qu’elli meno, che da lei procede,’) that is ‘thus less the one that is issued from it.’ This is the part of the canzone in which Pound’s critical text differs the most from other texts used.
In his translation, Pound adds the idea of light to the notion of white, ‘biancho,’ thus expanding his image of love as light” (Henriksen 52-3).
- set out from colour – I. “Fuor di cholore essere diviso.”
Fuor di cholore essere diviso
mezzo schuro luce rade
Fuor d’ongni fraude
dice dengno in fede
Chè solo da chostui nasce merzede: —
“In Guido’s text, love, which is without colour (‘Fuor di cholore,) (and thus without form or body), and divided from being (‘essere diviso’), since not a substance but, as we were told in stanza one, an ‘accidente,’ sits in the dark medium (‘mezzo schuro’) that is the sensitive part of the soul, eliminating light (‘luce rade’). Savona sees this as a conclusion and summary of the definition that Guido has given us in the canzone, which has told us ‘that love is deprived of colour and consequently not visible; that it is deprived of substance and thus defined as an accident; that it is a passion of the sensitive soul; that it is a passion neither regulated nor controlled by reason and consequently it prevents who is in the power of this passion from living a life in accordance with ‘reason.’ Here once again the focus is upon the darkness of love，which is actually defined as a force that eliminates light. Nevertheless Cavalcanti ends the canzone with an almost ironic paradox, since from this love, despite its dangers and passions, mercy is born.
- Grazeth the light – I. [mezzo schuro] “luce rade.”
“‘Luce rade’ is another key phrase the interpretation of which decides the ‘light’ of the text. Italian scholars read ‘rade’ as ‘erase, eliminate.’ Pound reads it as ‘graze, touch slightly.’ The two balls of light that he has established in the reader’s imagination thus graze each other, ‘one moving by other’一 the only phrase of the poem that Pound has inserted with no authority whatsoever from Cavalcanti’s text. Pound here seems to have needed to insert an extra clause to support his interpretation, of love as light, shining out ‘in mid darkness’” (Henriksen 54).
This interpretation is in agreement with Pound’s own comment on “rade”:
“I take it that the Amor moves with the light in darkness, never touching it and never a hair’s breadth from it. Franchetta takes radere to mean merely cut off or blot out. This would let one in the dark night of the soul, instead of leaving us the clean though highly complicated image […] In Dante the ‘Primum mobile’ might be said radere the fixed heaven (abscissum)” (LE 191). See also Bush 680-1 for a comment on the passage.
- Go, song – The next five lines are a so-called “envoi” (Italian “congedo”) a poetic convention whereby the poet lets go of the song and sends it on its way. Listen to aria.
“Pound’s translation of Donna mi prega is actually very close to the original. Yet through small choices, such as the substitution of one grammatical subject for another, and the insertion of keywords such as ‘light’ and ‘sight,’ Pound succeeds in removing Guido’s definition of love as a dangerous passion that eliminates both reason and light. Instead he creates a text from which light as an image of love shines out of itself its ‘own effect unendingly.’ ‘Dove sta memoria’ and ‘Risplende in se perpetuale effecto’，are two of Guido’s expressions that Pound takes with him from Donna mi prega. With the new associations that through the elaboration of Guido’s text he has added to them, Pound will let these phrases send their echoes through the later cantos. As readers we are free to respect the poet who succeeds in aligning love, light and intellect, as Pound has done, in Guido Cavalcanti’s name” (Henriksen 54).
- called thrones – a phrase that Pound quotes from Dante Alighieri, Par IX: 61. It is Cunizza da Romano, Sordello’s lover who tells Dante: “Su sono specchi, voi dicete Troni, / onde rifulge a noi Dio giudicante” (“Above are mirrors Thrones is what you call them/ and from them God in judgment shines on us”) Par IX: 61-2. See Cunizza in paradise. See also Commentary.
- balascio – I. “ruby.” The inspiration for the word may be Dante’s word “balascio” in Par IX: 69, where he associates the ruby with paradisal joy: “L’altra letizia, che m’era già nota/ preclara cosa, mi si fece in vista/qual fin balascio in che lo sol percota” “The other joy, already known to me/ as precious, then appeared before my eyes/ like a pure ruby struck by the sun’s rays.” (Par IX: 67-69, translated by Allen Mandelbaum.)
