By Jacapone da Todi
Translated from the Umbrian by Ted Witham

Pursue poverty, and peace will reign over all:
with poverty life is secure, 
No fear from thieves or thunder squall.
Poverty dies in peace, makes no will,
leaves the earth as clean as an arrow,
but leaves heirs behind in harmony still.
Poverty needs no judge or attorney,
laughs at the greedy man
marred by anxiety on his journey.
Poverty as the highest insight
despises the act of possessing,
yet possesses every created thing aright.
Those who despise possession  
own nothing to trap their feet,
their days pass in serene succession.
In narrow hearts God does not dwell
the broader the heart, the greater
for God is its desire as well.  


O amor de povertate,—regno de tranquillitate!
Povertate, via secura,—non ha lite né rancura,
de latron non ha paura—né de nulla tempestate.

Povertate muore en pace,—nullo testamento face,
lassa el mondo como iace—e le gente concordate.

Non ha iudece né notaro,—a corte non porta salaro,
ridese de l’uomo avaro—che sta en tanta ansietate.

Povertá, alto sapere,—a nulla cosa soiacere,
en desprezo possedere—tutte le cose create.

Chi despreza sí possede,—possedendo non se lede,
nulla cosa i piglia ’l pede—che non faccia sue giornate.

Chi desía è posseduto,—a quel ch’ama s’è venduto;
s’egli pensa que n’ha ’vuto,—han’avute rei derrate.

Tropo so de vil coragio—ad entrar en vasallagio,
simiglianza de Dio ch’agio—deturparla en vanitate.

Dio non alberga en core stretto,—tant’è grande quant’hai affetto,
povertate ha sí gran petto,—che ci alberga deitate.

Jacopone da Todi (1228-1306) was a Franciscan mystic from the Italian town of Todi. He trained as a lawyer before becoming a Franciscan Tertiary, preaching from town to town in his tattered habit. He then joined the Franciscan Brothers at Todi. In his spiritual journey, he experienced energy and passion after his conversion and moved to peace and calm in his years in the Todi convent. He wrote poetry from his youth. Groups of tertiaries gathered to sing Jacopone’s songs enthusiastically like rugby fans today belting out their club songs.

About the Translator:

Ted Witham is an Anglican Tertiary of St Francis. He writes poems and short stories and has published in the Eureka Street Journal and Studio in Australia, and in Lacuna: Journal of Historical Fiction in the US. He lives in the beautiful south-west corner of Australia with his wife Rae and Jack Russell terrier Lottie.