“Crash and Burn,” “Love’s Hassled Vassal,” “Settling for Little, and Even Less” by Cecco Angiolieri translated by Brett Foster


Cecco Angiolieri ~ an overview

A Sienese rogue and sonnet writer, Cecco Angiolieri writes with a contemporary immediacy — with grit and wit, both — that some may find surprising for a medieval lyric poet. Angiolieri is best known for his outrageous sonnet “S’i’ fosse fuoco” [“If I were fire, I’d torch the whole world”] and his tenzone, or poets’ battle, with Dante. He is decidedly different in spirit and style from Dante and other dolcestilnuovo poets, and better represents the comic-realistic tradition of lyric poetry. He is usually classified among the poeti burleschi or giocosi. Colloquial language, parody, self-dramatization, and an almost journalistic aspect characterize Angiolieri’s verse. A few English versions of Angiolieri exist, including twenty or so poems by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, but they are misleadingly elegant. In my versions, I try to retain that familiar, streetwise quality of Angiolieri’s voice, beginning with the “tag” titles (mine, not Angiolieri’s) and modern turns of phrase, all the while remaining faithful to the sonnet form and medieval details and conventions. In “Settling for Little, and Even Less,” we hear a medieval revoicing of Catullus’ pardox of the tormented — “I hate and I love” — whereas “Love’s Hassled Vassal” acknowledges the hardships of the lover but also defends his noble sacrifice. (This latter poem ends on a patriotic, Sienese note by referring to Florence’s defeat at the Battle of Montaperti about thirty to forty years before.) In “Crash and Burn,” Angiolieri’s tendency to parody reigning conventions is on full display, as he turns the dramatic swoons of dolcestilnuovo lovers into a case of comic wobbliness. By the end of this sonnet, the lover has cartoonishly fallen to the ground. Overall, Angiolieri writes about being broke, fighting with his parents, and spats with his girlfriend, Becchina or “little Becky.” No doubt Angiolieri’s embattled (or battling) beloved is a mischievous, gibing deflation of a more famous lyrical lady, Dante’s Beatrice. Becchina’s true heritage is not from Dante’s sublimated inspirer and mediator, but from the more questionable, aggressive mistresses of Roman elegiac verse.
– Brett Foster




Crash and Burn

    I can feel my heart trembling in my chest,
so fierce is my fear and hesitation
whenever I see my lady in the flesh,
and great is my fear of irritating her.
    In that moment, I can’t speak a single word,
so thoroughly are my natural skills abandoned
that I consider it a grand reward
when I can trust my feet to keep me standing.
    Until I get over feeling whoozy,
everyone who sees me walk around
says, “Look at that guy! He’s dazed and confused!”
    And I don’t flip them the bird or rain down
obscenities since Reason smiles on their abuse:
in no time at all, I’ve fallen to the ground.           (4)

Cecco Angiolieri (c. 1260 – c. 1312)


    Il cuore in corpo mi sento tremare,
sì fort’è la temenza e la paura
ch’i’ ho vedendo madonna in figura,
cotanto temo di lei innoiare.
    E non poria in quel punto parlare:
così mi si dà meno la natura
ched i’ mi tengo in una gran ventura
quand’i’ mi posso pur su’ piei fidare.
    Infino a tanto che non son passato,
tutti color che me veggiono andando
sì dicon: “Ve’ colui, ch’è smemorato!”
    Ed io nulla bestemmia lor ne mando,
ch’elli hanno le ragioni dal lor lato,
però che ’n ora in or vo tramazzando.           (IV)




Love’s Hassled Vassal

    Whoever wants advantage over others
should give his heart most loyally to Love,
and let him say to friends and family both
(if some despiser undermines his groove):
    God should punish those who show to lovers
less than honor, should leave them ruthlessly
in agony, like hags who find their beauty’s over
when twenty-four teeth have fallen from their mouths.
    Whoever serves this lady of mine, I feel,
has it even harder, and without a doubt
I’d say it under oath as certainly,
    and the losing side would be – like that – wiped out
so suddenly, with no chance of appeal,
just like the Florentines at Montaperti.           (14)

Cecco Angiolieri (c. 1260 – c. 1312)


    Chi vol vantaggio aver a l’altre genti
don’el su’ cor lïalmente ad Amore
e lassi dir e amici e parenti,
s’e’ n’ha nessun di ciò reprenditore.
    Che tanto faccia Dio tristi e dolenti
chi agli amanti fa altro ch’onore,
quant’elli ha fatto caràmpia de’ denti,
che vintiquattro di bocca n’ha fuore.
    Chi serve questa è peggio, a mia parvenza;
e ben mi par di ciò dicer sì certo
che volenter ne starei a sentenza:
    e chi perdesse fosse sì deserto
emmantinente, senza nulla entenza,
come fo ’l fiorentino a Monte Aperto.           (XIV)




Settling for Little, and Even Less


    I enjoy so little of Becchina’s favor,
by God who never plays the trickster,
that I can find no way or means to win her
nor medicine nor medic that can save me,
    for she treats me worse than would a Saracen,
nor did Herod treat the Innocents as bad.
Yet I’m so certain she’s the best I’ve had
that no one else will do, not even someone’s queen.
    Here’s the sweet span dividing her from me:
I won’t ask God for any paradise
other than to kiss the ground her feet have touched.
    Her offering me a flower would mean so much,
saying, “Here, I give this to you freely!”
instead of thinking that my death sounds pretty nice.           (38)

Cecco Angiolieri (c. 1260 – c. 1312)


    I’ ho sì poco di grazia ’n Becchina,
in fé di Di’ ch’anche non tèn a frodo,
che in le’ non posso trovar via né modo,
né medico mi val né medicina;
    ch’ella m’è peggio ch’una saracina,
o che non fu a’ pargoli il re Rodo;
ma certo tanto di le’ me ne lodo
ch’esser con meco non vorrie reina.
    Ecco ’l bell’erro ch’a da me a liei:
ch’i’ non cherre’ a Di’ altro paradiso
che di basciar la terr’u’ pon li piei;
    ed i’ fossi sicur d’un fiordaliso,
ch’ella dicesse: “Con vertà ’l ti diei!”
e no ch’i’ fosse dal mondo diviso!           (XXXVIII)



Brett Foster is the author of two poetry volumes, The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern UP, 2011) and Fall Run Road, which was awarded Finishing Line Press’s 2011 Open Chapbook Prize. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, Boston Review, The Common, Green Mountains Review, IMAGE, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Poetry Daily, Raritan, Seattle Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, Subtropics, and Yale Review. His existing translations of Angiolieri’s sonnets have appeared in numerous literary and translation journals and Italianist publications, and one recently was awarded the Willis Barnstone Prize for translation.