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

Medieval love poetry was highly influenced by courtly love poetry. All the famous poets of the middle ages employed the courtly love conventions of the Troubadours in both rhyme and song.

Petrarch was undeniably a guiding light and seminal influence on medieval European literature and the renaissance that followed on its heels. Poems 29 and 30 from his Canzoniere is the focus of this page. Enjoy his medieval love poetry, dear reader:

29. 'Verdi panni, sanguigni, oscuri o persi'

Green dresses, crimson, black or purple,

were never worn by ladies,

nor golden hair tied in a fair braid,

as beautifully as she who robs me

of my will, and takes away the path

of my liberty, so I cannot even

tolerate a lighter yoke.

And even if my spirit begins to grieve,

losing its judgement,

when suffering brings doubt,

the loose will is quickly restrained

by the sight of her, who razes from my heart

every mad project, and makes all

disdain sweet through seeing her.

I will have revenge, for all that Love

has made me suffer, all I must still suffer

until she heals the heart she ravaged,

she, alien to pity, but still enticing,

unless Anger and Pride opposing Humility

close off and deny the way

that leads to her.

And the day and the hour that opened my eyes

to the lovely dark and the lovely white

that emptied me of that where Love now lives,

were the new roots of the life that troubles me,

as she does in whom our age is reflected,

for he is made of lead or stone

whom she does not make afraid.

So no tear of those I weep,

because of these arrow-tips

bathing my heart, that first felt them, in blood,

signifies that I un-wish what I wished,

the punishment falls in the right place:

through the eyes my soul sighs, and it's right

that they bathe my wounds.

My own thoughts struggle against me:

so Dido, weary as I am now,

turned her beloved sword against herself:

yet I do not pray for my freedom,

since all other roads to heaven are less true,

and there is no safer ship in which to aspire

to the glorious kingdom.

Benign stars that were friends

to that fortunate womb

when that beauty came to this world!

She is a star on earth, and she keeps

her chastity as laurel stays green,

so no lightning strikes her, no shameful breeze

can ever force her.

I know that to capture her praise in verse

would be to exceed

the most worthy that set hand to writing.

What cell of memory is there in which to hold

so much virtue and so much beauty together

that shine in her eyes, the sign of all value,

the key to unlock my heart.

Lady, beneath the sun's circle, Love has

no greater treasure than you.

In medieval love poetry, one feature that distinguishes the great Italian poets like Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, is the depth and quality of their scholastic prowess. Petrarch in particular displays great erudition and amazing verbosity in his poetry. His medieval love poetry as contained in Rime sparse can sometimes be quite lengthy, as in poem 30:

30. 'Giovene donna sotto un verde lauro'

(Sestina form)

I saw a girl under green laurel

colder and whiter than the snow

untouched by the sun for many years:

and her speech, her lovely face, her hair

so please me that she's before my eyes,

and will be always, wherever, on sea or shore.

My thoughts at last will come to shore,

when there are no green leaves on laurel:

when I've quieted my heart, dried my eyes,

we'll see freezing fire and burning snow:

and there's not as many strands in my hair

as the years I'd wait to see that, and years.

But since time flies and they vanish, those years,

so that death comes to us, and so sure

either with dark hair or with white hair

I'll follow the shadow of that sweet laurel,

through the brightest sun and through the snow,

until the last day closes my eyes.

Such lovely eyes were never seen

in our age or in earlier years,

that melt me as sun melts the snow:

from which proceeds a tear-drenched shore

a stream that Love leads under harsh laurel,

that has branches of steel, and golden hair.

I fear I'll be altered in face and hair

before I see real pity in her eyes,

my idol sculptured from living laurel:

if I've not miscounted it's seven years

today that I've sighed from shore to shore,

night and day, in heat and snow.

Fire inside, outside white snow

alone with these thoughts, with altered hair,

I'll walk weeping along every shore

so that pity perhaps will appear in eyes

not to be born for a thousand years,

if such is the span of cultured laurel.

The laurel, topaz in sun on snow,

is exceeded by blonde hair near the eyes

that bring my years so slowly to shore.

The word, Laurel in this medieval love poetry could be either a play on words, referring to Laura, or perhaps a double entendre, alluding to the distinction accorded him as poet laureate in 1341. Ostensibly, the first such grant since ancient times.

More medieval love poetry from Petrarch's Canzoniere awaits:

Petrarch 6

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