Time, according to what Aristotle says in the fourth chapter of Physics, is the number of movement, first, second, and onwards; and the number of the celestial movement, which prepares the things here below to receive in various ways any informing power. For the Earth is prepared in one way in the beginning of Spring to receive into itself the informing power of the herbs and flowers, and the Winter otherwise; and in one manner is one season prepared to receive the seed, differing from another. And even so our Mind, inasmuch as it is founded upon the temper of the body, which has to follow the revolution of the Heaven, at one time is disposed in one way, at another time in another way; wherefore words, which are, as it were, the seeds of actions, ought very discreetly to be withheld or uttered; they should be spoken with such sound judgment that they may be well received, and good fruit follow from them; not withheld or spent so sparingly that barrenness is the result of their defective utterance. And therefore a suitable time should be chosen, both for him who speaks and for him who must hear: for if the speaker is badly prepared, very often his words are injurious or hurtful; and if the hearer is ill-disposed, those words which are good are ill received. And therefore Solomon says in Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.” Wherefore I, feeling within myself that my disposition to speak of Love was disturbed, for the cause which has been mentioned in the preceding chapter, it seemed to me that the time might suit me now, time which bears with it the fulfilment of every desire, and appears in the guise of a generous giver to those who grudge not to await him patiently. Wherefore St. James says in his Epistle, in the fifth chapter: “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the Earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain.” For all our sorrows, or cares, or vexations, if we inquire diligently into their origin, proceed, as it were, from not knowing the use of time. I say, “since the time suits,” I will leave my pen alone, that is to say, the sweet or gentle style I used when I sang of Love; and I say that I will speak of that worth whereby a man is truly noble.
And as it is possible to understand worth in many ways, here I intend to assume worth to be a power of Nature, or rather a goodness bestowed by her, as will be seen in what follows; and I promise to discourse on this subject with a “rhyme subtle and severe.”
Wherefore it is requisite to know that rhyme may be considered in a double sense, that is to say, in a wide and in a narrow sense. In the narrow sense, it is understood as that concordance which in the last and in the penultimate syllable it is usual to make. In the wide sense, it is understood for all that language which, with numbers and regulated time, falls into rhymed consonance; and thus it is desired that it should be taken and understood in this Proem. And therefore it says “severe,” with reference to the sound of the style, which to such a subject must not be sweet and pleasing; and it says “subtle,” with regard to the meaning of the words, which proceed with subtle argument and disputation.