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

Petrarch's medieval love poetry is contained in his Rimes sparse (Scattered Rhymes) dedicated wholly to Laura, the consuming love of his life.

In continuing with examples from the Canzoniere, let us look on this page at poems 18, 20, 21 and 22.

18. 'Quan'io son tutto vòlto in quella parte'

When I have turned my eyes to that place

where my lady's lovely face shines,

and that light leaves me not a thought

while I burn and melt away inside,

I fear lest my heart parts from my self,

and seeing the end of my light nearing,

I go like a blind man, without light,

who knows no way to go, but must depart.

I receive so many deadly blows

I flee: but not so quickly that desire

does not come with me as is his wont.

I go silently, since one deadly word

would make men weep: and I desire

that my tears might be shed alone.

Poem 20 from the Canzoniere, is a fine example of medieval love poetry. In it Petrarch fears that he cannot do justice to his passion for Laura in his verses. For him, giving expression to his longing is inadequate in the face of her overwhelming beauty!

20. 'Vergognando talor ch'ancor si taccia,'

Ashamed sometimes that your beauty,

lady, is still silent in my verses,

I recall that time when I first saw it,

such that nothing else could ever please me.

But I find the weight too great for my shoulder,

a work not to be polished by my skill:

the more my wit exercises its force

the more its whole action grows cold.

Many times my lips have opened to speak,

but my voice is stilled in my chest:

who is he who could climb so high?

Many times I've begun to scribble verses:

but the pen, the hand, and the intellect

fell back defeated at their first attempt.

Petrarch's medieval love poetry is quite abject and forlorn of redemptive hope at this stage. It is almost a study in self flagellation, and it does not end:

21. 'Mille fiate, o dolce mia guerrera,'

I have offered you my heart a thousand times

O my sweet warrior, only to make peace

with your lovely eyes: but it does not please you

with your noble mind, to stoop so low.

And if some other lady has hope of it,

she lives in powerless, deceiving hope:

and it can never be what it was to me,

since I too disdain what does not please you.

Now if I banish it, and it does not find in you

any aid in its unhappy exile, nor knows

how to be alone, nor to go where others call to it,

it might stray from its natural course:

which would be a grave crime for both of us,

and more for you, since it loves you more.

22. 'A qualunque animale alberga in terra,' (Sestina)

The time to labour, for every animal

that inhabits earth, is when it is still day,

except for those to whom the sun is hateful:

but then when heaven sets fire to its stars,

some turn for home and some nestle in the woods

to find some rest before the dawn.

And I may not cease to sigh with the sun,

from when dawn begins to scatter

the shadows from around the Earth,

waking the animals in every woodland:

yet when I see the flaming of the stars

I go weeping, and desire the day.

When the evening drives out daylight's clarity,

and our shadow makes another's dawn,

I gaze pensively at cruel stars,

that have created me of sentient earth:

and I curse the day I saw the sun,

that makes me in aspect like a wild man of the woods.

I do not think that any creature so harsh

grazed the woods, either by night or day,

as she, through whom I weep in sun or shade:

and I am not wearied by first sleep or dawn:

for though I am mortal body of this earth,

my fixed desire comes from the stars.

Might I see pity in her, for one day,

before I return to you, bright stars,

or turning back into cherished woodland,

leave my body changed to dry earth,

it would restore many years, and before dawn

enrich me at the setting of the sun.

May I be with her when the sun departs,

and seen by no one but the stars,

for one sole night, and may there be no dawn:

and may she not be changed to green woodland,

issuing from my arms, as on the day

when Apollo pursued her down here on earth.

But I will be beneath the wood's dry earth,

and daylight will be full of little stars,

before the sun achieves so sweet a dawn.

In Greek mythology, Apollo pursued Daphne who was transformed into a laurel bough. In this particular medieval love poetry, Petrarch skillfully employed this imagery as a play on Laura's name.

As medieval love poetry, verse 22 is quite interesting as a good example of how Petrarch uses his classic training to enrich his medieval love poetry. In the following pages, we shall see how he often employs this style:

Petrarch 5

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