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Literature / Vita Nuova

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DATING TIP #9: Eat his actual heart out.

"Incipit vita nova."

A collection of Courtly Love poems by Dante that attempt to capture the divine beauty of the World's Most Beautiful Woman, Beatrice.

The collection is made up of over 30 poems (mainly sonnets) written from 1283 to 1293 with prose sections before and after each poem to provide historical context. All of the poetry relates to the poet's infatuation with Beatrice, starting from their meeting at age nine to a vision he has of her a year past her passing.

The Vita Nuova is the epitome of the Courtly Love genre and Christian treatments of beauty. The promise the poet makes here to praise Beatrice in a wholly new way would only be completed in the collection's Sequel, The Divine Comedy.

The Italian text and Andrew Frisardi's translation are both freely available online. Unless noted otherwise, English quotes on this page are probably from Frisardi's translation.

The Vita Nuova provides examples of...

  • Abhorrent Admirer: The narrator spends nine years pining after a girl, only to have her refuse to greet him due to some Malicious Slander. The narrator works the rest of his lady's life content with being spurned while capturing her beauty in verse.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: The ninth poem accuses those who see the poet struck to death by beauty of sinning if they do not comfort the poet in his weakness.
  • And Show It to You: In the first poem, Love appears out of thin air holding Dante's heart in his hand while it burns. Dante doesn't seem to be dying without the heart and the poem doesn't record his reaction to seeing Love feed it to someone, because dreams are weird like that.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Many of the poems address Love as if it were a bodily lord, one who forced Beatrice to take the poet's heart. There's a significant segment of Dante's commentary dedicated to establishing that he has the Artistic License to speak in such a fantastical way by citing writers like Virgil and Ovid.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Before mentioning Beatrice's death for the first time, Dante quotes the opening line of the Book of Lamentations to set the extreme desolation of the world sans his lady.
  • Biography: The Vita Nuova is largely a prose account by Dante Alighieri explaining the historical circumstances behind the love poetry included in the collection.
  • Blasphemous Praise: Beatrice's beauty is so great that even an angel admits to God's face that Heaven is flawed for the lack of her.
  • Boy Meets Girl: The collection begins with Dante and Beatrice meeting for the first time when they're nine years old. Dante falls in love and spends a good few years trying to find her again, only to meet her nine years later and to get straight up rejected. Still feeling indebted to her beauty, Dante continues to base his poetry off her even if he now hides his deep love for her.
  • Cardiovascular Love: The poem "Amore e l cor gentil" is all about how love and an open heart can only exist together, as judged by the wise man, legislated by Nature, and executed by Lord Love. For a heart to exist, Love must at least be hibernating within it so that it is ready to act when the heart encounters beauty.
  • Catapult Nightmare: The poet awakens from his fever dream and immediately screams Beatrice's name in fear, although anyone besides Dante would have a hard time discerning the name between his sobs.
  • Color Motif: The poem makes use of red to represent love, most strikingly in the crimson dress Beatrice wears when she first meets Dante and when she appears to him posthumously.
  • Death Seeker: A fever causes the poet such misery that he prays for death. His despair of life only grows worse as he hallucinates an apocalypse brought upon by the death of his love.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Exaggerated Trope; our hero can't even manage to get his crush to say hello to him before she dies in her twenties, much less love him back.
  • Die or Fly: Beatrice is said to make any who look upon her experience the joy of Heaven on Earth or kill them where they stand. This is exaggerated, of course, but beyond poetic license, Dante does tend either to enter into a state of radical bliss or despair depending on how his encounters with Beatrice go.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Upon realizing his lover's mortality, the poet has a nightmare where the entire world falls apart upon her death. The sun goes black, the stars begin to cry, birds drop from the sky, and the whole earth quakes, in a scene right out of the Book of Revelation.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: The first Grief Song for Beatrice claims anyone wicked enough to leave that perfect lady unmourned must lack the mind to even picture her.
