TANS. The enthusiasms most suitable to be first brought forward and
considered are those that I now place before you in the order that seems
to me most fitting.
CIC. Begin, then, to read.
Ye Muses, that so oft I have repulsed,
That, now importuned, haste to cure my pain,
And to console me in my woes
With verses, rhymes, and exaltation
Such as to others ye did never show,
Who yet do vaunt themselves of laurel and of myrtle
Be near me now, my anchor and my port,
Lest I for sport should towards some others turn.
O Mount! O Goddesses! O Fountain!
Where and with whom I dwell, converse and nourish me,
Where peacefully I ponder and grow fair;
I rise, I live: heart, spirit, brows adorn;
Death, cypresses, and hells
You change to life, to laurels, and eternal stars!
It is to be supposed that he oftimes and for divers reasons had repulsed
the Muses; first, because he could not be idle as a priest of the Muses
should be, for idleness cannot exist there, where the ministers and
servants of envy, ignorance, and malignity are to be combated. Moreover,
he could not force himself to the study of philosophies, which though
they be not the most mature, yet ought, as kindred of the Muses, to
precede them. Besides which, being drawn on one side by the tragic
Melpomene, with more matter than spirit, and on the other side by the
comic Thalia, with more spirit than matter, it came to pass that,
oscillating between the two, he remained neutral and inactive, rather
than operative. Finally, the dictum of the censors, who, restraining him
from that which was high and worthy, and towards which he was naturally
inclined, sought to enslave his genius, and from being free in virtue
they would have rendered him contemptible under a most vile and stupid
hypocrisy. At last, in the great whirl of annoyances by which he was
surrounded, it happened that, not having wherewith to console him, he
listened to those who are said to intoxicate him with such exaltation,
verses, and rhymes, as they had never demonstrated to others; because
this work shines more by its originality than by its conventionality.
CIC. Say, what do you mean by those who vaunt themselves of myrtle and
TANS. Those may and do boast of the myrtle who sing of love: if they
bear themselves nobly, they may wear a crown of that plant consecrated
to Venus, of which they know the potency. Those may boast of the laurel
who sing worthily of things pertaining to heroes, substituting heroic
souls for speculative and moral philosophy, and praising them and
setting as mirrors and exemplars for political and civil actions.
CIC. There are then many species of poets and crowns?
TANS. Not only as many as there are Muses, but a great many more; for
although genius is to be met with, yet certain modes and species of
human ingenuity cannot be thus classified.
CIC. There are certain schoolmen who barely allow Homer to be a poet,
and set down Virgil, Ovid, Martial, Hesiod, Lucretius, and many others
as versifiers, judging them by the rules of poetry of Aristotle.
TANS. Know for certain, my brother, that such as these are beasts. They
do not consider that those rules serve principally as a frame for the
Homeric poetry, and for other similar to it, and they set up one as a
great poet, high as Homer, and disallow those of other vein, and art,
and enthusiasm, who in their various kinds are equal, similar, or
CIC. So that Homer was not a poet who depended upon rules, but was the
cause of the rules which serve for those who are more apt at imitation
than invention, and they have been used by him who, being no poet, yet
knew how to take the rules of Homeric poetry into service, so as to
become, not a poet or a Homer, but one who apes the Muse of others?
TANS. Thou dost well conclude that poetry is not born in rules, or only
slightly and accidentally so; the rules are derived from the poetry, and
there are as many kinds and sorts of true rules as there are kinds and
sorts of true poets.
CIC. How then are the true poets to be known?
TANS. By the singing of their verses; in that singing they give delight,
or they edify, or they edify and delight together.
CIC. To whom then are the rules of Aristotle useful?
TANS. To him who, unlike Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, and others, could not
sing without the rules of Aristotle, and who, having no Muse of his own,
would coquette with that of Homer.
CIC. Then they are wrong, those stupid pedants of our days, who exclude
from the number of poets those who do not use words and metaphors
conformable to, or whose principles are not in union with, those of
Homer and Virgil; or because they do not observe the custom of
invocation, or because they weave one history or tale with another, or
because they finish the song with an epilogue on what has been said and
a prelude on what is to be said, and many other kinds of criticism and
censure, from whence it seems they would imply that they themselves, if
the fancy took them, could be the true poets; and yet in fact they are
no other than worms, that know not how to do anything well, but are born
only to gnaw and befoul the studies and labours of others; and not being
able to attain celebrity by their own virtue and ingenuity, seek to put
themselves in the front, by hook or by crook, through the defects and
errors of others.
