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

(1) Quia circa vulgare illustre nostra versatur intentio, quod nobilissimum est aliorum, et ea que digna sunt illo cantari discrevimus, que tria nobilissima sunt, ut superius est astructum, et modum cantionarium selegimus illis tanquam aliorum modorum summum, et ut ipsum perfectius edocere possimus quedam iam preparavimus, stilum videlicet atque carmen, nunc de constructione agamus. (1) Since the object of my attention is the illustrious vernacular, which is the noblest of all, and since I have determined what are the subjects worthy of that vernacular - the three noblest subjects, as explained above - and have reserved for them the form of the canzone, as being the greatest of all forms, and since, in order to teach the use of that form more thoroughly, I have dealt above with some aspects of it, namely its style and its metre, let us now turn to the matter of construction.
(2) Est enim sciendum quod constructionem vocamus regulatam compaginem dictionum, ut, Aristotiles phylosophatus est tempore Alexandri. Sunt enim .v. hic dictiones compacte regulariter, et unam faciunt constructionem. (2) You need to know that we call 'construction' a group of words put together in regulated order, such as 'Aristotle philosophised in Alexander's time'. Here we have, in fact, five words arranged in a regular fashion, and they make up one construction.
(3) Circa hanc quidem prius considerandum est quod constructionum alia congrua est, alia vero incongrua est; et quia, si primordium bene discretionis nostre recolimus, sola supprema venamur, nullum in nostra venatione locum habet incongrua, quia nec inferiorem gradum bonitatis promeruit. Pudeat ergo, pudeat ydiotas tantum audere deinceps, ut ad cantiones prorumpant! quos non aliter deridemus, quam cecum de coloribus distinguentem. Est, ut videtur, congrua quam sectamur. (3) On this subject it must first be taken into account that some constructions are congruent, and some, on the other hand, incongruent. And since, as you should well recall from our principle of distinction, we are hunting only for the best, there is no place on our expedition for the incongruent type of construction, because it has not been awarded even the lowest place on the scale of quality. Let the ignorant, then, not dare from now on to lay rough hands on canzoni; for we laugh at them as we would at a blind man choosing among colours. It is, as will be plain, the congruent construction that we pursue.
(4) Sed non minoris difficultatis accedit discretio priusquam quam querimus, attingamus, videlicet urbanitate plenissimam. (4) But a distinction no less tricky than this must be made before we can find what we seek, which is the construction with the highest possible degree of urbanity.
(5) Sunt etenim gradus constructionum quamplures: videlicet insipidus, qui est rudium, ut Petrus amat multum dominam Bertam. Est et pure sapidus, qui est rigidorum scolarium vel magistrorum, ut Piget me, cunctis pietate maiorem, quicunque in exilio tabescentes patriam tantum sompniando revisunt. Est et sapidus et venustus, qui est quorundam superficietenus rethoricam aurientium, ut Laudabilis discretio marchionis Estensis et sua magnificentia preparata cunctis, cunctis illum facit esse dilectum. Est et sapidus et venustus etiam et excelsus, qui est dictatorum illustrium, ut Eiecta maxima parte florum de sinu tuo, Florentia, nequicquam Trinacriam Totila secundus adivit. (5) For there are many degrees of construction. There is the flavourless, for example, which is typical of the uncultured: 'Peter loves Miss Bertha a lot'. There is one that is, flavoured and no more, typical of pedantic students and teachers: 'I am stricken with sorrow more than most, for whoever drags out his life in exile, revisiting his native land only in dreams'. There is one that is graceful as well as flavoured, which is found among those who have made a superficial study of rhetoric: 'The laudable discretion of the Marquis of Este, and his widely displayed generosity, make him beloved of all'. And there is the flavoured one that is graceful and also striking, and this is typical of illustrious writers: 'The greater part of your flowers, o Florence, having been snatched from your breast, the second Totila advanced in vain towards Trinacria'.
(6) Hunc gradum constructionis excellentissimum nominamus, et hic est quem querimus, cum supprema venemur, ut dictum est. Hoc solum illustres cantiones inveniuntur contexte; ut Gerardus, Si per mon Sobretots non fos; Folquetus de Marsilia, Tan m'abellis l'amoros pensamen; Arnaldus Danielis, Sols sui che sai lo sobraffan chem sorz; Namericus de Belnui, Nuls hom non pot complir addreciamen; Namericus de Peculiano, Si com l'arbres che per sobre carcar; Rex Navarre, Ire d'amor que en mon cor repaire; Guido Guinizelli, Tegno de folle 'mpresa. a lo ver dire; Iudex de Messana, Anchor che l'aigua per lo focho lassi; Guido Cavalcantis, Poi che de doglia core conven ch'io porti; Cinus de Pistorio, Avegna che io aggia più per tempo; amicus eius, Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona. (6) This is the degree of construction that I call most excellent, and this is what we are looking for when we hunt the best, as I said. Illustrious canzoni are composed using this type of construction alone, as in this one by Giraut: Si per mon Sobretos non fos; [If it were not for my Above-All] Folquet de Marselha: Tan m'abellis l'amoros pensamen; [So greatly does the thought of love please me] Arnaut Daniel: Sols sui che sai lo sobraffan che.m sorz; [I am the only one who knows the overwoe that rises] Aimeric de Belenoi: Nuls hom non pot complir addreciamen; [No man can accomplish fittingly] Aimeric de Peguilhan: Si con l'arbres che per sobrecarcar; [Like the tree that, because it is weighed down] The King of Navarre: Ire d'amor que en mon cor repaire; [Passion of love that dwells in my heart] The Judge of Messina: Ancor che l'aigua per lo foco lassi; [Although water flees from fire] Guido Guinizzelli: Tegno de folle empresa a lo ver dire; [I think it a foolish business, to tell the truth] Guido Cavalcanti: Poi che di doglia cor conven ch'io porti; [Since it is fitting that I bear a heart full of sorrow] Cino da Pistoia: Avegna che io aggia più per tempo; [Although I have for a long time] and his friend: Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona. [Love that speaks to me in my mind]
(7) Nec mireris, lector, de tot reductis autoribus ad memoriam: non enim hanc quam suppremam vocamus constructionem nisi per huiusmodi exempla possumus indicare. Et fortassis utilissimum foret ad illam habituandam regulatos vidisse poetas, Virgilium videlicet, Ovidium Metamorfoseos, Statium atque Lucanum, nec non alios qui usi sunt altissimas prosas, ut Titum Livium, Plinium, Frontinum, Paulum Orosium, et multos alios, quos amica sollicitudo nos visitare invitat. (7) Nor should you be surprised, reader, if so many authorities are recalled to your memory here; for I could not make clear what I mean by the supreme degree of construction other than by providing examples of this kind. And perhaps it would be most useful, in order to make the practice of such constructions habitual, to read the poets who respect the rules, namely Virgil, the Ovid of the Metamorphoses, Statius, and Lucan, as well as others who have written excellent prose, such as Livy, Pliny, Frontinus, Paulus Orosius, and many others whom an affectionate interest invites us to consult.
(8) Subsistant igitur ignorantie sectatores Guittonem Aretinum et quosdam alios extollentes, nunquam in vocabulis atque constructione plebescere desuetos! (8) So let the devotees of ignorance cease to cry up Guittone d'Arezzo and others like him, for never, in either vocabulary or construction, have they been anything but commonplace.