The very bitter weeping that ye made

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 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.92-93 (II. 148) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 226-227 .

Scholarly Commentary


Perhaps the most important feature of this sonnet is its rhetorical structure, which withholds until line 14 the crucial fact that the sonnet is spoken by Dante's heart. The text's prose introduction (in Chapter XXXVII) explicates that structure as Dante's effort to ensure “that this inward strife which I had undergone might not be hidden from all save the miserable wretch who endured it”. The sonnet, in other words, dramatizes Dante's conscious effort to gain a clear intellectual view of his own confused experience. That effort gets thoroughly displayed in the following Chapter XXXVIII, which moves through a long passage of self-searching prose to culminate in the sonnet “A gentle thought there is will often start”.

Lines 9-11 of DGR's text are especially notable for their interpretive clarity. “A lady greets me with her eyes”, not exactly rendering Dante's “una donna che vi mira” (line 11), serves Dante by serving DGR's poem: the phrase calls back to the “eyes” of lines 2 and 4, thus making us aware of an unbroken and sympathetic company, of whom the Donna is one. The problem is that the order of Dante's being has been disturbed: whereas Dante's mortal parts, like his eyes, should register their mortal griefs, his higher functions should maintain a spiritual confidence. But in this episode with the Donna the poet has watched the “fickleness” of his eyes “betray/ My mind to fears” (lines 9-10). Overgoing Dante's text with the word “mind”, DGR's unliteral translation proves thereby more deeply faithful to Dante's ragionamento.

It must be pointed out, however, that DGR's rendering of Dante's argument clearly assigns to the “heart” a greater power of consciousness and spiritual authority than is present in Dante's texts. That difference is even more apparent in the next sections, Chapter XXXVIII- XXXIX. In DGR's sonnet “A gentle thought there is will often start”, the argument of the heart, the “adversary of reason” (Chapter XXXIX), sets the poem's measure of a true understanding, a secret and deep “intelligence in love” that gets exposed once again in the prose report of the vision of Beatrice in Chapter XXXIX. For all these events make up an economy of Love-as-Eros, the action of God operating in a mortal order of events.

One other matter requires comment. In Chapter XXXIX Dante refers to this erotic appetency as “malvagio desiderio” (“evil desire”). But DGR's benevolent interpretation is difficult to resist entirely. As a result, the translation is riven with a clear contradiction, and in DGR's work that contradiction will be further explicated and explored in the second coming, as it were, of Dante's autobiography in DGR's life and work: that is to say, in “The House of Life”. Dante himself registers the contradiction in the Convivio, Book II, where he completely re- writes this section of his autobiography. Recollecting and reinterpreting his earlier work, Dante turns the Donna della Finestra into Lady Philosophy. The only way to reconcile this contradiction is to argue that Dante's desire was subjectively but not objectively “evil”, and perhaps (even) that the deepest form of its evil lay in Dante's failure to recognize Lady Philosophy in the Donna. In contrast to that kind of tortuous doctrinal maneuvering, DGR's treatment of the contradiction in his own life's work seems altogether more honest—more honest, if also more dark and more frightening.

DGR's source text was “L'amaro lagrimar che voi faceste” in the third volume of Fraticelli's Opere Minori di Dante Alighieri .

Textual History: Composition

An early work, 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: 39d-1861.raw.xml