Medieval Love Poetry reached its peak with Francesco Petrarch's Rime sparse

Petrarch's Rime sparse or scattered rhymes are his main contribution to medieval love poetry. They were mainly dedicated to his great love Laura. Let us take a look at the first five:

1. 'Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono'

You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes,

of those sighs on which I fed my heart,

in my first vagrant youthfulness,

when I was partly other than I am,

I hope to find pity, and forgiveness,

for all the modes in which I talk and weep,

between vain hope and vain sadness,

in those who understand love through its trials.

Yet I see clearly now I have become

an old tale amongst all these people, so that

it often makes me ashamed of myself;

and shame is the fruit of my vanities,

and remorse, and the clearest knowledge

of how the world's delight is a brief dream.

Right from the onset of his medieval love poetry, Petrarch pulls us into his pained existence...

"You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes, of those sighs on which I fed my heart...

With our sympathies suitably sought, the poet gains courage to venture forth like this:

2. 'Per fare una leggiadra sua vendetta'

To make a graceful act of revenge,

and punish a thousand wrongs in a single day,

Love secretly took up his bow again,

like a man who waits the time and place to strike.

My power was constricted in my heart,

making defence there, and in my eyes,

when the mortal blow descended there,

where all other arrows had been blunted.

So, confused by the first assault,

it had no opportunity or strength

to take up arms when they were needed,

or withdraw me shrewdly to the high,

steep hill, out of the torment,

from which it wishes to save me now but cannot.

3. 'Era il giorno ch'al sol si scoloraro'

It was on that day when the sun's ray

was darkened in pity for its Maker,

that I was captured, and did not defend myself,

because your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady.

It did not seem to me to be a time to guard myself

against Love's blows: so I went on

confident, unsuspecting; from that, my troubles

started, amongst the public sorrows.

Love discovered me all weaponless,

and opened the way to the heart through the eyes,

which are made the passageways and doors of tears:

so that it seems to me it does him little honour

to wound me with his arrow, in that state,

he not showing his bow at all to you who are armed.

These opening verses as examples of Petrarch's medieval love poetry, indicate the initial euphoria that the poet feels on discovering his love. The next two poems continue in similar vein. Of course this does not last, and as you will see in the next few pages, despair very quickly sets in!

4 'Que' ch'infinita providentia et arte'

What infinite providence and art

He showed in his wonderful mastery,

who created this and the other hemisphere,

and Jupiter far gentler than Mars,

descending to earth to illuminate the page

which had for many years concealed the truth,

taking John from the nets, and Peter,

and making them part of heaven's kingdom.

It did not please him to be born in Rome,

but in Judea: to exalt humility

to such a supreme state always pleases him;

and now from a little village a sun is given,

such that the place, and nature, praise themselves,

out of which so lovely a lady is born to the world.

5. 'Quando io movo i sospiri a chiamar voi,'

When I utter sighs, in calling out to you,

with the name that Love wrote on my heart,

the sound of its first sweet accents begin

to be heard within the word laudable.

Your regal state, that I next encounter,

doubles my power for the high attempt;

but: 'tacit', the ending cries, 'since to do her honour

is for other men's shoulders, not for yours'.

So, whenever one calls out to you,

the voice itself teaches us to laud, revere,

you, O, lady worthy of all reverence and honour:

except perhaps that Apollo is disdainful

that mortal tongue can be so presumptuous

as to speak of his eternally green branches.

Petrarch's medieval love poetry is full of reference to classic literature. He was a great scholar and in these poems we can see how much influence classical culture had on him.

There are more medieval love poetry from his Rime sparse available:

Petrarch 3

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