Front Page Titles (by Subject) LOVE SONGS OF PETRARCH - Some Love Songs
LOVE SONGS OF PETRARCH - Francesco Petrarch, Some Love Songs 
Some Love Songs of Petrarch, translated and annotated with a Biographical Introduction by William Dudley Foulke (Oxford University Press, 1915).
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- Ode to Petrarch
- Introduction and Biography
- Love Songs of Petrarch
- Era Il Giorno Ch’al Sol Si Scoloraro
- Ballad I: Lassare Il Velo O Per Sole O Per Ombra
- Orso, E’ Non Furon Mai Fiumi Nè Stagni
- Mille Fiate, O Dolce Mia Guerrera
- Non Al Suo Amante Più Dïana Piacque
- Nova Angeletta Sovra L’ale Accorta
- Or Vedi, Amor, Che Giovenetta Donna
- Il Mio Adversario, In Cui Veder Solete
- Due Rose Fresche E Còlte In Paradiso
- In Mezzo Di Duo Amanti, Onesta, Altera
- Quando Fra L’altre Donne Ad Ora Ad Ora
- Sestine I: A Qualunque Animale Alberga In Terra
- E Perchè Un Poco Nel Parlar Mi Sfogo
- Già Fiammeggiava L’amorosa Stella
- Gentil Mia Donna, I’ Veggio
- La Donna Che ’l Mio Cor Nel Viso Porta
- L’aspetto Sacro De La Terra Vostra
- Padre Del Ciel; Dopo I Perduti Giorni
- La Bella Donna Che Cotanto Amavi
- Poi Che Voi Et Io Più Volte Abbiam Provato
- Io Son Sì Stanco Sotto Il Fascio Antico
- Passa La Nave Mia Colma D’oblio
- Per Ch’ Al Viso D’amor Portava Insegna
- Fuggendo La Pregionc Ove Amor M’ebbe
- Quando Giunse a Simon L’alto Concetto
- Volgendo Gli Occhi Al Mio Novo Colore
- Quel Vago Impallidir, Che ’l Dolce Riso
- Per Mezz’ I Boschi Inospiti E Selvaggi
- Di Pensier In Pensier, Di Monte In Monte
- Ovunque Gli Occhi Volgo
- Chiare, Fresche E Dolci Acque
- Pommi Ove ’l Sole Occide I Fiori E L’erba
- I’ Vidi In Terra Angelici Costumi
- In Qual Parte Del Ciel, In Quale Idea
- Amor Et Io Sì Pien’ Di Meraviglia
- Stiamo, Amor, a Veder La Gloria Nostra
- In Nobil Sangue Vita Umile E Queta
- Quanto Più M’avicino Al Giorno Extremo
- Pace Non Trovo, E Non Ho Da Far Guerra
- Erano I Capei D’oro a L’aura Sparsi
- Beato In Sogno, E Di Languir Contento
- Qual Paura Ho Quando Mi Torna a Mente
- Solea Lontana In Sonno Consolarme
- Oimè Il Bel Viso, Oimè Il Soave Sguardo
- Quanta Invidia Io Ti Porto, Avara Terra
- Occhi Miei, Oscurato è ’l Nostro Sole
- Rotta è L’alta Colonna E ’l Verde Lauro
- Zefiro Torna, E ’l Bel Tempo Rimena
- Nè Per Sereno Ciel Ir Vaghe Stelle
- Sento L’aura Mia Antica, E I Dolci Colli
- Tutta La Mia Fiorita E Verde Etade
- Amor, Se Vuo’ Ch’ I’ Torni Al Giogo Antico
- S’ Io Avesse Pensato Che Sì Care
- Solea Da La Fontana Di Mia Vita
- Il Dì Che Costei Nacque, Eran Le Stelle
- Quel Rosigniuol, Che Sì Soave Piagne
- Vago Augelletto Che Cantando Vai
- Ite, Rime Dolenti, Al Duro Sasso
- Ripensando a Quel Ch’ Oggi Il Cielo Onora
- Dolce Mio Caro E Precïoso Pegno
- Deh Qual Pietà, Qual Angel Fu Sì Presto
- Levommi Il Mio Penser In Parte Ov’ Era
- Li Angeli Eletti, E L’anime Beate
- I’ Vo Piangendo I Miei Passati Tempi
- Vergine Bella, Che Di Sol Vestita
- Voi Ch’ Ascoltate In Rime Sparse Il Suono
- Appendix I Laura
- Appendix Ii ‘epistle to Posterity’ 1
- Appendix Iii Catalogue of Petrarch’s Works
- Index of First Lines
LOVE SONGS OF PETRARCH
These poems are numbered in the order in which they appear in the Vatican manuscript, 3195, which was Petrarch’s own definitive edition, about one-third of it being written in his own hand. This is also the numeration followed in the edition of Scherillo (Milan, 1908). The numeration differs so greatly in different editions that the only certain way of identifying these poems is by the initial lines. The dates of the comparatively few poems whose dates are known are given in a foot-note. The translations are not arranged in the order of the originals, but so far as possible according to the subject-matter, in which arrangement, however, chronological sequence, while not controlling, has not been entirely disregarded.
Goethe has said that every poem of Petrarch was an occasional poem. It is therefore important to trace, whenever we can, the circumstances to which it owed its origin.
It was on April 6, 1327, a day which according to mediaeval tradition was the anniversary of the Crucifixion of our Lord (and which fell in that year, not on Good Friday, but on Monday of Holy Week), that Petrarch first saw Laura, in the church of Santa Clara at Avignon. He at once became enamoured of her beauty, but she gave no sign of responding to his passion. This meeting is the subject of the following sonnet.
Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro
- It was the day when the sun’s heavy rays
- Grew pale in pity of his suffering Lord,
- When I fell captive, lady, to the gaze
- Of your fair eyes, fast bound in love’s strong cord.
- No time had I wherein to make defence
- Or seek a shelter from Love’s sudden blows;
- I walked secure, no harm perceiving, whence
- My griefs began amid the general woes.
- Love found me all disarmed, and through my eyes
- Where tears are wont to flow, he saw the way
- Wide open to my heart. His arrow flies
- And strikes the mark where it must ever stay.
- Scant honour his to wound me thus, nor show
- To you, well armed against him, even his bow!
While she was still unconscious of his love, Laura appears to have treated Petrarch with friendly indulgence, but when she understood the ardour of his passion she sought protection behind her veil, of which he complains in the following ballad.
Lassare il velo o per sole o per ombra
- Lady, I have not seen you draw aside
- In shadow dark or under skies serene
- The veil wherein your gracious face doth hide
- Since first you did perceive the passion keen
- That from my heart doth drive all else away.
- While I could keep my precious thoughts concealed—
- Those dreams that all my burning senses slay—
- I saw compassion in your face revealed,
- But after Love his yearning did betray,
- A veil around your golden locks you threw,
- And your kind glance within itself withdrew.
- What most I cherish now no more I see—
- So close that heavy veil restraineth me,
- Which both in summer airs and wintry skies
- Doth darken the sweet light of your fair eyes.
This reserve appears to have continued (perhaps intermittently) for a long period, for it is the subject of a sonnet written to Orso, Count of Anguillara, whom Petrarch visited at Capranica on his way to Rome in 1337, and from whom he afterwards received the laurel crown upon the Capitol.
Orso, e’ non furon mai fiumi nè stagni
- Orso, there never was a pool nor stream,
- Nor sea (whereto all brooks and rivers run),
- Nor shadow of a wall or hill or limb,
- Nor mist, that bathes the earth and hides the sun,
- No bar to feet, nor obstacle to sight
- That frets me like that veil, which seems to say,
- While it doth stifle all the gracious light
- Of two fair eyes—‘Now weep and pine away.’
- Her downcast look my greeting doth deny—
- From modesty or pride? It kills my joy;
- ’Twill be the cause that ere my time I die.
- Her white hand too doth bring my heart annoy
- That makes itself a barrier to mine eyes
- And hides her face behind its frail disguise.
Petrarch’s remonstrances are gracefully expressed in the following sonnet, which greatly resembles the gallantries and conceits of the troubadours.
Mille fiate, o dolce mia guerrera
- A thousand times to make my peace I sought
- With your fair eyes, O my sweet warrior foe,
- And offered you my heart; but little thought
- Had your proud spirit to look down so low.
- Yet if another would that heart enchain,
- She lives in fickle hopes and dreams untrue;
- Since I despise all things that you disdain,
- It is no longer mine when scorned by you.
- If driven forth, it cannot find at all
- Harbour with you upon its wandering way,
- Nor stand alone, nor go where others call,
- Far from its natural pathway must it stray.
- On both our souls this heavy sin will rest,
- But most on yours, for you my heart loves best.
1330-3. See Mascetta, 117.
During the years that ensue the poet often treats of his love for Laura in lighter vein, and nowhere more exquisitely than in the three madrigals which follow.
Non al suo amante più Dïana piacque
- When all unclad, within the waters cool
- By chance he saw her, Dian did not please
- Her lover more than now, when in a pool
- Washing her dainty veil that from the breeze
- Confines her golden locks that roam at will,
- This creature wild doth on my fancy seize,
- Until, though heaven glows with warmth, I still
- Do freeze and tremble with an amorous chill.
Nova angeletta sovra l’ale accorta
- A wondrous little angel, wise of wing,
- Flew down from heaven upon the river side
- Where I by chance alone was loitering.
