by Francesco Petrarch
THE LITERARY WORK
A connected sequence of lyric poems set in Italy and Avignon, France, during the fourteenth century; published in Italian (as Rerum vulgarium fragmenta [Fragments in the Vernacular]) in 1470, in English in part c. 1557.
A poet relates the vicissitudes of his love for an unattainable woman, a love that endures even after her death.
Born in the Tuscan city of Arezzo in 1304, Francesco Petrarca (better known as Petrarch) was the son of an exiled Florentine notary. His early years were spent in Pisa, Tuscany, and in Avignon, and Carpentras in Provence, where he was educated in grammar and rhetoric. In 1316 he began legal studies, first at Montpellier, then in Bologna. Upon the death of his father, however, Petrarch abandoned the law to pursue a Church career that would enable him to concentrate on literature and scholarship instead. He returned to Avignon and in 1330 was appointed household chaplain to Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, who remained Petrarch’s patron for many years. While in Colonna’s service, Petrarch purchased a house in Vaucluse on the left bank of the Sorgue River and began to compose Italian lyrics and scholarly works in Latin, including the Africa, an epic celebrating the military hero Scipio Africanus, and De viris illustribus (On Famous Men), historical biographies written in the manner of the Roman historian Livy. Petrarch eventually acquired a reputation as one of the foremost Italian humanists, members of a widespread intellectual movement inspired by classical art and classical writings on philosophy, history, science, and literature. In 1341 Petrarch was crowned poet laureate at the Campidoglio in Rome. He was at this point hard at work on the Canzoniere (poetic “songbook”), otherwise known as the Rime Sparse (“scattered rhymes”). The work is a series of erotic poems that Petrarch wrote in the Italian vernacular about his love for the mysterious beauty “Laura,” whom he first encountered on April 6, 1327, at the church of St. Clare. Apparently in 1348 Laura and Cardinal Colonna both succumbed to the Black Death, the bubonic plague that was ravaging Europe. Petrarch himself escaped the plague, though he recorded these devastating personal losses in the Canzoniere; Laura’s death, in particular, shaped the resolution of the sequence of poems. Tiring of Church politics, Petrarch left Avignon in 1353 and spent his remaining years in various Italian provinces. He continued work on the Canzoniere, sorting and arranging its poems, until his death in 1374. Although Petrarch was best known among contemporaries for his Latin writings, his vernacular works, especially the Canzoniere, are now regarded as his masterpieces. His exploration of the emotional states of love, yearning, and spiritual aspiration in this work would have a major influence on future generations of poets.
At the center of the Canzoniere is the enigmatic figure of Laura, whose beauty, chastity, and unattainableness inspired most of Petrarch’s Italian poems. Several attempts have been made to identify a real-life “Laura”; at one point, she was believed to be Laura de Noves, an ancestress of the Marquis de Sade. But these attempts ultimately proved fruitless, leading some to speculate that Laura was wholly a creation of the imagination. Petrarch, however, assured at least one skeptical friend, Giacomo Colonna, that “Laura” and his passion for her were real: “I wish indeed,” remarked the poet, “that you were joking about this particular subject, and that she indeed had been a fiction and not a madness” (Petrarch in Braden, p. 16).
Additional proof of Laura’s existence appeared on the flyleaf of Petrarch’s copy of Virgil’s poetry. In the habit of writing obituaries of his friends and relatives, Petrarch apparently penned the following note about his beloved:
Laura, illustrious through her own virtues, and long famed through my verses, first appeared to my eyes in my youth, in the year of our Lord 1327, on the sixth day of April, in the church of St. Clare in Avignon, at matins; and in the same city, also on the sixth day of April, at the same first hour, but in the year 1348, the light of her life was withdrawn from the light of day, while I, as it chanced, was in Verona, unaware of my fate. The sad tidings reached me in Parma, in the same year, on the morning of the 19th day of May, in a letter from my Ludovicus. Her chaste and lovely form was laid to rest at vesper time, on the same day on which she died in the burial place of the Brothers minor. I am persuaded that her soul returned to the heaven from which it came, as Seneca says of Africanus.
(Petrarca, Canzoniere, pp. 5–6)
Other evidence comes in the form of a portrait of Laura. Mentioned in Sonnets 77 and 78 of the Canzoniere, it was painted by Simone Martini of Siena but was then lost.
