- 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
‘EPISTLE TO POSTERITY’
‘Francis Petrarch to Posterity—Greeting’
‘Perhaps, future reader, you may have heard somewhat about me, doubtful though it may be whether a name so humble and obscure as mine is likely to travel far in point either of time or space. Perhaps, even, you may wish to know what sort of man I was, or what was the fate of my works, and of those in particular whose reputation may have reached you, or whose name, however faintly, you may have heard.
‘As to the first point, indeed, men’s opinions will differ; for nearly every one speaks pretty much, not as truth but as inclination urges: there are no bounds either to eulogy or to blame. One of the human family like yourself, I was but a child of earth and mortal; of an origin neither particularly illustrious nor humble, my family, as Augustus Caesar says of himself, was ancient. Nature gave me neither a bad nor an immodest disposition, had not the contagion of social intercourse injured it. Youth deceived me; manhood carried me away; but old age corrected me, and by experience taught me thoroughly that truth which I had long before studied, namely, that youth and pleasure are vanities. Of a truth the Fashioner of every age and time suffers poor mortals, who are puffed up about nothing, at times to go astray, that they may realize, though late, the remembrance of their sins.
‘My body, when I was a young man, was not remarkable for strength, but had acquired considerable dexterity. I do not pride myself on any excellence of form, beyond such as might be pleasing to a man of greener years. My complexion was lively, half-way between fair and dusk. My eyes were sparkling, and for a long time my sight was extremely keen, until it failed me unexpectedly when past my sixtieth year; so that I was forced, much against the grain, to have recourse to spectacles. Old age came at last upon a body which had never known what illness was, and besieged it with the accustomed array of diseases.
‘I was born of honourable parents of the city of Florence. Their fortune was scanty, and, to tell the truth, verging towards poverty; but they were exiles from their country. I was born in exile at Arezzo, on Monday, July 20, 1304. Riches I held in sovereign contempt, not because I did not wish to have them, but because I hated the labour and anxiety which are the inseparable companions of wealth. I cared not for abundance of sumptuous repasts; on the contrary, with humble fare and common food I led a more enjoyable life than all the successors of Apicius, with their most exquisite dishes. Banquets, as they are called—or rather eating entertainments, inimical alike to modesty and good manners—have always been displeasing to me. I have counted it an irksome and a useless thing to invite others to such gatherings, and no less so to be invited by others. But to associate with my friends has been so agreeable to me, that I have held nothing more grateful than their arrival, nor have ever willingly broken bread without a companion. Nothing displeased me more than show, not only because it is bad and contrary to humility, but because it is irksome and an enemy of repose. In youth I felt the pains of love, vehement in the extreme, but constant to one object and honourable; and I should have felt them longer had not death—bitter, indeed, but useful—extinguished the flame as it was beginning to subside. As for the looser indulgences of appetite, would indeed that I could say I was a stranger to them altogether; but if I should so say, I should lie. This I can safely affirm, that although I was hurried away to them by the fervour of my age and temperament, their vileness I have always inwardly execrated. Soon, indeed, as I approached my fortieth year, while I still retained sufficient ardour and vigour, I repelled these weaknesses entirely from my thoughts and my remembrance, as if I had never known them. And this I count among my earliest happy recollections, thanking God, who has freed me, while yet my powers were unimpaired and strong, from this so vile and always hateful servitude.
‘But I pass on to other matters. I was conscious of pride in others, but not in myself; and insignificant as I might be in reality, I was always more insignificant in my own estimation. My irritable temper often injured myself, but it never injured others. Honourable and trusty friendships I keenly sought and cultivated—I fearlessly boast that, so far as I know, I speak the truth. Although easily provoked, I was ready to forget offences, and mindful of kind actions. I was favoured with the familiar intercourse of princes and kings, and with the friendships of the great to an extent that excited the envy of others. But it is the penalty of men who grow old that they have to deplore the death of their friends. The most illustrious sovereigns of my own times loved and honoured me—why, I can hardly say; it is for them, not me, to explain; but as I lived with some of them on the same terms on which they lived with me I suffered not at all from the eminence of their rank, but rather derived from it great benefits. Yet many of those whom I dearly loved, I avoided; so great was my innate love of liberty that I studiously shunned any one whose very name might seem to restrict my freedom.
