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From An Anthology of Italian Poems 13th-19th Century selected and translated by Lorna de’ Lucchi, Alfred A. Knopf, New York; 1922; pp. 70-89, 351.

[For purists, the Italian text of the poems follows the English translation.]


Notes and translation by Lorna de’ Lucchi


Biographical Note

FRANCESCO PETRARCA, born at Arezzo. His father was exiled with the White Guelfs in 1302; he went to Avignon in 1311, where he joined the Lesser Orders in 1326. On Good Friday, April 6th, 1327, he first saw Laura, probably the wife of Hugo de Sade; she was to be the inspiration of all his love poetry. From 1333 to 1337 he travelled in Europe, and in 1337 retired to Vaucluse. In 1340 he was offered the Laureate’s crown of the University of Paris and the Roman Senate, and was crowned in the Capitol on Easter Day, 1341. In 1348 Laura died, and in 1353 he left Vaucluse for good; he was sent on various missions by the Visconti family, and finally settled at Arquà in the Euganean Hills, where he died on January 9th, 1374. His works are, in Latin: Africa, an epic on the second Punic War; twelve Eclogues of the Carmen Bucolicum; 77 Epistolae Metricae; the De Contemptu Mundi; the De Vita Solitaria; the De Ocio Religiosorum; the De Remediis utriusque fortunae; and various other compositions. His Letters, 1326-74, are an invaluable record of the author and his day. In Italian he wrote the Trionfi and the Canzoniere; this last, excepting for some sublime patriotic inspirations, consists of love lyrics (inspired by Laura), of exquisite beauty and perfection of style. Petrarch’s supremacy as a lyrical genius remains unchallenged to-day; he is the first and greatest of the humanists: an ardent patriot.




Canzone I

CLEAR, cool streams that softly flow
Where she lay in loveliness
Who hath no peer on earth below;
Gracious tree she deigned to bless,
Leaning her sweet body down
(I must sigh remembering);
Ye beneath her dainty gown,
Flowers and grasses covering
Her angelic bosom o’er;
Blessèd and unclouded skies,
Where Love opened my heart’s door
With the wonder of her eyes;
Hearken to the words I sing
Of my bitter sorrowing.
    Would that so my lot were cast,
And thereunto the Heavens agree,
For Love to close my eyes at last,
And this my worthless body be
Endowed with some kind grace of yours,
What time my soul in nakedness
Must pass beyond its earthly doors.
Death will be without distress
If such hopes with me remain
When I cross the shadowy sea;
In a quiet port again
Will my weary spirit be,
Cast this tortured flesh aside
And in tranquil grave abide.
    Unto this familiar place
Haply she once more may stray
In her gentleness and grace;
Where upon that blessèd day
We first met, she may be fain
73 To seek me with glad, eager eyes,
And, seeing me dust to dust again
Amid the stones, may waft her sighs
To Heaven for mercy and, by Love
Inspired, may with such kindness pray
On my behalf that up above
No heart there be to say her nay,
Whilst with her lovely veil she dries
The tears that well into her eyes.
    Gratefully I mind me how
On her bosom showered down
Petals from a flowering bough;
Some were folded in her gown,
Some fell on those tresses pale,
Like to pears and burnished gold;
Some upon the stream did sail;
Some were gathered in earth’s hold;
Some the breezes bore around:
“Love reigns here,” they seemed to say,
Whilst she, whom Love’s halo crowned,
I beheld upon that day
In all meekness seated there,
Of her glory unaware,
    With a sudden terror cowed,
Often to myself I said:
“She is unto Heaven vowed!”
When forgetfulness was bred
In me by her godly grace,
By the music of her mirth,
Her words, the vision of her face,
I thought I was no more on earth
And, spirited so far away
From common things, I did complain:
“How come I here and on what day?”
75 In these green meadows I remain
Since then, it pleaseth me so best,
For here alone my heart hath rest.
    If thou, O Song, were richly pearled
As matcheth thy desire,
From thy retreat unto the world
Boldly thou could’st aspire!

