Canst thou indeed be he that still would sing.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1848?; 1861
Rhyme: abbaabbacdecde
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


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

◦ Foster and Boyd, Dante's Lyric Poetry, I. 66-67 .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 149-151 .

Scholarly Commentary


See commentary for the pair of this sonnet, “You that thus wear a modest countenance”. The remarkable wit of Dante's opening lines is difficult to see in DGR's translation, probably in any translation: “Se' tu colui, ch' hai trattato sovente/ Di nostra donna” instantiates the style of writing “in seconda persona” by making the verb in the subordinate clause agree with “tu” rather than with “colui”. The question asks the paired sonnet if it (or its voice?) is the same person (so to speak) as the one who addressed the ladies in the canzone “Ladies that have intelligence in love”. Simply to ask that question in this way is to force readers to attend to the stylistic and rhetorical program being constructed in these remarkable poems. That DGR is fully aware of what is happening in his source texts can hardly be doubted. As in so many of the translations, DGR's consciousness comes most clearly to view when he departs from literal translation: in this case, for example, in line 4. The elaborate construction, not in Dante, carries the suggestion that “another witness” might be this very sonnet, which is the sympathetic mirror of its paired sonnet spoken by the ambiguous “tu colui”. The mistranslation—for it is that—in lines 5-6 underscores DGR's purpose here.

DGR's source text was “Se' tu colui, ch'hai trattato sovente” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri (pages 311-312).

Textual History: Composition

This is an early translation, late 1840s.

Printing History

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

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 18d-1861.raw.xml