“Balascio” is the spelling adopted in the older editions that Pound used (Dent 1904). Modern editions spell the word “balasso.” See General sources.
- Eriugina – John Scotus Eriugena (805-77), Irish theologian, philosopher, poet, and translator. Due to his knowledge of Greek, rare in the 9th century, he revitalised the theses of Neoplatonism that had been largely forgotten in the Latin West, enabling a reconciliation of Neoplatonism with Christian theology. He translated the works of Pseudo-Dionysius into Latin: one of them, The Celestial Hierarchy (5th c.), introduced “Thrones” as an angelic order. Eriugena’s original philosophical work is De Divisione Naturae (“On the Division of Nature”). At the time of the canto, Pound had read The Celestial Hierarchy but not yet De Divisione Naturae.
Pound asserted that “the whole poem [Donna mi prega] is alive with Eriuginian vigour” (LE 178). We may interpret this statement to say that Guido’s authority rests on his knowledge of love and own philosophical reasoning, and does not derive from an alignment with the values established by the Church (the chaste spirituality of the amore christiano that Dante presents in the figure of Beatrice). See also Commentary.
“Eriugena functions as a kind of synecdoche for the so-called ‘conspiracy of intelligence’ beyond orthodox intellectual networks. Pound’s admiration was magnified by his impression that Eriugena had performed as a kind of vox sola (or even a vox clamantis in deserto), without the support of a structured intellectual network such as the School of Chartres for William of Conches and John of Salisbury in the twelfth century, or Marsilio Ficino’s Platonic Academy in Quattrocento Florence. In Eriugena, Pound saw a formidable intellect creating his own intellectual and textual community” (Byron 43).
- which explains – Pound is quoting his source, Francesco Fiorentino’s comment on Eriugena in his Manuale di storia della filosofia. His edition (3rd, 1921) also contained this added footnote:
“Scoto sorpasso il suo secolo per la sua estesa cultura (fatto unico nei sec. XI [sic] egli conosce il greco, ha grande famigliarità coi Padri della Chiesa), per la sua elevatura filosofica che gli rende possibile una sintesi, quando appena si balbettava di filosofia. Percio non e da stupire se non fu subito compreso e se giunse tardi la condanna.” (Fiorentino 220-21 quoted in Moody 243; Michaels 43)
“Scotus surpassed his century by his own culture (a unique fact of the XI [sic] century was that he knew Greek, and had great familiarity with the Church Fathers) by his philosophical high level which made possible a synthesis at a time when there was just a babbling of philosophy. Thus it is not surprising that he was not immediately understood and late to be condemned.”
Pound may have interpreted Fiorentino to say that Eriugena flaunted the authority of the Church in an act of philosophical rebellion that was deliberate and intentional. This however does not agree with the Catholic received position that Eriugena considered himself a loyal son of the Church and was hard on heretics (Catholic Encyclopedia).
- they went looking – Pound refers to the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) initiated by Pope Innocent III which destroyed the Cathar heresy in the South of France.
- Manicheans – adepts of Mani (216-274), a Persian religious prophet.
“He [Mani] taught a form of dualism, influenced by earlier Gnostics: God is opposed by forces of darkness; they, not God, created human beings, who nevertheless contain particles of light which can be released by abstemious living. Two points of contrast with Catholic Christianity are particularly striking. First, in Manicheism, sinfulness is the natural state of human beings (because of their creators), and does not stem from Adam’s Fall. Second, the Manichean God did not create and does not control the forces of darkness (although he will eventually triumph); hence the problem of evil does not arise in as stark a form as it does for the all-powerful Christian God.” […] In Christendom, ‘Manichee’ became an opprobrious epithet for heresies that pronounced human nature evil (so excluding redemption) and harboured a class of Elect (so rejecting infant baptism). […] And the Cathars of the same period, powerful in southern France until de Montfort’s ‘crusade’ overthrew them, joined Manichean dietary and sexual proscriptions with the old Gnostic rejection of Christ’s humanity (Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Pound stated in his essay “Cavalcanti” that Cathars were not adepts of Mani but held beliefs incompatible with catholic morality of the 13th century:
“[Cathars] are called pagans, and the troubadours are also accused of being Manicheans, obviously because of a muddle somewhere. They are opposed to a form of stupidity not limited to Europe, that is, idiotic asceticism and a belief that the body is evil” (LE 150).