‘My mind was rather well balanced than acute; adapted to every good and wholesome study, but especially prone to philosophy and poetry. And yet even this I neglected, as time went on, through the pleasure I took in sacred literature. I felt a hidden sweetness in that subject, which at times I had despised; and I reserved poetry as a mere accomplishment. I devoted myself singly, amid a multitude of subjects, to the knowledge of antiquity; since the age in which I lived was almost distasteful to me—so much so that, had it not been for the love of those who were very dear to me, I should always have wished to have been born at any other time, and to forget the present, ever struggling to engraft myself upon the past. Accordingly, I delighted in historians—not, however, being in any way the less offended at their contradictions, but following, when in doubt, that path which verisimilitude or the authority due to the writer pointed out.
‘As a speaker, some have said I was clear and powerful; but, as it seemed to myself, weak and obscure. Nor indeed in ordinary conversation with my friends or acquaintances did I ever aspire to eloquence; and I wonder that Augustus Caesar took pains to excel in conversation. But when the subject itself, or the place, or the hearer seemed otherwise to demand it, I made somewhat of an effort—though with what success I know not; let those judge of that in whose presence I spoke. So that I have lived well, I care but little how I talked: it is a windy sort of glory to seek fame from the mere glitter of words.
‘My time, whether by fortune or inclination, was thus divided. The first year of my life, and that not wholly, I spent at Arezzo, where nature first made me see the light, the six following years at Incisa, a small estate of my father’s fourteen miles from Florence. My eighth year, after my mother had been recalled from exile, I spent at Pisa; my ninth and subsequent years in transalpine Gaul, on the left bank of the Rhône. Avignon was the city’s name, where the Roman Pontiff maintains, and has long maintained, the Church of Christ, although a few years ago Urban V seemed to have returned to his true home. But his intention miscarried even in his lifetime, for (what affects me most) he gave it up, as if repenting of his good work. Had only he lived a little longer, he would doubtless have known what I thought of his departure. The pen was already in my hands, when suddenly he found his glorious resolution cut short with his life. Alas! how happily might he have died before the altar of Peter, and in his own home! For whether his successors had remained in the august see, and completed the work he would have begun, or whether they had departed from it, his merit would have been the more illustrious, and their fault the more conspicuous to the world. But this is a tedious and irrelevant complaint.
‘There, then, by the banks of that windy river, I spent my boyhood under my parents’ care, and afterwards the whole period of my early youth, abandoned to my own caprices; not, however, without long intervals of absence. For during this time I stayed for four whole years at Carpentras, a small town lying near Avignon on the east; and in these two places I learned a smattering of grammar, and as much of dialectics and rhetoric as the age could afford—as much, that is to say, as is wont to be taught in the schools; though how little that is, you know, dear reader, well enough. Thence I went to Montpellier to study law, where I spent another four years; thence to Bologna; and there I remained three years, and attended lectures on the whole corpus of civil law; being then a young man of great promise, as many thought, if I persevered in my work. But I abandoned that study altogether; and shortly afterwards I lost my parents. I abandoned it, not because the authority of the laws was irksome to me, which doubtless is great, and redolent of that Roman antiquity in which I delight, but because the practice of those laws is depraved by the wickedness of men. I was disgusted at the thought of having to study thoroughly that which I was resolved not to turn to dishonourable, and could scarcely turn to honourable, uses, for such prudery would have been attributed to ignorance. Accordingly, in my twenty-second year I returned home. By home I mean that exile at Avignon where I had been since the close of my childhood; for custom is second nature. There I had already begun to be known, and my acquaintance to be sought by men of eminence, though why I confess now I know not, and wonder. At that time, indeed, I was not surprised at seeming to myself, after the fashion common to men of my age, well worthy of all honour. I was sought after, above all, by the illustrious and noble family of the Colonnas, who then frequented—I should rather say adorned—the Court of Rome. Especially, I was invited, and I was held in honour—undeserved, certainly, at that time, if not also now—by that illustrious and incomparable man, Giacomo Colonna, then Bishop of Lombes, whose equal I know not if I have seen, or am likely to see. In Gascony, at the foot of the Pyrenees, I spent an almost heavenly summer, in the delightful society of my lord and our companions—so delightful that I always sigh when thinking of that time. Returning thence, I remained for many years with his brother John, the Cardinal Colonna, not, as it were, under a patron, but under a father—nay, not even that, say rather a most affectionate brother, with whom I lived as at home and in my own house.
