Petrarch encounters Laura in the scene above. It is questionable whether Laura ever existed. She may have been simply an idealization of poetic fame.
Friday, November 18, 2011


The present volume is a translation by Mark Musa of two essays by Petrarch, and selections from his poems or Canzoniere.

Petrarch is known for inventing the term Renaissance, and for developing what we know as the sonnet, particularly the form known as the Italian sonnet. The Italian sonnet consists of two quatrains, forming what is called an octave, and two tercets that make up a sestet. The rhyme scheme is abba abba cde cde. The English sonnet consists of three quatrains and a couple and rhymes abab cdcd efef gg. Here is the first sonnet by Petrarch.

Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
di quei sospiri ond'io nudriva 'l core
in sul mio primo giovenile errore,
quand'era in parte altr'uom da quel ch' i' sono,

del vario stile in ch'io piango e ragiono,
fra le vane speranze e 'l van dolore,
ove sia chi per prova intenda amore,
spero trovar pietà, non che perdono.

Ma ben veggio or sí come al popol tutto
favola fui gran tempo, onde sovente
di me mesdesmo meco mi vergogno;

e del mio vaneggiar vergogna è 'l frutto,
e 'l pentersi, e 'l conoscer chiaramente
che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.

Here’s a translation by A. S. Kline

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.

Here is Mark Musa’s translation:

O you who hear with these scattered verses
the sound of sighs with which I fed my heart
in my first errant youthful day when I
in part was not the man I am today;

for all the ways in which I weep and speak
between vain hopes, between vain suffering,
in anyone who knows love through its trials,
in them, may I find pity and forgiveness.

For now I see, since I’ve become the talk
so long a time of people all around
(it often makes me feel so full of shame),

that from my vanities comes fruit of shame
and my repentance and the clearest knowledge
that worldly joy is a quick passing dream.

Now I’m not going to pass judgement on the other metrical qualities of Musa’s translation, but minus the rhyme scheme it’s debatable whether it remains a sonnet. It might be a case where a prose translation would be of more service.

On the other hand, Musa has translated some of the more complicated forms, such as the sestina, into English equivalents complete with rhymes.

Two brief essays by Petrarch, “Letter to Posterity,” and “Ascent of Mount Ventoux” are included. Some scholars date the Renaissance from his ascent of Mt. Ventoux on April 26, 1336. Petrarch climbed the mountain and partook of the pleasures of nature. He took Augustine’s Confessions with him, and read from the book as he climbed, and while he was on the mountain. Upon his departure he realizes that the climb of the mountain is a mere allegory of his yearning for a better life. It is at this point that he turns from the outer to the inner life.

Now Petrarch was to a considerable extent a poseur. He claimed to have discovered manuscripts of Cicero in a monastery. Now this wasn’t an abandoned monastery, which might render his boast plausible, but one that was in full operational swing, and the manuscripts were perfectly well known&hellip to the monks. He also wasn’t the first person to climb Mt. Ventoux, or even the first to do so for pleasure. What Petrarch was is a gifted publicist who agitated for Cicero, to the detriment of the Latin used in churches and law courts, and for a certain world view that focused on man and his view of the world. Petrarch’s poetry, however, is what most people know him for, and it is what is most worth reading for the general reader.

Next up, another monster hunter book.