Ye pilgrim-folk, advancing pensively

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.96-97 (II. 152-154) .

◦ De Robertis, ed., Vita Nuova, 239-241 .

Scholarly Commentary


Dante's prose introduction to his sonnet in Chapter XXXIX explicitly calls for a symbolic reading of the pilgrims introduced into the narrative at this point and addressed in the sonnet. As a result, both the events of Dante's life and his textual passage through his narrative become identified as pilgrimages in what he calls a “general sense”: for “any man may be called a pilgrim who leaveth the place of his birth”, which is exactly what Dante has done in entering upon his New Life, both actual and textual.

Line 12 comes into the sonnet in a dramatic way because it fulfills an unheard melody announced in Dante's previous sonnet, “Woe's me! By dint of all these sighs that come”. There Dante's “sospiri” carry an invisible representation of the “dolce nome” of Beatrice. DGR renders this absent presence in auditory terms—as Beatrice's inexpressed “sweet name” heard only in the “sad sounds” of “many grievous words touching her death”. In the present sonnet, however, Beatrice appears explicitly as both person and idea, “la sua Beatrice”.

It is crucial to see that she comes into presence here in words of grace, as DGR's splendid free translation of lines 13-14 represents the matter. That literal beatific presence crowns Dante's argument about his double pilgrimage: for his literalVita Nuova is a reflexive repetition of his life's experience.

DGR translates this complex Dantean textual scene into contemporary terms in the most remarkable way. The move is clearly established in the opening quatrain, whose uncanny effect comes from the suggestion that the “pilgrim-folk” include DGR and his Victorian readers. The illusion is raised of Dante speaking across the centuries through the exemplary mediumship of DGR's poetic traversal. DGR's readers pass through his verse “in thought of distant things”—like Dante, like Dante's pilgrims, like DGR.

The excellence of this poem is notably marred in its last four words. Rarely do DGR's translations display this kind of weakness—words introduced merely, it seems, to complete an English rhyme. The passage does not render, freely or otherwise, anything in the Dante original.

DGR's source text was “Deh peregrini, che pensosi andate” 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: 52d-1861.raw.xml