Poems from the Canzoniere describe Laura as blonde and beautiful. Beyond these details, however, little is known about her. Her social rank and marital status are never revealed in the poetry, nor is the exact nature of her relationship with Petrarch, whether they were friends, mere acquaintances, or even complete strangers. Nonetheless, Laura, or rather Petrarch’s response to Laura, determined the overall shape of the Canzoniere. While her thoughts and emotions remain unknowable, those of her lover—from his first sight of her in Sonnet 3 to his reaction to her death from the plague in Sonnet 267—are vividly portrayed.
The courtly love tradition
The poems in the Canzoniere reflect the established mode of courtly love, which originated in France in the late eleventh century. As celebrated by the troubadours and poets from the Provençal region in southern France, I’amour courtois challenged and redefined Christian ideals of love, marriage, virtue, masculinity, and femininity. Powerful nobles, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marie de Champagne, patronized these troubadours, with the result that the philosophy of courtly love soon spread throughout the courts of Europe.
According to the troubadour songs, relationships based upon the tenets of courtly love shared several attributes: the couple involved was always of noble rank; the male lover wooed his chosen lady with gifts, tokens, and songs in praise of her beauty; the lovers’ passion for each other was a closely guarded secret; and finally, the lovers’ romantic bond was adulterous. One or both could be married, but never to each other, and their illicit love often went unconsummated, fueled by its very lack of fulfillment.
Of the two, the male lover played the more active role in the relationship, performing deeds of valor and skill in honor of his lady. By contrast, the lady was beautiful, distant, and passive. She might reward her lover’s efforts with a brief gesture of approval or affection, but for the most part, she remained on the pedestal where he had placed her. The rituals of courtship took on the significance of religious observance, with the earthly beloved replacing the heavenly goddess, or, in Christian terms, the Virgin Mary.
By the thirteenth century, the precepts of courtly love had taken firm hold in Italy. Indeed, the Provençal School influenced the development of the dolce stil novo (“sweet new style”), an important literary movement in thirteenth-century Florence (see Stil Novo Poetry , also in WLAIT 7: Italian Literature and Its Times). Introduced by Guido Guinizzelli, this style celebrated the spiritual and intellectual, rather than the carnal, aspects of love. The relationship between lovers was purified, becoming wholly platonic; the woman’s loveliness inspired the man with a deeper comprehension of divine beauty. Dante Alighieri greatly admired the dolce stil novo, which influenced his writings about his enduring passion for his love, Beatrice, even after her death. Petrarch’s Canzoniere was likewise affected; his poetry can be said to work within the dolce stil nuovo tradition, to which he added. Petrarch’s innovation was to convey with a vivid freshness the lover’s psychology—specifically, his innermost thoughts and feelings about his love, in Petrarch’s case, about Laura.
The Avignon papacy
While most of the poems in the Canzoniere are romantic in nature, Petrarch also condemns—in a handful of sonnets—the religious politics of his time, especially those of the papal court in Avignon, the French city where Petrarch lived and worked for several years. Nor was he the only one of his contemporaries to do so.
In 1309 the papacy moved from Rome—the longtime, official center of the pontiff—to Avignon. After asserting his supremacy to all Christian rulers in a papal bull (an official proclamation), Pope Boniface VIII was assaulted by agents of King Philip IV of France, with fatal results for the 86-year-old pontiff. Fearing reprisals from Italians and anxious over rebellion and intrigue in Rome, the new pope, Clement V (r. 1305–1314), decided to establish his court at Avignon, in Provence, near the mouth of the Rhone River, a decision influenced by his friend-ship with Philip IV of France. Although the move was to be only temporary, Clement and six of his successors served out their terms in Avignon. This period (1309–1377) in Church history is sometimes known as the Babylonian exile, re-calling the exile of the Israelites to Babylonia in the 500s b.c.e.
