Ne la stagion che ’l ciel rapido inchina

a translation of Petrarch’s canzon 50
by Eric Rosenbloom
copyright 1995

Around the time when the sky so rapidly inclines
Westwards, and our day from us is flying
To people elsewhere who are waiting for it
In a lonely country far away,
Here a tired old woman collecting shells
Doubles her step and hurries on the more
And then alone
At the end of her day
Cheered and consoled
By some brief rest she thus forgets
The weariness and harm of the past road.
But, alas! every sorrow that the day brings me
Increases, sending away
From us by stages more eternal light.

And the sun turns the flaming wheel
To give its place to night, by waves descending
From the highest mountains in greater shadow,
The miserly tapper takes again his weapons
And with words sung to alpine notes
Every heaviness he clears out from his breast,
Then fills his table
With poor foods
Like those acorns
Whose promise of growth the world honors.
And so he finds himself cheered from hour to hour:
Which I have yet to know, nor spoken happily,
Not rested even an hour —
Not by the turning sky nor the planets.

When the shepherd sees the slowly lowering rays
Of the great planet reach the nest where he lodges,
And on the other side the darkening east,
He rises to his feet, and with the well-used staff,
Leaving the grass and the fountains and the mountain beeches,
He moves his wandering flock so softly, gently;
Then far from people,
In cottage or cave
With green leaves covered,
Without a care he lies down and sleeps.
Ah, cruel Love, then you inspire me more
To follow one in whom I wildly adore
The voice I hear, each footprint:
And I don’t come any closer — she moves and escapes.

And sailors in some quiet enclosed valley
Throw their limbs, after the sun disappears,
Onto hard wood and sleep under rough cloths.
But I, afloat with the sun in the midst of the waves,
As we are leaving Spain behind our back,
Granada, Morocco, and out beyond the Pillars,
The men and the women,
The world and the animals
In solace from hurts —
No end is coming to my stubborn unease,
And I lament each day augmenting injury
When I have grown already in painful desire
Almost ten years by now,
Not able to divine when I will be released.

Because to speak of it relieves me a little
I imagine at evening oxen returning untied
From country fields and the furrowed hills of their toil.
Why are my sighs not taken from me
When thus I sing? Why not the heavy yoke?
Why day and night are my eyes awash in tears?
Ah me, recalling
When first transfixed
By the gaze of her face,
To penetrate, I imagined, into places
Neither waves nor other force nor any art
Will it move, until I am given as prey
To that which ends it all —
But I am sure I believe in more than that.

Song, if being with me
From morning through the evening
Has brought you into my flock,
You will not show yourself in every light,
For others’ praise you will not care a bit;
Enough for you the thought from page to page
Of how I faint with the fire
Of this living rock, where here at last I rest.

[ ]