Poliziano: Stanzas




by Domenico Ghirlandaio


(14 July 1454 – 24 September 1494)

An Ideal Prince
An Ideal Lady
An Ideal City
An Ideal Love…
And All of Them Were Real


Discover the true story of Florence’s adored inspiration,
La Bella Simonetta
in the illustrated collection, “Isolde Kurz: A Cultural Anthology”.

Stanzas After The Tournament is one of the finest early examples of the Renaissance undertaking:  a story synthesizing Classical with then-contemporary European culture. But the author also seasons his song with a French flavor:  the Art of Courtly Love.


The Classical Demigod, the Medici Prince, and the embodiment of Courtly Love radiate from the legendary artist Andrea del Verrochio’s bust of Giuliano di Medici.

Poliziano, a close member of the Medici circle, died in the Pazzi conspiracy and didn’t complete his “Giostra”.
Here’s some of its heart.

{Stanza 1}

All lovers of the human form, please come in.
Find your row, your seat: my verse the stadium:
Mnemosyne’s daughters, your indulgent aid I summon!
Heroes’ feats, ladies’ beauty must here have sum.
Let festive days be held with pipes and drumming:
Tuscany’s glorious offspring won’t succumb
To Forgetfulness, or that criminal, Time.
I swear it by the Muses and my rhyme.

{Stanzas 43-59}

Fair and pure is she, her raiment pure and fair,
richly colored though, with roses tendrils guard.
Crowned by golden curls, she’s shy yet proud in air.
The forest laughs, it looks on her with kind regard.
But how shall he, till now so blithe, without a care,
cure the tempest in himself?  Where is peace?  Jarred.
One flutter of her eyelids shows the swain the way:
he’ll make himself her servant.  O propitious day!

Now Cupid manages to fling unerring darts
from eyes of blue, serene and sweet as praise.
The breeze itself grows mild near her, and gloom departs
wherever she lets fall the love-light of her gaze.
In her visage:  Heaven’s joys, but absent arts.
Ornaments were waste beside her natural rays.
The winds grow still to listen to her dulcet words,
whose music soars aloft, repeated by the birds.

Often, she’s like goddess Minerva in arms,
next, intimately, Thalia, singing poetry.
But when she longs for twang of bows and hunting’s charms,
she seems Diana roaming woods, both chaste and free.
Vain Arrogance, that servile boaster, she disarms;
And Rage must kneel, although he moans and seeks melee.
Every gentle virtue forms her retinue,
her loveliness a measure of the things she’ll do.

Sweet Propriety stays always hovering near
with keys to every heart the modest can unlock.
And Kindness walks there too, humane, gently strong yet dear.
The Beauty’s tender nature serves to teach her flock.
No villain can approach her without sensing fear
and cringing at himself ashamed, pained, taking stock.
But meanwhile, when she smiles, she shoots an arrow;
he who sees it falls, wounded to his marrow.

Merrily she sat upon the flowery knoll,
and wove a wreath from Nature’s craft, its endless store.
The world was dressed in colored stuffs she must extoll.
To make her crown match Nature’s dress would be her chore.
But suddenly, the youth diverts her from her goal.
He hardly dares approach her – pale, unsettling chap.
She jumps up and the blossoms tumble from her lap.

The nymph was now repelled by that once gladsome place.
She rose with caution from the greensward, set to go.
The youth was left, a martyr’s look upon his face.
Her, her alone his hunting skills henceforth would know.
And so because he is so gifted in the chase
and her departing makes his spirit suffer so,
he humbly gives a trembling cry of grief and yearning.
For pity’s sake, the nymph must listen, turning.

“What world is yours, O lofty maiden, say.
Are you a nymph, or goddess come to Earth?
If goddess, you’re Diana, her to whom I pray.
But if you’re mortal, tell me without making mirth
why my wits are turned by you, gone all astray.
For I don’t know what grace of mine could have such worth,
what virtue or what merit’s mine I cannot guess
that I’m vouchsafed to look on such great loveliness.

The nymph spins ’round, caught by pleading speech’s sound,
her face illumined by a smile so fresh and bright
a mountain looking on would move to reach her ground,
the sun would stop to stare:  for heavenly delight
comes forth between two ruby gates where words are found.
Her voice could make cold marble warm, spark, flame, ignite.
And yet she was no siren, but all kind concern.
Her wisdom was the fire that made his passion burn.

“I am not as you’ve made me in your straying mind.
An altar made to me would be absurdity.
Now groves of your Etruria and Arno bind,
yet I was born Ligurian, beside the sea.
By marriage I live here, my birthplace left behind,
coasted exchanged  for gardens in your Tuscany.
Where I was born, Neptune’s power, with angry roaring,
split rocks;  life churned;  the world seemed constant warring.

