There be dragons!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Naked and Alone the Soul Draws Near to the Divine

Francesco Petrarca writes in Canzoniere (Rerum vulgarium fragmenta)

Signor', mirate come 'l tempo vola,
et sí come la vita
fugge, et la morte n'è sovra le spalle.
Voi siete or qui; pensate a la partita:
ché l'alma ignuda et sola
conven ch'arrive a quel dubbioso calle.
Al passar questa valle
piacciavi porre giú l'odio et lo sdegno,
vènti contrari a la vita serena;
et quel che 'n altrui pena
tempo si spende, in qualche acto piú degno
o di mano o d'ingegno,
in qualche bella lode,
in qualche honesto studio si converta:
cosí qua giú si gode,
et la strada del ciel si trova aperta.

Canzone, io t'ammonisco
che tua ragion cortesemente dica,
perché fra gente altera ir ti convene,
et le voglie son piene
già de l'usanza pessima et antica,
del ver sempre nemica.
Proverai tua ventura
fra' magnanimi pochi a chi 'l ben piace.
Di' lor: - Chi m'assicura?
I' vo gridando: Pace, pace, pace. -

Mark, sovereign Lords! how Time, with pinion strong,
Swift hurries life along!
E'en now, behold! Death presses on the rear.
We sojourn here a day--the next, are gone!
Think on the winter and the darker day
When the soul, naked and alone,
Must prove the dubious step, the still unknown,
Yet ever beaten way.
And through this fatal vale
Would you be wafted with some gentle gale?
Put off that eager strife and fierce disdain,
Clouds that involve our life's serene,
And storms that ruffle all the scene;
Your precious hours, misspent in others' pain,
On nobler deeds, worthy yourselves, bestow;
Whether with hand or wit you raise
Some monument of peaceful praise,
Some happy labour of fair love:
'Tis all of heaven that you can find below,
And opens into all above.

My song! with courtesy, and numbers sooth,
Thy daring reasons grace,
For thou the mighty, in their pride of place,
Must woo to gentle ruth,
Whose haughty will long evil customs nurse,
Ever to truth averse!
Thee better fortunes wait,
Among the virtuous few--the truly great!
Tell them--but who shall bid my terrors cease?
Peace! Peace! on thee I call! return, O heaven-born Peace!

(combination of Dacre and Kennet)

* * * * *

I remember this line of "ché l'alma ignuda et sola/conven ch'arrive a quel dubbioso calle" modified in the movie "Fearless" where Max has appended to the bottom of an Heironymous Bosch painting the inscription:

"The soul comes to the end of its long journey and naked and alone draws near to the divine"

Mark Sovereign Lords! how each of us comes to this end, and nothing we do can stop it. After all the pettiness, fear, terror, bodily ailments, disappointments, betrayals, toils, exhaustion, worry, sorrow and pain there is this. What tragedy! Like as Unamuno said, the me that is will not survive despite all my good works. Yet this is the tragedy that must be faced to be men. Hector faces it when he is about to die at the hands of Achilles; abandoned by all men and the gods - shamed, lost. Perhaps our whole task is not to "build up treasure in heaven" which may or may not prove a reality but to recognize that we

"have brought no saving neither to Patroclus nor to my other comrades of whom so many have been slain by mighty Hector; I stay here by my ships a bootless burden upon the earth, I, who in fight have no peer among the Achaeans"

to learn in this life to "weep because another wept."

I once said to a colleague that one can only see the glory when one witnesses the tragedy. At this writing I see much, much glory. But that is also a very sad thing.


  1. Oh this is a bad understanding, not only of the immediate material, but an utter failure to even appreciate the moral ethos involved. Oh how sad to be you, to make such an elementary blunder - one might well imagine that you feel nothing at all.

  2. I have used this quote and long wondered where it came from and you are the one person to put it here. Thank you so much. I don't have any idea what the other commentator is referring to, and it doesn't make any difference.

    This world is the only thing that matters:

    "Naked and alone, the soul draws near to the Divine."