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Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets
by [?]


Beatrice, immortalized by “altissimo poeta … cotanto
amante;” Laura, celebrated by a great though an inferior bard,–have
alike paid the exceptional penalty of exceptional honor,
and have come down to us resplendent with charms, but (at
least, to my apprehension) scant of attractiveness.

These heroines of world-wide fame were preceded by a bevy
of unnamed ladies “donne innominate” sung by a school of
less conspicuous poets; and in that land and that period which
gave simultaneous birth to Catholics, to Albigenses, and to
Troubadours, one can imagine many a lady as sharing her
lover’s poetic aptitude, while the barrier between them might
be one held sacred by both, yet not such as to render mutual
love incompatible with mutual honor.

Had such a lady spoken for herself, the portrait left us might
have appeared more tender, if less dignified, than any drawn
even by a devoted friend. Or had the Great Poetess of our
own day and nation only been unhappy instead of happy, her
circumstances would have invited her to bequeath to us, in
lieu of the “Portuguese Sonnets,” an inimitable “donna innominata”
drawn not from fancy but from feeling, and worthy
to occupy a niche beside Beatrice and Laura.

1.

“Lo di che han detto a’ dolci amici addio.”–Dante.
“Amor, con quanto sforzo oggi mi vinci!”–Petrarca.

Come back to me, who wait and watch for you:–
Or come not yet, for it is over then,
And long it is before you come again,
So far between my pleasures are and few.
While, when you come not, what I do I do
Thinking “Now when he comes,” my sweetest “when:”
For one man is my world of all the men
This wide world holds; O love, my world is you.
Howbeit, to meet you grows almost a pang
Because the pang of parting comes so soon;
My hope hangs waning, waxing, like a moon
Between the heavenly days on which we meet:
Ah me, but where are now the songs I sang
When life was sweet because you called them sweet?

2.

“Era gia l’ora che volge il desio.”–Dante.
“Ricorro al tempo ch’ io vi vidi prima.”–Petrarca.

I wish I could remember that first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or Winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and to foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand–Did one but know!

3.

“O ombre vane, fuor che ne l’aspetto!”–Dante.
“Immaginata guida la conduce.”–Petrarca.

I dream of you to wake: would that I might
Dream of you and not wake but slumber on;
Nor find with dreams the dear companion gone,
As Summer ended Summer birds take flight.
In happy dreams I hold you full in sight,
I blush again who waking look so wan;
Brighter than sunniest day that ever shone,
In happy dreams your smile makes day of night.
Thus only in a dream we are at one,
Thus only in a dream we give and take
The faith that maketh rich who take or give;
If thus to sleep is sweeter than to wake,
To die were surely sweeter than to live,
Though there be nothing new beneath the sun.