At whiles (yea oftentimes) I muse over

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848?; 1861
Rhyme: abbaabbacdecde
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


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

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I.50-51 (II. 83-85) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 104-106 .

Scholarly Commentary


This completes the sequence of four highly personal sonnets in the Vita Nuova that began with “All my thoughts always speak to me of Love”. The translation, more free at the literal level than most, is quite stunning for its interpretive boldness and clarity.

Everything in the original hinges on the “spirto vivo solamente” (line 7), Dante's brilliant wordplay echoing “la mente” in line 1. The prose introduction underscores and prepares the reader for this key “pensero che parlava di questa donna”—specifically, in fact, Dante's own verse and the thought of writing of Beatrice in verse. We shall see in the next poem, the great canzone “Donne ch' avete intelletto d'amore”, how this sonnet's commitment to intellectual reflection prepares for the breakthrough to the canzone, where Dante discovers what is involved in writing a love poetry that has transcended the subjectivity of its passion.

DGR's understanding of this poetical drama could scarcely be more clearly or more remarkably rendered than it is in this sonnet. It suffices to point to lines 6 and 10, and particularly to the words “sign” and “art”, which have no explicit equivalents in the Italian original. To translate this way is not merely to execute a sharp interpretation of Dante's sonnet, it is to incarnate Dante's “spirto vivo”—what he will shortly reveal as “intelletto d'amore”—as the poetical act itself. For Dante this act is bound up with a Christian scheme of redemption as it was reworked through the tradition of courtly love. For DGR, however, the act is wholly modern and wholly secular. At this stage of DGR's work the act involves a devotion to art per se. Later, however, that aesthetic devotion will get joined to the pursuit of erotic intensity.

The translation is also interesting for its metrical procedure. Line 1's final four syllables are not only startling, they make a signature for DGR's various efforts to flatten the effect of English stress-based verse. Line 6 marks another notable moment. Its ten single syllable words take the breath from the English iambic line. This device appears all over DGR's translations and is especially notable because of the variance from the Italian originals, where multisyllabic words abound. DGR saw clearly that the way to secure an “imitation” of Italian rhythm was to approach the rhythm of the English line through a multiplicity of short words, and ground the rhythm in words of one syllable. Pater's sense of DGR's stylistic innovations comes from his recognition of this set of “flattening”metrical procedures.

DGR's source text was “Spesse fiate venemi alle mente” in the third volume of Fraticelli's edition of Dante's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri.

Textual History: Composition

This is an early translation, in the 1840s, perhaps as early as 1846.

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: 16d-1861.raw.xml