Monday, July 31, 2017

Vittoria Colonna

Vittoria Colonna (1492—1547) the marchioness of Pescara, is the most successful and renowned female Italian writer of her day. At age 19 she married Fernando Francesco d'Ávalos — who within two years was off to fight the French. The couple rarely saw each other, for he was often engaged as a military captain under Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. When he died in 1525, as a result of battle wounds, she immediately tried to join a convent. She dedicated herself to writing poetry, including a series of poems in his memory.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, inspired by the ideal of her grief, wrote a poem which includes the lines:
-------She knew the life-long martyrdom,
---------The weariness, the endless pain
-------Of waiting for some one to come
---------Who nevermore would come again.

She became close friends with Michelangelo in 1536. He made drawings of her, addressed sonnets to her, and they spent a lot of time together. In return, she presented him with a gift manuscript of spiritual poetry.

Colonna was an advocate of religious reform, as demonstrated within her poetry and in the prose meditations she published. Some believe that her popularity began to wane as both she and Michelangelo started expressing the Protestant-flavoured theology of grace.

Although more formal translations exist, I have included Jan Zwicky's more contemporary free translation of the following poem.

from Sonnets for Michelangelo — 31

If this little music, stirring the frail air,
can gather up the spirit,
open it and melt it as it does —
If this mere breeze of sound, this mortal voice,
can lift the heart so,
heal it, startling thought and firing our resolve —
what will that heart do when,
before God in the first and ancient heaven,
it hears the music of all being?
When, struck by truth, it steps forth
in the great wind of that singing?

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.