The Avignon papacy soon acquired a reputation for worldliness, pomp, extravagance, and corruption. Simony, the selling of official posts,
THE BLACK DEATH
The worldwide epidemic of bubonic plague known as the Black Death appears to have originated in India, the Middle East, and the Crimea around 1346. Carried by the fleas of shipboard rats, the disease traveled westward, reaching Italy in October 1347. Within days of exposure to the Black Death, hundreds lay dying, while panicked survivors spread the plague even farther when they fled. Port cities were among the first to be stricken. By January 1348 the plague had reached Genoa and Pisa, moving on in the following months to Venice and the inland cities of Tuscany. The city of Florence was especially afflicted; in the introduction to his Decameron, Boccaccio claimed that 100,000 Florentines succumbed to the disease. By the spring of 1348 the plague had worked its way northward to attack Spain, Germany, France, and England. The death rate was horrifying; modern historians estimate that the epidemic claimed perhaps one-third of ltaly’s population (Killinger, p. 67). A contemporary account, by Henry Knighton, canon of Leicester Abbey, presents a stark record of the casualties in several European lands, including France: “There died in Avignon, France in one day one thousand three hundred and twelve persons, according to an account made for the pope. At Montpellier there remained out of a hundred and fifty friars only seven. At Marseilles out of a 150 friars minor, there remained only one who could tell the others” (Knighton) Although Petrarch himself escaped the plague, Laura and Cardinal Colonna-both living in Avignon—apparently fell victim to the disease, a double tragedy commemorated in The Canzoniere.
became a widespread practice. Other unpopular practices included decreasing the finances of parish priests, taxing bishops heavily, selling indulgences (cancellations of earthly punishment for sins that have been forgiven), and charging heavily for all papal court services. As one historian explains it,
Diminished by its removal from the Holy See of Rome and by being generally regarded as a tool of France, the papacy sought to make up prestige and power in temporal terms. It concentrated on finance and the organization and centralization of every process of papal government that could bring in revenue…. Every-thing the Church had or was, from cardinal’s hat to pilgrim’s relic, was for sale.
(Tuchman, p. 26)
Many clerics denounced the greed and corruption of the Avignon papacy. In the 1340s Petrarch wrote, “I am living in the Babylon of the West,” comparing Avignon to the biblical city of vice and corruption. He went on to condemn the habits of prelates who feasted at “licentious banquets” and rode white horses “decked in gold, fed on gold, [and] soon to be shod in gold if the Lord does not check this slavish luxury” (Petrarch in Tuchman, p. 29). His disgust found fuller expression in several sonnets, among them, Sonnet 138, which he addressed to the papal court at Avignon: “O foundry of deceits, cruel prison where good dies and evil is / created and nourished, a hell for the living: it will be a great / miracle if Christ does not finally show his anger against you” (Canzoniere, p. 282).
Petrarch’s Canzoniere consists of 366 lyric poems: 317 sonnets, 29 canzoni, 9 sestinas, 7 ballads, and 4 madrigals. At one point, a manuscript of the Canzoniere was divided in two parts, one, including 263 poems, headed “in vita di madonna Laura” (During the Life of Madonna Laura) and the other, including 103 poems, entitled “in morte di madonna Laura” (During the Death of Madonna Laura). Another critic divides the poems into three categories: poems about Laura, poems that attempt to reject her influence, and poems that do not concern Laura at all. In any case, the Laura-related poems vastly outnumber the political and patriotic poems. The course of Petrarch’s love for Laura—from his first view of her to his acceptance of her death—dictates the structure of the Canzoniere. But while Petrarch idealizes his beloved—often comparing her with the evergreen laurel of poetic inspiration—theirs is not an idyllic romance: for one thing, the chaste Laura keeps the smitten Petrarch at a distance, which only inflames him further. He furthermore comes to acknowledge that erotic desire has impeded his spiritual progress towards God and divine love.
In his opening poem, Petrarch establishes that he is looking back upon his life from the perspective of many years, referring to his “first youthful error, when / I was in part another man from what I am now” (Canzoniere, p. 36). He claims to regret that youthful error and to have reached a truer understanding about the transience of earthly joys: “But now I see well how for a long time I was the talk of the, crowd, for which often I am ashamed of myself within;, and of my raving shame is the fruit, and repentance, and the, clear knowledge that whatever pleases in the world is a brief dream” (Canzoniere, p. 36).
From that point, Petrarch goes on to tell of his passion for Laura, which dates from their first meeting on April 6, 1327, the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion, namely, Good Friday.
It was the day when the sun’s rays turned
pale with grief for his Maker when I was
taken, and I did not defend myself against it
for your lovely eyes, Lady, bound me.
It did not seem to me a time for being on
guard against Love’s blows; therefore I went
confident and without fear, and so my
misfortunes began in the midst of the universal woe.
Love found me altogether disarmed, and the
way open through my eyes to my heart, my
eyes which are now the portal and
passageways of tears.
Therefore, as it seems to me, it got him no
honor to strike me with an arrow in that
state, and not even to show his bow to you,
who were armed.
