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Petrarch and Laura

Classical love sonnets by Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)

Written in the common Italian dialect instead of medieval Latin, Petrarch's sonnets depict his unrequited love for the woman he called Laura. To this day, Laura's true identity remains unknown. Some have speculated she was the noblewoman Laura de Noves, an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade. Others have questioned whether she existed outside his poetic imagination.

So wayward now my will, and so unwise,

To follow her who turns from me in flight,

And, from love’s fetters free herself and light,

Before my slow and shackled motion flies,

That less it lists, the more my sighs and cries

Would point where passes the safe path and right,

Nor aught avails to check or to excite,

For Love’s own nature curb and spur defies.


Thus, when perforce the bridle he has won,

And helpless at his mercy I remain,

Against my will he speeds me to mine end

‘Neath yon cold laurel, whose false boughs upon

Hangs the harsh fruit, which, tasted, spreads the pain

I sought to stay, and mars where it should mend.

Sí traviato è ‘l folle mi’ desio

a seguitar costei che ‘n fuga è volta,

e de’ lacci d’Amor leggiera e sciolta

vola dinanzi al lento correr mio,

che quanto richiamando piú l’envio

per la secura strada men m’ascolta:

né mi vale spronarlo, o dargli volta,

ch’Amor per sua natura il fa restio;


e poi che ‘l fren per forza a sé raccoglie,

i’ mi rimango in signoria di lui,

che mal mio grado a morte mi trasporta:

sol per venir al lauro onde si coglie

acerbo frutto, che le piaghe altrui,

gustando, afflige piú che non conforta.

Little is known about the true nature of their relationship. Petrarch claimed to have renounced his vows as a priest after seeing Laura in church. However, it is unclear whether they ever had a conversation or if Laura even knew of Petrarch's existence. In most sonnets, Petrarch appears to be watching her from a distance.

When Love, whose proper throne is that sweet face,

At times escorts her ‘mid the sisters fair,

As their each beauty is than hers less rare,

So swells in me the fond desire apace.

I bless the hour, the season and the place,

So high and heavenward when my eyes could dare;

And say: “My heart! in grateful memory bear

This lofty honour and surpassing grace:


From her descends the tender truthful thought,

Which follow’d, bliss supreme shall thee repay,

Who spurn’st the vanities that win the crowd:

From her that gentle graceful love is caught,

To heaven which leads thee by the right-hand way,

And crowns e’en here with hopes both pure and proud.

Quando fra l’altre donne ad ora ad ora

Amor vien nel bel viso di costei,

quanto ciascuna è men bella di lei

tanto cresce ‘l desio che m’innamora.

I’ benedico il loco e ‘l tempo e l’ora

che sí alto miraron gli occhi mei,

e dico: « Anima, assai ringraziar dei,

che fosti a tanto onor degnata allora;


da lei ti ven l’amoroso pensero,

che mentre ‘l segui al sommo ben t’invia,

pocho prezando quel ch’ogni uom desia;

da lei vien l’animosa leggiadria

ch’ al ciel ti scorge per destro sentero:

sí ch’ i’ vo già de la speranza altero.

Petrarch created most of the standards and tropes of modern love poetry. Interestingly, rather than presenting an idealized vision of love, Petrarch chose to portray Laura as ideal, while love itself serves as his primary antagonist. This unrealistic depiction of a woman he probably didn't know contrasts with the psychological realism he presents in terms of his own suffering. At the end of the day, his poetry dedicated to Laura says much more about Petrarch than his so-called muse.

Late to arrive my fortunes are and slow—

Hopes are unsure, desires ascend and swell,

Suspense, expectancy in me rebel—

But swifter to depart than tigers go.

Tepid and dark shall be the cold pure snow,

The ocean dry, its fish on mountains dwell,

The sun set in the East, by that old well

Alike whence Tigris and Euphrates flow,


Ere in this strife I peace or truce shall find,

Ere Love or Laura practise kinder ways,

Sworn friends, against me wrongfully combined.

After such bitters, if some sweet allays,

Balk’d by long fasts my palate spurns the fare,

Sole grace from them that falleth to my share.

Mie venture al venir son tarde e pigre,

la speme incerta, e ‘l desir monta e cresce,

onde e ‘l lassare e l’aspettar m’ incresce:

e poi al partir son piú levi che tigre.

Lasso, le nevi fien tepide e nigre,

e ‘l mar senz’ onda, e per l’alpe ogni pesce,

e corcherassi il sol là oltre ond’esce

d’un medesimo fonte Eufrate e Tigre;


prima ch’ i’ trovi in ciò pace né triegua,

o Amore o madonna altr’uso impari,

che m’ànno congiurato a torto incontra:

e s’i’ ò alcun dolce, è dopo tanti amari,

che per disdegno il gusto si dilegua;

altro mai di lor grazie non m’incontra.


One comment

  1. Marquis de Shade ( User Karma: 6 ) says:

    Stalkers who can rhyme don’t do hard time. Maybe I’m biased because Laura was related to my namesake but Petrarch stalked her straight up no doubts about it. Anyone know who did the translations?

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