Machiavelli: Reading, I forget every pain

When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), in a letter to Francesco Vettori, 10 December 1513, translated by Harvey C. Mansfield, in The Prince, 2nd ed. (Chicago, 1998)

Venuta la sera, mi ritorno a casa ed entro nel mio scrittoio; e in sull'uscio mi spoglio quella veste cotidiana, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni reali e curiali; e rivestito condecentemente, entro nelle antique corti delli antiqui huomini, dove, da loro ricevuto amorevolmente, mi pasco di quel cibo che solum è mio e ch’io nacqui per lui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro e domandarli della ragione delle loro azioni; e quelli per loro humanità mi rispondono; e non sento per quattro hore di tempo alcuna noia, sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte: tutto mi transferisco in loro.


Photo of the statue of Machiavelli in the Ufficio Plaza, Florence, by Mr Crash on Flickr

Sannazaro: Inexorable death lays cities waste...


And do we complain if the years allotted to our life flee swiftly? Inexorable death lays cities waste...
The Fates carry men away. Time unaided will remove cities and whatever you behold, as the Fates demand.

  --From "In the ruins of Cumae," by Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530), translated by Helen Waddell (1889-1965) in The Wandering Scholars (1927)

Et querimur, cito si nostrae data tempora vitae
diffugiunt? urbes mors violenta rapit...
Fata trahunt homines: fatis urgentibus, urbes, et quodcumque vides, auferet ipsa dies.

Czesław Miłosz: The loneliness of the dying


...when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on....

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet....

      --"Campo dei Fiori," Warsaw, 1943.  Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004). From Selected Poems, 1931-2004, translated by Miłosz and Robert Hass.

Giuseppe Ungaretti : His name was Mohammed Sceab

In Memoriam

His name was
Mohammed Sceab
of emirs of the nomads1910postcardmaghrebiby
he killed himself
because he no longer had
a homeland

He loved France
and changed his name
He was Marcel
but he was not French
and he did not know any more
how to live

In the tents of his people
where they listen to the chant
of the Koran
sipping coffee

And he did not know how
to get away from
the chant
of his defection

I went with him
together to the landlady of the hotel
where we lived
in Paris
at number 5 rue des Carmes
a sloping dingy alley

He rests in the graveyard of Ivry
a suburb that always
looks like the day
the carnival comes down.

And perhaps only I
still know
that he was alive.

   --Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970)

Si chiamava
Moammed Sceab
di emiri di nomadi
perchè non aveva più


Amò la Francia
e mutò nome
Fu Marcel
ma non era Francese
e non sapeva più vivere
nella tenda dei suoi
dove si ascolta la cantilena
del Corano
gustando un caffè

E non sapeva
il canto
del suo abbandono

L'ho accompagnato
insieme alla padrona dell' albergo
dove abitavamo
a Parigi
dal numero 5 della rue des Carmes
appassito vicolo in discesa

Riposa nel camposanto d'Ivry
sobborgo che pare
sempre in una giornata
di una
decomposta fiera.

E forse io solo
se ancora
che visse.

        30 September 1916

Giosuè Carducci: The ancient lament


The tree to which you stretched out
your little hand,
the green pomegranate
with its beautiful vermilion flowers,

in the silent lonely garden
all the gold is turning green again
and June is restoring it
with light and heat.

You, flower of my
beaten and withered plant,
you, of my useless life
the last, unique flower,

you are in the cold earth,
you are in the black earth;
the sun will not liven you again
nor love awaken you.

 --Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907)

Pianto antico

L'albero a cui tendevi
la pargoletta mano,
il verde melograno
da' bei vermigli fior,

nel muto orto solingo
rinverdì tutto or ora
e giugna lo ristora
di luce e di calor.

Tu fior de la mia pianta
percossa e inaridita,
tu de l'inutil vita
estremo unico fior,

sei ne la terra fredda,
sei ne la terra negra;
nè il sol più ti rallegra
nè ti risveglia amor.

Petrarch and Mao Zedong: Broken is the High Column; The Immortals


Broken is the high column

Broken is the high column and the green laurel
that made a shade for my weary thought;
I have lost what I do not hope to find again
from the far north to the far south,
from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.
Death, you have taken my double treasure from me,
that made me live happy and walk haughtily.
Neither earth nor empire can restore it
nor oriental jewel nor force of gold.
But since Fate consented to this,
what more can I do than have a sad soul,
wet eyes forever, and a bent head ?
O our life that is so beautiful to see,
how you lose quickly in a morning
what you acquired with great pains over many years!