TANS. Now, to return from this long digression, I say that there are as
many sorts of poets as there are human sentiments and ideas; and to
these it is possible to adapt garlands, not only of every species of
plant, but also of other kinds of material. So the crowns of poets are
made not only of myrtle and of laurel, but of vine leaves for the
white-wine verses, and of ivy for the bacchanals; of olive for sacrifice
and laws; of poplar, of elm, and of corn for agriculture; of cypress for
funerals, and innumerable others for other occasions; and, if it please
you, also of that material signified by a good fellow when he exclaimed:
O Friar Leek! O Poetaster!
That in Milan didst buckle on thy wreath
Composed of salad, sausage, and the pepper-caster.
CIC. Now surely he of divers moods, which he exhibits in various ways,
may cover himself with the branches of different plants, and may hold
discourse worthily with the Muses, for they are his aura or comforter,
his anchor or support, and his harbour, to which he retires in times of
labour, of agitation, and storm. Hence he cries: “O mountain of
Parnassus, where I abide! Muses, with whom I converse! Fountain of
Helicon, where I am nourished. Mountain, that affordest me a quiet
dwelling-place! Muses, that inspire me with profound doctrines.
Fountain, that cleanses me! Mountain, on whose ascent my heart uprises!
Muses, that in discourse revive my spirit. Well, whose arbours cool my
brows! Change my death into life, my cypress to laurels, and my hells
into heavens: that is, give me immortality, make me poet, render me
TANS. Well; because to those whom Heaven favours the greatest evils turn
to greatest good, for needs or necessities bring forth labours and
studies, and these most often bring the glory of immortal splendour.
CIC. For to die in one age makes us live in all the rest. Go on.
TANS. Then follows:
In form and place like to Parnassus is my heart,
And up unto this mount for safety I ascend;
My Muses are my thoughts, and they present to me
At every hour new beauties counted out.
The frequent tears that from my eyes do pour,
These make my fount of Helicon.
By such a mount, such nymphs, such floods,
As Heaven did please, was I a poet born.
No king of any kingdom,
No favouring hand of emperor,
No highest priest nor great pastor,
Has given to me such graces, honours, privileges,
As are those laurel leaves with which
O’ershadowed are my heart, my thoughts, my tears.
Here he declares his mountain to be the exalted affection of his heart,
his Muses he calls the beauties and attributes of the object of his
affections, and the fountain is his tears. In that mountain affection is
kindled; through those beauties enthusiasm is conceived, and by those
tears the enthusiastic affection is demonstrated; and he esteems himself
not less grandly crowned by his heart, his thoughts, and his tears than
others are by the hand of kings, emperors, and popes.
CIC. Explain to me what he means by his heart being in form like
TANS. Because the human heart has two summits, which terminate in one
base or root; and, spiritually, from one affection of the heart proceed
two opposites, love and hate; and the mountain of Parnassus has two
summits and one base.
CIC. On to the next!
The captain calls his warriors to arms,
And at the trumpet’s sound they all
Under one sign and standard come.
But yet for some in vain the call is heard,
Heedless and unprepared, they mind it not.
One foe he kills, and the insane unborn,
He banishes from out the camp in scorn.
And thus the soul, when foiled her high designs,
Would have all those opponents dead or gone;
One object only I regard,
One face alone my mind does fill,
One beauty keeps me fixed and still;
One arrow pierced my heart, and one
The fire with which alone I burn,
And towards one paradise I turn.
This captain is the human will, which dwells in the depths of the soul
with the small helm of reason to govern and guide the interior powers
against the wave of natural impulses. He, with the sound of the
trumpet–that is, by fixed resolve–calls all the warriors or invokes
all the powers; called warriors because they are in continual strife and
opposition; and their affections, which are all contrary thoughts, some
towards one and some towards the other side inclining, and he tries to
bring them all under one flag–one settled end and aim. Some are called
in vain to put in a ready appearance, and are chiefly those which
proceed from the lower instincts, and which obey the reason either not
at all, or very little; and forcing himself to prevent their actions and
condemn those which cannot be prevented, he shows himself as one who
would kill those and banish these, now by the scourge of scorn, now by
the sword of anger. One only is the object of his regards, and on this
he is intently fixed; one prospect delights and fills his imagination,
one beauty pleases, and he rests in that, because the operation of the
intelligence is not a work of movement but of quiet; from thence alone
he derives that barb which, killing him, constitutes the consummation of
perfection. He burns with one fire alone; that is, one affection
CIC. Why is love symbolized by fire?
TANS. For many reasons, but at present let this one suffice thee: that
as love converts the thing loved into the lover, so amongst the elements
fire is active and potent to convert all the others, simple and
composite, into itself.
CIC. Go on.
TANS. He knows one paradise–that is, one consummation, because paradise
commonly signifies the end; which is again distinguished from that which
is absolute in truth and essence from that which is so in appearance and
shadow or form. Of the first there can only be one, as there can be only
one ultimate and one primal good. Of the second the modes are infinite.
