The eyes that weep for pity of the heart

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848?; 1861
Rhyme: abcabccdeedeff; congedo: abbaab
Meter: iambic pentameter, with a trimeter at line 10
Genre: canzone


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets), 189-193 .

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I.82-87 (II. 129-132) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 198-206 .

Scholarly Commentary


The canzone, the third in the Vita Nuova, consciously recalls the first of those canzoni, “Ladies that have intelligence in love”. The parallels as well as the differences help to reveal the important change of state that Beatrice's heavenly translation has brought about in Dante. Briefly, her death—which is never in Dante's poem referred to with the word “morte” or any of its cognates—turns Dante to a person fixated on a world beyond this natural world, on a world of divine presences. The second stanza underscores the argument that Beatrice did not die a natural death, as it were, but was summoned to the divine world by God himself, so taken was He by her perfection. The event leaves Dante in a deathly state of abjection. The word “morte” is used repeatedly to define Dante's immediate desolation, a state in which, as DGR translates the situation, he “living dies” (line 60). Note, however, that the final appearance of the word comes in a cognate form, “tramortita” (line 68), which distinctly suggests a transcendence of mortality.

That theme, in fact, pervades the entire canzone, and points to the crucial subtheme: that Dante's grief, unlike his earlier states of unhappiness when Beatrice withdrew her salutation, is now a kind of non-natural condition, a dark glass mirroring the translated state of Beatrice. Thus, when Dante dismisses his poem in the congedo, the gesture reveals how Dante is now poised between heaven and earth, with his spirit directed toward Beatrice and the divine world, and his words—his poem—dwelling in a lower order of things, but itself aspiring to communion with poems of radiance and happiness: those “sorelle [qui] erano usate di portar letitzia” (lines 73-74).

As so often in DGR's poems, mistranslation—or rather translational freedom—signals his clear understanding of Dante's argument. Note in this respect line 17 where DGR says that Beatrice “to her friends is dead”. This translation is anything but literal, introducing—as Dante does not—the word death in relation to Beatrice. But DGR's move is quite effective since his poem here draws our attention to a (mortal) view of Beatrice as “dead”. That is not the view of the divine world, and it will be a function of these poems to persuade Beatrice's “friends” to change their view of her.

That DGR takes this poem as a key moment in the autobiography is apparent when in the final stanza he translates Dante's “secol novo” as a “New Birth”. “And what my life hath been, that living dies” is more poetical explication than literal translation, but it clarifies the central Dantean ideas about the different orders of life and death. When Shelley in the Prometheus Unbound distingished two worlds of life and two of death, (I. 195ff.) he was speaking out of Dantean thought, and the thought is replicated again here in DGR's poetry. Equally interesting is the fact that the essential story of DGR's “House of Life”; is forecast in this canzone. Because the action gets radically secularized in DGR's work, however, that “New Birth” (line 61) splinters into a series of ambiguous forms named (for instance) “Bridal Birth”, “The Birth-Bond”, “Stillborn Love”, “Newborn Death”.

That Rossettian situation lends a special poignance to the congedo, where Dante specifically recalls “Ladies that have intelligence in love” and suggests a close relation between such ladies and the “sorelle” (line 73) that are his poems. This canzone's “tristizia” (line 75) comes as a dark rhyme to the earlier canzone's “letizia” (line 74); as such, its complexities appear a peculiarly apt index of Rossetti's Dantean inheritance. His poems seem far more troubled than their Dantean “sisters”, which they now begin to join. So when we think of “The Blessed Damozel” in relation to the two canzoni, as we can hardly fail to do, it is this second canzone that stands in closest proximity to DGR's famous early work.

DGR's source text was “Gli occhi, dolenti per pietà del core” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri.

Textual History: Composition

An early work, late 1840s.

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 13d-1861.raw.xml