Italian Language Blog

Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare Posted by on Mar 8, 2010 in Culture, Italian Language

It’s time to pause my series of ‘Gesture of the Day’ blogs for a moment (yes, don’t worry, there are more to come!) and move from il profano al sacro (from the profane to the sacred) in order to commemorate La Festa della Donna (International Women’s Day), which is celebrated here in Italy and in many other countries around the world on the 8th of March.

Last year I wrote about the origins of this festival and the synonymous tradition of the mimosa flower. Today I’m going to translate for you un bellissimo sonetto (a beautiful sonnet) called Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare (So gentle and so dignified she appears) by that greatest of Italian poets Dante Alighieri. Written around the year 1290, this sensuous sonnet is dedicated to Beatrice, Dante’s Donna Angelicata (angel-like woman), who was the font of inspiration for all of his poetic work, including La Divina Commedia.

Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare
la donna mia quand’ella altrui saluta,
ch’ogne lingua devèn tremando muta,
e li occhi no l’ardiscon di guardare.

Ella si va, sentendosi laudare,
benignamente d’umiltà vestuta;
e par che sia una cosa venuta
da cielo in terra a miracol mostrare.

Mostrasi sì piacente a chi la mira,
che dà per li occhi una dolcezza al core
che ‘ntender no la può chi no la prova:

e par che de la sua labbia si mova
un spirito soave pien d’amore,
che va dicendo a l’anima: Sospira.

So gentle and so dignified appears
my lady when she greets others,
that every trembling tongue becomes dumb,
and their eyes do not dare look upon her.

She walks on, hearing herself praised,
benignly clothed in humility;
and seems to be something arrived
from Heaven as a miracle on Earth.

She appears so pleasant to those who look upon her,
and through her eyes a sweetness touches the heart,
which cannot be understood by those who feel it not:

and it seems that from her lips emanates
a delicate spirit full of love,
that speaks to the soul: Sigh.

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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Is that Dante’s original Italian or did you ‘fix it up’ to make it modern? (Would fixing Dante be allowed in Italy?)

    Would an Italian today find this poem to be archaic and hard to understand?

    I don’t think there is a poem that would be very understandable to people today that was written in 1290 in ‘English’.

    Has Italian changed so little since 1290?


    P.S. When I took French we often studied ‘Faux amis’ before each lesson. Do you have the same concept in teaching Italian? ‘Faux amis’ remind me of what our great Cowboy Philosopher, Will Rogers, once said: “It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble; it’s what we know that ain’t so that’s the problem.”

    • serena:

      @Vince Mooney Salve Vince!

      No, I didn’t ‘fix up’ Dante’s poem, this is the original language, and I don’t know if ‘fixing’ Dante is allowed. You also ask if Italian has changed so little since 1290. Well, Italian is a fairly new language in the sense that it was only created in the XIX century during the unification of Italy in order to have a common language for a newly united country. The Tuscan language was chosen, and more specifically the language of Dante, therefore modern Italian derives directly from Dante Alighieri. You can read more about the origins of Italian in my old blog “Italiano o Toscano”, published on the 17th December 2008. An educated Italian (that is, with at least a secondary school qualification) would understand this poem easily, but I can remember reading it at school for the first time when I was 16 and really struggling to understand it.

      A presto, Serena

  2. Jeannet:

    Salve Serena,

    Beatitiful! this sonnet and necessary in those troubled world of today! – but….
    so much to be done, with open eyes in the reality.
    Every one has there an proper mission, in one
    or another way. GRAZIE

  3. andreas:

    Salve Serena!
    é una bellisima poesia. Ne ho derivato un vero piacere leggendola.

  4. Lea:

    I like it when it is translated like this. I started memorizing this poem for our Italian language class( I am foreigner)..and it helps us to understand the deep meaning of it, so thank you very much. I appreciate it.

  5. Ed Mangiafico:

    My grandfather had me memorize this sonnet as a teen, before I spoke a word of Italian, as an exercise in pronunciation. I’ve kept it in memory for 60 more years, more or less. I’m so happy to have run across this translation. Bellissima! Grazie!

    • Serena:

      @Ed Mangiafico Salve Ed!
      Sono contenta che la mia traduzione ti sia piaciuta. Che storia interessante!
      Saluti da Serena

  6. Eugene Vricella:

    Brava, Serena

    I memorized this poem in the early years of studying Italian. It was and continues to be an inspiration.

    One observation (actually a grammatical error) in your translation:

    The line that starts “She appears so pleasant to those who looks upon her,”
    Should read “to those who look upon her”: the plural subject agreeing with the plural verb form.

    It’s a minor error.

    If you want to read a master poet’s translation of this sonnet, try the Dante Gabriel Rossetti translation.


    • Serena:

      @Eugene Vricella Salve Eugene, grazie per il commento, e grazie per aver notato la ‘s’ di troppo. Ci era scappata.
      Cercherò senz’altro la traduzione di Dante Gabriele Rossetti
      A presto!

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