Love, Fate, Love’s object, and cold Jealousy,
Delight me, and torment, content me, and afflict.
The insensate boy, the blind and sinister,
The loftiest beauty, and my death alone
Show to me paradise, and take away,
Present me with all good, and steal it from me,
So that the heart, the mind, the spirit, and the soul,
Have joy, pain, cold, and weight in their control.
Who will deliver me from war?
Who give to me the fruit of love in peace?
And that which vexes that which pleases me
(Opening the gates of heaven and closing them)
Who will set far apart
To make acceptable my fires and tears?
He shows the reason and origin of passion; and whence it is conceived;
and how enthusiasm is born, by ploughing the field of the Muses and
scattering the seed of his thoughts and waiting for the fruitful
harvest, discovering in himself the fervour of the affections instead of
in the sun, and in place of the rain is the moisture of his eyes. He
brings forward four things: Love, Fate, the Object, and Jealousy. Here
love is not a low, ignoble, and unworthy motor, but a noble lord and
chief. Fate is none other than the pre-ordained disposition and order of
casualties to which he is subject by his destiny. The object is the
thing loved and the correlative of the lover. Jealousy, it is clear,
must be the ardour of the lover about the thing loved, of which it boots
not to speak to him who knows what love is, and which it is vain to try
to explain to others. Love delights, because to him who loves it is a
pleasure to love; and he who really loves would not cease from loving.
This is referred to in the following sonnet:
Beloved, sweet, and honourable wound,
From fairest dart that love did choose,
Lofty, most beauteous and potential zeal,
That makes the soul in its own flames find weal!
What power or spell of herb or magic art
Can tear thee from the centre of my heart,
Since he, who with an ever-growing zest,
Tormenting most, yet most does make me blest?
How can I of this weight unburdened be,
If pain the cure, and joy the sore give me?
Sweet is my pain: to this world new and rare.
Eyes! ye are the bow and torches of my lord!
Double the flames and arrows in my breast,
For languishing is sweet and burning best.
Fate vexes and grieves by undesirable and unfortunate events, or because
it makes the subject feel unworthy of the object, and out of proportion
with the dignity of the latter, or because a perfect sympathy does not
exist, or for other reasons and obstacles that arise. The object
satisfies the subject, which is nourished by no other, seeks no other,
is occupied by no other, and banishes every other thought. Jealousy
torments, because although she is the daughter of Love, and is derived
from him, and is his companion who always goes with him, and is a sign
of the same, being understood as a necessary consequence wherever love
is found (as may be observed of whole generations who, from the coldness
of the region and lateness of development, learn little, love less, and
of jealousy know nothing), yet, notwithstanding its kinship,
association, and signification, jealousy comes to trouble and poisons
all that it finds of beautiful and of good in Love. Therefore I said in
Oh, wicked child of Envy and of Love!
That turnest into pain thy father’s joys,
To evil Argus-eyed, but blind as mole to good.
Minister of torment! Jealousy!
Fetid harpy! Tisiphone infernal!
Who steals and poisons others’ good,
Under thy cruel breath does languish
The sweetest flower of all my hopes.
Proud of thyself, unlovely one,
Bird of sorrow and harbinger of ill,
The heart thou visitest by thousand doors;
If entrance unto thee could be denied,
The reign of Love would so much fairer be,
As would this world were death and hate away.
To the above is added, that Jealousy not only is sometimes the ruin and
death of the lover, but often kills Love itself, because Love comes to
be so much under its influence that it is impelled to despise the
object, and in fact becomes alienated from it, especially when it
CIC. Explain now the ideas which follow. Why is Love called the
TANS. I will tell you. Love is called the insensate boy, not because he
is so of himself, but because he brings certain ones into subjection,
and dwells in such subjects, since the more intellectual and speculative
one is, the more Love raises the genius and purifies the intellect,
rendering it alert, studious, and circumspect, promoting a condition of
valorous animosity and an emulation of virtues and dignities by the
desire to please and to make itself worthy of the thing loved; others,
and they are the largest number, call him mad and foolish, because he
drives them distracted, and hurries them into excesses, by which the
spirit, soul, and body become sickly, and inept to consider and
distinguish that which is seemly from that which is distorted; thus
rendering them subject to scorn, derision, and reproach.
CIC. It is commonly said that love makes fools of the old and makes the
TANS. That drawback does not happen to all the aged, nor that advantage
to all the young; the one is true of the weak, and the other of the
robust. One thing is certain, that he who loves wisely in youth will in
age not go astray. But derision is for those of mature age, into whose
hands Love puts the alphabet.
