(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The extant poems of Guido Cavalcanti number fewer than threescore; when taken together, however, they are compelling evidence that he was one of the finest Italian poets of his age. Ezra Pound, Cavalcanti’s translator into English, even exalted him above Dante, noting in 1929 that “Dante is less in advance of his time than Guido Cavalcanti.” While Pound’s enthusiasm for Cavalcanti was perhaps excessive, there is little doubt that, except for Dante, Cavalcanti was the most outstanding member of the famous “school” of il dolce stil nuovo (the sweet new style). Although some critics question the existence of such a school in late thirteenth century Italy, it is generally conceded that a number of poets of the period constituted an informal group defined by common linguistic and thematic concerns. In addition to Dante and Cavalcanti, this group included Guido Guinizzelli, the founder of the school, and several writers of love lyrics: Lapo Gianni, Gianni degli Alfani, Dino Frescobaldi, and Cino da Pistoia.

The major themes of il dolce stil nuovo are outlined in Guinizzelli’s seminal canzone “Al cor gentil ripara sempre amore” (“To the Noble Heart Love Always Returns”). Foremost is a new concept of nobility, which is no longer tied to birth or social rank but rather to spiritual perfection or moral worth. Second is the identification of love with the noble heart, meaning that love is reserved for the heart of a truly...

(The entire section is 537 words.)