This heath proves often where my path leads, all alone.
You simply come across me in my favorite lair.
My thoughts take ease where so much verdant life has grown,
grass and flowers letting Simonetta share.
The chain of hours pass by, I hardly know they’ve flown.
My thoughts grow sweet by sitting in a purer air.
When day grows warm, the ample trees have shade to lend.
A nymph comes by;  I know her as a cheering friend.

And when the housework’s done on days of fest,
to visit in the temple is my joy and pride.
The women ’round the countryside come gaily dressed.
We decorate the goddess’ altar held inside.
Let me answer simply to the query pressed
so strange ideas about me can be put aside.
Don’t let my beauty’s burgeoning evoke surprise –
earthly, yet from Venus’ womb, I did  arise.

But see, the sun already tilts his car to set.
Long and longer grow the grey, penumbral-trees;
cicadas go to rest and let the crickets fret;
the tiller in the field feels that he’s earned his ease;
villas puffs out smoke;  songbirds pay their day’s debt;
the peasant’s wife now lays out soup, and bread and cheese.
It’s time I, too,  returned to rest inside my nest.
Go, rejoin your hunting friends:  you know that’s best.”

Her eyes took on a luster filled with Heaven’s shine.
The world around seemed glowing with one sweet accord,
With placid tread, her steps a twining, trailing, vine,
she spreads her charms across the green and blooming sward.
She’s leaving;  blooms, shrubs and trees begin to whine,
and birds give out a saddened, mourning chord.
Yet where her tread has been, the grass, once merely green,
breaks forth in yellows, blues and reds to mark the scene.

Bel Giulio, what now?  Still chained by shy desire,
he dare not follow;  nor can bear to lose his star.
He stands there like a fool, his dizzy thoughts afire,
but in his veins, the blood has turned to icy tar,
His marble fixity conceals his case is dire.
She cannot guess, must merely think that he’s bizarre.
He strays in adulation for her high grace,
her form, the flowing vestment of the godly race.

His feels his chest explode, it can’t contain his new heart.
His spirit longs to tell his body, “Ah, farewell!”
Then, with sobs, the brave young hunter falls apart,
melting like the frost beneath the sun’s bright spell.
He can’t pursue the nymph as if she were a hart.
Love’s weakness makes him tremble, groaning, far from well.
And yet, delicious illness, he desires more.
Chaste Giulio exults to be Eros’ pawn, to adore.

Now where are your clever sayings, Giulio?
Those precepts and those maxims, others felt their sting.
Molest yourself with mockery since you’re a beau.
And what about the hunt, which once meant everything?
Ho!  Has one  mere woman taken all in tow:
Thoughts, desire, will?  She has you on a string.
Poor knave, look in your soul and read the book
of what you used to be, and what the female took.

How recently the wilderness called you her son.
You were the boldest hunter till fierce Cupid came,
and with a lovely beast did what he’s always done.
You thought you chased that prey, but you became its game.
They’ve tied you up.  Freedom’s vanished.  Their team won.
Amor and Woman triumph – you are staked as claim.
No one should rely on his own fortitude,
for Love will come to humble every attitude.

Angelo (Agnolo) Poliziano, whose influential works stand as models of Italian versification, sang out the same theme in his “Various Rhymes” Rime Varie.

Compelled by love, unstrung but glad, I overflow
With song so others know my god-touched state,
Lest hiding it I aggravate
The precious madness that I oddly hope will grow.

True love’s pleasing pains must cry ecstatic woe,
And anyone who locks these raptures in his breast,
His secret coldly unconfessed,
Can’t have truly loved at all, and is to blame.

I sing because I must, and to increase the fame
Of her, our concord, clarity and guiding star –
Ah, heavenly body, far! –
An second sun, who warms the hardest heart to melt.

A lover’s fortune muted is not really felt,
Possessiveness and pining must burst forth and rage.
No true lover is a sage.
The prudent can’t have known a passion very strong.

Come, feel the flame that burns me:  through my song,
Yet feel no taint of envy or of jealousy.
Discord softens, blushes, flees
With all the ugly hosts, love’s enemies!

When spring arrives, the friend to birds and bees,
And backward lovers, who, for feasts, come flocking
Gew-gawed up, cute, not shocking.
No frou-frou ribboned garland seems too fancy.

One festival, I spied some prints of feet so dancey
That, in huntsman’s clothes, I knew I’d found the prey.
Fate paved the path that happy day.
This city pilgrim bowed to beauty, life, desire.

The nymph, who lit my spirit as a spark does fire,
Appeared among the revelers with humble mien,
Ashine with knowing light serene
So it seemed the dance must be in Paradise.

