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The Romance of Biography (Vol 1 of 2) by Jameson

E Monna Vanna e Monna Bice poi


E Monna Vanna e Monna Bice poi.[41]

It appears from the 7th and 8th Sonnets of the Vita Nuova, that in the early part of their intercourse, Beatrice, indulging her girlish vivacity, smiled to see her lover utterly discountenanced in her presence, and pointed out her triumph to her companions. This offence seems to have deeply affected the proud, susceptible mind of Dante: it was under the influence of some such morose feeling, probably on this very occasion, that his dark passions burst forth in the bitter lines beginning,

Io maledico il di ch' io vidi imprima La luce de' vostri occhi traditori.

"I curse the day in which I first beheld the splendour of those traitor eyes," &c. This angry sonnet forms a fine characteristic contrast with that eloquent and impassioned effusion of Petrarch, in which he multiplies blessings on the day, the hour, the minute, the season, and the spot, in which he first beheld Laura--

Benedetto sia l' giorno, e 'l mese, e l' anno, &c.

This fit of indignation was, however, short-lived. Every tender emotion of Dante's feeling heart seems to have been called forth when Beatrice lost her excellent father. Folco Portinari died in 1289; and the description we have of the inconsolable grief of Beatrice and the sympathy of her young companions,--so poetically, so delicately

touched by her lover,--impress us with a high idea both of her filial tenderness and the general amiability of her disposition, which rendered her thus beloved. In the 12th and 13th Sonnets, we have, perhaps, one of the most beautiful groups ever presented in poetry. Dante meets a company of young Florentine ladies, who were returning from paying Beatrice a visit of condolence on the death of her father. Their altered and dejected looks, their downcast eyes, and cheeks "colourless as marble," make his heart tremble within him; he asks after Beatrice--"_our_ gentle lady," as he tenderly expresses it: the young girls raise their downcast eyes, and regard him with surprise. "Art thou he," they exclaim, "who hast so often sung to us the praises of our Beatrice? the voice, indeed, is his; but, oh! how changed the aspect! Thou weepest!--why shouldest _thou_ weep?--thou hast not seen _her_ tears;--leave _us_ to weep and return to our home, refusing comfort; for we, indeed, have heard her speak, and seen her dissolved in grief; so changed is her lovely face by sorrow, that to look upon her is enough to make one die at her feet for pity."[42]

It should seem that the extreme affliction of Beatrice for the loss of her father, acting on a delicate constitution, hastened her own end, for she died within a few months afterwards, in her 24th year. In the "Vita Nuova" there is a fragment of a canzone, which breaks off at the end of the first strophe; and annexed to it is the following affecting note, originally in the handwriting of Dante.


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