Canzone II

FROM thought to thought, from hill to hill,
Love for ever is my guide;
The trodden pathway leadeth still
From haunts of quietude aside;
On solitary shore and by
A fountain or a running stream,
In valleys where the hill-shades lie,
My sorely troubled soul may dream,
As Love dictates, may laugh or weep,
May fear or count itself secure,
Compose the face for strife or sleep
And never in one mood endure;
Till he would say, who knows such state:
“He loves, uncertain of his fate.”
   On lofty peaks, in forest drear,
I take my rest but needs must flee
The haunts of men, for these I fear,
And have in mortal enmity.
At every step a whim is born
That doth regard my Lady fair,
Full often I in jest have worn
The torments which for her I bear;
And yet I would not change my ways
That are so bitter and so sweet,
“Since Love may cherish happier days
For thy delight,” I oft repeat,
77 “Though thou dost scorn thyself, maybe
Another hath thee dear!” I sigh
And wonder whether verily
This may befall, and how and why.
   I tarry where I shelter find
Of mountain-top or tall pine-tree,
And paint her image with my mind
On the first pebble that I see;
Then, when my straying wits come back,
I beat my tear-drenched breast and say:
“Unhappy heart, what dost thou lack,
And whither would’st thou wend thy way?”
But though in self-forgetfulness
Alone doth serve with faithfulness,
Yet Love my soul hath so entwined
That I am happy in my woe;
Her myriad charms enthrall my eyes;
If it should be for ever so
I would not have it otherwise.
   My Lady’s features I have seen,
So let him credence give who may,
In waters clear and meadows green
No less than in a beechen spray,
Within a cloud so snowy white,
Beside her Leda’s child would seem
A star that paleth in the light,
The sun hath kindled with his beam.
Where desolate my dwelling-place,
Upon a bleak, forsaken coast,
There doth my spirit sweetly trace
Her beauty and exalt it most;
Then, numb with grief, when fancy flies
Away before the face of truth,
79 As dead stone from a stone I rise
And think and write and weep for ruth.
   To heights whereon no shadows fall,
To mighty and enduring chains,
My passionate desire doth call,
And I begin to count my pains:
My tears the doleful mists dispel
From my full heart, and musingly
I mark the place where she doth dwell
Who is so near though far from me.
“O weary heart, why dost thou stray?”
So falters hope with gentleness,
“Maybe when thou art far away
One sigheth for thee in distress!”
This thought such happiness doth bring,
My soul is freed from suffering.
   Song of mine, beyond the hill,
Where the skies are soft and blue,
Resting by a flowering rill,
Thou shalt look on me anew;
Where fresh laurels scent the air,
With the heart she stole from me,
Tarrieth my Lady fair;
’Tis my spirit dwells in thee.


Sonnet I

AS I appraoch the last of all my days,
So brief by reason of its dower of pain,
Light-footed time speeds swiftly from my gaze
And faith in him proves profitless and vain.
Then to myself I say: “A little space
And we will sing no more at Love’s behest,
Like snow these earthly chains will melt apace
And we be gathered peacefully to rest.
   Since Love must pass away, even so must all
The dreams for which we bartered heaven and earth,
Our fears, our sorrows, and our boist’rous mirth;
Then we shall know how oft it doth befall
That men strive after things of trivial worth,
And sigh for that which matters not at all.”

Sonnet II

THAT lovely pallor which soft smiles have striven
To mantle in a rosy veil of dew,
With such high royalty to me was given,
My heart paid homage ere it wonder knew.
Then was revealed to me that we would bid
Each other welcome thus in Paradise;
Her gracious thought was fashioned to be hid
From other, though apparent to my eyes.
   All heavenly favours, every modest grace
E’er mirrored in belovèd lady’s face,
Were nought compared with this of which I tell;
Downwards in silence her sweet glances fell,
And yet in them a meaning seemed to be:
“Why doth my faithful friend go forth from me?”


Sonnet III

I CANNOT be at peace yet need not fight,
I fear, I hope, I burn, I suffer cold,
I fall to earth, I scale the Heavens in flight,
Have empty hands and yet all things do hold;
I am not free though unconstrained, although
None holdeth me I may not cast my chains;
Love harms me not, yet will not let me go,
Will neither slay me nor console my pains;
   I plead for mercy yet desire the end,
I speak without tongue, see without eyes,
I love another yet myself despise.
I eat my bread in bitterness and blend
Laughter and tears, I hate both death and life;
Through thee, Madonna, I endure this strife!