The usual accusation against the Albigeois is that they were Manicheans. This I believe to be pure bunkumb. The slanderers feared the truth. […] The best scholars do not believe there were any Manicheans left in Europe at the time of the Albigensian Crusade (SP 58-9). See also OCCEP XXIII: 46-48.)
- dug for and damned – Eriugena’s book De divisione naturae was banned at the University of Paris for “pantheism” in 1210, together with the works of Aristotle (Byron Eriugena 46 n.5). The philosophical vocabulary that Cavalcanti uses in his canzone thus proved in Pound’s eyes that Guido, like Eriugena, was an intellectual rebel against forms of medieval authority, including that of the Church.
Pound relies on his source, Francesco Fiorentino’s Manuale:
“Onorio III, il 1225, poichè la seppe disseppellita per le ricerche che si facevano contro gli Albigesi, ordinò incontanente si bruciasse; la storia della filosofia non può a meno di additarla come un primo saggio di speculazione libera in tempi in cui tutti quasi si curvavano sotto il giogo dell’autorità” (Fiorentino 66).
“Honorius III, in 1225, as the knowledge [of Eriugena’s ideas] was unearthed by the research done against the Albigenses, immediately ordered that it be burnt; the history of philosophy cannot fail to point it out as a first work of free speculation in times in which everyone bowed under the yoke of authority.”
- Authority comes from right reason – Eriugena’s maxim from De Divisione naturae: “Auctoritas siqui ratione processit, ratio uero nequaquam ex auctoritate” (quoted in Latin in Fiorentino 62). See also Gilson 14-15; Makin 1973; Byron 43.
- Aquinas – Tomasso d’Aquino (1225-74), Italian Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church, immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist. His main work is the Summa Theologiae (1265-74).
Aquinas embraced several ideas put forward by Aristotle and attempted to synthesize Aristotelian philosophy with the principles of Christianity. In his turn, he influenced the theological, moral and cosmological structure of the Divina Commedia, which is often dubbed “the Summa in verse.”
Pound’s assertion “head down in a vacuum,” echoes the fate of simoniac popes in Dantes’s Inferno (XIX: ll.43-120). See also Bacigalupo for comments on the “head down” and usury in the middle cantos (86).
In comparing Guido’s and Dante’s philosophical differences, Pound remarked:
“I may be wrong, but I cannot believe that Guido ‘swallowed’ Aquinas. It is perhaps by merest accident, but we find nowhere in his poem any implication of a belief in a geocentric or theocentric material universe” (LE 159).
- Aristotle – Greek philosopher from Stagira (384-322). Aristotle provided a synthesis of the various existing philosophies prior to him, including those of Socrates and Plato, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its fundamental intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. His writings cover many subjects, including sciences, metaphysics, logic, ethics, the arts, economics, politics and government. […] Aristotelianism profoundly influenced Islamic thought during the Middle Ages, as well as Christian theology and the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. For Guido’s poem, Aristotle’s treatise De Anima (“On the Soul”) is especially relevant.
Pound’s opinion of Aristotle was negative. He wrote in Guide to Kulchur:
“Master of those that cut apart, dissect and divide. Competent precursor of the card index. But without the organic sense… I say this in the face of Aristotle’s repeated emphases on experience, and of testing by life” (GK 343).
- Sacrum, sacrum, inluminatio coitu – L. “sacred, sacred, the illumination by coitus.”
- Lo Sordels si fo di Mantovana – Prov. “Sordello was from Mantua”– the beginning of Sordello’s medieval biography, which Pound compared to Cesare de Lollis’ Vita e Poesie di Sordello de Goito, his main source for the canto. See Chabaneau 106.
Pound may have introduced this information not only to introduce Sordello in the style of the medieval troubadour vidas, but also to suggest that even if Sordello was not a Florentine, he fought at the battle of Benevento for Charles of Anjou, i.e. he was a Guelph in politics, like Cavalcanti and Dante. Benevento was a Guelph victory and a turning point in the life of Guido’s family, enabling its members to return from exile and play a role in the political life of the city.
As Bacigalupo observes, Pound subtly connects Sordello to canto XXXV, in which he had delineated the economic initiatives of Mantua in matters of selling and dyeing of cloth. Though he was born in that businesslike city, Sordello will have none of it and is made to exclaim: “what the hell do I know about dye-works?” (See l.103; Bacigalupo 88). See also Commentary.
