This morning I am with pleasure turning the pages of “Vittoria Colonna: Sonnets for Michelangelo,” a bilingual edition, edited and translated by Abigail Brundin. Dr. Brundin and I corresponded when I first arrived here on Ischia, and I was happy to provide her my photograph of the altarpiece fresco “Madonna of Mercy,” in the Church of Sant’ Antonio di Padova, as an illustration in her learned study of the famous Renaissance poetess.
The photograph above is a view of the castle at Ischia Ponte where Vittoria lived and held literary and artistic court with her aunt by marriage, Costanza d’Avalos. Below are a few excerpts from Dr. Brundin’s study, including one of Vittoria’s poems she translated that I find particularly haunting and relevant to the great love of my own life.
“During the late 1520s and early 1530s, while she was resident on Ischia once again, Colonna’s poetry began to enjoy a wider scribal circulation throughout Italy, and her renown as a poet of chaste and devoted love for the memory of her husband began to be firmly established in the public imagination…
“It was also during this period that Colonna became closely associated with Bernardino Ochino (1478 – 1564), the Capuchin preacher who fled Italy under suspicion of heresy in 1542 and whose evangelical and mystical style of preaching is thought to have had a profound effect on her literary style as well as her religious beliefs.
“An outbreak of plague in Naples in 1531 may have forced Colonna to leave the south by the following year…”
And below is one of Vittoria’s sonnets, first in the original Italian and then in Dr. Brundin’s translation:
26: S1:121 (1538), fol. 14r
Donna accesa animosa, e da l’errante
Vulgo lontana in solitario albergo,
Parmi lieta veder lasciando a tergo
Quanto non piace al primo eterno amante,
E fermato il desio fermar le piante
Sovra un gran monte; ond’io mi specchio e tergo
Nel bello esempio e ‘l pensier drizzo e ergo
Dietro l’orme beate e l’opre sante.
L’alta spelonca sua quest’aspro scoglio
Mi rappresenta, ma da lunge il sole
Che vincin l’infiammava il cor mi scalda.
Da ghiaccio e nodo vil pur l’alzo e scioglio,
Ond’ella, a pie di lui ch’adora e cole,
Lo leghi con catena ardente e salda.
26: S1:121 (1538), fol. 14r
I seem to see a woman of passion and spirit,
far from the errant crowd in her lonely dwelling
and joyous in turning away from
all the things rejected by her one true lover,
and I see her halting her desires and setting her feet
upon a high mountain; therefore I mirror and purify myself
in her wondrous example and urge on and raise up my thoughts,
following in her blessed footsteps and imitating her holy deeds.
This cruel rock represents for me her
lofty cave, but the sun that inflamed her
from so close heats my own heart from far off.
I struggle here to free my heart from cold ice and tight knots,
so that she, kneeling at the feet of the one she adores and worships,
may bind it with the strong chains of love.