Sonnet IV

IN what celestial sphere, by whom inspired,
Did Nature find the cast from which she drew
This lovely face wherein she hath aspired
To manifest below what Heaven can do?
Upon the breeze these tresses of pure gold
What goddess of the woods, what water-fay
Hath lavished thus? What other heart could hold
These virtues which have made my life their prey?
   Of godly beauty he is unaware
Who hath not gazed into my Lady’s eyes,
Nor gathered her sweet glances here on earth;
He knoweth not Love’s Hell nor Paradise
Who never heard her sighs as light as air,
The gentle music of her speech and mirth.


Sonnet V

O FORTUNATE fields through which Madonna goes,
And you, O happy, happy flowers and sweet,
O upland who her gentle accent knows
And bears the dainty imprint of her feet,
O saplings lithe and early, verdant sprays,
O love-lorn violets pale, O forest dim
Which beauty’s sun hath piercèd with his rays
And drawn in proud florescence unto him;
   O limpid stream that laves her lovely face,
Her luminous eyes, and doth their radiance share,
O primrose path, I envy you the grace
Of tender, loyal servitude you bear!
In you no single pebble now remains
That is not kindled with my passionate pains.

Sonnet VI

NOW silence reigneth over earth and sky,
The wind is still and bird and beast do sleep,
Night in her starry chariot whirleth by,
The slumb’rous sea is laid in cradle deep;
I think, I see, love, weep; my grief who willed
Is ever with me to my tender pain;
I am at strife, with spite and anguish filled,
My thoughts in her alone find peace again.
   From one sole clear and living fountain flows
The sweet and bitter draughts that nourish me;
No hand save hers to heal and hurt me knows;
My ship of passion tarrieth out at sea;
A thousand times a day I live and die,
So far away doth my salvation lie!


Sonnet VII

O EYES of mine, our sun is overcast,
Is risen in Paradise and there doth shine,
But we shall look upon her at the last
Who doth perchance through our long tarrying pine;
O ears of mine, now her angelic speech
Is culled by those who its full meaning know;
O feet of mine, you have not power to reach
Her on whose errands you were wont to go!
   Why thus torment me? Through no fault of mine
She hath passed out of hearing and out of sight
And doth no longer dwell upon the earth;
Blame death alone and worship God divine,
Who binds and frees, in darkness kindleth light
And giveth after sorrowing His mirth.

Sonnet VIII

O VALLEY, filled with my despairful words,
O river that my tears have richly fed,
O creatures of the forest, happy birds,
O fishes that green banks have prisonèd;
Breath of desire, serene and passionate,
O pleasant path grown wearisome, O hill
That once I counted dear but now do hate,
Where, as of old, Love doth entice me still;
   You are not changed whom I remember well,
But I am otherwise, O misery,
Who from delight to bitterest sorrow fell!
Here where I loved I do return and see
Madonna’s spirit wafted to the skies,
Whilst upon earth her lovely body lies.


Sonnet IX

MY thoughts go forth to the abiding place
Of her I seek below and cannot find;
In the third circle I beheld her face
In beauty more compassionate to my mind.
She clasped my hand and said: “Within this sphere
Thou too shalt be, so my desire speak well;
Lo, I am she who wrought thee torment here
And died before the shades of evening fell.
   My bliss no mortal mind can understand,
My spirit waits on thee, to dust is given
The lovely veil once precious in thy eyes.”
Alas, why did she pause and loose my hand?
So chastely and so mercifully shriven,
I did believe I was in Paradise.

Sonnet X

I DO repent me of departed days
In which I laid up treasure on the earth,
And did not se my wings unto Thy praise,
Though haply they were given to prove my worth.
My sins are manifest before Thy face,
O Lord of Heaven, invisible, divine,
Grant to my frail and erring spirit grace,
My weakness lift with potency of Thine:
   Thus, though I lived in tempest and at strife,
Yet may I die in tranquil port at last,
Though vain the pilgrimage, its end be well!
O grant me so to live the rest of life
That I may die in Thee on Whom are cast
My hopes that in no other temple dwell.



