No. 8-9


Gaspara Stampa 

Translated from the Italian by Jessica Harkins 


Seven Sonnets

Stampa frequently borrowed the language and imagery of incarceration to convey her experiences in love: she depicts herself as being tied by ropes or bound by chains, subjected to torture, and deprived of the rights of speech and of defense.  In her poems this language also reflects the disparities in power between her and her beloved, which were emotional (her beloved becomes tyrannical and treats her, even as a ‘prisoner’, unjustly), social (he was an aristocrat), and of course gendered.  
     In translating Stampa I am also restoring her text to its original order. Her book, published posthumously, was radically reordered by an editor in 1913 both to fit Petrarchan conventions and to accuse her of being a prostitute.  Contemporary Italian scholarship refutes these changes, and accordingly my translation follows the original order of the 1554 text.


A divine and angelic intellect,
a regal nature and courage,   
a pleasing desire for fame and for honor,  
a wise speech, stern and singular,    

an illustrious blood, close to the high kings,
a fortune few others surpass,
an age in its true and exact prime, 
an honest manner, mild and polite, 
a face more light-filled and clear than the sun,
where Love seals beauty and grace   
in tempers never seen or heard of again:

these were the chains that long had bound me,  
and that wage a sweet and honored war.   
O may it please Love they hold forever.


If one day Love returns me to myself,  
and takes me back from this wicked lord—
which my heart fears, and would not want,
such joy it seems to take in its suffering—
you will call in vain on my stupendous    
faith, and my immense and boundless love,
repenting late of your cruelty, and your error, 
where there is none to hear.      

And I, singing my liberty,
loosened from such hard and cruel ropes,
will pass lightly into the future age.

And if the heavens listen to just prayers,
I may yet see your life, in the hands   
of cruelty, bound to my revenge.


Take up, Love, your strongest ropes,
against which there is no shield or defense,
those that took Evadne and Penelope,
and newly bind my lord.

As soon as he had left my sight,
to go on a noble and honorable venture,
he, scorning us and spurning his faith,
turned his proud thoughts elsewhere.

And, as though submersed in a high flood
of oblivion, he has never bothered
to write a line to his Anasilla.   

O Nero, o Mezenzio, o Mario, o Silla 
who among you was so base and so perverse    
that he did not feel a spark of love?     


O my misfortune, o my wicked fate,   
o sentence that is my heart’s enemy   
since I am faultless and yet made     
to carry the punishment of another’s crime,     

when did one ever see an offender 
condemned to death, to exile, to chains
for another’s fault, and—to aggravate his pain—
without being heard by his judge?

I will cry out, lord, so much and so loudly 
that, if you do not wish to hear them,
Love and Death will hear my shouts;

and perhaps some piteous listener will then say:  
“This woman placed—to her bitter cost—
her thoughts in too rough a place.”     


Since by you lord, it is even forbidden 
for me to speak my true reasons,
so that this new, strange form of torture
might consume my bones and marrow,
as long as I have a spirit in my body, soul and breath,
as long as my tongue may have strength,
I will shout, alone, my innocence,
and another’s guilt, into some cavern or ditch.

And perhaps what happened to the reeds
of he who saw Midas—which then sounded
what he had kept hidden—will come about.

Innocence, lord, trusts itself too much;
it is too fast to take feathers and wings;
and the more others close it off, the louder it cries.


Ah, console my heart with your light,
at least for this short time, since
your close departure draws nearer,
since I will not see anymore with dry eyes.   

Leave your joyful, beloved hills,     
a place so dear to you and hostile to me,   
hills that have learned from habit     
to offend me so frequently.      
When you go the crest of the great hills   
will not lose its springtime, while I will probably
stay without you, without my life.

What is it, count, if you oppose pity,     
except to deny a man who asks for help    
his merciful, his sweet relief? 


The wound which I believed had closed
by now, after the long absence and little love
of that alpine, hardened heart
which is colder than a frozen drift of snow,

wakes hour by hour, and warms through,
and spills, hour by hour, blood and water,
so that even my soul lives in fear
that should, now, be secure and brave.

Nor, though I try to tie new ropes
around my neck, do I know how to make 
the old knot stop bothering me a little or at all.

One usually says that “fire chases away fire”,
but you Love, who see to my torment,
ensure that for me, miserably, this isn’t true. 



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