- When me thus all unguarded she espied,
- And naught suspecting, snares of silken thread
- She wove among the tender grass and spread
- Where it grew thick and made the pathway green.
- Thus was I caught, but feel no shame nor dread,
- So sweet a light in her soft eyes was seen.
Or vedi, Amor, che giovenetta donna
- Look, God of Love! a woman young and fair
- Thy reign despises, pitying not my woes!
- Secure she deems herself between such foes!
- Thou’rt armed, but she in gown, with waving hair
- Sits amid flowers and grass, her dainty feet
- Disrobing, and her heart with pride replete.
- Captive am I, but if thine arrow fleet
- May yet avenge the shame we both do know,
- And serve the ends of mercy, bend thy bow!
In similar vein he reproaches her with too strong an affection for her mirror, which he calls his rival.
Il mio adversario, in cui veder solete
- My glittering rival in whose fickle face
- You see the orbs which Love and heaven do prize,
- Charms you with beauty not his own, a grace
- Joyous and sweet beyond all mortal guise.
- ’Twas by his evil counsel, lady mine,
- That from your gentle heart you drove me forth.
- Sad exile! Now in solitude I pine,
- Unfit to dwell with such exceeding worth.
- If once securely I were fastened there
- You should not harm me with your mirror bright,
- Pleasing yourself alone, so proudly fair!
- Think of Narcissus and his vain delight!
- Like him you will become a flower, but where
- The greensward worthy of a plant so rare?
1333. See Mascetta, 172.
The following sonnet also preserves this gayer mood. As its number indicates, it appears in the latter part of the collection in the Vatican manuscript, yet its reference to Petrarch and Laura as both young shows that it could hardly have been written as late as its position would indicate. This is one among many indications of the occasional violation of chronological order in that manuscript.
It was said that King Robert of Naples, in a garden of Avignon, plucked the roses as described in the sonnet, giving one to Petrarch and the other to Laura. Robert was the hereditary lord of the district in which Avignon lay, and although Petrarch and the king were on terms of intimacy, yet his recorded visit to Provence occurred before Petrarch and Laura met, and it seems improbable that he was the ‘lover old and wise’ to which the poem refers.
It is more likely that it was Senuccio del Bene, who was Petrarch’s confidant regarding his love for Laura, and to whom several of the poet’s sonnets were addressed.
Due rose fresche e còlte in paradiso
- Two roses fresh that grew in Paradise
- The day that May was born in all her pride,
- As a fair gift, a lover, old and wise,
- ’Twixt two who still were youthful, did divide;
- And added such sweet speech and smile so gay
- That e’en a savage heart to love would turn,
- And glow and sparkle with an amorous ray;
- And thus with changing hues their faces burn.
- ‘Ne’er did the sun such pair of lovers see,’
- Laughing (yet not without a sigh), he said,
- And then, embracing each, he turned away.
- Thus flowers and words he portioned; till in me
- Around my heart a trembling gladness spread.
- O blessed gift of speech! O joyful day!
Many and various are the conceits that appear everywhere throughout the Canzoniere. Some are mere mediaeval affectations, others, however, have a curious charm; for instance, the following where the lady Laura stands in the sunshine accompanied by Love and where the bright god of day and the poet himself are imagined as rivals for her favour.
In mezzo di duo amanti, onesta, altera
- My lady stood between her lovers twain
- Stately and proud, and with her there was one—
- A lord who reigneth over gods and men—
- And I on this side, and on that the sun.
- Yet while she was engirdled by the rays
- Of him who was more fair, all tenderly
- To eyes of mine she turned her radiant gaze,
- (O that she ne’er had been more stern to me!)
- And now to gladness all the jealousy
- Was quickly changed that I at first had felt
- Within my heart for my bright enemy.
- Then came a cloud with rainy tears to melt
- Before his face, grown dark with sullen gloom
- So much it vexed him thus to be o’ercome.
1339. See Mascetta, 464.
In more serious vein, but still exultant, is the following:
Quando fra l’altre donne ad ora ad ora
- When, day by day, midst other women fair
- Love comes to me in one sweet face and rare,
- As others are less beautiful than she,
- So grows the longing that enamours me;
- And I do bless the place and hour and day
- Wherein mine eyes did look so high; and say,
- ‘O soul of mine, most grateful shouldst thou be
- That thou wast worthy such felicity!
- From her doth come to thee that loving mood
- Which doth direct thee to the highest good,
- Disprizing that which other men desire;
- From her doth come to thee the quickening fire
- That up to heaven thine eager feet will guide.’
- And thus I walk, radiant in hope and pride.
But a feeling far deeper than one which could be expressed in these graceful lines is at last developed. One of the first poems in which this burning passion is clearly revealed, is written in the artificial Provençal form of the sestine, a poem of six stanzas of six lines each (with three concluding lines). There are no rhymes, but in each stanza each line must conclude with the same word, and that too a noun, as some line in the preceding stanza and these words must follow in a certain order. Thus the last word of the first stanza is repeated at the end of the first line of the second stanza, the second line of the second stanza concludes with the same word as the first line of the first stanza, &c., the order being:
|1st Stanza||2nd Stanza||3rd Stanza||4th Stanza|
|a b c d e f||f a e b d c||c f d a b e||e c b f a d|
|5th Stanza||6th Stanza||Conclusion|
|d e a c f b||b d f e c a||e d b|
The exact form of this sestine is preserved in the following translation.
A qualunque animale alberga in terra
- Unto whatever creature dwells on earth,
- (Save only those whose eyes do hate the sun)
- The time to toil is while it still is day;
- And when at last the heavens light their stars,
- Man homeward turns, the beasts hide in the wood
- And find repose at least until the dawn.
- But I, from the first hour when early dawn
- Shakes off the darkness from around the earth,
- Awakening the beasts in every wood,
- No truce in sighing have I with the sun,
- And when at night I watch the flaming stars
- I go lamenting, longing for the day.
- When evening drives away the shining day,
- And our deep night to others brings the dawn,
- Sadly I gaze upon the cruel stars
- That formed my body out of sentient earth,
- And I do curse the day I saw the sun,
- Until I seem like one reared in the wood.
- Nor do I dream there ever browsed in wood
- So wild a creature, either night or day,
- As she whom I lament in shade and sun,
- And weary not with weeping, eve or dawn,
- Since, though my mortal body be of earth,
- My love unchanging cometh from the stars.
- Ere I return to you, O shining stars,
- Or fall to dust within this passionate wood,
- And leave my body a dull clod of earth;
- May she have pity who in one short day
- Might for long years atone! Who ere the dawn
- Could bless me, from the sinking of the sun!
- O were I but with her from set of sun,
- And none to watch us but the silent stars
- Only one night! And might there be no dawn!
- Nor should she be transformed to leafy wood,
- Escaping from my arms, as in that day
- When Phoebus followed Daphne upon earth.
- But coffined shall I lie in senseless wood
- And day shall come all full of tiny stars
- Ere upon such sweet dawn shall shine the sun.
1333. See Mascetta, 233.
The same depth of feeling is shown in the following exquisite fifth stanza of the fifth canzone, Ne la stagion che ’l ciel rapido inchina, written at a somewhat later date.
E perchè un poco nel parlar mi sfogo
- Because I must a little ease my pain
- Therefore I sing. The oxen come again
- Unyoked at eve from field and furrowed hill;
- Why, then, from sighing am I never free,
- Whate’er the hour, but toil with heavy chain?
- Why are mine eyelids wet by night and day?
- O wretched me!
- What was my foolish will
- That I so held them fixed on one fair face
- To sculpture it in fancy in a place
- Whence it can ne’er be moved by force or skill
- Till I shall be the prey
- Of Death that endeth all? Nor do I know
- If even on him my trust I may bestow.
Early in 1337, perhaps at Capranica. Cochin, 53.
On one occasion when the lady Laura fell seriously ill Petrarch wrote several poems upon this illness and her recovery, of which the following is an illustration.
Già fiammeggiava l’amorosa stella
- The star of Love already was ablaze
- Throughout the East in the clear morning air,
- And in the North, spreading its glittering rays,
- The star that stirred the wrath of Juno fair.
- The agèd housewife rises, stirs the fire
- Barefoot, ungirt, and sits her down to spin;
- Fond lovers soon must quench their hearts’ desire
- And all unwilling, mark the day begin.
- Now she who had been close to death appears
- (How changed she is!)—not by the customed way,
- Which sleep has closed and grief has filled with tears,
- But by the path of dreams—and seems to say,
- ‘Take heart once more, why should thy courage flee?
- Not yet these eyes of mine are lost to thee.’
1333. See Mascetta, 121.
Laura’s eyes were the subject of three famous canzoni called ‘The Sisters’, greatly admired by all Italian critics, though not easy to translate effectually into another language. The following is the second of these canzoni.
Gentil mia donna, i’ veggio
- O gentle lady mine,
- Within your eyes a gracious light I see;
- The path that leads to heaven it showeth me!
- Deep in those spheres divine
- Where I am wont to sit with love alone,
- All visibly your burning heart doth shine
- And lights me to fair deeds. To glory’s throne
- It points the way and from the ignoble throng
- Doth draw my soul apart. No tongue can tell
- The pure delights that to those orbs belong
- Nor the rapture that they bring,
- Both when the frost of winter clothes the earth,
- And when the year again renews its birth,
- (Then first I loved you) in the smiling spring.
