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Canzoniere CCCLXVI

A translation of Petrach.


Beautiful Virgin, who is cloaked by sun 
and crowned by stars, so pleased the Sun above
He found a place in you His light could hide:
I strive to read my poems to you from love,
but need your help to start, plus that of One
who lovingly has joined with you inside.
I summon Her who always has replied
to those of faith who call:
Virgin, if the sad fall
of worldly things has ever turned the tide
for you toward mercy, give in to my prayer—
assist my war, I pray,  
though I am clay,      and you are Queen up there.

Wise Virgin, first among the company
of sage and saintly virgins—better yet,
the best of them and with the brightest light,
O sturdy shield for anybody set
against assaults by Death and Destiny,
behind which they prevail, not just take flight,
O refuge from blind passions that ignite
in foolish mortals here,
Virgin, I ask you steer
those lovely eyes—that sadly caught the sight
of your beloved Son’s cruel injuries—
to my misled despair,                                
which is aware      it needs your expertise.     

Chaste Virgin, whole in every extent, 
kind daughter, mother to your offspring, who  
enlightens life and makes the next amaze:
your Son, the highest Father’s too, through you,
O bright, high window of the firmament,
arrived to save us in His final days,
and of all of the earthly hideaways
only you were selected,
saved Virgin, who deflected
the tears of Eve once more toward joyful praise;
since you can, make me worthy of His grace,
O saint without a bound 
already crowned      within the realm of space.
Most saintly Virgin, filled with all the graces,         
who through elite and true humility
arose to Heaven, where you hear my pleas:
you gave birth to the Font of Piety
and Sun of Justice, who now reembraces
this era packed with dismal heresies.
You gathered three sweet titles, which are these:
a mother, daughter, bride—
a Virgin glorified,
and lady of that King, who chose to ease
our chains, and make us free and glad, through whose
blessed wounds I pray you let
my heart not fret,      true bearer of great news.

Lone Virgin, with no equal anymore,
whose charms found favor with our Savior,
who no one outshone, even partially.
Your holy thoughts and virginal behavior
made the true God His living temple for
a consecrated, sown virginity.
Through you I could be living joyously, 
O Mary, if at prayer,
sweet, pious Virgin, where
sin grew and grace now grows abundantly.
As knees of my imagination bend,
I plead with you to guide
me and provide      wrong routes a better end.
Bright Virgin, for eternity unchanged,
a star above this storm-beleaguered ocean,
a guide true helmsmen use reliably:
see how in this tempestuous commotion
without a rudder I have become estranged 
as my last screams are sneaking up on me.
But, Virgin, my soul, vile as it may be 
(which I admit is true),
it must rely on you,    
so end this mocking by your enemy.
Recall our faults God needed to assume—
to save us all from sin—
man’s flesh within      the cloister of your womb.

Virgin, so many far-flung tears I cried,
with so much flattery and pointless prayer,
just for my losses and my agonies!
I keep on searching here and everywhere,
but since my birth by Arno’s riverside,
my life consists of endless miseries.
Words, mortal beauty, and activities
have clogged my soul so fast
this year might be my last,
so kind and holy Virgin, hurry please!
My days, swifter than arrows, quickly flee,
surrounded by distress
and wretchedness,      as Death keeps stalking me.

Virgin, she’s dust who gives my heart such woe
and fed it tears in life, and could not cite
one single pain from all my misery—
though what occurred would have occurred despite
more knowledge; it would, had she wished it so, 
have been my death and her iniquity.
My goddess, Heaven’s Lady (if I’m free
and right to so beseech),
Virgin of lofty reach,
you see it all, and my futility
now pales beside your great determination
to cut off my malaise 
to bring you praise,      and me my salvation!

Virgin, in whom I placed my every dream,
you could and should fulfill my pressing need:
at this last pass don’t leave me; try to see
not me, but One who deigned to make my seed.     
Let my high view of Him, not self-esteem,
stir help for someone so unsavory.
Medusa and my sin made stone of me
that cries in vain. Impart,
Virgin, to my tired heart
blessed, sacred tears to fill it; let me be
devout at least with these last tears of mine
without the earthly rot
like it was not      insanity’s first sign.
Kind Virgin, enemy of arrogance,
let our shared love become your inspiration;            
show this shamed, humbled heart some charity,
for if I love with wondrous expectation 
a bit of earthly mortal transience,
how should I love you, a fine entity?       
If your hands resurrect me to be free
of this vile wretchedness,  
Virgin, in your name I’ll bless
and cleanse my thinking, style and cogency—
my tongue and heart, my tears and sighing too.     
Be my best crossing guide,
and take in stride      desires that are new.     

The day approaches and the end must start;
how quickly time has run!
Virgin—unique, the one:
first conscience, then death, slices through my heart.
To Him both truly God and man, commend
me in the hope that He
greets peacefully      my breathing at its end.

A.M. Juster’s eleventh book, Petrarch’s Canzoniere, is due from W.W. Norton in early 2024. His work has appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, and The Hudson Review. He is a three-time winner of the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award.

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