  • Faux Symbolism: invoked After defending his use of personified emotions, Dante makes it clear that using such symbolic devices without any deeper meaning is a shameful thing and that his friends know plenty of poets who write in such a "stupid manner."
  • Fever Dream Episode: One of the later poem begins with Dante begging for death as some women wake him up from a fever-induced nightmare. The middle and end of the poem are the poet detailing his nightmare, where Beatrice died and ascended to Heaven while all the Earth was left in chaotic mourning.
  • Genre-Busting: The Vita Nuova switches between large prose sections that provide background to the poetic sections, which in themselves take on genres like romance sonnet, Grief Song, prayerful ballad, and even a visionary apocalypse canzone.
  • Girl Watching: The Vita Nuova is all about a few times Dante saw the most beautiful woman in the world from a distance and wrote poetry trying to capture her beauty.
  • Gossip Evolution: Dante writes a lot of poetry about a pretty woman he doesn't really care about to throw people off the trail for his real love, Beatrice. Problem is, he writes so much cover poetry that Florence's gossipers make Dante out to be lusting after his defense. Not wanting to cause a scandal, Beatrice refuses even to say hello to her secret admirer.
  • Grief Song: The collection includes a three-part canzone written immediately after Beatrice's death. It mentions a lot about crying.
  • Heart Trauma: A rare positive example; a dream where Beatrice eats the poet's heart marks the beginning of his love for her and his quest to capture her beauty in any of the dozens of poems in the Vita Nuova.
  • Horrifying Hero: Once he's in mourning, Dante scares off all men who see him because his face is as dead as a ghost's.
  • Humble Hero: Beatrice is so devoid of pride that it astonishes God and merits her entrance into the heaven of humility, sitting within reach of the Virgin Mary herself.
  • In Medias Res: The Fever Dream Episode of the Vita Nuova opens with Dante being awoken from his nightmare, while the rest of the poem details what he actually hallucinated.
  • Internal Monologue: In the aftermath of Lord Love's vision, a sonnet portrays an argument between voices in Dante's head about whether to submit to Love or to resist him. The internal argument forces Dante to constantly start, scrap, and re-start his poetry until he prays to Mercy herself.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Dante maintains that anyone who does not remember Beatrice and mourn must have a heart made of granite with no space for goodness.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Dante's attempts to keep the prying eyes of Florence from knowing which woman he's in love with ends up ruining his chances with her. Turns out, pretending to love other ladies makes you look like a medieval whore, something Beatrice in no way wants to associate with much to Dante's secret misery.
  • Killed Offscreen: The story of how Beatrice's passed from Earth to Heaven is left unsung in Dante's poetry, because he didn't feel he could do the subject justice.
  • Longing Look: When the poet is having a bit of a panic attack, he notices a young woman looking at him compassionately from a window. The poet is moved to tear by this look and even begins to feel Love in his soul for the first time since his lady's death.
  • Love at First Sight: The Vita Nuova begins with Dante seeing Beatrice for the first time and adoring her. Every part of his being cries in praise of her as Love claims dominion of his heart, never to let him go free for as long as Beatrice is on Earth.
  • Love Potion: Dante admits that if his speech could fully communicate the worth of his lady, it would turn any of his listeners into lovers.
  • Meaningful Name: The poet's muse is named Beatrice, a fact known to all who meet her because they realize their beatitude by contemplating her beauty. Yes, Dante goes so far to say that his lady's beauty offers a glimpse of the eternal beatitude of Heaven, a praise that only becomes more apt after she passed into that world.
  • Mistaken Declaration of Love: People mistake Dante's longing poems for a declaration of love to an attractive woman that the poet doesn't really know that well. He's actually quite happy with the mistake, since it means no one will know who he really is in love with and he can continue with his writing without drawing suspicion.
  • The Mourning After: It takes a year after Beatrice's death for Dante to even think about other women. Even then, one dream about his lost Lenore is enough to make him repent of writing poetry for any other women and dedicate his life to offer her praise never written before.