- And I reflect, ‘Up there
- Where the Eternal Mover of every star
- Hath deigned to show us what His glories are,
- If all His other works are half so fair,
- Fling wide the prison door
- That doth restrain me from my heavenward way!’
- And then I turn me to my strife on earth,
- Blessing the happy day that gave me birth,
- Which hath reserved me for such sovereign bliss,
- And praising her who raised me from the abyss
- To such high hopes. Till I saw her I lay
- In self-abasement chilled;
- But in that hour I woke to joy. She filled
- With lofty thoughts and sweet idolatry
- The heart whereof her fair eyes hold the key.
- For never yet did Love and fickle chance
- Such happiness bestow
- On him for whom their friendship most they show,
- That I would change it for a single glance
- From those dear eyes whence cometh my repose
- As the tree grows
- From roots within the soil—angelic rays
- That streaming, shed their joy
- Upon my soul when Love doth light the blaze
- That sweetly doth consume me and destroy!
- As every other glory doth depart
- Wherever yours doth shine,
- So from my heart,
- Whene’er your tender eyes on me incline,
- All other hopes, all other thoughts are gone
- And Love with you remaineth there alone.
- However sweet the grace
- That in the heart of happy lovers lies,
- Yet if it all were gathered in one place,
- ’Twere naught to what I feel
- When from those dreamy eyes
- Between the black and white the soft rays steal
- Wherein love sports and plays.
- And I believe that from my infancy
- Kind heaven did provide this remedy
- For all my weakness and my evil days.
- Oft-times your veil doth wrong me, that doth screen
- Your face, and the fair hands that pass between
- My one supreme delight
- And eyes of mine that flow both day and night
- With passionate longing from an ardent breast
- Cheered by your love, by your disdain oppressed.
- Since I with sorrow see
- That nature to my soul was mean and hard,
- Nor made me worthy of such dear regard,
- Therefore I strive to be
- A man more fit for such felicity,
- And for the gentle flame wherewith I burn;
- And thus with patient care my soul doth learn
- To be slow to evil, swift to all good things,
- Spurning the idle joys the vain world brings.
- Perchance if this I do
- ’Twill help me to her favour kind and true,
- And the end of all my woe
- Shall come (full well my sorrowing heart doth know)
- From the sweet trembling of relenting eyes
- A faithful lover’s last and dearest prize.
Sometimes Laura relents and awakens the liveliest expressions of joy from her lover, as in the following:
La donna che ’l mio cor nel viso porta
- The lady who holds my heart in her fair face
- I saw before me in sweet thought entranced
- Sitting alone, and I, to do her grace,
- With pale and reverent countenance advanced.
- Then she, when she perceived my state forlorn,
- Turned to me with a smile so fresh and clear,
- That from Jove’s hands his armour ’twould have torn
- And calmed his wrath and smoothed his brow austere.
- Then she passed on. I trembled with surprise
- At words so sweet I could not bear to hear,
- Nor watch the glistening of her tender eyes;
- And now, reflecting on that welcome dear,
- I am so filled with hope and teeming joys
- That pain and grief and sorrow disappear.
1333-6(?). Mascetta, p. 185.
It was not till late in 1336 that Petrarch was able to set out for Rome, which had been the city of his dreams. He arrived in Italy early in 1337, and it was then that the following sonnet was written and was addressed (in all probability) to his patron James Colonna.
L’aspetto sacro de la terra vostra
- The sacred face of your dear land I see,
- And pity for its evil fate it brings.
- ‘Rise, wretched one!’ I cry; ‘what aileth thee?’
- And the sight stirs my soul to higher things.
- Then with this thought another doth contend
- And asketh of me, ‘Wherefore dost thou flee?
- Bethink thee! Why thy time thus vainly spend?
- We must return our lady’s face to see.’
- And while I mark the words, my heart grows cold,
- Like one who doth some fateful message hear;
- Then my first fancy doth return and hold
- My spirit, while the other flees in fear.
- And thus these thoughts in constant strife do dwell;
- Which will prevail at last, I cannot tell.
Sometimes in despair Petrarch prays for deliverance from his hopeless passion, as in a sonnet written April 6, 1338, a day regarded as the anniversary of the death of Christ, and eleven years after he had first met Laura in the church of Santa Clara.
Padre del ciel; dopo i perduti giorni
- Father in heaven, lo! these wasted days
- And all these nights in vain imaginings spent,
- My thoughts enkindled to one maddening blaze,
- On one alluring presence all intent!
- May’t please Thee now that by Thy light I bend
- My life to better things—some worthier aim—
- And that my foe his snares in vain extend,
- And at his bootless wiles be filled with shame,
- ’Tis now, O Lord, the eleventh circling year
- Since I am fettered by this pitiless chain
- Which to the weak is ever most severe;
- Have mercy on my undeservèd pain!
- Guide Thou my wandering thoughts some better way,
- Remind them Thou wast on the cross to-day!
Of a similar religious nature is the following, which it is believed was addressed by Petrarch to his brother Gherardo, who had lost by death the lady to whom he was passionately attached, and who some years later, after intervals of despair, devoted himself to the monastic life.
La bella donna che cotanto amavi
- The lady fair whom thou didst greatly love,
- Did pass, when least we thought, beyond our gaze,
- And well I hope hath risen to heaven above,
- So gentle and so gracious were her ways.
- It is now time to take back both the keys
- (Which in her life she held) of thy sad heart,
- Then by the straight road, follow her with ease,
- No earthly burden left thy soul to thwart.
- For, when delivered of thy heaviest load,
- From what remains thou canst be quickly free,
- And like a pilgrim to thy new abode
- Rise all unburdened. Thou canst clearly see
- How all things move to death. Well may we pray
- The soul go light upon its perilous way.
1337. Cochin, pp. 73-4.
It is possibly to this same brother, when about to enter the monastic life, that Petrarch addressed the following:
Poi che voi et io più volte abbiam provato
- Since you and I full many a proof can bring
- That vain and false have been each hope and joy,
- Lift up your heart unto a better thing,
- That highest good that never brings annoy.
- This earthly life is like a meadow green
- Where the snake lies in flowers and grass entwined,
- And where the eyes delight in what is seen,
- The vision charms and captivates the mind.
- If therefore you would have your soul unstirred
- By the world’s tumult ere the final day,
- Follow the few and not the common herd.
- I hear your answer, ‘Brother, thou the way
- Showest to others where full often thou
- Thyself wert lost and never more than now.’
Petrarch’s mystical temperament also appears in the following:
Io son sì stanco sotto il fascio antico
- I am so weary of the heavy load
- Of all my sins and all my wicked ways
- That I do fear to faint upon the road
- And in my enemy’s hands to end my days.
- Lo! a true friend to rescue me draws nigh;
- Unspeakable His courtesy and grace;
- Then far beyond my sight He soars on high
- So that in vain I strive to see His face.
- But still His voice re-echoes with the strain,
- ‘Ye who are heavy laden come to Me;
- I am the way that others bar in vain.’
- What grace, what mercy, what divine decree
- Will clothe me with the pinions of the dove
- To rise from earth and find my rest above?
1338 (?). Mascetta, p. 337.
The tumult in his soul is thus described in the metaphor of a storm at sea:
Passa la nave mia colma d’oblio
- My bark the raging surges overwhelm,
- Tossing at midnight on the winter sea
- ’Twixt Scylla and Charybdis. At the helm
- Sits Love, my master and my enemy.
- At each oar stands some wicked thought and bold
- That scoffs at death and shipwreck and the gale;
- A driving blast, incessant, wet and cold
- Of sighs and hopes and longings, strikes the sail;
- Now tears rain hard in mists of wrath and scorn;
- The weary sheets hang fluttering limp and drenched,
- Twisted by ignorance, by error torn,
- And my two beacon lights in gloom are quenched.
- Amid these waves knowledge and skill are vain,
- And I despair of reaching port again.
1338. See Mascetta, p. 325.
Sometimes he resolves to break off his unhappy attachment and even imagines he has succeeded in doing so, as in the following madrigal.
Per ch’ al viso d’Amor portava insegna
- Bearing love’s ensigns on her shining face,
- A wandering fair one stirred my foolish heart;
- No creature else seemed clothed with such a grace,
- And through the fields I followed her apart;
- When lo! a far clear voice called unto me,
- ‘How many steps thou takest all in vain!’
- Then in the shadow of a mighty tree
- I paused in thought, and looking round again
- I saw the perils that beset my way,
- And turned me back, while it was still noonday.
Circa 1339. Cochin, p. 56.
But his new liberty brings him no relief, as he declares in a sonnet addressed to some other women, who perhaps had rallied him on his deliverance.
Fuggendo la pregionc ove Amor m’ebbe
- After long years, escaping from the cell
- Where Love, to work his will, imprisoned me,
- O women, long the tale if I should tell
- How I repented of my liberty.
- My heart confessed it could not live a day
- Apart from love and hope, and then there came
- Craftier than I, a traitor on my way
- In such false mask, he lured me to my shame.
- And many a time, sighing for what is past,
- I cry, ‘Alas! the yoke and bond and chain
- Were sweeter than to walk released and free.’
- O wretched me! I know my fate at last,
- Too late, delivered with still bitterer pain
- From the sweet pangs that had encompassed me.
Again and again his passion returns. In 1339 or 1340 Simone Martini, a distinguished painter of Siena, was employed at the papal court at Avignon, and Petrarch induced him to paint a miniature of Laura which the poet could carry with him upon his journeys. Petrarch wrote two sonnets on this theme, of which the following is one.
