De vulgari eloquentia (II, iv, 1-8)

(1) Quando quidem aporiavimus extricantes qui sint aulico digni vulgari et que, nec non modum quem tanto dignamur honore ut solus altissimo vulgari conveniat, ante quam migremus ad alia, modum cantionum, quem casu magis quam arte multi usurpare videntur, enucleemus; et qui hucusque casualiter est assumptus, illius artis ergasterium reseremus, modum ballatarum et sonituum omittentes, quia illum elucidare intendimus in .iiij.º huius operis, cum de mediocri vulgari tractabimus. (1) Now that I have, not without difficulty, elucidated some tricky problems - who and what is worthy of the aulic vernacular, as well as which form I consider worthy of such honour as, alone, to be suited for the vernacular at its highest - I wish, before moving on to other matters, to enquire thoroughly into the canzone form, which many clearly employ more at random than according to the rules; and since, so far, all this has been taken for granted, I will now throw open the workshop of that art (leaving the forms of ballata and sonnet aside for the moment, since I plan to explain them in the fourth book of the present work, which will deal with the middle level of the vernacular).
(2) Revisentes igitur ea que dicta sunt, recolimus nos eos qui vulgariter versificantur plerunque vocasse poetas: quod procul dubio rationabiliter eructare presumpsimus, quia prorsus poete sunt, si poesim recte consideremus, que nichil aliud est quam fictio rethorica *musicaque posita*. (2) Looking back, then, at what was said above, I recall that I frequently called those who write verse in the vernacular 'poets'; and this presumptuous expression is beyond question justifiable, since they are most certainly poets, if we understand poetry aright: that is, as nothing other than a verbal invention composed according to the rules of rhetoric and music.
(3) Differunt tamen a magnis poetis, hoc est regularibus, quia magni sermone et arte regulari poetati sunt, hii vero casu, ut dictum est. Idcirco accidit ut, quantum illos proximius imitemur, tantum rectius poetemur. Unde nos, doctrine operi impendentes, doctrinatas eorum poetrias emulari oportet. (3) Yet they differ from the great poets, that is, those who obey the rules, since those great ones wrote their poetry in a language, and with a technique, governed by rules, whereas these write at random, as I said above. Thus it comes about that, the more closely we try to imitate the great poets, the more correctly we write poetry. So, since I am trying to write a theoretical work about poetry, it behoves me to emulate their learned works of poetic doctrine.
(4) Ante omnia ergo dicimus unumquenque debere materie pondus propriis humeris coequare, ne forte humerorum nimio gravata virtute, in cenum cespitare necesse sit. Hoc est quod magister noster Oratius precipit, cum in principio Poetrie Sumite materiam dicit. (4) First of all I declare that anyone must adjust the weight of his material to suit his own shoulders, lest the excessive burden bearing down upon them overcome his strength and send him sprawling in the mud; and this is what our master Horace teaches at the beginning of his Ars poetica, where he says 'Choose your subject'.
(5) Deinde in hiis que dicenda occurrunt debemus discretione potiri, utrum tragice, sive comice, sive elegiace sint canenda. Per tragediam superiorem stilum inducimus; per comediam inferiorem; per elegiam stilum intelligimus miserorum. (5) Then, when dealing with the various subjects that are suitable for poetry, we must know how to choose whether to treat them in tragic, comic, or elegiac style. By 'tragic' I mean the higher style, by 'comic' the lower, and by 'elegiac' that of the unhappy.
(6) Si tragice canenda videntur, tunc adsumendum est vulgare illustre, et per consequens cantionem oportet ligare. Si vero comice, tunc quandoque mediocre, quandoque humile vulgare sumatur; et huius discretionem in quarto huius reservamus ostendere. Si autem elegiace, solum humile oportet nos sumere. (6) If it seems appropriate to use the tragic style, then the illustrious vernacular must be employed, and so you will need to bind together a canzone. If, on the other hand, the comic style is called for, then sometimes the middle level of the vernacular can be used, and sometimes the lowly; and I shall explain the distinction in Book Four. If, though, you are writing elegy, you must only use the lowly.
(7) Sed obmittamus alios, et nunc, ut conveniens est, de stilo tragico pertractemus. Stilo equidem tragico tunc uti videmur, quando cum gravitate sententie tam superbia carminum quam constructionis elatio et excellentia vocabulorum concordat. (7) But let us leave the other styles aside and, as is appropriate, discuss only the tragic here. The tragic style is clearly to be used whenever both the magnificence of the verses and the lofty excellence of construction and vocabulary accord with the gravity of the subject-matter.
(8) Quando, si bene recolimus, summa summis esse digna iam fuisse probatum et iste quem tragicum appellamus summus videtur esse stilorum, illa que summe canenda distinximus isto solo sunt stilo canenda: videlicet, Salus, Amor et Virtus, et que propter ea concipimus, dum nullo accidente vilescant. (8) Therefore, remembering well that (as has been proved above) whatever is highest is worthy of the highest, and seeing that the style we call 'tragic' is the highest kind of style, the subjects that we have defined as requiring to be treated in the highest style must be treated in that style alone. And those subjects are well-being, love, and virtue, and the thoughts that they inspire in us, as long as no accidental circumstance intervenes to defile them.