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

Welcome to the final renditions of the best of Francesco Petrarch's medieval love poetry taken from The Canzoniere (Song Book). The Canzoniere was a later compilation by scholars of 366 Poems of Petrarch's, known as Rime sparse (Scattered rhymes) and dedicated to his great love obsession, Laure de Noves

I have chosen 5 poems from the canzoniere, to bring to this page to a close. These are poems 61, 65, 82, 102 and 132. The last stanza of poem 37 which I also include, serves as an epilogue of sorts. I could not ignore it because it is a masterpiece of medieval love poetry which highlights the literary genius of one of the guiding lights of the Renaissance.

61. 'Benedetto sia 'l giorno, et 'l mese, et l'anno,'

Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year,

and the season, and the time, and the hour, and the moment,

and the beautiful country, and the place where I was joined

to the two beautiful eyes that have bound me:

and blessed be the first sweet suffering

that I felt in being conjoined with Love,

and the bow, and the shafts with which I was pierced,

and the wounds that run to the depths of my heart.

Blessed be all those verses I scattered

calling out the name of my lady,

and the sighs, and the tears, and the passion:

and blessed be all the sheets

where I acquire fame, and my thoughts,

that are only of her, that no one else has part of.

Beautiful medieval love poetry!

'Blessed be all those verses I scattered calling out the name of my lady'...

All 366 of them! Rarely it seems has so much time and poetic energy been bent to the sole purpose of extolling one woman's virtue as Petrarch did to immortalise his Laura!

65. 'Lasso, che mal accorto fui da prima'

Alas, how unprepared I was at first

that day when Love came to wound me,

and step by step made himself the lord

of my life, and took his place at the head.

I did not think that rasping power of his

could ever lessen by a jot the firmness

or the strength of my well-tempered heart:

but so it is when we overestimate the truth.

From now on all defence comes too late,

other than to prove whether Love

listens to mortal prayers much, or little.

I do not pray, since there is no purpose,

that my heart should ever burn less fiercely,

but only that she might share part of the fire.

82. 'Io non fu' d'amar voi lassato unquancho'

I have never tired of love for you,

my Lady, nor will I while I live:

but hatred of my self has reached its end,

and I am weary of continual weeping:

and I'd rather have a plain stone sepulchre,

than your name be written as author of my hurt,

on some marble: where my body's laid

without my spirit, that might still remain with you.

So, if a heart full of loving loyalty

can satisfy you, without causing harm,

favour me now by granting mercy.

If your disdain wanders some other way

seeking to be sated, and finds nothing worthy:

then Love and I will receive sufficient thanks.

102. 'Cesare, poi che 'l traditor d'Egitto'

When Ptolemy the Egyptian traitor

made him a gift of Pompey's honoured head,

Caesar, hiding his obvious delight,

had tears in his eyes, so it is written:

and Hannibal, seeing harsh Fortune

so hostile to his troubled empire,

smiled among his sad and weeping people

to lessen the bitter injury.

And so it is that every mind

veils its passion with its opposite,

cloaked with a bright or a dark look:

therefore if you see me smile or sing,

I do it since that is the only way

to hide the anguish of my weeping.

Poem 102, is an example of how medieval love poetry visibly set the standards for all romantic and popular expressions of love sickness down to the present! Modern day Blues singers often employed this concept of how 'every mind veils its passion with its opposite,' in their lyrics.

Lovers of this music will be quite familiar with the common refrain: 'I am laughing to keep from crying'. The Black American Blues Shouters of the 1930's may not have used quite the same words as the poets of the Renaissance, like:

'therefore if you see me smile or sing, I do it since that is the only way to hide the anguish of my weeping'.

But their more 'rough and ready' lyrics conveyed the same meaning. Incredibly, this connecting strand encompasses 600 years! From the medieval love poetry of Petrarch to the popular Blues music created by the enslaved Negroes of the American Mississippi Delta South, we can see the uncanny similarity of human expression where the vagaries of love and the heart are concerned.

132. 'S'amor non è, che dunque è quel ch'io sento?

What do I feel if this is not love?

But if it is love, God, what thing is this?

If good, why this effect: bitter, mortal?

If bad, then why is every suffering sweet?

If I desire to burn, why tears and grief?

If my state's evil, what's the use of grieving?

O living death, O delightful evil,

how can you be in me so, if I do not consent?

And if I consent, I am greatly wrong in sorrowing.

Among conflicting winds in a frail boat

I find myself on the deep sea without a helm,

so light in knowledge, so laden with error,

that I do not know what I wish myself,

and tremble in midsummer, burn in winter.

Poem 132 highlights all the contradictions and wretched anguish of the passions of the courtly love genre. The lover must perforce 'tremble in midsummer,(and) burn in winter'. It also displays the lyrical genius of Petrarch's medieval love poetry.

Let us close with just as powerful a reminder of the art and medieval love poetry of Francesco Petrarch, from the final stanza of his lengthy poem 37. For me dear reader, as I have mentioned earlier, medieval love poetry reached a pinnacle with the verses of this redoutable Italian man of letters, this quintessential renaissance man, this Petrarch!

Song, if you see my lady

in that sweet place,

I know well you think

she'll stretch out her lovely hand to you

that I am far away from.

Do not touch it: but do reverence at her feet

and say I shall be there as swiftly as I can,

as naked spirit, or man of flesh and bone.

Thank you so much for lasting the full course on our journey through the world of medieval love poetry.

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