Angelo Poliziano: Lament on the Death of Lorenzo de' Medici (1492)

Lorenzo de' Medici ("The Magnificent") was intensely interested in the arts and scholarship. He supported many artists (including Botticelli and Michelangelo), philosophers (Marsilio Ficino and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola), musicians and authors and was a talented poet himself. The poet Angelo Poliziano and the Flemish-born composer Heinrich Isaac collaborated to produce his funeral ode. In the first stanza the poet wishes he were able to weep continuously for his late patron. The rest of the lament goes on to state that both poetry and music have fallen silent as a result of LorenzoÍs death. The fact that this idea is expressed in beautiful words and music would not have struck anyone in the time as self-contradictory since extravagant praise of rulers was traditional, and not to be taken too literally. During the third stanza the tenor voice drops out symbolizing the death of Lorenzo, and only three voices remain, with the bass repeating over and over the line line from the funeral mass, "And rest in peace." A recording of the piece is available on An Evening at the Medicis (MCA MCAD 5953, track 14). What references in this poem make it a good example of Renaissance classicism?

What references in this poem make it a good example of Renaissance classicism?


Quis dabit capiti meo
aquam? Quis oculis meis
fontem lachrimarum dabit,
ut necte fleam?
ut necte fleam?
O That my head were
waters, and my eyes
a fount of tears,
that I might weep by day
and weep by night!
Sic turtur viduus solet,
sic cygnus moriens solet,
sic luscinia conqueri.
Heu miser, miser!
O dolor, dolor!
So mourns the widowed turtledove,
so mourns the dying swan,
so mourns the nightingale (1)
Ah, woe is me!
O grief, o grief!
Laurus impetu fulminis
illa illa iacet subito,
Laurus omnium celebris
Musarum choris, nympharum choris.
(Bass: Et requiescamus in pace.)
Lightning has struck
our laurel tree, (2)
our laurel so dear
to all the muses and the dances of the nymphs.
(Bass: And rest in peace.)
Sub cuius patula coma
et Phoebi lyra blandius
insonat et vox dulcius;
nunc murta omnia,
nunc surda omnia.
Beneath whose spreading boughs
Phoebus (3) himself more sweetly
played and sang.
Now all is mute
and there is none to hear.


(1) All three of these birds were associated with mourning. The swan was supposed to sing only before its own death.
(2) "Laurel" is a pun on "Lorenzo." The laurel wreath was the classical symbol of the arts because it was given as a prize in poetry contests.
(3) Phoebus Apollo was the classical god of poetry and music.
Translated by John Aldington Symonds

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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Publishing.

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