Quando giunse a Simon l’alto concetto
- While Simon mastered his conception high,
- When at my wish his hand had grasped the brush,
- If to her features and the delicate flush
- Of those fair cheeks he also could supply
- Both voice and soul, he had freed from every sigh
- One who cares not for what most men hold dear.
- All humble to my sight she doth appear
- And her sweet face assureth me of joy;
- And after, when I talk with her fair eyes,
- She seems to listen in a kindly way
- But cannot answer me the things I say!
- Pygmalion, how greatly shouldst thou prize
- The face that a thousand times did talk with thee,
- While not once will these fair lips answer me!
Sometimes the poet’s despair awakens compassion on the part of his mistress and he is comforted by some kindly salutation or gracious speech as in the following ballad.
Volgendo gli occhi al mio novo colore
- Turning your eyes upon that ashen hue
- Which bids all men remember them of death,
- ’Twas pity moved your soul and from you drew
- That kindly greeting which did keep the breath
- That stirs my heart; the fragile life that dwells
- In this weak flesh did your fair eyes bestow,
- And that angelic voice that softly wells
- With rippling music. ’Tis from them I know
- My very being. As sluggish beasts will start
- Stung by the rod, so is the slumber rent
- In my dull soul. The keys to my sad heart,
- Lady, you have them both. I am content,
- Ready with any wind to sail the sea;
- Since all that comes from you is sweet to me.
1339. See Mascetta, p. 455.
Laura was especially kind to her lover when he was about to leave her for a considerable time on one of his journeys, as appears from the following sonnet describing their last meeting prior to his departure for Italy.
Quel vago impallidir, che ’l dolce riso
- That pallid hue, which clothed her gentle smile
- In tender mist, gave with such delicate grace
- Its kindly welcome that my heart the while
- Leaped forth in greeting through my eager face.
- Then did I know how souls in Paradise
- Do gaze on one another. I saw revealed
- That pitying thought, unmarked by other eyes
- Than mine alone which to all else were sealed.
- Every angelic look or gracious mien
- Of womankind where love might chance to be,
- Was proud disdain to that which I have seen.
- Silent she asked (as it did seem to me)
- While down to earth her gracious eyes did bend,
- ‘Who drives away from me my faithful friend?’
1345. See De Sade, ii. p. 223.
And when Petrarch is away her image is constantly before him—witness the following sonnet, composed as early as 1333, while he was journeying through the forest of Ardennes on his way back from Flanders, as well as the succeeding ode, which was written at a much later period on one of his journeys in Italy and shortly before his return to Vaucluse, possibly in 1345 while he was at Verona.
Per mezz’ i boschi inospiti e selvaggi
- Through forests inhospitable and drear
- Where even men at arms in danger go,
- I walk secure, and naught shall make me fear
- Save the sun’s rays that full of love do glow.
- And here I sing of her (O foolish dream)
- Whom heaven cannot keep apart from me.
- In pine and beech I see her, and there seem
- Matrons and maids in her sweet company;
- I hear her as the summer breezes pass,
- In rustling leaves, in songs that fill the glades
- And in the brooks that murmur through the grass,
- Till the low music of these sylvan shades
- Is grateful to my heart, save that the light
- Of my sweet sun is too much quenched in night.
The foregoing sonnet, as well as the three canzoni which follow, illustrates the fact that Petrarch constantly surrounds his mistress with natural beauties and establishes an intimate and mysterious connexion between her and Nature.
Di pensier in pensier, di monte in monte
- From fancy unto fancy, peak to peak,
- Love guideth me. Frequented ways I fly.
- The paths of men are irksome to my peace;
- But if on lonely shore a fount or creek
- Or shadowy vale between the hills doth lie,
- There doth the tumult of my spirit cease;
- And then, as Love may please
- I laugh, I tremble, I am bold, I weep;
- My face reflects my soul where’er I go,
- And bright or dark doth grow,
- Yet but a little time its mood doth keep,
- Till practised eyes do mark me and declare,
- ‘He loves, yet knows not if his fate be fair.’
- Where hill or lofty pine doth cast its shade
- I halt, and on the nearest rock I see
- Limned by my fancy, her fair countenance!
- When I revive, behold! my breast is made
- All soft with tears; I cry: ‘Ah, wretched me,
- Where art thou? Why awaken from thy trance?’
- For while that tender glance
- Doth hold my heart in sweet imprisonment,
- Forgetful of itself, gazing on her,
- I do feel love so near
- That with the dream alone I am content;
- So fair doth she appear on every side,
- I ask no more if these sweet visions bide.
- Full oft her living image have I seen
- In the clear waters or upon the grass
- Or in the trunk of some widespreading tree
- Or on a floating cloud. Her face hath been
- So fair that Helen’s it did far surpass,
- As the bright sun constrains the stars to flee.
- Though wild the spot may be,
- On lonely shore—in forest sere and brown—
- All the more fair my thoughts her form portray.
- And when truth drives away
- The sweet delusion, then I sit me down,
- Dead stone on living rock, cold with my fears,
- And think, and weep, and write my song in tears.
- Within my heart a keen desire doth rise
- To scale the steepest, loftiest peak of all
- Where shade of other mountain cannot go.
- There I begin to measure with mine eyes
- How great my loss, and into weeping fall,
- My heart all filled with a thick mist of woe,
- Whene’er I look and know
- What spaces part me from that radiant face
- That still is near, even when far away!
- Low to myself I say,
- ‘Poor soul, why weep? Perchance in that far place
- Thine absence grieves her and she sighs for thee.’
- And with that thought my soul again is free.
- O song, beyond those Alps,
- Where heaven is more serene and skies more gay,
- Thou’lt see me soon near a swift-running stream
- Where the soft air doth teem
- With odours from a laurel grove astray.
- My heart and she who took it both are there,
- Only my empty image bideth here.
1345. Cochin, p. 92.
But his most vivid pictures of Laura are at Vaucluse in the narrow valley between steep mountains where the Sorgue rushes forth from a cavern and flows swiftly down the valley. This stream was then bordered with groves of oak and beech and laurel, and its banks were carpeted with sod on which wild flowers grew luxuriantly. It would seem that Petrarch and Laura had met in this valley on one or more occasions, and the memory of her presence there gave rise to the most exquisite poetry in the whole Canzoniere. His thirteenth ode, Se ’l pensier che mi strugge, preliminary to the one which is deservedly reckoned his masterpiece, thus sets forth in its sixth stanza the reasons why each spot is so precious to him:
Ovunque gli occhi volgo
- Where’er I turn mine eyes
- A joy serene I find,
- While fancy whispers ‘Here her glance she threw’.
- The flowers and grass I gather, I do prize
- When memory brings to mind,
- ‘She pressed the gracious soil whereon ye grew,
- Wandering between the mountain and the stream.
- Perchance she made of you a fragrant chair
- Blooming and fresh and fair!’
- Thus not one spot is lost in my sweet dream.
- I think ’tis better so
- Than if each place I did more surely know!
- O spirit blest, what must thy graces be,
- That thou canst make such worshipper of me!
After 1337. Cochin, p. 90.
The fourteenth ode, here given in full, is in the original perhaps the most finished love song ever written. Only a very small part of its grace and beauty can be transferred to another tongue. The picture presented by the fourth stanza especially is one which has hardly a superior in lyric poetry.
De Sade believes this ode refers to some place near Avignon where Petrarch had met Laura, and to which he went frequently in the hope of seeing her (i. 207). Most commentators are satisfied that it refers to Vaucluse, since not only does the description correspond, but Petrarch in other poems also declared, as he does here in the second stanza, that it was in this place that he hoped to die.
Chiare, fresche e dolci acque
- Clear, fresh, sweet waters,
- Where she who seems to me
- The only one among earth’s daughters
- Hath laid her dainty limbs; thou stately tree,
- (I sigh remembering it) she made of thee
- A shaft whereon her gracious form might lean;
- O flowers and herbage green
- The which (with her angelic bosom fair)
- Her graceful gown did hide;
- And thou, soft air,
- Calm, holy and serene
- Where Love with those bright eyes did open wide
- The portals to my heart; give heedful ears
- To these my last wild words of grief and tears.
- If it be fate and heaven’s firm decree
- That Love shall close my weary eyelids weeping,
- Some grace it still shall be,
- When back to its own goal
- Returns my naked soul,
- That gives my poor frail body to your keeping.
- Death will have less
- Of pang and bitterness
- If to its dark defile that hope I bring;
- For never spirit faint with heavy wing
- From the tormented flesh could flee or stir
- In port more calm, more tranquil sepulchre.
- The time perchance draws on apace
- When to the old familiar place
- That creature wild
- Will come once more, all beautiful and mild
- And turn her gaze with longing, nay with glee
- To where she saw me on that happy day,
- And seek my face again; but woe is me!
- Seeing among the rocks I am but clay,
- Love may inspire her such a way
- That she will softly sigh
- And ask me as a guerdon from the sky
- Till heaven perforce must yield, the while she dries
- With her fair veil her weeping eyes.
- Ah! sweet in memory! from these branches fair
- Upon her gracious lap there fell soft showers
- Of fluttering flowers!
- Yet sat she there,
- Lowly and meek amid that pageant proud,
- All covered with a radiant cloud
- Of love! One flower did stray
- Upon her garment’s hem; one on her curls
- That to my sight that day
- Were made of burnished gold and shining pearls.
