Let’s not confuse “There is a gentle thought” with another poem by Dante Alighieri entitled “Love and the gentle heart.” It’s not easy to confuse them, based on the titles and the subject. This is about the feelings a woman has for the man she loves. It makes her think about life and what she wants.
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Who was Dante Alighieri?
Dante Alighieri was probably baptized as Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri. Many people refer to him as Dante or Dante Alighieri. He is considered as the man who ‘gave’ Italy its language. Instead of writing in Latin, he decided to write in the Tuscan dialect.
Dante was born around 1265 in the Italian city Florence. When he was born, Florence was the capital city of the Republic of Florence (Repubblica Fiorentina). It is a fact that he was born in this city. About the date of his birth isn’t that much clarity.
Let’s take a moment to dive into his masterpiece, originally entitled Commedia (later it was turned into Divina Commedia by Giovanni Boccaccio). Translated to English, this is the Divine Comedy.
In the “Divine Comedy”, Dante lets the reader know that he is in the midway of his life’s journey. As Dante didn’t include a clear reference to the Bible, you might think he is referring to Psalm 89:10. This Psalm is the Bible contains a reference to the average lifespan of 70 years. When taken into consideration that Dante wrote this between 1307 and 1320, you may assume that he was born around 1265. There is one problem, the work wasn’t written when he was 35 as many assumed. If he would have written this in the year 1300. However, he wrote this between 1307 and 1320. In 1307, Dante was 42 years old. This information is included in section Inferno. In another section, Paradiso, he talks about the Sign of Gemini, when he was born. In 1265 the sun was in this sign between May and June.
The date of his birth isn’t the only part that isn’t well documented. Take for instance his descent. His father may have been a supporter of the White Guelphs, but wasn’t forced into exile. Dante was a supporter of this movement and was exiled after the Guelphs were defeated in the Battle of Montaperti (1260). This battle was between the cities of Florence and Siena. Siena was a city of the Ghibellines and they supported the Holy Roman Emperor. The Guelphs supported the Bishop of Rome (the Pope). Parts of modern Italy were under the influence of both political movements.
Dante’s father, Alighiero di Bellincione, wasn’t a professional politician. Just a supporter. He made a living as a moneylender.
At the age of ten, Dante’s mother (Bella) died. Later his father remarried Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi. From this marriage came two children: Franceso and Gaetana.
Two years after his mother passed away, a marriage was arranged for Dante. He was supposed to marry Gemma di Manetto Donati. At that time Dante was in love with someone else, Beatrice Portinari (known also as Bice). Although they met twice in nine years, he was in love with her. It was a typical example of one-sided love because she eventually married someone else (Simone dei Bardi, a rich baker living in Florence). Still, Beatrice played an important role in his work. There are several mentions of Beatrice in his work. Gemma, his wife, was never mentioned in his work.
After marrying Gemma, three children were born from this marriage: Pietro, Jacopo and Antiona). At that time Florence was still an important city for the Guelphs. The Battle of Campaldino was won on 11 June 1289 by the Guelphs. Dante played a (small) role in this battle. He was a cavalryman in the army of the Florentines. After winning this battle, it’s not clear what went on in the life of Dante. His involvement in politics became more important. He attended several political events and was a speaker at some of these events. It’s assumed that he became a member of the Physicians’ and Apothecaries Guild in that period, but he was more interested in a political career than one as a pharmacist. This made it possible to write since many books were sold through apothecaries’ stores.
Even though the Battle of Campaldino was set in the advantage of the Guelphs, the city wasn’t free of unrest. The Guelphs split into the White Guelphs and the Black Guelphs. Dante joined the first faction. The Black Guelphs were expelled from Florence. A mediation between the groups was ordered by Pope Boniface VIII and Dante was one of the mediators. When visiting Rome, he was asked to stay there. In the meantime,
Florence was pretty much destroyed by the Black Guelphs under the leadership of Charles of Valois. Starting from November 1, 1301, the city was captured in six days. A new government was installed and the role of the White Guelphs was over.
Since Dante was one follower of this faction, he was forced to go into exile. He was also accused of corruption and he was held responsible, as he was the city’s prior, for the financial wrongdoings. He was also sentenced to pay a fine, which he never did pay. He believed that he had nothing to do with this all. All his assets were frozen and he tried several times to restore the order as it was before.
When this did not succeed, he went to Verona, where he stayed with Bartolomeo I della Scala. From that moment on, he moved to Sarzana and later in Lucca. There is no real evidence that Dante visited cities like Oxford or Paris when he was a guest of a woman called Gentucca. Dante believed that Henry VII, the Holy Roman Emperor, could restore the power of the White Guelphs. He wrote several letters to the emperor.
