De vulgari eloquentia (II, viii, 1-9)

(1) Preparatis fustibus torquibusque ad fascem, nunc fasciandi tempus incumbit. Sed quia cuiuslibet operis cognitio precedere debet operationem, velut signum ante admissionem sagitte vel iaculi, primo et principaliter qui sit iste fascis quem fasciare intendimus, videamus. (1) Now that we have gathered the sticks and cords for our bundle, the time has come to put the bundle together. But since understanding of any operation should be achieved before it is carried out, just as you should be able to see your target before you shoot an arrow or throw a javelin, let us consider, first and primarily, exactly what this bundle that I intend to put together may be.
(2) Fascis igitur iste, si bene comminiscimur omnia prelibata, cantio est. Quapropter quid sit cantio videamus, et quid intelligimus cum dicimus cantionem. (2) This bundle, then, if we recall to mind all the evidence laid out above, is the canzone. Let us therefore find out what a canzone is, and what we mean when we say 'canzone'.
(3) Est enim cantio, secundum verum nominis significatum, ipse canendi actus vel passio, sicut lectio passio vel actus legendi. Sed divaricemus quod dictum est, utrum videlicet hec sit cantio prout est actus, vel prout est passio. (3) A canzone, according to the true meaning of the word cantio, is an act of singing, in an active or passive sense, just as lectio means an act of reading, in an active or passive sense. But let me define more precisely what I have just said, according, that is, to whether this act of singing is active or passive.
(4) Circa hoc considerandum est quod cantio dupliciter accipi potest. Uno modo, secundum quod fabricatur ab autore suo; et sic est actio; et secundum istum modum Virgilius, primo Eneidorum, dicit Arma virumque cano. Alio modo, secundum quod fabricata profertur, vel ab auctore, vel ab alio quicunque sit, sive cum soni modulatione proferatur, sive non; et sic est passio. Nam tunc agitur: modo vero agere videtur in alium; et sic, tunc alicuius actio, modo quoque passio alicuius videtur. Et quia prius agitur ipsa quam agat, magis -- immo prorsus -- denominari videtur ab eo quod agitur et est actio alicuius, quam ab eo quod agit in alios. Signum autem huius est quod nunquam dicimus, Hec est cantio Petri eo quod ipsam proferat, sed eo quod fabricaverit illam. (4) And on this point it must be taken into account that cantio has a double meaning: one usage refers to something created by an author, so that there is action - and this is the sense in which Virgil uses the word in the first book of the Aeneid, when he writes 'arma virumque canĂ²' [I sing of arms and a man]; the other refers to the occasions on which this creation is performed, either by the author or by someone else, whoever it may be, with or without a musical accompaniment - and in this sense it is passive. For on such occasions the canzone itself acts upon someone or something, whereas in the former case it is acted upon; and so in one case it appears as an action carried out by someone, in the other as an action perceived by someone. And because it is acted upon before it acts in its turn, the argument seems plausible, indeed convincing, that it takes its name from the fact that it is acted upon, and is somebody's action, rather than from the fact that it acts upon others. The proof of this is the fact that we never say 'that's Peter's song' when referring to something Peter has performed, but only to something he has written.
(5) Preterea disserendum est utrum cantio dicatur fabricatio verborum armonizatorum, vel ipsa modulatio. Ad quod dicimus, quod nunquam modulatio dicitur cantio, sed sonus, vel tonus, vel nota, vel melos. Nullus enim tibicen, vel organista, vel citharedus, melodiam suam cantionem vocat nisi in quantum nupta est alicui cantioni; sed armonizantes verba opera sua cantiones vocant, et etiam talia verba in cartulis absque prolatore iacentia cantiones vocamus; (5) Furthermore, we must now discuss whether the word canzone should be used to refer to a composition made up of words arranged with due regard to harmony, or simply to a piece of music. To which I answer that a piece of music as such is never given the name canzone, but is rather called 'sound'; or 'tone', or 'note', or 'melody'. For no player of a wind or keyboard or stringed instrument ever calls his melody a canzone, except when it is wedded to a real canzone; but those who harmonise words call their works canzoni, and even when we see such words written down on the page, in the absence of any performer, we call them canzoni.
(6) et ideo cantio nil aliud esse videtur quam actio completa dicentis verba modulationi armonizata. Quapropter, tam cantiones quas nunc tractamus, quam ballatas et sonitus, et omnia cuiuscunquemodi verba scilicet armonizata vulgariter et regulariter, cantiones esse dicemus. (6) And so it seems clear that the canzone is nothing else than the self-contained action of one who writes harmonious words to be set to music; and so I shall assert that not only the canzoni we are discussing here, but also ballate and sonnets and all arrangements of words, of whatever kind, that are based on harmony, whether in the vernacular or in the regulated language, should be called canzoni.
(7) Sed quia sola vulgaria ventilamus, regulata linquentes, dicimus vulgarium poematum unum esse suppremum, quod per superexcellentiam cantionem vocamus; quod autem suppremum quid sit cantio, in tertio huius libri capitulo est probatum. Et quoniam quod diffinitum est pluribus generale videtur, resumentes diffinitum iam generale vocabulum, per quasdam differentias solum quod petimus distinguamus. (7) But because I am concerned here only with poems in the vernacular, and am not discussing those in the regulated language, I say that there is one form of vernacular poetry that excels all others, and that, on account of its pre-eminence, we call the canzone; and that the canzone is pre-eminent was proved in the third chapter of this book. And because what has just been defined seems to be common to the majority of instances, I shall now take up afresh what has been defined generically, and identify more precisely, through a series of distinctions, what it is we are seeking, and that alone.
(8) Dicimus ergo quod cantio, in quantum per superexcellentiam dicitur, ut et nos querimus, est equalium stantiarum sine responsorio ad unam sententiam tragica coniugatio, ut nos ostendimus cum dicimus, Donne, che avete intellecto d'amore. Quod autem dicimus «tragica coniugatio», est quia cum comice fiat hec coniugatio cantilenam vocamus per diminutionem: de qua in .iiij. huius tractare intendimus. (8) So I say that the canzone, in so far as it is so called for its pre-eminence, which is what we too are seeking, is a connected series of equal stanzas in the tragic style, without a refrain, and focused on a single theme, as I showed when I wrote Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore. [Ladies who have understanding of love] If I say 'a connected series in the tragic style', it is because, were the style of the stanzas comic, we would use the diminutive and call it a canzonetta, a form I intend to discuss in the fourth book of the present work.
(9) Et sic patet quid cantio sit, et prout accipitur generaliter, et prout per superexcellentiam vocamus eam. Satis etiam patere videtur quid intelligimus cum cantionem vocamus; et per consequens quid sit ille fascis quem ligare molimur. (9) And now it is clear what a canzone is, whether we are using the term in a general sense or on account of the form's outstanding excellence. It seems plain enough what we mean when we call something a canzone, and, in consequence, what this bundle we are preparing to tie together may be.