Canzone I

CHIARE, fresche e dolci acque,
ove le belle membra
pose colei che sola a me par donna;
gentil ramo, ove piacque
(con sospir mi rimembra)
a lei di fare al bel fianco colonna;
erbe e fior che la gonna
leggiadra ricoverse
co l’ angelico seno;
aere sacro sereno,
ove Amor co’begli occhi il cor m’ aperse;
date udïenzia insieme
a le dolenti mie parole estreme.
   S’ egli è pur mio destino,
e ’l cielo in ciò s’ adopra,
ch’ Amor quest’ occhi lagrimando chiuda,
qualche grazia il meschino
corpo fra voi ricopra,
e torni l’ alma al proprio albergo ignuda.
La morte fia men cruda,
se quest spene porto
a quel dubbioso passo;
chè lo spirito lasso
non porria mai ’n più riposato porto,
nè in più tranquilla fossa
fuggir la carne travagliata e l’ ossa.
   Tempo verrà ancor forse,
che a l’ usato soggiorno
torni la fera bella e mansueta;
e là, ’v’ ella mi scòrse
nel benedetto giorno,
72 volga la vista disïosa e lieta,
cercandomi; ed, o pièta!
già terra infra le pietre
vedendo, Amor l’ inspiri
in guisa che sospiri
si dolcemente che mercè m’ impetre
e faccia forza al cielo,
asciugandosi gli occhi col bel velo.
   Da’ be’ rami scendea,
(docle nella memoria)
una pioggio di fior sovra ’l suo grembo;
ed ella si sedea
umile in tanta gloria,
coverta già dell’ amoroso nembo.
Qual fior cadea sul lembo,
qual su le treccie bionde,
ch’ oro forbito e perle
eran quel dì a vederle;
qual si posava in terra, e qual su l’ onde;
qual con un vago errore
girando parea dir: “Qui regna Amore.”
   Quante volte diss’ io
allor pien di spavento:
“Costei per fermo nacque in paradiso!”
Così carco d’ oblio
il divin portamento
e ’l volto e le parole e ’l dolce riso
m’ aveano, e sì diviso
da l’ imagine vera,
ch’ i’ dicea sospirando:
“Qui come venn’ io, o quando?”
74 Credendo esser in ciel, non là dov’ era.
Da indi in qua mi piace
quest’ erba sì, ch’ altrove non ho pace.
   Se tu avessi ornamenti quant’ hai voglia,
porresti arditamente
uscir dei bosco, e gir infra la gente.

Canzone II

DI pensier in pensier, di monte in monte
me guida Amor; ch’ ogni segnato calle
provo contrario a la tranquilla vita.
Se ’n solitaria piaggia rivo o fonte,
se ’n fra duo poggi siede ombrosa valle,
ivi s’ acqueta l’ alma sbigottita;
e, come Amor l’ envita,
or ride or piange, or teme or s’ assecura;
e ’l volto, che lei seque ov’ ella il mena,
si turba e rasserena,
et in un esser picciol tempo dura;
onde a la vista uom di tal vita experto
diria: “Questo arde e di suo stato è incerto.”
   Per alti monti e per selve aspre trovo
qualche riposo; ogni abitato loco
è nemico mortal degli occhi miei.
A ciascun passo nasce un penser novo
de la mia donna, che sovente in gioco
gira ’l tormento ch’ io porto per lei;
et a pena vorrei
cangiar questo mio viver dolce amaro,
ch’ I’ dico: “Forse anco ti serva Amore
ad un tempo migliore;
76 forse, a te stesso vile, altrui se’ caro”;
et in questa trapasso sospirando:
“Or potrebbe esser vero? or come? or quando?”
   Ove porge ombra un pino alto od un colle,
talor m’ arresto, e pur nel primo sasso
disegno co la mente il suo bel viso.
Poi ch’ a me torno, trovo il petto molle
de la pietate; et allor dico: “Ahi lasso,
dove se’ giunto, et onde se’ diviso!”
Ma, mentre tener fiso
posso al primo pensier la mente vaga
e mirar lei et oblïar me stesso,
sento Amor sì da presso,
che del suo proprio error l’ alma s’ appaga:
in tante parti e sì bella la veggio,
che, se l’ error durasse, altro non cheggio.
   I’ l’ ho più volte (or chi fia che m’ il creda?)
me l’ acqua chiara e sopra l’ erba verde
veduto viva, e nel troncon d’ un faggio,
e ’n bianca nube, sì fatta che Leda
avria ben detto che sua figlia perde,
come stella che ’l sol copre co ’l raggio;
e quanto in più selvaggio
loco mi trovo e ’n più deserto lido,
tanto più bella il mio pensier l’ adombra;
poi, quando il vero sgombra
quel dolce error, pur lì medesmo assido
78 me freddo, pietra morta in pietra viva,
in guisa d’ uom pensi e pianga e scriva.
   Ove d’ altra montagna ombra non tocchi,
verso ’l maggiore e ’l più espedito giogo,
irar mi suol un desiderio intenso:
indi Ii miei danni a misurar con gli occhi
comincio, e ’ntanto lagrimando sfogo
di dolorosa nebbia il cor condenso,
allor ch’ i’ miro e penso
quant’ aria dal bel viso mi diparte,
che sempre m’ è sì presso e sì lontano.
Poscia fra me pian piano:
“Che fai tu lasso? forse in quella parte
or di tua lontananza si sospira”;
et in questo penser l’ alma respira.
   Canzone, oltra quell’ alpe,
là dove il ciel è più sereno e lieto,
mi rivedrai sovr’ un ruscel corrente,
ove l’ aura si sente
d’ un fresco et odorifero laureto.
Ivi è ’l mio cor, e quella che ’l m’ invola;
qui veder pòi l’ imagine mia sola.