(Canzoniere, p. 38)
No sooner has the poet glimpsed Laura than he falls violently in love with her. Significantly, Petrarch portrays himself as a captive, even a victim, of Love and Laura’s beauty, a stance that does not alter throughout the cycle of poems. Love, in the classical personification of Cupid with his bow, is portrayed as such a powerful force that Petrarch can only struggle helplessly in its toils, unable—and unwilling—to free himself.
Peace I do not find, and I have no wish to
make war; and I fear and hope, and burn and
am of ice; and I fly above the heavens and lie
on the ground; and I grasp nothing and
embrace all the world.
One has me in prison who neither opens nor
locks, neither keeps me for his own nor
unties the bonds; and Love does not kill and
does not unchain me, he neither wishes me
alive nor frees me from the tangle.
I see without eyes, and I have no tongue and
yet cry out; and I wish to perish and I ask for
help; and I hate myself and love another.
I feed on pain, weeping I laugh; equally
displeasing to me are death and life. In this
state am I, Lady, on account of you.
(Canzoniere, p. 272)
In the above sonnet Petrarch describes how his passion for Laura has put him in a frenzy of conflicting emotions; he experiences intense pain and joy in equal measure. The paradoxes set forth in each of the poem’s lines may be said to reflect the contradictory nature of love itself.
Alas the lovely face, alas the gentle glance,
alas the proud, carefree bearing! Alas the
speech that made every harsh or savage mind
humble and every base man valiant!
And alas the sweet smile whence came forth
the dart from which now I expect death, no
other good! Regal soul, worthy of empire if
you had not come down among us so late:
For you I must burn, in you breathe, for I
have been only yours; and if I am deprived of
you, it pains me more than any other
with hope you filled me and with desire,
when I left still alive that highest pleasure,
but the wind carried off the words.
(Canzoniere, p. 436)
Petrarch’s hope of consummating his love for Laura ends with his discovery of her death on April 6, 1348, at the same hour of their first meeting 21 years earlier. Devastated, he laments the loss of his beloved, for the sake of the virtues she possessed and the disappointment of his own hopes and desires.
The remaining poems of the Canzoniere all deal with Petrarch’s attempts to come to terms with Laura’s death. Despite his grief, the poet ultimately learns to look at the experience differently. He grows glad that Laura resisted his advances in life since this proves her perfect virtue and chastity. He never doubts that her soul has attained heaven. Furthermore, as the sequence draws to a close, Petrarch’s thoughts themselves turn towards spiritual love and religious devotion. As his own life nears its end, he addresses the last poem in the Canzoniere (Poem 366) not to a mortal woman but to the Holy Virgin, asking for grace and pardon for past error and promising to love her with even more constancy than he gave to Laura:
Kindly virgin, enemy of pride, let love of our common origin move you, have mercy on a contrite and humble heart; for if I am wont to love with such marvelous faith a bit of deciduous mortal dust, how will I love you, a noble thing?
If from my wretched and vile state I rise again at your hands, Virgin, I consecrate and cleanse in your name my thought and wit and style, my tongue and heart, my tears and my sighs. Lead me to the better crossing and accept my changed desires.
The day draws near and cannot be far, time so runs and flies, single, sole Virgin; and now conscience, now death pierces my heart; commend me to your Son, true man and true God, that He may receive my last breath in peace.
(Canzoniere, p. 582)
THE PETRARCHAN SONNET
Petrarch did not invent the sonnet (a 14-line lyric poem written in iambic pentameter, with an interlocking rhyme scheme). He, however, became inextricably associated with this type of poem to the point where the Italian form also became known as the Petrarchan sonnet. The Italian sonnet consists of an octave (eight lines), followed by a sestet (six lines). Usually there is a break between the two around the ninth line of the poem, sometimes known as the volra, or “turn”: the octave sets forth a situation, while the sestet presents a twist on or response to the octave. The octave’s rhyme scheme is a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a; the sestet’s, either c-d-e-c-d-e or c-d-c-c-d-c. Other early Italian practitioners of the form were Guittone’d Arezzo, Dante Alighieri, and Guido Cavalcanti, but their son-nets were less famous than those of Petrarch.
The spread of Petrarchism
After Petrarch’s death, the poems of his Canzoniere circulated in a variety of incarnations, not merely in their original manuscript form, but in neo-Latin and vernacular translations and musical adaptations. Petrarch had inadvertently established a tradition of love poetry that would be admired and imitated for several centuries. Appropriately known as Petrarchism, this tradition found adherents not only in Italy but in other European countries as well.
