THE CONVIVIO, BOOK 2 CHAPTER 11 BY DANTE ALIGHIERI
by Dante Alighieri
translated by Richard Lansing
Finally, as the letter of this commentary stated above when it divided this canzone into its principal parts, I address my discourse directly to the canzone itself, and speak to it. In order that this may be more fully understood, I say that in every canzone this is generally called a “tornata,” because the poets who first made a practice of employing it did so in order that when the canzone had been sung they might return to it with a certain part of the melody.(32) But I have rarely employed it with that intention, and so that others might perceive that this is the case, rarely have I composed it according to the metrical pattern of the canzone, with regard to the number of verses which are required for the melody; but I have employed it for the adornment of the canzone when there was a need to say something lying outside its meaning, as may be seen in this one and in the others. Therefore I say here that the goodness and the beauty of every discourse are separate and different from one another; for goodness lies in the meaning, and beauty in the adornment of the words; and both the one and the other give pleasure, although goodness is especially pleasing. And so, since the goodness of this canzone was difficult to perceive because of the diversity of persons in it who are presented as speakers, where many distinctions are required, and since its beauty was easy to perceive, it seemed to me necessary for the canzone that others consider its beauty more than its goodness. And this is what I say in this part.
But since it often happens that an admonition appears presumptuous, a rhetorician is accustomed in certain circumstances to speak to people indirectly, addressing his words not to the person for whom they are meant, but to another. This method is in fact adopted here, for the words are addressed to the canzone and their meaning to men. I say therefore, “My song, I think they will be few indeed,” that is to say quite few, “who understand you well.” And I give the reason, which is twofold. First, because your speech is complex–I say “complex” for the reason that has been mentioned; and second, because your speech is difficult–I say “difficult” with regard to the newness of the meaning. Now afterwards I admonish it and say: So if by chance it comes to pass that you should find yourself with some who appear perplexed by your argument, do not be dismayed, but say to them: Since you do not perceive my goodness, consider at least how fair I am. For I mean nothing by this, as has been said above, save: You men who cannot perceive the meaning of this canzone, do not therefore reject it; rather consider its beauty, which is great by virtue of its composition, which is the concern of the grammarians, by virtue of the order of its discourse, which is the concern of the rhetoricians, and by the virtue of the rhythm of its parts, which is the concern of the musicians. These things can be perceived within it as beautiful by anyone who looks closely.
This is the complete literal meaning of the first canzone, which, as has been indicated above, constitutes the first course.
32. it is generally called a “tornata” The tornata (return) is a Provençal term for the final short stanza of a poem.