Sonetto I

QUANTO più m’ avvicino al giorno estremo
che l’ umana miseria suol far breve,
più veggio ’l tempo andar veloco e leve,
e ’l mio di lui sperar fallace e scemo.
I’ dico a’ miei pensier: “Non molto andremo
d’ amor parlando omai, che ’l duro e greve
terreno incarco, come fresce neve,
si va struggendo, onde noi pace avremo:
   perchè co’ lui cadrà quella speranza,
che ne fe’ vaneggiar si lungamente,
e ’l riso e ’l pianto e la paura e l’ ira.
Si vedrem chiaro poi come sovente
per le cose dubbiose altri s’ avanza,
e come spesso indarno si sospira.”

Sonetto II

QUEL vago impallidir, che ’l dolce riso
d’ un’ amorosa nebbia ricoperse,
con tanta maiestade al cor s’ offerse,
che li si fece incontr’ a mezzo ’l viso.
Conobbi allor sì come in paradiso
vede ’l un l’ altro: in tal guisa s’ aperse
quel pietoso penser, ch’ altri non scerse,
ma vidil’ io, ch’ altrove non m’ affiso.
   Ogni angelica vista, ogni atto umile,
che già mai in donna, ov’ amor fosse, apparve,
fôra uno sdegno a lato a quel ch’ i’ dico:
chinava a terra il bel guardo gentile,
e tacendo dicea (com’ a me parve):
“Chi m’ allontana il mio fedele amico?”


Sonetto III

PACE non trovo, e non ho da far guerra;
e temo e spero, ed ardo e son un ghiaccio;
e volo sopra ’l cielo e giaccio in terra;
e nulla stringo e tutto ’l mondo abbraccio.
Tal m’ ha in pregion, che non m’ apre nè serra,
nè per suo mi riten nè scioglie il laccio;
e non m’ ancide Amore e non mi sferra;
nà me vuol vivo nè mi trae d’ impaccio.
   Veggio senz’ occhi, e non ho lingua e grido;
e bramo di perir e cheggio alta;
ed ho in odio me stesso ed amo altrui’
pascomi di dolor; piangendo rido;
equalmente mi spiace morte e vita;
in questo stato son, Donna, per vui.

Sonetto IV

IN qual parte del cielo, in quale idea
era l’ esempio, onde natura tolse
quel bel viso leggiadro, in ch’ ella volse
mostrar qua giù quanto lassù potea?
qual ninfa in fonti, in selve mai qual dea
chiome d’ oro si fino a l’ aura sciolse?
quando un cor tante in sè vertuti accolse?
benchè la somma è di mia morte rea.
   Per divina bellezza indarno mira,
chi gli occhi de costei già mai non vide,
come soavemente ella gli gira.
Non sa come Amor sana e come ancide
chi non sa come dolce ella sospira,
e come dolce parla e dolce ride.


