04 November - Vittoria Colonna (1490/2 to 1547) May 16, 2008 19:08:09 GMT 2
Post by moira on May 16, 2008 19:08:09 GMT 2
Vittoria Colonna (1490/2 to 1547)
Since we've just had an extraordinary series of poems, here today is one by Vittoria Colonna, one of the great poets of the Renaissance.
Vittoria Colonna was one of the first women to have a book of her poetry published in the era and to have a full and learned commentary published with them.
Here is a complete translation of all her poetry:
Here's one from the erotic poems:
Death, with her savage wild dart, hurt herself
when she thought to eclipse his bright clear light,
more alive in Paradise, on earth rare--
for, killing him, she lit deathless splendor.
So, angry at me, she picked up her dart,
but saw I'd take the bitter blow as sweet,
so gave no more: but as I live with her,
I learn what war is, what strange contentions.
If I place in her hands my lifeless life,
say, hers, Victoria, proud victory,
the felicity of easy death, mine,
she invents an unheard-of pitiless
revenge--abandons me--a life bereft--
if she disdains me, what hope can I have?
Here's one from the devotional:
A mosaic high on a wall, flakes of
fire, winged, alive, a snake of love,
pictures of people vying, offering
gifts to each other, cupped hands of pure light.
Up there you can make brightness and darkness
without shadows, but the radiant light
that makes them shine so beautifully, clothes,
colors, gives structure to the scene, that's God's.
That woman, there, in the veil, God honored
her flesh second, then nearer the true Son,
inside her was the world's first light-filled dawn
whose glory no living mind can even
faintly shadow, no memory draw on
paper, much less the genius praised for rhymes.
By my count she wrote 396 poems, several of which are longer (terza rima, stanzaic), e.g., as in this epistle to her husband:
I've written parts of a biography and put them together in a coherent form here:
She was the daughter of Fabrizio Colonna, a successful condottiere (murderous, cunning, sophisticated in the way of Italian nobles at the time -- meaning he read and was a courtier too), by Agnesina Montefeltro (from the Urbino clan). Bethrothed and married off at a young age to Francesco Ferrante d'Avalos, Marquis de Pescaro, not as successful because hot-tempered, not in control of himself, and he sickened and died after an important victory. The marriage was the result of shifting alliances between Spanish and Rome factions of families.
Vittoria did not live long with Pescara: they were an unhappy couple (they were ill-matched temperamentally, very): he was more than sexually unfaithful, he let it be publicly known he was. She writes him scathing letters, just castigating (I've translated a couple but not yet put them online). When after a shortish time, she didn't get pregnant, he stopped coming round.
When he died, common sense might suggest she could have rejoiced, but she didn't; she went into this intense anguish where she poured everything of herself for years of anguished beautiful poetry. This second half of her life begins in 1525 (the year of his death).
After his death, she did become involved in the fierce frightful religious politics of her era (she was perhaps in danger of being pursued and prosecuted and a couple of close male friends of hers who did not come from such a powerful family were burnt to death by powerful church people); she did visit friends' courts (among them Isabella d'Este's); and also tried to restrain her oldest brother's propensities to go to murderous war. But mostly she was intensely reclusive, and she used her widowed depression to stave off another marriage (her family pressured her intensely as did other friends). Nowadays she is famous for being the friend of Michelangelo: they were close and there are 5 letters, a couple of which show real intimacy and are written in a very appealing tone. Supposedly they'd meet on Sundays during one period to discuss art and a Portuguese man recorded (or imagined) these conversations. She is associated with Ischia where she probably did spend a good deal of time and which is reflected in the imagery of her poems (also the Naples school of poetry seen in Sannazaro). Her end is sad as the cousin of her husband's who she "adopted" and treated as a son redeceased her and this was another devastating blow.
Recently there's been a book of some of her poetry published (from a manuscript said to be one she sent to Michelangelo -- but there is evidence this attribution may not be so) where some recent growing consensus views have emerged. I disagree with two strongly. One is that her religious poetry is superior to her erotic. The separations between the two are often hard to make as the sonnets move back and forth in different columns (and there are other ways to divide them though I have used the traditional divison for this posting as it's handy). I feel this new idea touted is a response to how modern women often disdain the open eroticism and what feels like the masochism of the typical Renaissance poetry (sonnets) by women of the era. We saw some of this hostility when I posted a couple of Mary Sidney Wroth's sonnets. When I've taught Gaspara Stampa's poems, I encounter this strongly among some women students (others just as strongly fall in love with the poetry). The manuscript features these poems, and thus some of her very greatest poetry is lost as well as a division of the poetry reinforced which misframes them.
The other is that Colonna networked as a kind of careerist; to my mind nothing could be more foreign to this woman who was a visionary, and disdained (had a strong distaste to the point of illness) people politics of any kind. She became famous (insofar as she did) because she was a Colonna, and you have to understand the manuscript culture of the time to grasp how this happened. It distorts her personality completely to present her this way. She was a passionate woman (liked to ride horses -- just a little detail which is prosaic).
It's hard for me to pick poems by Colonna since I like so many. For my site I feature this one (top page):
Among hard rocks and savage winds I try
this life's currents in a frail wooden boat
I no longer have the art or mind for:
how slow they all are to come to my aid.
It took death but a moment to put out
my star, linch-pin, faithful support, my light:
now in the murky waters, swollen air,
there's no help, black tempest, everywhere fear--
not of the pitiless Siren's sweet song,
falling broken mangled down these cliffs, by
shifting sands overwhelmed, sinking, buried--
only of sailing forever alone
where I've sailed too often, now hopelessly,
for death has hidden my sanctuary.
But I've discovered over the years that lots of people prefer other ones and the two times two have been published two were chosen I'd never have thought anyone would choose.