- One rested on the earth; one on the stream;
- Another, lingering slow, did softly move
- And turn again, then wandering, did seem
- To speak and say, ‘Here reigneth Love.’
- How many times I said,
- Inspired with reverent dread,
- ‘This creature sure was born in Paradise!’
- Her port divine, her eyes,
- Her angel’s face,
- Her soft words, and the grace
- Of her laughter did so bear me down
- With sweet forgetfulness and drown
- My thoughts in dear illusions, I did sigh
- And questioning cry,
- ‘How came I here, and when?’
- And thought I was in heaven, and from then
- Till now I so have loved this greensward fair
- That I can find no joy nor peace elsewhere.
- O song of mine, hadst thou the graces meet
- To match thy keen desire and eager mind,
- Forth from the forest couldst thou turn thy feet
- And walk with fearless step among mankind.
It was the custom of every troubadour to remind his mistress of the long period of his devotion, and Petrarch follows this usage in a number of his sonnets, one of which, written fifteen years after he first met her, is here given. In this poem, however, he also imitates a well-known ode of Horace (Book I, Ode 22) to the ‘sweetly laughing Lalage’, expanding the thought of that poem with considerable elaboration.
Pommi ove ’l sole occide i fiori e l’erba
- Put me where all things wither in the sun,
- Or where his beams grow faint ’mid ice and snow,
- Or where through temperate climes his car doth run,
- Or where the morn doth break or evening glow;
- Clothe me in purple fortune or in grey,
- Let skies be dark and dull, or airs serene,
- Let it be night, or long or short the day,
- Or ripening years or adolescence green;
- Put me in heaven, on earth or down in hell,
- On lofty mountain or in vale or moor,
- As spirit freed or still in mortal shell,
- With fame illustrious or with name obscure;
- Through lustrums three I cherish, sigh, adore,
- And so will I continue evermore.
Many are the sonnets which, at various times, Petrarch devotes to the praise of the charms and perfections of his mistress. Witness the following:
I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi
- Here upon earth I saw those heavenly charms
- Unique in all the world; those angel ways
- Whose memory both delights me and alarms,
- Till all I see seems shadow, dream and haze.
- In tears I saw those two entrancing eyes
- Whose beauty was the envy of the sun,
- And heard the sound of such sweet words and sighs
- As made the rivers stand and mountains run,
- Love, honour, tender pity, grief sincere,
- Weeping did utter sweeter melodies
- Than any that the world is wont to hear;
- While heaven attentive, drank the harmonies,
- And every leaf on every branch was stilled;
- With such delight the charmèd air was filled;
1346. See De Sade, ii. p. 260.
De Sade thinks some sorrow had befallen Laura perhaps the death of her mother, but this seems unnecessary for the explanation of the sonnet. The combination of love, honour, pity, and grief might well refer to her pity and sorrow for her lover from whom her honour required her to withhold her favours. Tears from such a cause might well account for Petrarch’s ecstasies.
In qual parte del ciel, in quale idea
- In what bright spot of heaven did it bide,
- The pattern from which nature’s hand did bear
- That gracious countenance, then turned aside
- To show on earth what she could do up there?
- What nymph or woodland goddess e’er unbound
- Such golden tresses to the zephyr’s breath?
- Where in a single breast such virtues found,
- Although the chief has brought me to my death?
- He looks in vain for beauty all divine
- Who never gazed on this fair creature’s eyes
- Nor saw how softly they did move and shine;
- And he who never knew her tender sighs
- Nor heard her gentle words or laughter gay
- Knows not how Love can heal, how Love can slay.
Amor et io sì pien’ di meraviglia
- O love! we need no further marvel seek
- (Like one who never a strange thing hath known)
- Gazing on her who, if she laugh or speak,
- Is like none other than herself alone!
- Beneath the shadow of her quiet brow
- Shine those two faithful stars from azure sky;
- No other light he needs his path to show,
- Who hath resolved his love be pure and high.
- What miracle to see her on the grass,
- Where like a flower she sits! Or watch her press
- Her breast on that green bush; or mark her pass
- In the fresh springtime, in her loveliness,
- By her own thoughts attended, chaste and fair,
- Twining a garland for her golden hair!
Stiamo, Amor, a veder la gloria nostra
- Love, let us stand our glory to behold!
- Things beyond nature in their charm and worth!
- Look! Beauty rains on her in showers of gold!
- Behold the light that heaven shows to earth!
- What art can deck with pearls and purple meet
- That body fair whose like was never seen!
- And how divinely tread those dainty feet
- This shady cloister of fair hills and green!
- Here in a thousand hues the scattered flowers
- That spread themselves upon the tender grass
- Which that old blackened oak shades and embowers
- Pray that her foot may press them if she pass!
- The stars are kindled round her, and the skies
- Rejoice they are made clear by her bright eyes.
In nobil sangue vita umile e queta
- Tranquil and meek her life, noble her blood;
- A lofty mind; a pure heart filled with grace;
- Mature the fruitage, tender still the bud;
- A joyful spirit in a thoughtful face;
- On one fair woman did her happy star—
- Nay, King of all the stars—these gifts combine
- With worth, true honour, fame from near and far;
- To praise her well might weary bard divine!
- For chastity in her is joined with love,
- And gracious ways with nature’s comely guise;
- With silent charm doth every gesture move,
- And she hath that within her eloquent eyes
- To darken day or bring night clear and calm,
- Turn honey bitter or make wormwood balm.
In spite of the transitory gleams of hope and consolation from the kindness of his beloved, there returns to Petrarch again and again the conviction of the essential hopelessness of his passion, as in the following sonnet, which, although it appears quite early in the manuscript collection, was apparently written in one of the calmer and more reflective moments of his maturer years.
Quanto più m’avicino al giorno extremo
- The closer I draw near that final day
- That hath the power to shorten human pain,
- The swifter do the moments fly away
- And all my hopes of them prove false and vain.
- I say unto my thoughts, ‘We shall not go
- Together far; our talk of Love must cease;
- This dull and heavy body, like fresh snow
- Is melting fast away; we shall find peace;
- And when it comes that hope will disappear
- Which fills us with our vain imaginings,
- Our laughter and our sorrow, rage and fear,
- And we shall clearly see what idle things
- Are those for which we strive and pray and cry,
- How fruitless are the joys for which we sigh!’
But no mood lasts long in the course of Petrarch’s love, and his poems are filled with continual changes and inconsistencies. There is none of them which reveals more fully the contradictions in his life and feelings than the following sonnet full of antitheses after the model of certain Proveçal songs.
Pace non trovo, e non ho da far guerra
- I find no peace, yet am not armed for war;
- I hope and yet I fear; I freeze, I burn;
- On earth I lie, above the heavens I soar;
- I would embrace the world, yet all things spurn;
- And she doth hold me in a cell confined
- Who neither makes me hers nor sets me free;
- Love will not kill, nor yet my cords unbind,
- Nor wills I live, nor ends my misery.
- I have no tongue, yet speak, no eyes, yet see;
- I long to perish, yet I call for aid;
- I loathe myself, yet love with constancy,
- Weeping I laugh and on affliction feed;
- And life and death I hold in equal hate.
- Through you, my lady, comes this evil state.
1340-1. See Mascetta, p. 479.
During the years that elapsed after the time when Petrarch and Laura met, her youthful beauty must have diminished, especially when her health was broken. It was perhaps on some such occasion when Petrarch had noted this that he composed the following exquisite sonnet recalling her appearance when he first met her and the love then awakened which could not now be quenched at a later time on account of the changes he perceived.
Erano i capei d’oro a l’aura sparsi
- Flung to the breezes was her golden hair,
- Into a thousand knots its tresses wound,
- Beyond all telling glowed the sunshine fair
- From those soft eyes where now no light is found.
- I cannot tell if it be true or no,
- Methought her face to pitying colours turned;
- My breast love’s touchstone was; at love’s first glow
- What wonder that with sudden fire I burned!
- Nor did she walk like any mortal thing,
- But every motion was celestial grace;
- Her words were like the angels’ when they sing;
- A living sun, a heavenly spirit’s face
- Was what I saw. If such it is not now
- No wound is healed by slackening the bow.
1338. See Mascetta, p. 361. (Probably later.)
At the end of twenty years from the time when he first met Laura in the church at Avignon, Petrarch thus describes his own condition.
Beato in sogno, e di languir contento
- Happy in dreams; content in languishing;
- Shadows I clasp; I swim in shoreless seas;
- I chase the summer airs with aimless wing;
- Build on the sand and write upon the breeze.
- I plough the waves in vain; the sun I woo
- Till by its withering rays my powers are spent;
- A swiftly fleeing deer do I pursue
- With sluggish ox, crippled and maimed and bent;
- Save to my own harm I am blind to all;
- That harm I seek with fluttering heart and torn.
- On Love, my lady, nay on Death I call,
- And twenty years these torments have I borne.
- Still am I filled with sighs and tears and gloom,
- Yet dearly love the fate that weaves my doom.
In 1347, when Petrarch set out for Rome with the intention of co-operating with Rienzi, it seems that a presentiment of some calamity was in Laura’s mind when he left her, and the poet afterwards, reflecting upon her appearance and conduct at their final interview, also becomes filled with forebodings of some impending danger, as appears in the following.
Qual paura ho quando mi torna a mente
- With what keen dread do I recall the day
- When I did leave my lady—and my heart!