‘At that time a youthful longing drove me to travel through France and Germany; and although other reasons were invented, in order to recommend my going in the eyes of my elders, yet the real reason was my ardour and eagerness for new scenes. In that journey I first saw Paris, and took delight in finding out for myself what reports were true and what were false about that city. Returning thence, I went to Rome, a city I had longed to see from my infancy. Stephen Colonna, the noble-minded father of that family, and a man equal to the ancients, I loved so dearly, and was so kindly welcomed by him in return, that there was scarcely any difference between myself and any one of his sons. The love and affection of this excellent man continued towards me in unbroken tenor to the last hour of his life, and survive in me still, nor shall ever desert me till I die.
‘Returning again from Rome, and being ill able to endure the hatred and weariness implanted in my mind in that most wearisome abode of Avignon, seeking some by-way of retirement as a port of refuge, I found a valley, tiny in size but solitary and agreeable, called Vaucluse, fifteen miles from Avignon, where the Sorga, the king of streams, takes its source. Charmed with the sweetness of the spot, I betook myself thither with my books. It would be a long story were I to proceed to trace at length my life there for many, many years. The sum of it all is this, that nearly every work that I have published was either finished, or begun, or conceived there. Those works have been so numerous as to exercise and fatigue me even to this day. For my mind, like my body, was remarkable rather for dexterity than strength; and thus I found many things easy to meditate which I neglected afterwards as difficult to carry out. Here the very aspect of the neighbourhood suggested to me to attempt a bucolic poem, a pastoral, as well as the two books on “Solitary Life” dedicated to Philip, a man great at all times, but then a humble Bishop of Cavaillon, now the bishop of a much greater diocese, and a cardinal, who is now the sole survivor of all my old friends, and who loved, and still loves me, not episcopally, so to speak, as Ambrosius loved Augustine, but as a brother.
‘As I roamed about those hills, on the sixth day of the great week, it occurred to me, and I determined, to write a poem in heroic verse on Scipio Africanus the Elder, him, I mean, whose marvellous name was always dear to me from my first boyhood. What I then began, ardent with the impulse of the moment, I soon discontinued under the distraction of other cares; but from the name of the subject I gave the title of Africa to the book—a work which, I know not by what fortune, its own or mine, was a favourite with many before it was generally known.
‘While I was thus spinning out my leisure in that retreat, on one and the same day I received letters both from the Senate at Rome and from the Chancellor of the University of Paris, sending rival invitations to me—the former from Rome, the latter from Paris—to accept the laurel crown of poetry. Elated with pride, as was natural with a young man at these proposals, and judging myself worthy of the honour, inasmuch as men of such eminence had thought so, yet weighing not my own merit, but the testimonies of others, I hesitated, nevertheless, for awhile as to which invitation I should prefer to accept. On this matter I wrote to Cardinal Colonna, whom I have mentioned, asking his advice; for he was so near a neighbour that although I had written to him late, I received his answer before nine o’clock the next day. I followed the advice he gave me, and my answers to him are still extant. Accordingly, I set out; and although, as is the way young men, I was a very partial judge of my own productions, still I scrupled to follow the testimony given by myself, or of those by whom I was invited—though doubtless they would not have invited me, had they not judged me worthy of the honour thus offered. I determined, therefore, to land first at Naples, where I sought out that distinguished king and philosopher, Robert—not more illustrious as a sovereign than as a man of letters, and unique in his age as a king and a friend of science and virtue—for the purpose of enabling him to express his personal opinion about me. His flattering estimate of me, and the kindly welcome he gave me, are matters now of wonder to me; and you, reader, if you had seen it, would wonder too. When he heard the cause of my arrival, he was marvellously delighted, reflecting as he did on my youthful confidence, and thinking perhaps that the honour which I was seeking was not without some advantage to his own reputation, inasmuch as I had chosen him of all men as the sole competent judge of my abilities. Why should I say more? After innumerable colloquies on various subjects, and after having shown to him the “Africa”, with which he was so delighted as to