The Shepherdess and the Shepherd


So, I’m sure you can guess what’s coming next, so strong is the association between shepherdesses and eroticism in the sixteenth century (and if you can’t, you might wish to have a look at Titian’s Three Ages of Man in the National Gallery of Scotland). This is a text in a 1533 publication, best known because it’s the first time the word madrigal appears in a title: Madrigali novi . . . Libro primo de la Serena. Stefano Campagnola has convincingly argued that the book is associated with the Colonna family, one of the big Roman families. The collection is a mix of chansons and Italian texted pieces, among them this song about a shepherdess. As far as I know, this song does not appear in any other music collections (although I have yet to check Jeppesen).

Quando mia pastorella
voi ch’io ritorni al delettevol monte
dove è d’ogni dolceza il vivo fonte
non son Chirsuto* fauno, orso ne ladro    * hyrsuto in the bassus partbook
ma quel pastor che fai
“O più bella che rosa, lacte e giglio
se[i] in queste silve.” “Mi provasti mai.”
Allor, quando al legiadro
bel volto, ai labri d’un color vermiglio
con morsi io diedi, piglio
oime, oime che gli è pur si suave il fonte
che vorrei sempre ritrouarmi al monte.

(I’ve retained the original spelling, but added punctuation, accents and speech marks.) I’m not entirely sure I’ve got the metre, accents and dialogue right yet.

Here’s my working translation (input welcome).

When my shepherdess
desires that I return to the delightful hill
where the living source of all sweetness is,
I am not a hirsute faun, bear or thief [i.e., I do not behave like]
but that shepherd who says,
“O more beautiful than rose, milk & lily
you are in these woods.” – “You never ?tasted me.”
Now, when to the graceful
beautiful face, to the vermilion lips,
with bites I gave, she took,
Oh, it is so sweet, the spring/source
that I would like always to find myself on the hill.

How should “mi provasti mai” be translated? I used “tasted” because of the references to milk and biting. But I’m not sure it’s the best way to understand “provasti”. And the only way I can understand this is if it’s the shepherdess speaking, but is there something I’m missing?

Photo credit: sheeps by staflo, on Flickr.

5 thoughts on “The Shepherdess and the Shepherd

  1. intriguing, I will think about it..I wonder whether it coud be:

    “more beautiful than rose [you are] (referring to the sheperdess), milk and lily are in the woods”. “you never tried me” [it could be the sheperdess speaking for a short moment]…but yes, taste make sense, try is more literal but even inmodern italian is used as a susbstitute for to taste…sorry probably not much help here,,,and by the way…possible double entendre with being al monte (?)

    • Ciao, Antonio! Thanks for your comment and help. Yes, monte, fonte, and selve are suggestive. I wondered about translating monte as mound to keep that in play.

      It must be ‘o piu’ bella che rosa, lacte e giglio / se[i] in queste silve’. Quite odd to have milk mentioned in the middle of a bunch of flowers. I’m not sure I’ve got that right, but it’s definitely written ‘lacte’. Is there a flower called lacte?! But ‘you are more pretty than the rose, ‘lacte’ and lily in the woods’ makes much more sense! I will change that right now!

  2. not sure about piglio…why did you translate it as she took?
    In moder Italian, piglio is the first person of pigliare, to take/to pick up.
    Probably too daring…but milk might refer to the spring?

    • I didn’t understand “diedi piglio” – didn’t seem to make much sense to me. Piglio’ appeared to be a possibility but clearly not. I shall try to book myself in for some Italian grammar lessons, I think….

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