03 November - Isabella di Morra (c. 1520-1545?) May 16, 2008 19:07:37 GMT 2
Post by moira on May 16, 2008 19:07:37 GMT 2
Isabella di Morra (c. 1520-1545?)
I write about the fierce assaults of Fortune,
The cruel one, and mourn my hapless youth.
Living in such a base and ugly country,
I waste my life without all recognition.
I seek a worthy sepulcher, though lowly
My cradle was, by following the Muses,
And hope to find somewhere some sympathy
In spite of Fate, so cruel, harsh and blind.
And with the favor of those goddesses,
Even without my body, with freed soul,
I hope on happier shores to be acclaimed.
Perhaps there lives a high king in this world
Who may preserve in everlasting marble
This mortal shroud in which I am confined.
From a high mountain top, where one can see
The waves, I, your sad daughter Isabella,
Gaze out for sight of any polished ship
Coming to bring me news of you, my father.
But my adverse and cruel destiny
Permits no solace for my aching heart,
But, enemy to any thought of pity,
Turns all my firmest hopes into laments.
For I see neither oar cutting the sea,
Nor any sail that billows in the wind,
So solitary is this dismal shore.
So I can only curse my evil Fortune
And hold in hatred this unhappy place
The only source of my tormented life.
Here once again, infernal rocky valley,
O Alpine rivers, ruinous high peaks,
O broken spirits stripped of every virtue,
You will now hear my plaints, my endless sorrow.
And every mountain, every cave shall hear me
Wherever I may stop, wherever go,
For Fortune, never stable, does not tarry,
But everlastingly adds to my pain.
While I lament, forever, night and day,
O beasts, o rocks, o melancholy ruins,
Uncultivated woods, o lonely caves,
Howl still with me, unriddling my grief,
And weep with me; in high continuous voices
Bewail my misery, worse than all others.
0 turbid Siri, careless of my grief,
Now that I feel so close to my life's end,
Make known my sorrow to my loving father
If ever bitter Fate lets him return.
Tell him how, by my death, I will escape
My harsh misfortune and my niggard fate,
And, as a rare and piteous example,
I will entrust my sad name to your waves.
As soon as he regains your rocky shoreline
Why do you make me think of this, fierce star?
How I am robbed and shorn of every good!
Stir up your restless currents with great storms
And say, "I grew so great while she was living,
Through not the eyes rivers of Isabella."
Unfortunately Isabella di Morra's fame (such as it is) derives from her having been beat to death (it's said in more than one source) by 3 of her brothers "to cleanse the family honor." They had discovered her correspondence with a Spanish nobleman, Don Diego Sandoval de Castor (married to Donna Antonia Caracciolo of Naples). They murdered the tutor who had facilitated the correspondence. They then ambused and killed Diego. They did have to flee Italy for a time after that.
She was born to one of these powerful Italian families during an era of fierce brutal conflict over who would control Italy: French powerful people, Charles V and his gangs, or Spain, or local baron types. Her family's territories were located in Favale, between Calabria and Basilicata, and after her father emigrated to the French court of Francois I (having sided with the French at one point), she was left to the untender mercies of her six brothers who distrusted culture and kept this sister isolated from social contact. When she speaks of an infernal landscape, she is literally accurate as the castle of Favale was located high up in a very arid region, near a small river, the Siri (now called Sinni).
She managed to educate herself through reading, and her books included Petrarch and Dante. The third sonnet (above, No. 7) shows her familiarity with Dante's Inferno. Thirteen poems survived, and her poetry appeared in early anthologies (the second half of the 16th century) as well as her life story. The early history of the publications of her poetry (which allowed it to come down to us today) is told in Women Poets of the Renaissance: Courtly Ladies and Courtisans, from which I took the poems in translation by Laura Anna Stortoni and Mary Prentice Lille. They provide a good bibliography of recent scholarly articles and books. Attention was again called to her in the early 20th century by Benedetto Croce, who edited her Rime with a selection of poems by Diego Sandoval de Castro and provided a critical essay. In 1975 a convention on poetry was held in the Bailicata region to honor. Her style is described by herself "amaro, aspro e dolente" (bitter, harsh, and grieving). So too is Vittoria Colonna's style often "amaro." She writes strongly, directly, simply. Stortoni and Lille also include Morra's second canzone which contains lines like "I shall speak out, though rough and weak my style,/And tell a little of my inner pain ... among the uncouth ways/Of people lacking reason, short of wit,/Where robbed of any help,/I am constrained to live a narrow life,/Placed her alone, in blind oblivion."
I first read about her and her poetry in a long essay by Benedetto Croce (Scritti di Storia letterarai et politica: Vite di adventure di fede e di passione, 1936), and then went on to Domenico Bronzini, Isabella di Morra, con l'edizitioni del canzoniere (Matera: Montenmorro Edition, 1975). Another booklength study is Giovanni Caserta, Isabella Morra e la societa: Meridionale del Cinquecento (Matera: Edizioni Meta, 1976). I also recommend Juliana Schiesari's The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature.
As I recall (I speak from memory of the books just above, as this morning I've only consulted Stortoni and Lille), there is hardly anything clear said of her mother. She is mentioned as someone who did reach a "fragile age." Isabella's poems talk of her longing for her father as the one person she can imagine who might help her. So I wonder who Isabella's mother was and what was her fate. Erased? Like so many women. Perhaps it was safest (ironic joke alert). At any rate Isabella couldn't reach anyone who would help her and no one did any thing for her for real.
Even before I read the brief bio, the sonnets had my attention. What power and modernity for words written almost half a millenium ago. May the spirit of Isabella di Morra sustain us all! Thanks for posting this, Ellen.
Christina P. . .