ask me, as a great kindness, to dedicate it to himself—a request which I could not and certainly did not wish to refuse—he appointed a certain day for the matter on which I had come, and detained me from noon till evening. And as the time fell short from the abundance of matter, he did the same thing on the two following days, and thus for three whole days I shook off my ignorance, and on the third day he adjudged me worthy of the laurel crown. He offered it to me at Naples, and even urged me with entreaties to accept it. My affection for Rome prevailed over the gracious solicitation of so illustrious a king; and thus, seeing my purpose was inflexible, he gave me letters and dispatches to the Senate of Rome, in which he expressed his judgement of me in highly flattering terms. And, indeed, what was then the judgement of the king agreed with that of many others, and especially with my own, though at this day I differ from the estimate then formed of me by him, as well as by myself and others. Affection for me and the partiality of the age swayed him more than respect for the truth. So I came (to Rome), and however unworthy, yet trusting and relying upon so high a sanction, I received the laurel crown while I was still but an unfledged scholar, amid the utmost rejoicings of the Romans who were able to take part in the ceremony. I have written letters on this subject both in verse and in prose. This laurel crown gained for me no knowledge, but a great deal of envy. But this story also has strayed beyond its limits.
‘Departing from Rome, I went to Parma, and stayed some time with the Lords of Correggio, who were the best of men and most liberally disposed towards myself, but sadly at enmity among each other; and who at that time were ruling in such a fashion as the city had never experienced before within the memory of man, nor I believe will ever in this age experience again. Mindful of the honour I had accepted, and anxious lest it might seem to have been conferred upon an unworthy recipient, having one day, after climbing by chance a mountain in the neighbourhood, been suddenly struck with the appearance of the place, I turned my pen once more to the interrupted poem of “Africa” and finding that fervour rekindled which had appeared quite laid to sleep, I wrote a little that very day. I added afterwards a little day by day, until, after returning to Parma and obtaining a retired and quiet house, which I subsequently bought and still retain, my intense ardour, which even now I am amazed at, enabled me before long to bring the work to a conclusion. Returning thence, I sought once more the Sorga and my transalpine solitude, just as I was turning my back on my four-and-thirtieth year ; having spent a long while at Parma and Verona, being welcomed with affection everywhere, thank God—far more so, indeed, than I deserved.
‘After a long while, having gained the favour of a most worthy man and one whose equal, I think, did not exist among the nobles of that age—I mean Giacomo di Carrara—I was urged by him with such pressing entreaties, addressed to me for several years both through messengers and letters even across the Alps, when I was in those parts, and wherever I chanced to be in Italy, to embrace his friendship, that I resolved at length to pay him a visit, and to discover the reason of this urgent solicitation from a man so eminent and a stranger to myself. I came, therefore, tardily indeed, to Padua, where I was received by that man of illustrious memory not only with courtesy, but as happy spirits are welcomed in heaven; with such abundant joy and such inestimable kindness and affection, that I must fain suppress it in silence, being hopeless of doing justice to it in words. Knowing, among many other things, that I had embraced from boyhood the clerical life, and with a view to attach me the more closely not only to himself but also to his country, he caused me to be appointed a Canon of Padua; and, in short, if his life had only been longer there would then have been an end of my wandering and my travels. But, alas! there is nothing lasting among mortals, and if aught of sweetness chanced to present itself in life soon comes the bitter end, and it is gone. When, ere two years had been completed, God took him from me, his country, and the world, He took away one of whom neither I, nor his country, nor the world (my love to him does not deceive me) were worthy. And although he was succeeded by a son, conspicuous alike for his sagacity and renown, and who, following in his father’s footsteps, always held me in affection and honour, nevertheless, when I had lost one whose age was more congenial to my own, I returned again to France, not caring to remain where I was, my object being not so much the longing to revisit places I had seen a thousand times before, as a desire, common to all men in trouble, of ministering to the ennui of life by a change of scene.’