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Petrarch (Italian name Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374) is a great scholar and poet of Renaissance and father of Humanism. He dedicates to Italy the CXXVIII composition of Canzoniere (“Songbook”): “My Italy”, addressed to the Italian lords hiring German mercenaries for their internecine wars: «My Italy, though words cannot heal / the mortal wounds / so dense, I see on your lovely flesh, / at least I pray that my sighs might bring …». «My Italy, ...

though words cannot heal / the mortal wounds / so dense, I see on your ovely flesh, / at least I pray that my sighs might bring …». The song was probably composed between the end of 1344 and 1345, while the poet was in Parma and there was a war for the conquest of the city between Gonzaga and Visconti on one side and Estensi, Scaligeri, Pepoli and Ordelaffi onthe other. The two opposing sides make use of foreign mercenary troops and this fact gives Petrarch the opportunity to stigmatize the fratricidal struggle with a political song that follows the tradition of Guittone d'Arezzo and Dante Alighieri. "My Italy" is the best known of the civil poems dedicated to Italy and was the most loved by great writers, from Machiavelli to Leopardi.

 

My Italy, though words cannot heal

the mortal wounds

so dense, I see on your lovely flesh,

at least I pray that my sighs might bring

some hope to the Tiber and the Arno,

and the Po, that sees me now sad and grave.

Ruler of Heaven, I hope

that the pity that brought You to earth,

will turn you towards your soul-delighting land.

Lord of courtesy, see

such cruel wars for such slight causes:

and hearts, hardened and closed

by proud, fierce Mars,

and open them, Father, soften them, set them free:

and, whatever I may be, let your Truth

be heard in my speech.

You lords to whose hands Fortune entrusts the reins

of the beautiful region

for which you seem to show no pity,

what is the purpose of these foreign swords?

Why is our green land

so stained with barbarous blood?

Vain error flatters you:

you see little, and think you see much,

if you look for love or loyalty in venal hearts.

He who has more troops

has more enemies under his command.

O waters gathered

from desert lands

to inundate our sweet fields!

If our own hands

have done it, who can rescue us now?

Nature provided well for our defence,

setting the Alps as a shield

between us and the German madness:

but blind desire, contrary to its own good,

is so ingenious,

that it brings plague to a healthy body.

Now wild beasts

and gentle flocks sleep in one pen

so the gentler always groan:

and this, to add to our grief,

from that race, that lawless people,

of whom, as we read,

Marius so pierced their flank,

that the memory of the deed can never fade,

how thirsty and weary

he no longer drank river water but blood!

I’ll say nothing of Caesar

who painted the grass crimson

with their blood, where he raised the sword.

Now it seems, no one knows by what evil star,

heaven hates us:

mercy, oh you who so beset us.

Your warring wills

waste the better part of the world.

For what fault, by what justice, through what fate,

do you trouble your poor

neighbours, and persecute those afflicted

by fortune, and scattered, and search

out foreign people and accept them,

they who spill blood and sell their souls for money?

I speak to tell the truth,

not in hatred of anyone, nor scorn.

Are you still ignorant of German deceit,

with so many clear examples,

they who lift their fingers in mock surrender?

Their scorn is worse, it seem to me, than their harm:

while your blood flows

more freely, as other’s anger flails you.

From matins to tierce

think to yourself, consider how

any can care for others who behave so vilely.

People of Latin blood,

free yourself from this harmful burden:

don’t make an idol of a name

empty, and without substance:

that the berserkers from there, that backward race,

defeat our intelligence

is our sin, and not nature’s.

Is this not the earth that I first touched?

Is this not my nest

where I was so sweetly nourished?

Is this not the land I trust,

benign and gentle mother,

that covers both my parents?

By God, let this move you

a little, and gaze with pity

at the tears of your sad people,

who place their hopes in you

next to God: if only you show

signs at least of pity,

virtue will take up arms

against madness, and cut short the warring:

if ancient courage

is not yet dead in Italian hearts.

Lords, see how time flies,

and how life

flies too, and death is at our shoulder.

You are here now: but think of the parting:

how the naked lonely soul

must arrive at the dangerous pass.

As you go through this valley

of tears, lay aside hatred and anger,

running counter to a peaceful life:

and all the time you spend

causing others pain, is more worthy

of actions or thought

in which there is sweet praise,

in which honest study is involved:

so there is joy down here,

and the way to heaven will be open.

Song, I advise you

to speak with courteous words,

since you must go among proud people,

whose will is already

formed by ancient, adverse custom,

always inimical to truth.

Seek your fortune

among those favourable to true peace.

Say to them: ‘Who will defend me?

I go calling out: Peace, peace, peace.’

 

Translated by A.S.Kline

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