Sonetto V

LIETI fiori e felici e ben nate erbe,
che madonna, pensando, premer sòle,
piaggia ch’ ascolti sue dolci parole,
e del bel piede alcun vestigio serbe,
schietti arboscelli e verdi frondi acerbe,
amorosette e pallide vïole,
ombrose selve, ove percote il sole,
che vi fa co’ suoi raggi alte e superbe,
   o soave contrada, o puro fiume,
che bagni il suo bel viso e gli occhi chiari,
e prendi qualità dal vivo lume,
quanto v’ invidio gli atti onesti e cari!
non fia in voi scoglio omai che per costume
e’ arder co la mia fiamma non impari.

Sonetto VI

OR che ’l cielo e la terra e ’l vento tace,
e le fere e gli augelli il sonno affrena,
notte il carro stellato in giro mena,
e nel suo letto il mar senz’ onda giace,
vegghio, penso, ardo, piango, e chi mi sface
sempre m’ è innanzi per mia dolce pena;
guerra è ’l mio stato, d’ ira e di duol piena,
e sol di lei pensando ho qualche pace.
   Cosi soil d’una chiara fonte viva
move ’l dolce e l’ amaro ond’ io mi pasco;
una man sola mi risana e punge.
E perchè ’l mio martìr non giunga a riva,
mille volte il dì moro e mille nasco;
tanto da la salute mia son lunge.


Sonetto VII

OCCHI miei, oscurato è ’l nostro sole,
anzi ès; salito al cielo ed ivi splende;
ivi il vedremo ancora, ivi n’ attende
e di nostro tardar forse gli dole.
Orecchie mie, l’ angeliche parole
sonano in parte ov’ è chi meglio intende.
Piè miei, vostra ragion là non si stende
ov’ è colei ch’ esercitar vi sòle.
   Dunque perchè mi date questa guerra?
Già di perdere a voi cagion non fui
vederla udirla e ritrovarla in terra.
Morte biasmate; anzi laudate Lui
che lega e scioglie, e ’n un punto apre e serra,
e dopo ’l pianto sa far lieto altrui.

Sonetto VIII

VALLE che de’ lamenti miei se’ piena,
fiume che spesso del mio pianger cresci,
fere silvestre, vaghi augelli, e pesci
che l’ una e l’ altra verde riva affrena,
aria, de’ miei sospir calda e serena,
dolce sentier che sì amaro riesci,
colle che mi piacesti, or mi rincresci,
ov’ ancor per usanza Amor mi mena,
   ben riconosco in voi l’ usate forme,
non, lasso, in me, che di sì lieta vita
son fatto albergo d’ infinita doglia.
Quinci vedea ’l mio bene; e per queste orme
torno a vedere ond’ al ciel nuda è gita,
lasciando in terra la sua bella spoglia.


Sonetto IX

LEVOMMI il mio penser in parte ov’ era
quella ch’ io cerco e non ritrovo in terra:
ivi, fra lor che ’l terzo cerchio serra,
la rividi più bella e meno altera.
Per man mi prese e disse: “In questa spera
sarai ancor meco, se ’l desir non erra:
I’ so’ colei che ti die’ tanta guerra,
e compie’ mia giornata innanzi sera.
   Mio ben non cape in intelletto umano:
te solo aspetto e, quel che tanto amasti
e là giuso è rimaso, il mio bel velo.”
Deh, perchè tacque? et allargò la mano?
ch’ al suon de’ detti sì pietosi e casti
poco mancò ch’ io non rimasi in cieolo.

Sonetto X

I’ VO piangendo I miei passati tempi,
i quai posi in amar cosa mortale
senza levarmi a volo, abbiend’ io l’ ale
per dar forse di me non bassi esempi.
Tu, che vedi I miei mali indegni et empi,
Re del cielo, invisibile, immortale,
soccorri a l’ alma disvïata e frale,
e ’l suo defetto di tua grazia adempi:
   se che, s’ io vissi in guerra et in tempesta,
mora in pace et in porto, e se la stanza
fu vana, almen sia la partita onesta.
A quel poco di viver che m’ avanza
ed al morir degni esser tua man presta:
tu sai ben che ’n altrui non ho speranza.


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