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Donzella, Compiuta (La Compiuta Donzella) (13th century) poet. Encyclopedia of World Writers, Beginnings To 20th Century

Nothing is known about Compiuta Donzella except
that she lived and wrote in Florence, Italy, in the
early 13th century. This was the time of the TROUBADOURS,
who were spreading a new type of lyric
poetry first developed in southern France. Donzella
most likely considered herself a trobaritz, one of the
female troubadours, and her poetry shows a familiarity
with the themes and poetic devices used by
the troubadours in their Provençal lyrics.
Donzella is sometimes referred to as “La Compiuta
Donzella,” which may have been a pen name
because it effectively means, in Italian, “an educated
lady” or “a lady of perfection.” This was not
an unheard-of practice, and other female trobairitz
wrote under assumed names. For a time some
scholars doubted that La Compiuta was an actual
person, since nothing about her true identity was
known.However, the fact that three sonnets attributed
to her survive in a manuscript of early Italian
poetry suggests that she did indeed possess a poetic
skill, and two contemporary references during her
own time indicate that La Compiuta was known to
her larger literate society. Two sonnets of Maestro
Torrigiano, also of Florence, referring to “a lady
skilled in poetry” and a lady who “tries to rhyme,”
are thought to be speaking of Donzella. Also, a passage
in a letter written by the Tuscan poet Guittone
d’Arezzo expresses great admiration for Donzella
and her work.
Donzella’s surviving poems show her using the
motifs and images common to troubadour poetry
with an individual freshness and sadness. One of
her sonnets opens with the declaration “I wish to
leave the world and serve but God” and goes on to
poignantly document the disillusionment of an
idealist who, in the words of editor Rinaldina Russell,
feels “contempt for a corrupt and vicious
world.” In another poem, a love sonnet in the
Provençal and Sicilian traditions, the female poet
speaks with independence and self-determination,
adopting the narrative stance frequently adopted
by male poets to address her beloved, another poet.
In a third sonnet, set in the “season when the
world is leaves and flowers,” the poet contrasts the
images of the joyous rebirth of spring with her
private despair over a marriage being forced upon
her by her father. The beauty of the season accentuates
her sadness over the fact that she has no
choice over her future. Taken together, Donzella’s
three poems explore the only two life paths available
to a woman in 13th-century Italy—to marry
or lead a life of holy seclusion.“These motifs,”Russell
says, “are a sad commentary on the destiny of
this talented and soon-forgotten poet and on the
options open to women in medieval society.”
Partly because of the lack of information about
her life, and partly because so few of her poems
survive, very little scholarship exists on La Compiuta
Donzella. Yet she is considered the first known
woman writing in Italian and, as such, begins a
long tradition of literate Italian women producing
works of art and poetry. Despite her awareness of
and discomfort with the limited roles available to
women in medieval culture, Donzella managed to
make her voice heard. She and the other trobaritz
mark the origin of feminist literature in the vernacular
as known to Western Europe.
An English Version of a Work by
Compiuta Donzella
“In the season when the world puts out leaves and
flowers.” In An Anthology of Ancient and Medieval
Woman’s Song. Edited by Anne L. Klinck. New
York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 113.
A Work about Compiuta Donzella
Cassell Dictionary of Italian Literature. Edited by Peter
Bondanella and Julia Conaway. London: Cassell,
1996: 140.

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