De vulgari eloquentia (II, xii, 1-11)

(1) Est etiam, ut superius dictum est, habitudo quedam quam carmina contexendo considerare debemus; et ideo rationem faciamus de illa, repetentes proinde que superius de carminibus diximus. (1) As I said above, there is also a principle of organisation to be taken into account when weaving lines together; and so I shall now establish that, bearing in mind everything that was said above about the line itself.
(2) In usu nostro maxime tria carmina frequentandi prerogativam habere videntur: endecasillabum scilicet, eptasillabum, et pentasillabum; que trisillabum ante alia sequi astruximus. (2) In our usage three kinds of line seem to enjoy the privilege of being employed most often, namely the hendecasyllable, the heptasyllable, and the pentasyllable; and I have pointed out that the trisyllable follows these more closely than the remainder.
(3) Horum prorsus, cum tragice poetari conamur, endecasillabum propter quandam excellentiam in contextu vincendi privilegium promeretur. Nam quedam stantia est que solis endecasillabis gaudet esse contexta, ut illa Guidonis de Florentia, Donna me prega, perch'io voglio dire. Et etiam nos dicimus, Donne ch'avete intellecto d'amore. Hoc etiam Yspani usi sunt; et dico Yspanos, qui poetati sunt in vulgari oc. Namericus de Belnui, Nuls hom non pot complir adrechamen. (3) Of these it is definitely the hendecasyllable that earns the highest ranking when we try to write poems in the tragic style, because of its peculiar aptness for such composition. For there are some stanzas that seem to rejoice in being composed entirely of hendecasyllables, as in that poem of Guido of Florence: Donna me prega, perch'io voglio dire; [A lady begs me to discuss] or as I myself wrote: Donne ch'avete intelletto d'amore. [Ladies who have undestanding of love] The Hispanic poets have also used this device: and by Hispanic I mean those who have written poetry in the language of oc, such as Aimeric de Belenoi: Nuls hom non pot complir adrecciamen. [No man can accomplish fittingly]
(4) Quedam est in qua tantum eptasillabum intexitur unum; et hoc esse non potest nisi ubi frons est vel cauda, quoniam, ut dictum est, in pedibus atque versibus attenditur equalitas carminum et sillabarum. (4) There exists one kind of stanza in which a single heptasyllable is included; but this can only occur where there is a frons or a cauda, since, as I said, in pedes and versus the principle of equal numbers of lines and syllables must be strictly observed.
(5) Propter quod etiam nec numerus impar carminum potest esse ubi frons vel cauda non est; sed ubi hee sunt vel altera sola, pari et impari numero in carminibus licet uti ad libitum. (5) For this reason, moreover, there cannot be an odd number of lines where there is no frons or cauda; but when these are present, or even if only one of them is, you can have odd or even numbers of lines, as you please.
(6) Et sicut quedam stantia est uno solo eptasillabo conformata, sic duobus, tribus, quatuor, quinque videtur posse contexi, dummodo in tragico vincat endecasillabum et principiet. Verumtamen quosdam ab eptasillabo tragice principiasse invenimus; videlicet Guidonem Guinizelli, Guidonem de Ghisileriis et Fabrutium Bononienses: De fermo sofferire; et Donna, lo fermo core, et Lo meo lontano gire; et quosdam alios. Sed si ad eorum sensum subtiliter intrare velimus, non sine quodam elegie umbraculo hec tragedia processisse videbitur. (6) And just as there is a kind of stanza that includes only one heptasyllable, so it will be evident that stanzas can be composed that include two, three, four, or five of them, as long as, in the tragic style, it is the hendecasyllable that occupies the place of honour and sets the tone at the outset. It is true that I have seen cases in which a tragic poem has begun with a heptasyllable, as in these examples from Guido Guinizzelli, Guido Ghislieri, and Fabruzzo, all three from Bologna: Di fermo sofferire, and Donna, lo fermo core, [Lady, the faithful heart] and Lo meo lontano gire; [My distant wandering] and a few others. But if we are willing to analyse the meaning of these examples more subtly, we will find that this is a tragic poetry with more than a hint of the elegiac about it.
(7) De pentasillabo quoque non sic concedimus; in dictamine magno sufficit enim unicum pentasillabum in tota stantia conseri, vel duo ad plus in pedibus; et dico 'pedibus' propter necessitatem qua pedibus versibusque cantatur. (7) The same concession, however, cannot be made for the pentasyllable: in a poem in the high style it will be enough if a single pentasyllable be inserted into the whole stanza, or two, at the most, in the pedes; and I say 'in the pedes' because of the need to maintain equality in the melody of pedes and versus.
(8) Minime autem trisillabum in tragico videtur esse sumendum per se subsistens; et dico 'per se subsistens', quia per quandam rithimorum repercussionem frequenter videtur assumptum, sicut inveniri potest in illa Guidonis Florentini, Donna me prega, et in illa quam diximus, Poscia ch'Amor del tutto m'à lasciato. Nec per se ibi carmen est omnino, sed pars endecasillabi tantum, ad rithimum precedentis carminis velut eco respondens. (8) The trisyllable should most certainly not be used standing alone in the tragic style; and I say 'standing alone' because it can often be seen to be used to create an effect of echo between rhymes, as will be found in Guido of Florence's Donna me prega, [A lady begs me to discuss] and in my own poem Poscia ch'Amor del tutto m'ha lasciato. [Since Love has completely abandoned me] Here the line has no independent existence at all, but is only a segment of the hendecasyllable, answering the rhyme of the previous line like an echo.
(9) Hoc etiam precipue attendendum est circa carminum habitudinem, quod si eptasillabum interseratur in primo pede, quem situm accipit ibi, eundem resumat in altero; puta, si pes trimeter primum et ultimum carmen endecasillabum habet, et medium, hoc est secundum, eptasillabum, et pes alter habeat secundum eptasillabum et extrema endecasillaba: non aliter ingeminatio cantus fieri posset, ad quam pedes fiunt, ut dictum est; et per consequens pedes esse non possent. (9) Particular attention needs to be paid to this point where the organisation of the lines is concerned, for, if a heptasyllable is included in the first foot, another must occupy the corresponding position in the second; so that, if a three-line pes has hendecasyllables in first and third place and in the middle, as the second line, a heptasyllable, then the other pes must also have a heptasyllable in the middle and a hendecasyllable on either side. Otherwise, it will not be possible to repeat the melody exactly, which is the purpose for which the pedes are designed, as I said above, and thus they will not really be pedes.
(10) Et quemadmodum de pedibus, dicimus et de versibus; in nullo enim pedes et versus differre videmus, nisi in situ; quia hii ante, hii post diesim stantie nominantur. Et etiam quemadmodum de trimetro pede, et de omnibus aliis servandum esse asserimus. Et sicut de uno eptasillabo, sic de pluribus, et de pentasillabo et omni alio dicimus. (10) And what is true of the pedes, I say is also true of the versus: it will be clear that there is no difference between pedes and versus but that of position, since the former are so called because they occur before the stanza's diesis, and the latter because they occur after it. Besides, I affirm that the rules laid down for the three-line pes are also to be followed for all other pedes; and, as for a single heptasyllable, so also for more than one, and so on with the pentasyllable and every other kind of line.
(11) Satis hinc, lector, sufficienter elicere potes qualiter tibi habituanda sit stantia habitudine que circa carmina consideranda videtur. (11) From all this, reader, you should be able to work out easily enough what kinds of line are to be used for composing a stanza and what needs to be taken into account when considering the organisation of the lines themselves.