A very pitiful lady, very young

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848?
Rhyme: ABCABCCDdEeCFF (with variations in each stanza)
Meter: iambic trimeter and pentameter
Genre: canzone


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets) 189-193

◦ Foster and Boyde (text) I.70-75

◦ Foster and Boyde (commentary) II.114-120

◦ De Robertis 159-165

Scholarly Commentary


This second canzone in the Vita Nuova comes at the numerical center of the autobiography. More perhaps than any other poem in the sequence, this functions in the closest relation to the prose text that precedes it and that supplies its own report on the material taken up again in the canzone.

The canzone's repetition of the prose refigures the narrated action, a result that follows from the uncanny structure of repetitions that characterize the entire passage. The sequence is permeated with strong sympathetic energies so that events in one part of this charged field—for instance, in the dreamer's unconscious orbit—are impinged upon by events in a different part—for instance, among the watching ladies. Dante's dream of the death of Beatrice is partly constructed out of materials he could not be aware of since it incorporates actions of the ladies who are hovering around his dreaming body. That situation then becomes a kind of figura of the prophetic import of the dream-vision, which involves a sympathetic forecast of a future event. And this entire involuted structure conceals a kind of transcendental order of benevolence and grace hovering over everything just as the ladies, in and outside Dante's dream, bend in sympathy over the dream-Beatrice and the dreaming Dante.

The canzone's repetition of this structure of repetitions is clarified by a process of allegorical amplification. The poem begins to tease out the form of a redemptive order of grace in the entire traumatic scene. It does not and could not fulfill that form, of course, a fact emphasized in the wonderful final line where Dante is summoned from his dream to waking. That event is a figure of doubled meaning. For the full (Christian) truth is that, from the point of view of beatitude, all temporal events are traumatized. So the initial narrative picturing a sleeper lying in a circle of wakeful watchers itself conceals, as in a sublunary dream, the reality of the only order of Being that is not to some degree traumatized: the order of Eternity.

So Dante's poem executes a kind of reversal of the prose order of events in order to expose their sacred meaning. The canzone allegorizes this process of grown consciousness at the outset of its penultimate stanza, in its figure of “the Angels, like a rain of manna/ In a long flight flying back Heavenward”.

In his effort to capture the spirit of Dante's canzone DGR has permitted himself several minor departures from the original rhyme scheme. The intricate structure is maintained in all its essential features, however.

DGR's source text was “Donna pietosa e di novella etate” in the third volume of Fraticelli's edition of Dante's Opere Minori.

Textual History: Composition

This is an early translation, late 1840s.

Textual History: Revision

DGR revised the translation for its 1874 publication. His fair copy manuscript of the revised version of lines 64-70 is in the library of the Iowa State Historical Society. This manuscript was probably made in 1881.

Printing History

The translation was first published in 1861 in The Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted in 1874 in Dante and his Circle.


The dream recounted in the canzone and its prose context was recapitulated by DGR in various Dante's Dream pictures, the earliest, a watercolour, completed in 1856, and the last, an oil replica of a work initially done in 1871, completed in 1880. DGR mentions his intention to execute a pictorial illustration of this famous episode in a letter to Charles Lyell, 14 November 1848 (see >Fredeman, Correspondence 48. 12 ). When he wrote to Lyell he had just completed his translation of the Vita Nuova was long completed.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 11d-1861.raw.xml