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Selections From 'A Year of Mourning,' translations by Lee Harlin Bahan

Selections from A Year of Mourning
by Lee Harlin Bahan, translator

279: Madonna

If birds sing mournfully, or wind in summer
coaxes faint applause from emerald leaves,
or raucous, coruscating riffles murmur
beside this flowering, lush bank that gives

me somewhere cool to sit, consider love,
and write, I realize I see and hear her,
buried yet radiant and alive above,
providing all my sighs a distant answer.

“Why pine away before your time?” she says,
sorry about the state she’s found me in,
“Pain needn’t stream from your unhappy eyes

“for my sake.  Day became unending when
I died. The instant my eyes seemed to close,
they opened to the light that shines within.”

                                                —Francesco Petrarca,
                                                    Rerum vulgarium fragmenta

299: Villon

Where did the forehead go that with a slight
twitch sent my heart this way and that? Where are
the beautiful eyelashes and the stars
that gave the course of my existence light?

Where are her nerve and knowledge and insight?
Her canny, candid, plain, sweet banter?
Where are the beauties collected in her
that made their wishes my commands for quite

some time?  What happened to fine shade cast by
a human face, refreshing my tired spirit
and that place where all my thoughts were penned?

Where is she who had my life in her hand?
What a huge loss this miserable planet
has suffered, and my eyes that never will be dry!

                                                —Francesco Petrarca,
                                                    Rerum vulgarium fragmenta

319: Bing

My mind preserves my days, more light-footed
than deer, flighty as shadow, seeing so little
good that, had I blinked, I’d have missed it,
and some bittersweet hours that nothing clouded.

Miserable world, unstable and mule-headed,
the one who pins his hopes on you is really blind:
you’re where my heart was taken and lies in a hand
the bones and nerves of which disintegrated.

But the perfected version of her that
still lives high in the sky, and will always,
makes me love her every beauty a lot

more and, just thinking what she is today,
and in what place she finally rests, and what
seeing her pretty flesh would be like, I go gray.

                                                —Francesco Petrarca,
                                                    Rerum vulgarium

Bio: Several of Lee Hardin Bahan’s translations of Petrarch translations have appeared in Writers Center publications over the years, and more recently in Natural Bridge and Southern Humanities Review. Bahan earned her MFA at IU-Bloomington. She is the author of a chapbook, Migration Solo, also published by the Center. Her sonnets have appeared in Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and North American Review, among many other small magazines. She lives in Medora, Indiana.