It was Baldo d’Aguglione, who pardoned most of the White Guelphs. Dante wasn’t under the lucky ones. His letters to Henry VII formed the basis for this. The emperor decided it was now time to invade the city. Dante was at that time in no position to participate. The reasons might have been that he was not sure that his city should be relieved by foreign troops and the fact that even the White Guelphs turned him down. Even when he did participate, there is a good chance that the White Guelphs themselves removed him from the passages about this invasion. This would mark the definitive exile of Dante.
When Henry VII died in 1313, all hope was lost for him to ever return to Florence. He got an offer from Cangrande I della Scala to stay in Verona. When the military officer who controlled Florence, the Uguccione della Faggiuola, ordered the amnesty for all those who were exiled in 1315, Dante could only return after he would have paid a fine. He refused. At that time, his death sentence was commuted to house arrest. This sentence was passed onto his sons as well, should Dante die.
After returning from a diplomatic mission in Venice, Dante became ill. He was likely suffering from malaria. He died on 13 or 14 September 1321 in Ravenna. His body was buried at the Church of San Poer Maggiore. A new tomb was built to commemorate him in 1483. This tomb is known as the Tomb of Dante and it’s located next to the Basilica of San Francesco in central Ravenna. In the eighteenth century, a new monument was built.
“Divina Commedia” (version of 1472)
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It’s impossible not to mention “Commedia” (“Comedy”) or “Divina Commedia” (“Divine Comedy”) when it comes down to the literary work of Dante Alighieri. His work, however, isn’t limited to this masterpiece of Italian literature.
Because he decided to write in the Tuscan dialect, he broke with the rules of literature in his time. Other writers and poets used Latin for their publications. Dante wanted to reach the people who didn’t understand Latin but were able to read in the Tuscan Dialect. It’s said that Dante is responsible for ‘giving’ Italy its language. Others would follow his example.
Although “Commedia” is considered his most important work, there is more he wrote. Before these works are mentioned, let’s take a moment to talk about the title of his masterpiece. Dante didn’t use the word Divina (Divine). This word was later added by Giovanni Boccaccio.
The legacy of Dante is more than the work that inspired many others. Let’s not forget the publication De vulgari eloquentia (On the Elonquence of Vernacular). This essay was published in 1302 and discussed the relationship between Latin and the vernacular language. This language is based on speech, thus making it more accessible for a larger audience. It is somewhat striking that Dante wrote this work in Latin. A dialogue to use vernacular language written in another language.
This essay was meant to consist of four different parts. It was the exile of Dante that prevented the last two parts from being published.
“La Vita Nuova” (“The New Life”) is a completely different publication than De vulgari elonquentia. This collection of poems was published in 1294. In this collection, Beatrice plays an important role. The content consists of 31 poems, 25 sonnets, four canzonas, one ballad and one stanza. The basis of this work is the poems that he wrote between 1292 1293.
Other works written by Dante are “Il Fiore and Detto d’Amore”, “Convivio, De Monarchia”, “Eclogues, Quaestio de aqua et terra”. Later another collection of poems was added to this list: “Le Rime”. This is a collection of poems that weren’t published before. Originally they weren’t supposed to be combined. Well, Dante never thought it was possible, perhaps.
About this poem
Yes, it would be very easy to just quote something from his masterpiece. Let’s not do that! Take the time to read the beautiful love poem “There is a gentle thought.” Instead of focussing on the man’s perspective, it’s written like the poet is a woman. This poem describes the feelings a woman has for her man. She is forced to think about her life and what she wants. This may well be the wish of Dante. This is make-belief: his imagination about the thoughts of his elusive love Beatrice.
At the age of nine, Dante saw Beatrice for the first time. It was love at first sight. Unfortunately for him, it was a one-sided love. This makes this poem somewhat sad. A poem about a woman that falls for a man, all because it was the wish of the poet. A wish that would never become a reality.
There is a gentle thought
There is a gentle thought that often springs
to life in me, because it speaks of you.
Its reasoning about love’s so sweet and true,
the heart is conquered, and accepts these things.
‘Who is this’ the mind enquires of the heart,
‘who comes here to seduce our intellect?
Is his power so great we must reject
every other intellectual art?
The heart replies ‘O, meditative mind
this is love’s messenger and newly sent
to bring me all Love’s words and desires.
His life, and all the strength that he can find,
from her sweet eyes are mercifully lent,
who feels compassion for our inner fires.’
— Dante Alighieri