- Pensive and grave was she when we did part.
- No other image in my thought will stay!
- Amid fair women in their fine array,
- Humble I see her stand. She seems a rose
- ’Mong lesser flowers. No joy nor pain she shows,
- But a dim dread as one who cannot say
- What he doth fear. Her mirth is put away,
- Her pearls, her garments gay, her garlands choice;
- Silent her songs and laughter and sweet voice.
- And thus I left her, to dark doubts a prey.
- Now portents, dreams and many a boding thought
- Assail my heart; Pray God they come to nought!
1347. Cochin, p. 115.
Soon this foreboding takes definite shape in a dream in which Laura tells him that this parting is their final one.
Solea lontana in sonno consolarme
- My love was wont to comfort me in dreams,
- Smiling with angel face from far away;
- But now with gloom and dread the vision teems
- And help is none, my terrors to allay.
- For tender pity, joined to solemn grief
- Full often in her face I seem to see,
- And hear the thing that fills me with belief,
- Yet strips my heart of all felicity.
- ‘Dost thou remember not’, I hear her say,
- ‘That final evening when we needs must part?
- Late was the hour; I could no longer stay,
- And left thee tearful, but I had no heart
- To tell thee then what now is proved and plain:
- Hope not on earth to see my face again.’
1347. Cochin, p. 115.
These forebodings were only too well founded, for it was while Petrarch was still in Italy that Laura died. His first sonnet afterwards is a wild, incoherent wail of despair, in which he recalls and invokes her face, her look, her bearing, her speech, her laughter, her soul, in all of which he needs must dwell and can feel or know no other sorrow now that he is deprived of these.
Oimè il bel viso, oimè il soave sguardo
- Ah, that sweet face! Alas! that sóft regard!
- That noble bearing, winsome, blithe, and free,
- That speech to soothe a nature fierce and hard,
- And make the weak grow strong! Unhappy me!
- Ah! that sweet laughter whence the dart has flown
- Whose wound must end in death, my happiest fate!
- Ah! regal soul most worthy of a throne,
- Hadst thou not fall’n upon the world too late!
- In you I needs must dwell and breathe and glow,
- Since I was always yours; if you depart,
- No other sorrow can I feel or know.
- With hope and fond desire you filled my heart,
- When I did say farewell, yet longed to stay!
- And now the wind has borne the words away!
1348. Cochin, p. 124.
The bitterness of his soul also finds expression in the following:
Quanta invidia io ti porto, avara terra
- O sordid earth, what envy do I bear
- To thee who claspest her I see no more,
- Since thou dost hide from me those features fair
- Wherein I found my peace in bitter war.
- Heaven too I envy, that shuts in and bars,
- And treasures for itself so grudgingly
- That spirit meek which humbly sought the stars,
- Yet opens nevermore its gates to me!
- I envy too the souls who now enjoy
- On high her sweet and gracious company,
- Which I, with yearning keen, so long have sought;
- I envy hateful Death who did destroy
- My life with hers in ruthless cruelty,
- Yet stands in her fair eyes, and calls me not!
1351-3. Cochin, p. 132.
But his grief sometimes strikes a more plaintive chord in which Christian resignation is blended.
Occhi miei, oscurato è ’l nostro sole
- O eyes of mine, our sun is dark to-day,
- Or rather rises to heaven and shines in state!
- There shall we see her yet, for she doth wait
- Our coming—perhaps she grieves at our delay!
- O ears of mine, her angel words convey
- A deeper meaning there than you can know!
- O feet of mine, ye have no right to go
- Where she who oft hath drawn you wends her way.
- Wherefore on me wage ye this bitter strife?
- It was not I who shattered all your joy
- Of seeing, hearing, following her in life;
- Blame rather Death who did your hopes destroy.
- Or better, praise Him who doth bind and free
- And after mourning grants felicity.
On July 3, 1348, only a few months after Laura’s death, Petrarch’s friend and patron, Cardinal Colonna, was also carried off by the plague. In the following sonnet the column (Colonna) and the laurel (Lauro) signify respectively his friend and his beloved.
Rotta è l’alta colonna e ’l verde lauro
- Broken the column tall and laurel green
- That were my shade and my security,
- And I have lost what shall no more be seen
- From western ocean to the Indian sea.
- ’Twas Death who from mine arms these treasures bore,
- Wherewith I lived in joy and walked in pride,
- And now no lands nor empires can restore
- Nor gems nor gold allure them to my side.
- If human will be ruled by destiny,
- What else than bitter anguish can I choose
- With downcast face and eyes suffused with tears?
- That life of ours that is so fair to see,
- How swiftly in one morning doth it lose
- All that it won through many weary years!
1348-9. Cochin, p. 126.
With the returning of another spring the memories of Laura awaken a new pang.
Zefiro torna, e ’l bel tempo rimena
- Again with gladsome feet Zephyr returns
- Mid grass and flowers, his goodly family
- And Procne chatters, Philomela mourns,
- While Spring comes forth in all her finery.
- The meadows laugh; the skies are bright and fair,
- And Aphrodite wins the smile of Jove,
- While full of passion is the earth and air
- And every creature turns his thoughts to love.
- For me, alas! these vernal days are shorn
- Of all delight and laden with the sighs
- Which from my heart’s recesses she hath torn
- Who bore its hopes and pangs to Paradise!
- Till birds and flowers and woman’s graces mild
- To me are but a desert, stern and wild.
The same note of inconsolable grief appears in the following:
Nè per sereno ciel ir vaghe stelle
- Neither the stars that wander through the sky,
- Nor stately ships upon a tranquil sea,
- Nor troops of gallant horsemen prancing by,
- Nor blithe and agile beasts in wood and lea,
- Nor tidings fresh from one for whom we fear,
- Nor speech of love in grand and lofty air,
- Nor amid verdant lawns with fountains clear
- The tuneful songs of gentle dames and fair,
- Nor aught beside can move my stony heart
- Which she hath carried with her to the tomb,
- Who to mine eyes did light and joy impart
- Till now without her life is naught but gloom,
- And I do call for death with longing keen.
- O but to see her! Would I ne’er had seen!
And when he returns to Vaucluse, the familiar scenes arouse again the consciousness of his loneliness.
Sento l’aura mia antica, e i dolci colli
- I feel the soft breeze on my cheek; I see
- The hills before me where that light was born
- Which held mine eyes in its sweet sorcery,
- And still doth hold them weeping and forlorn!
- O idle fancies! withered hopes and dreams!
- Empty and cold the nest where she did lie,
- Lonely the grassy banks, turbid the streams
- Where still I live and where I hoped to die!
- For I did think to end my weary days
- Here where her gracious feet might press the sward
- Upon my grave and her fair eyes might gaze.
- But I have served a hard and cruel lord!
- All that did feed my flame I rashly burned,
- And now I mourn my hopes to ashes turned.
1351. Cochin, p. 137.
Petrarch’s sorrow at Laura’s death is none the less profound because their relations shortly before her death had begun to take on more and more the form of intimate friendship as her dread of the violence of his earlier passion gradually disappeared. He gives utterance to this change of feeling in the following.
Tutta la mia fiorita e verde etade
- At last my blossoming and vernal age
- Was passing, and I felt my youthful fire
- Grow calmer. Life had reached its crowning stage
- And soon would seek the valley and expire.
- Little by little my dear enemy
- Began to win assurance from her fears,
- And her pure heart and stainless honesty
- Would take in fancied jest my sighs and tears.
- For it was near the time when Love doth walk
- With chastity, and lovers may have leave
- To sit together and in friendly talk
- To tell how they did dream and yearn and grieve.
- But envious Death, to quench my hopes in woe
- Rushed in between us like an armèd foe.
But less than two years after Laura’s death the poet is assailed by the temptation of another love, and in the following canzone he defies the fair god to ensnare him again.
Amor, se vuo’ ch’ i’ torni al giogo antico
- If thou wouldst bend me to thy yoke anew,
- O God of Love, as all thy pains do show,
- Ere thou my spirit shalt again subdue,
- A new strange test thyself must undergo.
- Find me the treasure that lies hid away
- In the dark grave and left me stripped and poor.
- Find that wise heart and pure
- Wherein the fount of all my being lay.
- Then, if thy power be such as men do say
- In heaven above and in the abyss below,
- (What things among us here thy skill can do,
- So oft are proved and true
- I think that every gentle soul doth know)
- Take back from Death the prize his arm doth bear,
- And set thine emblems on that visage fair.
- Grant that again her gracious look I see,
- Which like a sun did melt the ice away,
- And let me on that path discover thee
- Where went my heart and evermore did stay.
- Take thou thy golden arrows and thy bow,
- And let me hear again the cord rebound,
- And the words of tuneful sound
- That taught me all the depths of love to know!
- Move thou the lips in which the charm did lie
- That bound me; hide thy snare
- Within her clustering hair!
- To lure me elsewhere vainly wilt thou try.
- But fling again those tresses to the wind,
- And all content, my spirit thou canst bind.
- For naught could free me from the threads of gold
- That in her rippling ringlets did appear,
- Nor from the fragrant breath that did enfold
- Her gracious presence, tender yet austere.
- Both day and night they kept my love more green
- Than the fresh laurel hid in sylvan glades
- When summer foliage fades;
- Or myrtle, when the winter blast is keen;
- But now that cruel death so stern hath been
- And broke the bond from which I could not fly,
- In all the world no other wilt thou find
- My heart again to bind.