CIC. Tell me now why Fate is called blind and bad.
TANS. Again, blind and bad is not said of Destiny itself, because it is
of the same order and number and measure as the universe; but as to the
subjects it is said to be blind, for they are blind to fate, she being
so uncertain. So also is Fate said to be evil, because every living
mortal who laments and complains, blames her. As the Apulian poet says:
How is it, or what means it, Maecenas,
That none on earth contented with that fate appear,
Which Reason or Heaven has assigned to them?
In the same way he calls the object the highest beauty, as it is that
alone which has power of attracting him to itself; and thus he holds it
more worthy, more noble, and feels it predominant and superior as he
becomes subject and captive to it. “My death itself,” he says of
Jealousy, because as Love has no more close companion than she, so also
he feels he has no greater enemy; as nothing is more hurtful to iron
than rust, which is produced by it.
CIC. Now, since you have begun so, continue to show bit by bit that
TANS. So will I. He says next of Love: he shows me Paradise, in order to
prove that Love himself is not blind, and does not himself render any
lovers blind, except through the ignoble characteristics of the subject;
even as the birds of night become blind in the sunshine. As for himself,
Love brightens, clears, and opens the intellect, permeating all and
producing miraculous effects.
CIC. Much of this, it seems to me, the Nolano demonstrates in another
Love, through whom high truth I do discern,
Thou openest the black diamond doors;
Through the eyes enters my deity, and through seeing
Is born, lives, is nourished, and has eternal reign;
Shows forth what heaven holds, earth and hell:
Makes present true images of the absent;
Gains strength: and drawing with straight aim,
Wounds, lays bare and frets the inmost heart.
Attend now, thou base hind unto the truth,
Bend down the ear to my unerring word;
Open, open, if thou canst the eyes, foolish perverted one!
Thou understanding little, call’st him child,
Because thou swiftly changest, fugitive he seems,
Thyself not seeing, call’st him blind.
Love shows Paradise in order that the highest things may be heard,
understood, and accomplished; or it makes the things loved, grand–at
least in appearance. He says, Fate takes love away; because, often in
spite of the lover, it does not concede, and that which he sees and
desires is distant and adverse to him. Every good he sets before me, he
says of the object, because that which is indicated by the finger of
Love seems to him the only thing, the principal, and the whole. “Steals
it from me,” he says of Jealousy, not simply in order that it may not be
present to me; removing it from my eyesight, but in order that good may
not be good, but an acute evil; sweet, not sweet, but an agonized
longing; while the heart–that is, the will, has joy by the great force
of love, whatever may be the result; the mind–that is, the intellectual
part, has pain through the Fear of Fate, which fate does not favour the
lover; the spirit–that is, the natural affections, are cold because
they are snatched from the object which gives joy to the heart, and
which might give pleasure to the mind; the soul–that is, the suffering
and sensitive soul, is heavy–that is, finds itself oppressed with the
heavy burden of jealousy which torments it. To this consideration of his
state he adds a tearful lament, and says: “Who will deliver me from
war, and give me peace? or who will separate that which pains and
injures me from that which I so love, and which opens to me the gates of
heaven, so that the fervid flames in my heart may be acceptable, and
fortunate the fountains of my tears?” Continuing this proposition, he
Ah me! oppress some other, spiteful Fate!
Jealousy, get thee hence–begone! away!
These may suffice to show me all the grace
Of changeful Love, and of that noble face.
He takes my life, she gives me death,
She wings, he burns my heart,
He murders it, and she revives the soul:
My succour she, my grievous burden he!
But what say I of Love?
If he and she one subject be, or form,
If with one empire and one rule they stamp
One sole impression in my heart of hearts,
Then are they two, yet one, on which do wait
The mirth and melancholy of my state!
Four beginnings and extremes of two opposites he would reduce to two
beginnings and one opposite: he says, then, oppress others–that is, let
it suffice thee, O my Fate! that thou hast so much oppressed me; and
since thou canst not exist without exercise of thyself, turn elsewhere
thy anger. Get thee hence out of the world, thou Jealousy, because one
of those two others which remain can supply your functions and offices;
yet, O Fate! thou art none other than my love; and thou, Jealousy, art
not external to the substance of the same. He alone, then, remains to
deprive me of life, to burn me, to give me death, and to be to me the
burden of my bones; for he delivers me from death–wings, enlivens, and
sustains. Then two beginnings and one opposite he reduces to one
beginning and one result, exclaiming: But what do I say of Love? If this
presence, this object, is his empire, and appears none other than the
empire of Love, the rule of Love and its own rule; the impression of
Love which appears in the substance of my heart, is then no other
impression than its own, and therefore after having said “Noble face,”
replies “Inconstant Love.”
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