       --Petrarch (1304-1374)

Rotta è l’alta colonna e’l verde lauro
che facean ombra al mio stanco pensero
perduto o quel che ritrovar non spero
dal borrea a l'austro, o dal mar indo al mauro.
Tolto m'ai, Morte, il mio doppio thesauro,
che mi fea viver lieto et gire altero,
et ristorar nol po terra ne impero,
ne gemma oriental, ne forza d'auro.
Ma se consentimento e di destino,
che posso io piu, se no aver l'alma trista,
humidi gli occhi sempre, e 'l viso chino?
O nostra vita ch'e si bella in vista,
com perde agevolmente in un matino
quel che 'n molti anni a gran pena s'acquista!

From Sedulia: Petrarch was talking about his patron Cardinal Colonna and his great love, Laura, who both died in 1348 in the great plague. The next poem reminds me in its beginning of Petrarch’s poem. It is a famous poem in China because of its author.


Reply to Li Shuyi  [The Immortals]

(to the tune of “Die Lian Hua”)

I lost my proud poplar, you your willow,
Poplar and willow soar to the Ninth Heaven.
They ask Wu Gang what he has,
He brings out a cassia wine.

The lonely moon goddess shakes out her wide sleeves,
in the vast infinite emptiness she dances for the faithful souls.
Suddenly it is reported that on earth the tiger has been caught.
Tears fly like heavy rain.

May 11, 1957

--Mao Zedong (1893-1976)



吴刚 捧出桂花洒。



Da Li Shuyi

Wo shi jiao yang jun shi liu,
yang liu qing yang zhi shang zhong xiao jiu.
wen xun Wu Gang he suo you,
Wu Gang ju chu gui hua jiu.

Kou mo Chang E shu kuang xiu,
wan li chang kong qie wei zhong hun wu.
Hu bao ren jian ceng fu hu,
lei fei dun zuo qing pen yu.

Mao’s young wife Yang Kaihui was executed by the Guomindang in 1930 in front of her 8-year-old son, refusing to denounce her husband. Li Shuyi’s husband Liu had also been killed by the Guomindang. Yang means Poplar; Liu means Willow. Wu Gang is the woodcutter servant of Chang E, the moon goddess. He has the Sisyphean task of cutting down a constantly regrowing cassia tree. The guihuais supposedly translated by “sweet osmanthus” but I think Mao is referring to the cassia tree because of the legend.

Later, from Sedulia:
Since I first published this post I have read Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and I feel ambivalent about leaving up Mao's poem. He was an evil man, at least at the end, and Jung Chang makes the case that he did not try to rescue Kaihui even though he was nearby, partly because he had taken another wife; but he was a good poet. In fact, he is generally considered one of the best poets in modern Chinese. So I will leave it up. The poem is very well known in China.

Jacopone da Todi: And it made me silent


And it has made me mute, who was such a talker:
my heart has entered into such a great abyss
that I can find scarcely anyone to listen
with whom I can talk about this.

   --Iacopone de Todi (1236-1306)

From  De la diversità de contemplazione de croce 

…E me fatt’ha muto, che fui parlatore:
en sì grande abisso entratè el mio core,
ch’io non trovo quasi auditore

con chi ne possa de ciò ragionare.

Giovanni Pascoli: In those days



At that time—in a most distant time
I was very happy; not now:
but how much sweetness comes to me
from so much sweetness then!

That year! through all the years that later
fled, that will fly by,
you cannot, my thoughts, you cannot
carry anything with you but that year!

A day that was, that is without
peer, that is with no return,
life was vain appearance
before and after that day!

A point! so fleeting,
that in truth it passed by untouched,
but beautiful in this way, that I was so
happy, happy, at that point!

                    --Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)


Allora… in un tempo assai lunge
felice fui molto; non ora:
ma quanta dolcezza giunge da
dolcezza d’allora!

Quell’anno! per anni che poi
fuggirono, che fuggiranno,
non puoi, mio pensiero, non puoi,
portare con te, che quell’anno!

Un giorno fu quello, ch’è senza
compagno, ch’è senza ritorno;
la vita fu van partenza
si prima si dopo quel giorno!

Un punto!...così passeggero,
che in vero passò non raggiunto,
bello così, che molto ero
felice, felice, a quel punto!