- What use, O Love, to try?
- Thine arms are lost; my spirit now is free,
- I fear thee not; what canst thou do to me?
Date shown by manuscript, commenced June 9, 1350, finished 1351. Cochin, pp. 125-6.
But in his dreams of Laura the thoughts of his own fame as a poet are not wholly absent. His earlier songs had been written to give his heart relief; now he would more willingly write to please the world, but with her death his inspiration had passed and her memory calls him away.
S’ io avesse pensato che sì care
- Had I but known how welcome were the rhymes
- I fashioned from my sighs and deep despair,
- Still other stanzas had I shaped betimes
- In numbers greater and in charms more rare.
- But she is dead who did inspire my heart,
- Who on my peaks of fancy stood aloft,
- And of myself I have no wit nor art
- To make my rough dull verses clear and soft.
- For all my labour in that earlier time
- Was but to give my burdened heart relief
- As best I might, not unto fame to climb;
- I sought to grieve, but not renown from grief.
- Now would I please, but she with noble pride
- Doth call me, dumb and weary, to her side.
In the two following stanzas, taken from the twenty-sixth canzone, he contrasts the days of his former journeys, when hope as well as memory accompanied him, with his present state now that hope is gone and he must live on memory alone. If he had only understood the meaning of Laura’s look at their last meeting and had then died, his lot would have been happy compared with his present loneliness.
Solea da la fontana di mia vita
- From my life’s fountain I was wont to stray,
- And wandering over lands and seas would go,
- Not by desire impelled but destiny;
- And ever went (such aid did Love convey)
- To banishment (how bitter, Love did know),
- Pasturing my heart on hope and memory.
- Now I surrender and my arms resign
- Unto a fortune pitiless and stern
- That hath despoiled me of my hope benign;
- And now to memory only must I turn,
- Feeding my longing heart with dreams alone,
- So faint with fasting hath my spirit grown.
- * * * * * *
- If my dull mind had been with me at need,
- And my vain longings had not sought to bend
- My thoughts another way, in the sweet face
- Of my dear lady I could plainly read
- That I had reached of all my joy the end
- And the beginning of much bitterness,
- And learning this and finding swift release
- While still she lived, from my affliction sore—
- This grievous veil of flesh,—in joy and peace
- I might have gone before,
- And watched them raise in heaven her dwelling fair;
- Now I must follow her with snowy hair.
- * * * * * *
- Song, say to him who in his love is blest,
- ‘If thou art well contented, die to-day,
- For timely parting is not grief, but rest;
- Who can die happy, let him not delay.’
In the twenty-fifth canzone, Tacer non posso, e temo non adopre, the goddess of Fortune, who rules and foresees the destinies of men, converses with the poet in the fifth, sixth, and seventh stanzas, and thus describes the birth, the childhood and early womanhood of Laura, in a series of brilliant images, where the presence of only one dark cloud portended her approaching doom.
Il dì che costei nacque, eran le stelle
- The day that she was born, those stars did shine
- In high and chosen places
- That most do shed on earth their favouring graces.
- Each to the other did with love incline;
- Venus and Jove with countenance benign
- Did hold the lordliest state, serene and high;
- While every orb malign
- Was chased in shame from out the smiling sky.
- The sun had never opened day so fair;
- Jocund the blooming earth, the sky and air,
- Peace on the waters of the seas and streams!
- Yet while with friendly light the vision teems,
- One distant cloud doth grieve me, dark with care,
- The which may melt, I fear, in tears of woe,
- Unless the heavenly powers some pity show.
- When to this nether world her spirit flew
- (Which for such gentle soul was all unmeet)
- ’Twas a strange thing and new
- To see a child so saintly and so sweet.
- She seemed a white pearl in a golden nest!
- Now creeping, now with trembling steps and slow,
- Her baby feet did go,
- Till the wood and rock and greensward that they pressed
- Grew soft and fresh and warm,
- And the field bloomed beneath her innocent eyes,
- And balmy grew the skies,
- And calm the wind and storm,
- While she with lips just weaned went prattling on!
- Thus to a world as blind and deaf as stone
- The light and glory of the heavens were shown.
- When she in years and virtue grew apace,
- And reached the age of adolescence green,
- I do believe such glory and such grace
- The sun had never seen!
- Her eyes with modesty and joy were filled,
- Her speech with health and happiness did glow,
- Till every other tongue would soon be stilled
- If it should seek to tell what thou dost know!
- Her countenance did shine with heavenly light,
- And with its dazzling beauty blind your sight,
- And from her earthly tenement a fire
- Did come to fill thy heart with such desire
- That none did ever burn with flame so bright!
- But when her sudden parting I did see,
- Methought it must bring bitter days to thee.
Petrarch’s grief is expressed with great tenderness and grace in a sonnet to a nightingale mourning its mate, and in another to a little feathered wanderer in the dark days of winter.
Quel rosigniuol, che sì soave piagne
- That nightingale who doth so softly mourn
- His little ones, perchance, or loving mate,
- In lays melodious from a heart forlorn,
- And fills the air with notes disconsolate—
- Through the long night he seems to stay with me
- To talk to me of all my grief and pain.
- It was my fault these eyes could never see
- That e’en o’er heavenly spirits death might reign!
- Him that is sure, how easy to betray!
- Her two fair eyes, far brighter than the sun—
- Who would have thought to see them senseless clay?
- Now do I know the course my life must run;
- How I shall live, and weep, and clearly see
- That here no precious thing can stay with me.
Vago augelletto che cantando vai
- Thou little wandering bird of plaintive lay
- Mourning thy brighter time of past delight,
- Who seest behind thee summer and the day,
- And close beside thee winter and the night;
- If thou couldst understand my evil state,
- As thine own keen affliction thou dost know,
- Thou’dst come unto this breast disconsolate,
- And we would each divide the other’s woe.
- I know not if our sorrows equal be,
- Perchance the mate thou mournest liveth still,
- While death and heaven so churlish were to me;
- Yet these dark days, this season sad and chill
- With memories of my sweet and bitter years,
- Move me to talk with thee and share thy tears.
In another sonnet he sends his verses to her tomb.
Ite, rime dolenti, al duro sasso
- Go, mourning rhymes, unto the senseless stone
- That hides my precious treasure in the ground;
- There call her, she will answer from her throne,
- Although her body to the earth is bound.
- Tell her that I am weary of my days,
- Tossing for ever on this angry sea;
- I fain must follow, step by step, the ways
- She trod, and gather leaves of memory.
- Only of her, living or dead, I sing
- (Nay she will always live—immortal made),
- That the dull world shall with her praises ring,
- And bring her sweet renown that will not fade.
- O may she run to meet me when I die,
- And call, and lead me to her home on high
So deep is his grief that he believes he could not live except for that which is his greatest consolation, the appearance of Laura in his dreams.
Ripensando a quel ch’ oggi il cielo onora
- When I do think on her fair countenance—
- The soft inclining of that head of gold,
- Her angel’s voice, her smile and tender glance
- Which once did warm my heart that now is cold;
- I know that still alive I could not be,
- If she, of women fairest and most pure,
- Came not in dreams at early morn to me,
- The time when every dream is true and sure.
- What sweet and chaste and holy welcoming!
- And how intently doth she bend her ear
- To the long story of my suffering,
- Until the garish daylight doth appear!
- Then—for she knows the way—she seeks the skies,
- The tears still glistening in her tender eyes.
But there are times when the dreams will not come, and the poet thus remonstrates:
Dolce mio caro e precïoso pegno
- O pledge of mine, precious and sweet and dear,
- Whom heaven doth guard, tho’ earth doth keep thy clay,
- Why should thy kindly pity disappear—
- Thou who hast been of all my life the stay?
- For it was once thy wont to make my sleep
- Worthy thy shadowy presence. Now I mourn
- Without thee, comfortless. Who still doth keep
- Thine image from my side? Surely such scorn
- Dwells not in heaven, though sometimes here below
- A gentle heart doth feed on other’s pain,
- And Love in his own realm doth overthrow.
- Thou who dost see and know my sorrow vain,
- And who alone canst bring my heart relief,
- Come in my dreams once more and calm my grief.
There is a speedy answer to his prayer.
Deh qual pietà, qual angel fu sì presto
- What pitying soul, what angel kind and fleet,
- Carried to heaven the tidings of my grief?
- For now my lady cometh, fair and sweet,
- With all her comely ways, for my relief;
- To still my heart and calm my choking breath.
- Her pride is gone, all gentleness is she;
- So gracious that I loose the bonds of death,
- And live once more, and life is ecstasy!
- Blest is the soul that could my memory bless
- With those fond names we two alone did know;
- She said—her face all filled with tenderness—
- ‘Dear faithful heart! How do I feel thy woe;
- ’Twas for our good that I thy love did shun,’
- And added words that might have stayed the sun.
But his visions of Laura are not confined to those that visit him in sleep. In fancy he meets her in heaven.
Levommi il mio penser in parte ov’ era
- She whom I seek, no more on earth abides;
- So I did lift my longing thought to where
- She dwells with those whom heaven’s third circle hides,
- And there I saw her, gentle and most fair.
- She took my hand and said, ‘Thou’lt be with me
- Within this sphere, unless desire shall stray.
- Yes; I am she who made such war with thee,
- And ere the evening came did end her day.
- My bliss no human mind can ever know;
- Only I long for thee and for that veil
- Which thou didst love and which remains below.’