The conventions of Petrarchan love poetry included the poet’s address to his chosen lady (who usually had a classical name); praise of the lady’s beauty in the most extravagant terms; recurring contradictory phrases and images (fire and ice, captivity and freedom); emphasis on the poet’s subjective experience of the pains and pleasures of love; characterization of the lady as the poet’s muse and sole source of inspiration; and finally, the promise of immortality—the lady’s and the poet’s—through his verse. Later generations of poets found these conventions easy to imitate; many drew heavily on the works of Petrarch for their inspiration.
More than 100 years after Petrarch’s death, his influence remained powerful. In Italy works such as Giusto de Conti’s La bella mano (1440) and Matteo Maria Boiardo’s Amorum libri (1499) imitated Petrarch’s metrical patterns and the narrative structure of his Canzoniere (the pattern of the poet’s love for a woman). Petrarchism gained momentum in the early 1500s, however, after Pietro Bembo (1470–1547), Venetian scholar and nobleman, proposed Petrarch as the stylistic and thematic model for all Italian verse. Like Latin prose, Bembo argued, vernacular poetry could only achieve excellence through study and imitation of a master. Numerous Italian poets, including Trifon Gabriele (1470–1549), Giovanni Guidiccioni (1500–1541), and Torquato Tasso (1544–1595), subscribed to Bembo’s theory and composed poetry in the Petrarchan manner, praised for its purity and simplicity.
Petrarchism also flourished in other countries, especially after the invention of the printing press. In Tudor England, which had developed a passion for all things Italian, Petrarch’s works found enthusiastic disciples in Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503–1542) and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517–1547), who translated several of the Italian poet’s pieces into English. Indeed, Wyatt and Surrey are credited with introducing the sonnet form to England. Several English writers even composed their own sonnet sequences; Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella (1591) follows the Petrarchan model closely, depicting the poet’s love for a beautiful but inaccessible woman. Other English poets sought to subvert Petrarchan conventions; for example, Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti (1595; Little Love Poems) told the story of a successful courtship between the poet and his beloved, which ended in marriage. And in one of his more famous sonnets, written around 1609, William Shakespeare introduces a series of Petrarchan superlatives only to reject them, concluding instead, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare” (Shakespeare in Abrams, p. 884). Petrarchism endured as a literary movement throughout Europe until the seventeenth century, though modern scholars might argue that
PETRARCH AND HIS IMITATORS
Petrarch’s poems inspired many later poets in his native Italian peninsula and abroad. Two of the more famous disciples were Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who are usually credited with introducing Petrarch’s poems to an English audience via their translations of his work. Petrarch’s Sonnet 140 from the Canzromere appears below, followed by Wyatt and Howard’s translations of the same poem:
Love, who lives and reigns in my thought and keeps his principal
seat in my heart, sometimes comes forth alt in armor into my
forehead, there camps, and there sets up his banner.
She who teaches us to love and to be patient, and wishes my
great desire, my kindled hope, to be reined in by reason, shame,
and reverence, at our boldness is angry within herself.
Wherefore Love flees terrified to my heart, abandoning his every
enterprise, and weeps and trembles; there he hides and no more
What can I do, when my lord is afraid, except stay with him until
the last hour? For he makes a good end who dies loving welt.
(Canzoniere, p. 284)
The long love that in my thought doth harbor
And in mine heart doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretence
And therein campeth, spreading his banner.
She that me learneth to love and suffer
And will that my trust and lust’s negligence
Be reined by reason, shame, and reverence,
With his hardiness taketh displeasure.
Wherewithal unto the heart’s forest he fleeth,
Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth and not appeareth.
What may I do when my master feareth
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.
(Wyatt m Abrams, p, 463)
Love that doth reign and live within my thought
And build his seat within my captive breast,
Clad in the arms wherein with me he fought,
Oft in my face he doth his banner rest.
But she that taught me love and suffer pain,
My doubtful hope and eke my hot desire
With samefast look to shadow and refrain,
Her smiling grace converteth straight to ire.
And coward Love, then, to the heart apace
Taketh his flight, where he doth lurk and plain,
His purpose lost, and dare not show his face.
For my lord’s guilt thus faultless bide I pain,
Yet from my lord shall not my foot remove:
Sweet is the death that taketh end by love.
(Howard In Abrams, p. 474)
Petrarch’s influence in Italian poetry persists to this day.
