Cecco d'Angiolieri, da Siena. “Sonnet (to Dante Alighieri) On the last Sonnet of the Vita Nuova.”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1861
Rhyme: abbaabbacdecde
Meter: iambic pentameter
Genre: sonnet


“Introduction to Part II” (in Early Italian Poets) 212-217

◦ Lanza, ed., Rime. Cecco Angiolieri, 217-218

◦ Massera, ed., Sonetti Burleschi e Realistici, I. 131 (II. 134)

Scholarly Commentary


DGR places this sonnet first among the twenty-one sonnets by Cecco that he includes in The Early Italian Poets collection. (In the second edition of the collection, Dante and his Circle, DGR added one more sonnet to the group, the splendid “Never so bare and naked was church-stone”. DGR thought it was Cecco's composition, and from its style it might well have been; but in fact the poem was written by Cecco Nuccoli. the poet and notary from Perugia who flourished a generation later). Only Dante and Cavalcanti have more poems in the two collections, which tells a great deal about DGR's estimation of Cecco's poetical gifts.

Cecco's raw wit, highly personal style, and colloquial manner were unpleasing to traditional Italian scholars, and it was not until the twentieth-century that his notable poetic virtues were given proper attention. Indeed, DGR's admiration for Cecco is yet another instance of his unusually advanced aesthetic taste—a quality of his character we know very well from his work in English but that is less often remarked in relation to his work with Italian writers.

Not much is known about Cecco's life. He was born around 1260 and died in 1311 or 1312. His poetry is coarse and lively, and its principal subjects are money, Cecco's father (whom he hates), and his Beloved, Becchina. His family was from Siena and must have been well-to-do. Cecco's work shows that he was completely familiar with the work of the major poets of his age. Indeed, he takes that work as his point of departure in much of his writing— usually, as his point of ironical and burlesque departure. Such is the case in this opening sonnet of DGR's chosen series, which is one of several sonnets Cecco addressed to Dante, whom he clearly knew personally. The two other sonnets to Dante included in DGR's selection are “Dante Alighieri in Becchina's praise” and “Dante Alighieri, if I jest and lie”, the latter being the last in DGR's sequence.

This sonnet by Cecco, not really one of his best, mounts an ironical critique of the final sonnet of the “Vita Nuova”, “Beyond the sphere which spreads to widest space”. To us now his point of attack probably seems too pedantic to carry any real force, but in the context of Dante and his circle Cecco's move would almost certainly have seemed aesthetically telling. Scholars have pointed out that Dante's divisio for his sonnet contained an explication of the contradiction Cecco attacks, but from Cecco's point of view that explication would have been little more than special pleading.

See also the commentary for DGR's source text, which was from Trucchi (I. 275).

Textual History: Composition

This is probably an early translation, late 1840s, but it seems likely that DGR decided around 1860 to compose some new translations to be added to the collection he had already made. We judge this from the watermark of 1860 on paper carrying his copies of the Italian texts of five of his translations. These include “Lassar non vo' lo trovar di Bichina”, “Qualunque ben si fa naturalmente”, “Il pessimo, e 'l crudel odio, ch' io porto”, “Non si disperin quelli dello 'nferno”, and “Chi dice del suo Padre altro, che onore”.

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: 76d-1861.raw.xml