La Vita Nuova
While the Italian poet Dante is perhaps best known for The Inferno, his 1295 text La Vita Nuova (“The New Life”) is masterpiece of the medieval poetic form of prosimetrum, which alters prose and verse. La Vita Nuova also expresses the medieval genre of courtly love, detailing Dante’s love for his beloved Beatrice. Because the work was written in Italian, rather than the traditional Latin, the piece helped establish both the use of vernacular and the Tuscan dialect as the standard form of the Italian language.
La Vita Nuova consists of the 42 short chapters, consisting of twenty-five sonnets, a balata (a poetic and musical form popular in the Italian Renaissance consisting of AbbaA structure), and four canzoni, one of which is unfinished due to the death of Beatrice. Taken as a whole, the poems consist of the story of Dante’s love for this woman, which began when he was nine and she was eight. Dante remained in love with her even though she married another man, and through her untimely death at the age of 24.
Dante called the work his libello (“little book”), and was written between the years of 1283 and 1293. Dante used the formal literary structure to tie these various poems together, adding sections of commentary that explicitly spell out Dante’s definitions of romantic love. La Vita Nuova is one of the most important works in emotional autobiography, the first such piece to appear since St. Augustine’s Confessions, written in AD 398.