  • No Antagonist: Whatever conflict there is is driven by the narrator's fears, passions, and weaknesses. He has only himself to blame when his lady refuses to speak to him, when he mistakes base attractions for love, and when he finds himself unable to handle the death of the most beautiful woman on Earth.
  • One True Love: Beatrice is the only woman the poet of the Vita Nuova can truly love; all the women he fawns after after her death are just distractions from the memory of his true beloved.
  • Opinion-Changing Dream: The course of the Dante's life is changed when a dream convinces him to give up loving anyone but his deceased One True Love. The dream is probably the least spectacular in the Vita Nuova, since it avoids any cannibalized hearts or crying stars in favor of a lone vision of the World's Most Beautiful Woman at the moment Dante saw her and experienced Love at First Sight.
  • Organ Autonomy: A symptom of Love at First Sight is that your organs give a play-by-play commentary of the romance. The heart starts to worship the beloved, the brain recognizes Beatrice as a true source of happiness, and the stomach laments that the lover has a higher goal than satisfying his hunger.
  • Prophetic Name: Love admits to Dante that Lady Giovanna was only given that name and her nickname, Primavera, to foreshadow the role she would play in coming before Beatrice on that early spring morning that Dante would see her again.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming: Giovanna is named so because, like how John (Giovanni) the Baptist came before Christ, she appears just before Beatrice when Dante first sees her in adulthood.
  • The Scottish Trope: Most of the poems in the collection go out of their way not to mention Beatrice's name to keep his love for her a secret. The only time he writes down her name is in the poem he makes to mourn her death and in the last poem of the collection, when he sees her in a vision.
  • Sequel Hook: The Vita Nuova ends with a reference to an unseen vision which inspires the poet to praise his deceased beloved in ways never achieved before. Nine years later, that inspiration would bear fruit with first canto of the Inferno.
  • Super-Empowering: One of Beatrice's powers is the ability to dignify any man who looks upon her, transforming them from a wretched slave of sin to a noble soul in union with the Omnipotent.
  • Temporary Love Interest: About a year after Beatrice's death, the poet of the Vita Nuova begins to write sonnet about another beautiful woman, only to have a vision of Beatrice that makes him realize his attraction to the new woman was a vain and shallow imitation of Love.
  • Time Skip: The collection begins with a brief prose section about Beatrice and Dante's first meeting in 1274 before segueing into Dante's poetry about her written from 1283 to 1293. The poet explains that he didn't want to go much into his youth since stories about kids tend to sound like tall tales.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Beatrice dies young as her humility and magnanimity made her too noble to suffer life on mortal Earth. Instead, she passed into the realm of the angels as was befitting her.
  • Trying Not to Cry: The poet of the Vita Nuova is overwhelmed by a Longing Look of pity from a beautiful woman and is barely able to hide away before bursting into tears.
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: After a series of rather domestic poems about the beauty of a kind woman, the Fever Dream Episode suddenly employs apocalyptic and spiritual imagery to describe how the poet wished to die after facing his love's mortality.
  • Untranslated Title: The Vita Nuova is rarely ever translated under the title New Life, with most translators preferring to keep Dante's title.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: Beatrice is seen dressed in pure white when she first greets Dante, a moment surrounded by assurances of her benevolence and predestined beatitude in Heaven. The next time Beatrice is seen in white is five years later, when a white veil shroud her corpse after her soul was taken by a legion of angels to Heaven.
  • Wham Line: The second line of Chapter 28 abruptly announces that Beatrice is with the Virgin Mary in Heaven, dead before Dante could ever express his love to her face. The entire course of the Vita Nuova and of the poet's life shifts in accordance with this single sentence.
  • What Beautiful Eyes!: One of the poems makes note that one can see the perfect image of Love in Beatrice's eyes. What that means in practice is that no one who sees her gaze at her can resist the spirits of love from moving their hearts.
  • Your Soul Is Mine!: Lord Love has ruled over Dante's soul since the age of nine, when the poet saw Beatrice for the first time. Since that day, Dante has had no choice but to do whatever Love commands.
  • You Taste Delicious: In a dream-vision, Beatrice is fed Dante's heart directly by Love to mark the beginning of his literary courtship with her.