La Vita Nuova, Vita Nuova, The Divine Comedy, The New Life, Divine Love
Learning it from Dante
Dante was just 9 years old when he first glimpsed at Beatrice. This historic fact, crucial to Dante’s personal and artistic life, occurred at a May Day party at Beatrice’s father’s house. Dante fell in love instantly, although on that occasion he did not speak to Beatrice. “From that time forward, love fully governed my soul,” he wrote in one of history’s greatest love poems, La Vita Nuova [The New Life].
From that moment on, the divine poet began to show up in the places where he knew he could catch a glimpse of the woman he was destined to love forever. Just admiring her from a distance was enough to fuel his love. It was only nine years later, in 1283, when he was 18 and she was 17, that she spoke to him for the first time. She was walking along the banks of the Arno, wearing white, accompanied by two older women. Passing Dante, she turned and greeted him. Such was the emotion and the joy, that he rushed to his room where he instantly had the dream that became the scene of the first sonnet in the Vita Nuova: “As they walked down the street she turned her eyes toward me where I stood in fear and trembling, and with her ineffable courtesy, which is now rewarded in eternal life, she greeted me; and such was the virtue of her greeting that I seemed to experience the height of bliss. It was exactly the ninth hour of day when she gave me her sweet greeting. As this was the first time she had ever spoken to me, I was filled with such joy that, my senses reeling, I had to withdraw from the sight of others. So I returned to the loneliness of my room and began to think about this gracious person.” (La Vita Nuova III).
Arranged marriages were customary in Medieval Florence, particularly amongst the upper classes. At the age of 21 Dante married Gemma Donati, while a year later Beatrice wed Simone dei Bardi. She tragically died three years later, thus devastating Dante. He remained devoted to her for the rest of his life, still respecting and loving her. After her death, Dante secluded himself from the outside world and started to write poems commemorating her memory. This collection became known as the “Vita Nuova.”
Although her physical influence was minimal in Dante’s life, Beatrice is perennially present throughout. Forever she will be the highest allegorical representation of spiritual love, the key to Paradise leading to ‘salvation’, the metaphor for the search of God, the Divine Love. In the face of those who do not believe in love at first sight.
To every captive soul and gentle heart
into whose sight this present speech may come,
so that they might write its meaning for me,
greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.
Already a third of the hours were almost past
of the time when all the stars were shining,
when Amor suddenly appeared to me
whose memory fills me with terror.
Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently, she fearing,
afterwards he went not to be seen weeping.