Sources and literary context
Not surprisingly, Petrarch’s own life was the primary source of inspiration for the Canzoniere. Indeed, it seems impossible to separate the speaker in the poems from the poet himself. Petrarch’s unrequited passion for Laura, his grief over her untimely death, and even his frustration over the religious politics of his day all found their way into the poetic cycle. It also refers to other historical personages with whom Petrarch was families—his employer Cardinal Giovanni Colonna, for example, and Benedict XII, the pope from 1334 to 1342.
While Petrarch’s own experiences shaped most of the Canzoniere, the poet also drew upon Christian texts, like the Bible and the writings of St. Augustine, from which he extrapolated that his love for Laura, however constant, was still sinful and that his thoughts were ultimately best directed towards God. Classical myths and legends influenced the Canzoniere too, especially the myth of Apollo and Daphne from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It has been argued that Petrarch viewed his hopeless desire for Laura as a reflection of Apollo’s equally fruitless pursuit of Daphne. In both instances, the ladies refuse their pursuers, wishing only to remain chaste. Daphne, praying for deliverance from her pursuer, is transformed into a laurel tree. While Laura undergoes no such transformation, Petrarch continually associates her with the laurel tree and the poetic glory and fame that the laurel came to represent.
As a work, the Canzoniere is generally categorized as a collection of lyric poems, figuring among the earliest in Western literature to pre-sent a sustained narrative. While working within an established tradition of courtly love poetry, Petrarch’s verses were considered notable for their intensely personal perspective and their musicality.
The Canzoniere can also be connected to humanism, the major intellectual movement of the Italian Renaissance. Inspired by the writings of classical Greek and Roman philosophers, the humanists devoted themselves to the study of ancient literature, history, politics, moral philosophy, and science. Their primary interest was humankind and all aspects of human existence. In the Canzoniere, Petrarch, who is considered one of the earliest humanists, depicts one such aspect—a man’s experience of unrequited love.
While the first scholarly commentaries did not appear until about 70 years after the death of Petrarch (1304–1374), there were many early admirers of the work. One Italian chronicler Filippo Villani (c. 1325–1405) praises the Canzoniere’s lyricism and discloses its effect on an early audience: “the musical modulations of the verses which Petrarch addressed to Laura flowed so melodiously, that even the most grave could not refrain from repeating them” (Villani in Foscolo, p. 92).
Later disciples and imitators of Petrarch’s poetic style were also lavish in their commendation. In England, it was widely held that “the sweete and stately measures and stile [sic] of the Italian Poesie,” as practiced by Petrarch and adopted by the English poets Wyatt and Surrey, “greatly polished our rude & homelie manner of vulgar Poesie from that it had been before” (Puttenham in D’Amico, p. 11). Elizabethan scholar and critic Gabriel Harvey (c. 1550–1631) wrote that “All posterity honour Petrarck, that was the harmony of heaven; the lyfe of Poetry; the grace of Arte; a precious tablet of rare conceits, & a curious frame of exquisite workemanship; nothing but neate Witt, and refined eloquence” (Harvey in D’Amico, p. 8).
Although Petrarchan imitation became less frequent around the seventeenth century, his influence remained powerful. In his Essays on Petrarch (1823), the Italian poet and novelist Ugo Foscolo (1778–1827) summed up the enduring appeal of Petrarch’s works, especially the Canzoniere: “It is precisely because the poetry of Petrarch originally sprang from his heart that his passion never seems fictitious or cold” (Foscolo, p. 62). Like previous admirers, Foscolo also praised the verse’s musicality, arguing that “the sweetness of Petrarch is enlivened with a variety, a rapidity, and a glow, which no Italian lyric has ever possessed in an equal degree” (Foscolo, p. 92).
About 150 years later, toward the end of the twentieth century, the scholar Nicholas Mann at-tests to the supremacy of Petrarch’s love-poetry, speaking of its international flavor, since by his time the poetry had been widely imitated and translated into multiple languages (Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Scottish, Flemish, Dutch, German, Dalmatian, Hungarian, Polish, Russian, and Cypriot Greek). Petrarch himself was working in a language still foreign to literature, vernacular Italian. When he used it to create a fresh love-poetry, he hardly expected such widespread and long-lasting acclaim; posterity, it seems, “has judged his vernacular fragments more kindly than ever he dared openly to hope” (Mann, p. 112).
—Pamela S. Loy
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