- Why dropped her hand? Why did her sweet voice fail?
- When at the sound of words so chaste and kind
- In heaven with her I fain had stayed behind.
Thus does he imagine her entrance into heaven:
Li angeli eletti, e l’anime beate
- The chosen angels and the spirits blest,
- Inhabitants of heaven, on the day
- When first my lady passed, around her pressed,
- And marvelling, among themselves did say:
- ‘What light is this? What beauty rare and sweet?
- So fair a soul, such queenly majesty
- Ascending from the world to this high seat
- Never before in heaven did we see.’
- And though with her new home she seemed content,
- And no soul there more perfect was than she,
- From time to time backward her gaze was bent
- To watch if I might come, and wait for me.
- Thus heavenward my thoughts and hopes I lift,
- And dream I hear her pray my feet be swift.
But toward the close of the Canzoniere the feelings of religion are again uppermost in Petrarch’s mind, and he laments the wasted days of this earthly passion and implores Divine aid to redeem his soul in its final hour.
I’ vo piangendo i miei passati tempi
- I go lamenting all my wasted days.
- That I consumed loving a mortal thing,
- Nor had the will my languid soul to raise,
- That for a loftier flight had ample wing.
- O Thou invisible, immortal King,
- Thou who dost know my shameful sins and base,
- Help Thou my spirit frail and wandering!
- Strengthen its weakness with Thy boundless grace!
- So that although I lived in storm and war,
- I die at peace in port, and though in vain
- My stay on earth, my parting may be fair!
- In death and these few years that yet remain,
- May Thy strong hand be near to succour me!
- Thou know’st I have no hope except in Thee!
Still more clearly are his religious aspirations and longings expressed in his celebrated ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ with which he closes his Canzoniere, with the evident desire that this shall be regarded as the expression of his final resolution and his hope of heaven.
Vergine bella, che di sol vestita
- O Virgin fair, who in the sun arrayed,
- And crowned with stars, to a greater Sun did’st bring
- Such joy that He in thee His light did hide!
- Deep love impels me that of thee I sing.
- But how shall I begin without thy aid,
- Or that of Him who in thy womb did bide?
- I call on one who answereth alway
- When simple faith we show.
- Virgin, if extreme woe
- In things of earth thou wouldst with joy repay,
- In my hard struggle be thy succour given!
- O hear me while I pray,
- Though I be clay,
- And thou the queen of heaven!
- O virgin sage and of the blessed number
- Of those wise virgins honoured by their Lord,
- Yea, thou the first with brightest lamp of all!
- Thou shield of the afflicted from the sword
- Of evil fortune and in death’s deep slumber,
- Rescue and victory come at thy call;
- Thou refuge from the passions, blind and dark,
- Of frail mortality!
- Virgin, in agony
- Thy fair eyes saw each nail and cruel mark
- Upon the body of thy precious Son.
- Look on my desperate state!
- To thee for help I run.
- O virgin pure, perfect in every part;
- Daughter and mother of thy gentle Child,
- Sunbeam on earth, bright gem in heaven’s array!
- The Father’s Son and thine, O undefiled,
- Through thee (window of heaven that thou art!)
- Came to redeem us at the final day!
- And God among all dwellings of the earth
- Selected thee alone,
- O virgin, who the moan
- Of hapless Eve hast turned to joy and mirth;
- O make me worthy His unending love,
- Thou who in glory drest,
- Honoured and blest,
- Art crowned in heaven above.
- O virgin holy, filled with every grace;
- Who by thy deep and true humility
- Didst rise to heaven, where thou my prayer dost hear!
- Thou hast brought forth the Fount of Piety,
- The Sun of Justice, by whose shining grace
- An age in errors dark grows bright and clear.
- Three precious names united are in thee:
- Mother and wife and child!
- O virgin undefiled,
- Bride of the King whose love hath set us free
- From all our bonds and our poor world hath blest;
- By His wounds’ holy balm
- O may He calm
- My heart and give it rest!
- Virgin, who wast in all the world unique
- Enamouring heaven with thy comeliness,
- No other near or like thy perfect state!
- Pure thoughts and gracious deeds thy life did bless,
- And thou thy fruitful maidenhood and meek
- A living shrine to God didst consecrate!
- By thee my sad life can with joy resound,
- If thou but ask thy Child,
- Virgin devout and mild,
- Where sin abounded grace shall more abound;
- My spirit’s knees in orisons I bend,
- Be thou my guide, I pray;
- My devious way
- Bring to a happy end.
- O shining virgin, steadfast evermore!
- Thou radiant star above life’s stormy sea,
- And every faithful mariner’s trusty guide!
- In this wild tempest turn thy thoughts to me.
- See how I am beset! No helm nor oar!
- What shrieks of death are near on every side!
- My soul despairing puts her trust in thee.
- Sin will I not deny;
- Virgin, to thee I cry,
- Let not my pangs delight thine enemy!
- ’Twas to redeem our sins, remember well,
- That God took on afresh
- Our human flesh
- Within thy virgin cell.
- Virgin, how many were the tears I shed,
- How many years I prayed and longed and sighed!
- What was my guerdon? Grief and sorrow vain.
- Since I was born where Arno’s stream doth glide,
- From land to land my restless feet have sped,
- And life was naught but bitterness and pain.
- For mortal charms and gracious ways and dear
- Have clogged my heart and mind.
- O virgin holy, kind,
- Delay not. Haply ’tis my final year.
- My days like flying arrows speed away!
- In sin and misery
- They swiftly flee
- And death alone doth stay.
- Virgin, I mourn for one that now is clay,
- Who, living, filled mine eyes with many a tear,
- Yet of my thousand woes not one could see!
- And had she known them all, the griefs that were
- Would still have been; since any other way
- To me were death, to her were infamy.
- Thou queen of heaven, O goddess virginal—
- Thus may I name thee aright—
- Virgin of clearer sight
- Than ours, thou knowest all! Though others fail,
- The task is easy for thy powers supreme;
- End, then, my grief and woe,
- Thy grace bestow,
- And my poor soul redeem.
- Virgin, my only hope doth rest in thee!
- I know that thou wilt help my sad estate.
- Forsake me not upon death’s dark defile!
- Look not on me but Him who did create!
- Though I be naught, His image lives in me,
- And that must win thy care for one so vile!
- My Gorgon sin hath turned me into stone.
- Vain humours I distil.
- Virgin, do thou but fill
- With tears devout this aching heart and lone;
- That at the end my love may holier be,
- Without the taint of earth,
- Which at its birth
- Was wild idolatry.
- O Virgin meek, and of all pride the foe;
- Thy lowly birth win thee to hear my song;
- Have pity on an humble contrite heart!
- If with such constancy I could so long
- On one frail mortal clod my love bestow,
- What might I do for thee, God’s counterpart!
- If by thy hand I now may rise again
- From out my low estate,
- Virgin, I consecrate
- Unto thy service tongue and heart and brain,
- My thoughts, my songs, my sighs and anxious fears!
- Guide me in better ways
- And crown with praise
- These new desires and tears.
- My hour draws on, it is not far away
- (Thus fleeting time doth run);
- Virgin, thou only one!
- Upon my heart remorse and death do prey!
- Unto thy Son, true man, true God, commend
- My soul; to Him I cleave.
- May He receive
- My spirit at the end.
Macaulay says of this ode, ‘It is perhaps the finest hymn in the world. His devout veneration receives an exquisitely poetical character from the delicate perception of the sex and loveliness of his idol.’
In his very first sonnet, which he evidently wrote after all the rest and as an explanation of the whole, Petrarch thus speaks of the emptiness and vanity of his passion, but feels sure that those who have known love in their own experience will find pity and pardon for his changing moods.
Voi ch’ ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
- O ye who hear in these my scattered rhymes
- The sound of sighs that on my heart did prey,
- Drawn from the errors of those youthful times
- When I was other than I am to-day:
- Where’er ye be who love by proof have known,
- I sure shall pity find and pardon free
- For changing moods wherein I laugh or moan
- With empty hopes or vain despondency.
- Amid the multitude, I clearly see
- Of idle jest I long have been the theme,
- Until I blush at my simplicity,
- And all the fruit of love is bitter shame
- And vain repentance, till it clearly seems
- The things that charm the world are idle dreams.
Some time after these lyrics had been completed, the example of Dante’s Divina Commedia (which earlier in life he had refrained from reading lest he should imitate it) inspired Petrarch to undertake a longer poem in which Laura should be the pervading figure as Beatrice had been in Dante’s great work. The Trionfi, or Triumphs (of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Eternity), were the result. The poem as a whole was not equal to the sonnets, odes, ballads, and madrigals of the Canzoniere, but it contains much that entitles it to a creditable rank in literature, and there is one passage so delicate and beautiful that it may well form a fitting conclusion to this little book of selections from his poems. He thus describes the death of Laura as it presented itself to his imagination in the Trionfo della Morte.
- Not like a flame that by the wind is spent,
- But one that of itself doth fade away,
- She did depart in peace, her soul content;
- As if it were some soft and gentle ray
- Whose nourishment hath failed, which waneth slow,
- Yet keepeth to the end its wonted way.
- Not pallid she, but whiter than the snow
- That in the calm air on a hill-side lies,
- She rests like one who doth aweary grow.
- A slumber sweet, falling on tired eyes,
- A spirit parting from its earthly place:
- Of these the witless speak and say, ‘She dies,’
- And death seems beautiful in her fair face.