She was enwreathed by ladies fair so gay and nice
Their spritely radiance made me believe I’d found
No mortal, but a sacred ground
Where all the goddesses come down for their caprice.

But she, who brings the spirit storms, brings also peace.
As Venus, she’ll make world-enhancing war;
As Minerva, accord restore.
Every charm of flesh and spirit meet in her.

I crave but cannot bear the fiery thoughts that stir.
And at the sight of such a prodigy
Must ask, whose dream is this, is she?
Exceeding excellence requires exceeding praise.

Another may first come forward to catch the gaze,
But she need not be first:  she stands alone.
The violets know who’s on the throne;
Columbines and lilies bow before the rose.

Her golden locks a diadem that glows,
This vision joined the round with playful tread.
With delight the choir was led.
Her feet engraced the music’s course, a tripping beat.

It’s well her eyes stayed low:  though dove-mild, sweet,
The rays that did escape made me go weak.
Her jealous  crown of hair would seek
To shut their light in, flashing out its gorgeous gold.

As if by magic, without needing to be told,
“O golden curtain, part, show me her face again!”
Her ivory hand fulfilled my yen,
Brushed back the wandering hair, and beauty shone.

From her eyes had such o’erpowering spirits flown,
Sweet slaves of love, each one aflare so brightly,
I really don’t know rightly
Why I did not turn to ashes at the sight.

These first signs announced to me my heart’s new plight.
I’m tied to her by knots unyielding, lovely powers,
So night and day, all my hours
Brim over with her by some magic art.

She had still greater benefactions to impart.
To watch her dance was like ambrosial food,
Or nectar the gods have brewed,
A nourishment of which you cannot tire.

But then a paleness in her face rose higher.
Her wanness a further test of love and faith.
Pallor made her seem a wraith.
Ethereal, her beauty just increased to me.

I made the Lord of everything a plea
The nymph be well, for now she took her leave.
The circle seemed at once to grieve.
The happy feast of spring was at an end.

But even goddesses must not offend.
She turns, and coral floods her pallid cheeks.
“Thank you for the dance,” she speaks,
Her smile spread heaven, an eternal rainbow’s arc.

Yet in the blue celestial eyes I could remark
Swirling in their long-lashed wideness, Cupid –
Looking dazed, almost stupid.
What his work had cost him, I could tell too well.

She casts immortal rays where I desire to dwell.
My love for her makes me immortal, too –
A gift from Love I never knew.
Amor has shown me Heaven in my queen.

Since seeing her, I sigh;  I do not preen.
I’ve lost pride’s lavish dress;  mere food is bland.
I need clues to understand
Am I living or among the blessèd dead?

Why is she so rarely seen, what’s amiss?
The birds themselves seem not to want to sing.
Summer lags behind the spring.
The sovereign wrings his hands, “Our lovely nymph is late!”

We’ve twice already watched the wandering moon deflate
In searching for you with its borrowed solar beams.
We hunt, too, for in our dreams
Our nymph, just like the cherished moon, will soon return.

Even sedges, bracken, ferns in springtime yearn
Their tendrils reach for life, and all things are made new.
Who teaches beings what to do?
Cruel winter’s gone and suddenly, the thing’s aware.

One turns into two;  two know they are a pair.
The jousting bull, the wide-hipped woolly ram.
I’m a fellow, you’re a dam.
Love has its laws, and with them ought we to contend?

Or squander dulcet years when they’re so few to spend?
Should we not use the luscious time of scrumptious youth?
Why swap with greedy Time, get ruth
but give our joys to Him when we could be so rich?

Am I some shepherd, skin burned black as pitch,
A vile-born beggar, or a toothless ancient dog?
What clouds your shining mind with fog
That you despise me, blind to who I am?

My resplendent pedigree allows no sham.
Our family brings our native country glory;
I’m many families’ quarry,
And boast, the object dear of many ladies’ sighs.

Riches’ glittering goods, which all the worldly prize,
I can dispense with royalty’s largess,
Expend it, never having less.
Treasures only increase when what’s valued’s spread.

In deeds of tournaments I’ve always led.
Favored friends surround me; we delight, rejoice.
Know you one more Fortune’s choice?
But Dame Fortune, too, must wait, my nymph, on you:

Because the path without you holds a bitter view.
What I now possess seems meaningless.
To jubels, hope of mine, say ‘Yes!’
To the one true rapture, love will then conduct.

And when the blossom fades, let fruit be plucked.

Simonetta Cattaneo & Giuliano di Medici
were real live people in a real live place.


Renaissance Florence lives on in Poliziano’s work
and in Tuscany.


I hope to translate the entire “Giostra” into a Bilingual edition.