- His Holiness – Pope Clement IV (1190-1268), with whose help Charles of Anjou conquered the kingdom of Sicily, reminded the king of the duties towards his familiars and mentioned Sordello in a letter of 22 September 1266, a few months after Charles’ victorious battle at Benevento in February:
“And now your soldier Sordello, who should have been deemed worthy without having to prove it, at least should be redeemed in keeping with his worth. Many other men who served you in Italy have gone back home naked and penniless” (De Lollis 323; translated by Morrow 94).
- Charles – Charles I of Anjou (1227-1285), Count of Provence (1246-85), King of Sicily and Naples (1266-85) and Prince of Achaea (1278-85).
Charles and Pope Urban IV collaborated in wresting the Kingdom of Sicily from the Hohenstaufen family, particularly Manfred, Frederick II’s illegitimate son, who had usurped the throne. After Urban’s death in 1264, his successor, Clement IV, continued the crusade against Manfred. Charles crossed Italy and was crowned in Rome before defeating Manfred at the battle of Benevento in February 1266.
- Dilectis mihi familiaris… pile – L. “Dilectus miles familiaris” (“to my dear soldier and familiar”), excerpt of the act whereby Charles awarded Sordello the five castles in the Abruzzi in March 1269:
“Considerantes igitur grandia grata et accepta servitia que Sordellus de Godio dilectus miles familiaris et fidelis noster Serenitati nostre exhibuit et que ipsum exhibiturum speramus in posterum castra Montis Odorisii Montis Sancti Silvestri pallete et pile et Casale Castillonis sita in Justiciariatu Aprucii videlicet in partibus Thetis maioris cum hominibus vassallis possessionibus domibus vineis terris cultis et incultis planis montibus pratis nemoribus pascuis molendinis aquis aquarumque decursibus aliisque juribus jurisdictionibus et pertinentiis eorum que de demanio in demanium et que de servitio in servitium predicto Sordello et heredibus suis utriusque sexus ex ipsius corpore legitime descendentibus natis jam et etiam nascituris donamus tradimus et concedimus” (de Lollis 323).
“Now therefore, we, considering the great favors and welcome services which Sordello di Goito, our dear companion, intimate soldier, and our faithful liege, proffered to our serenity, and which services we hope he will proffer in the future, do formally give, make over, and surrender [to Sordello di Goito] the castles of Mount Odorisio, Mount San Silvestro, Paglieta and Pila, and the estate of Castiglione, located in the justiciarite of Aprucius, namely in the regions of greater Thetis. Plus: vassals, possessions, estates, vineyards, lands cultivated and uncultivated, plains, mountains, meadows, woods, pastures, mill houses, still waters, waterways. Plus: the other rights, jurisdictions, and the ownership of those perquisites which pass on from descent to descent and from service to service. [All this we give] to the aforesaid Sordello and to his heirs of either sex descending legitimately from his body, already born and yet to be born....] (translated from Latin by Morrow, 97).
- In partibus Thetis – L. in the region of Chieti, in the Abruzzi.
- Pratis nemoribus pascuis – L. “meadows, woods and pastures.”
- Sold the damn lot – Charles awarded the fiefs on 5 March 1269, and Sordello sold them on 30 August (Lollis 64; Morrow 95). The date is significant: it is just four years after Sordello’s first love, Lady Cunizza da Romano, had freed her slaves in Guido Cavalcanti’s house in Florence. In 1265, Guido was fifteen and Pound liked to speculate on the strong impression and subterranean influence Cunizza’s presence and act of manumission may have had on him (GK 108-90). Sordello’s refusal to be bound by feudal property and honours shows his free spirit, kindred with Cunizza’s. See also Hesse 352-4 and and Commentary.
Pound introduced the theme of Cunizza and Sordello in canto VI, rewritten in 1929, at the height of his work for his Cavalcanti edition. OCCEP VI: nn.29-36 and Calendar to Canto VI. See also XXIX: ll.22-50 for Pound’s précis of Cunizza’s life.
- Quan ben m’albir e mon ric pensamen – Prov. ‘‘When I think deeply in my rich meditations.” Line from Sordello’s poem XXI, ‘‘Atretan deu ben chantar finamen” (De Lollis 180). Pound made a short pastiche of a few lines of the poem in canto VI. See OCCEP VI: n. 36. See also whole poem in Provençal and English in Sources.