A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)

A few weeks ago, when I was writing about Egyptian poetry, I made the point that reading poetry in translation is a deceptive exercise since you’re not reading the same poem that poet had, in fact, penned. You might like the translation but quite possibly would not like the original or vice versa. A sonnet by Petrarch today in two different English translations will serve to illustrate the same point… and the Venetian balcony at night will serve to illustrate the sonnet.

Un soneto de Petrarca (Un balcón en Venecia por la noche)

Hace unas semanas, cuando escribió sobre la poesía egipcia, he señalado que leer poesía en traducción es un ejercicio engañoso, porque no estás leyendo el poema que el poeta, de hecho, había escrito. Así que te puede gustar la traducción, pero lo original no, y viceversa. Hoy un soneto de Petrarca con dos traducciones ingleses servirá para ilustrar la misma idea… y el balcón de Venecia servirá para ilustrar el poema. El texto original italiano está abajo de los versiones ingleses si quieres leerlo – no hay que hablar italiano para apreciar la cadencia bella del idioma de Petrarca. (También puedes encontrar un enlace abajo para la traducción española.)

The original Italian text is below the English versions for anyone who feels like braving it… You don’t have to be able to speak Italian to appreciate the beautiful cadence of Petrarch’s language – much superior to either English translation!


Which Translation Do You Like Better?

That window where my sun is often seen
Refulgent, and the world’s at morning’s hours;
And that, where Boreas blows, when winter lowers,
And the short days reveal a clouded scene;
That bench of stone where, with a pensive mien,
My Laura sits, forgetting beauty’s powers;
Haunts where her shadow strikes the wall or flowers,
And her feet press the paths of herbage green:
The place where Love assail’d me with success;
And spring, the fatal time that, first observed,
Revives the keen remembrance every year:
With looks and words, that o’er me have preserved
A power no length of time can render less,
Call to m eyes the sadly-soothing tear.

(Translation by Penn)

That window where my sun is ever seen,
Dazzling and bright, and Nature’s at the none;
And that where still, when Boreas rude has blown
In the short days, the air thrills cold and keen:
The stone where, at high noon, her seat has been,
Pensive and parlaying with herself alone:
Haunts where her bright form has its shadow thrown,
Or trod her fairy foot the carpet green:
The cruel spot where first Love spoil’d my rest,
And the new season which, form year to year,
Opes, on this day, old wouldn’t in my breast:
The seraph face, the sweet words, chaste and dear,
Which in my suffering heart are deep impress’d,
All melt my fond eyes to the frequent tear.

(Translation by MacGregor)

And the Italian Original:

Quella fenestra ove l’un sol si vede,
quando a lui piace, e l’altro in su la nona,
e quella dove l’aere freddo suona
ne’ brevi giorni, quando borrea ‘l fiede;
e ‘l sasso, ove a’ gran dì pensosa siede
madonna, e sola seco si ragiona;
con quanti luoghi sua bella persona
coprì mai d’ombra o disegnò col piede;
e ‘l fiero passo ove m’ agiunse Amore;
e lla nova stagion che d’anno in anno
mi rinfresca in quel dì l’antiche piaghe;

e ‘l vólto, e le parole che mi stanno
altamente confitte in mezzo ‘l core,
fanno le luci mie di pianger vaghe.

(Francesco Petrarca: Quella fenestra ove l’un sol si vede)

You might also like / Quizás también te gusta:Esa ventana en que se ve el sol mío de Francesco Petrarca
⇒ The Harper's Song: Enjoying Life after Death in Ancient Egypt
⇒ The entry on Laura (the woman Petrarch loved) on Encyclopaedia Britannica

2 thoughts on “A Petrarch Sonnet (Venice Balcony at Night)

  1. Wow, that’s a fantastic demonstration of the issues of translation with poetry especially. Until I read a bit more about him here at your post that led me back to this one, I’d no idea who Petrarch was, other than vaguely – for ‘the Petrarchian sonnet’. Although now, what appears to be the form of his sonnet could perhaps be questionable if that form is perhaps based on a particular preferred translation type. Fascinating stuff!


    1. I think you will find that the form of the sonnet originated in Italy, and then poets in other countries started to write them too. Petrarch wasn’t the first but is certainly one of the best known of the early sonnet writers, and gave his name to the particular type of sonnet he wrote…

      I’m glad you liked it! 🙂


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