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her history. When we consider some of the greatest of


his brother poets and patriots in that regard,— when
we think of the ferocity of Dante, who assuredly
would have served his enemies as they served him if
he had prevailed,— or, at a time far removed from his,
when, we .think of the aristocratic republicanism of
Alfieri, who despised the house of Savoy, whence re-
generation was to come to Italy, as much as he hated
the democracy of France, which alone could check her
foreign tyrants even for an instant, Petrarch rises
above them both in generosity and in wisdom.

Again, Petrarch, entirely aside from his poetry, de-
serves perhaps the highest place among the revivers
of learning. He was diligent in searching out all the
remains of ancient literature that still lay in monastic
libraries; he culled their choicest flowers for the in-
struction of the people; he insisted that the Muses
should not be silent among arms. He befriended Boc-
caccio ; he inspired Chaucer ; he made literature to be
honored in his own person with a glory surpassing
pope or emperor ; and he did what every wise man does
who gets the chance,— learned Greek, at an age when
fools stop learning anything.

Men have long been taught to think the great hero
of the middle of the fourteenth century was Edward
the Black Prince, a man who was the type of chivalry
to a royal prisoner, but the type of savagery to re-
volted subjects. If any one thinks the glory of Crecy


and Poitiers and Navarrete is superior to that of the
coronation in the capital, he has yet to learn that peace
hath her victories not less but more renowned than
those of war.

But it is as an Italian poet that Petrarch chiefly
concerns us now. Of his immense influence on the
language and literature of Italy the evidence is plain,
and the estimate can hardly be exaggerated. He fixed
the language of Italian poets in words, in phrases, in
form, in tone. It is said— and as far as a foreigner
can judge it is true— that there is no word in Petrarch
which is not in good use to-day. To understand what
this means, we have only to consider how it seems
to us now to read Chaucer, who was later than Pe-
trarch by a whole generation. Nor is it hard to define
the nature of this influence and the tone given by him
to Italian poetry. The leading traits are two — sweet-
ness and tenderness — melodious expression and sym-
pathetic thought. The verse of Petrarch stands that
criterion which an old-fashioned lover of verse adheres
to in spite of all modern theories of deliberate harsh-
ness and forced rhythm: it reads or rather sings it-
self. You cannot pronounce the words without falling
into the melody. It is song; and throughout all
Petrarch's volume called "Canzoniere" one feels that
the terms lyre and lute and harp are his by right, as
of the bards of old.


There are in this volume three hundred and seven-
teen sonnets and forty-nine canzoni, or odes, of greater
or lesser length; these last are subjected to rules of
rhyme as complicated and artful as are the sonnets.
There are, finally, six poems in the measure of Dante's
great poem, called the Triumphs of Love, Chastity,
Death, Fame, Time, and Divinity. Three fifths of the
volume were composed during Laura's life, and the
remainder after her death; the great majority of the
poems, in whatever form, are founded upon Petrarch's
passion ; very few of the sonnets are on any other

On the value of the sonnet as a form of poetry
there have been endless discussions, which seem to me
profitless. A form of composition which Shakespeare,
Milton, and Wordsworth used freely cannot be de-
spised by critics of English poetry. But the Italians
from Dante down have more than adopted it : it is
incorporated in the very being of their poetry; and
whoever finds sonnets unattractive or repulsive to him
is out of tune with the whole genius of Italian poetry.
This form of Italian poetry may be said to have had
its rules fixed by Petrarch.

The ingenuity which he put into these little poems
is beyond praise. Every sonnet has its own single
theme; yet into the fourteen lines are worked abun-
dant illustrations, for which an inferior poet would


need three times as many. Every word seems to fall
into its right place of itself, and it needs a very close
examination to detect the infinite art of the construc-
tion. In many of them there are evidence of passion
and devotion : a great wave of feeling has swelled up
in the poet's heart; it must have vent, and it breaks
out in these burning lines. But often the very clever-
ness seems inconsistent with real passion. It seems
incredible that a man who was really frozen, chilled,
and heartbroken by his lady's haughtiness, or in time
really became healed of his wounds by her gracious-
ness, should be able to set down and analyze with such
an exact and precise choice of words the rays of the
double sun which burned him, the hardness of the
snowy marble that chilled him, and the verdure of the
laurel which is his lady's namesake— an evergreen
which flourishes so perennially in his writings that it
becomes positively withered for very greenness and,
one longs to say, turns to a chestnut. For we must
admit in Petrarch a sameness of ideas and phrases
which his wonderful skill in rearranging them cannot
conceal. The same images, the same words, the same
rhymes constantly recur; and when he tells us that
Laura has cast over him a net which he can never dis-
entangle, we see what he means by the way he tells it.

The canzoni, or odes, are far more remarkable than
the sonnets. Even in them Petrarch imposes upon him-


self the trammels of complicated rhymes ; and though
the lines are of unequal lengths, the curious interlock-
ing of the endings sometimes makes an ode resemble
a succession of sonnets. But the whole plan of these
poems is more generous : not only the canvas is wider,
but the themes are larger, the imagination is bolder,
the fancy is richer ; whereas the sonnets, at their best
elegant, are often only pretty and sometimes mean,
the odes are beautiful and thrilling, sometimes noble
and even sublime. When Laura is the subject, there
is, in spite of occasional fantasticalities, a deeper
strain of devotion than in the neat epigrams of four-
teen lines where love seems decked out for a fancy

There is in both sets of poems, if I am not greatly
mistaken, a steady elevation of sentiment. There is
first the wayward and wanton complaint of a mere
lover; then comes the reluctant confession that the
lady is of nobler temper than he had dreamed, and
worthy of his respect; then a determination that he
will in turn win her respect by making her name glo-
rious ; then he wakes to the consciousness that he can
best win her respect, not by what he does, but by what
he is, and making her nature a model for his own.

Then comes the stroke of Laura's death ; there is for
a little while the agony of separation, and the longing
to end a life which is but death without her ; but soon


she begins to return to him in the visions of the night,
leading him to higher things, and making him conse-
crate his life, not to her, his lady, but to the Lord of
all of whom she is the messenger.

A small but very notable portion of the poems are
not concerned with Laura at all. They are on the ever
exciting, ever hopeful, ever sad theme of Italy; and
never in all the long line of Italian poets from Ennius
to Carducci have the sufferings and hopes of Italy
aroused a bard to appeals more manly yet more tender
to her and her leaders to break off their lethargy and
rise to their duty. Not Virgil nor Horace, not Lucan
nor Juvenal, not Dante nor Filicaja has struck with a
bolder hand or a finer touch the "chosen chords of
gold" which are to vibrate in the ears of the frivolous,
the slothful, the selfish, the criminal rulers to whose
control fate has intrusted the loveliest of lands.

The Triumphs which conclude the volume form a
species of allegory in six pictures. Petrarch has a vis-
ion of Love riding in his car, dragging in his train an
endless line of captives, including the most illustrious
of old, whose names he recounts, glorying to think he
is of their band, and that they have suffered as he does.
Then comes the Triumph of Chastity, the victory over
passion of another great band, of whom Laura of
course is the brilliant leader. But even she and the
other noble matrons must yield to Death. He in turn


finds his conquest nullified by the Triumph of Fame.
But over Fame in the end will triumph Time, who
subdues all things. The only lasting victory is that
of the Eternal Father, who annihilates even Time
and gives his dutiful subjects an everlasting crown.
All these poems, written in Dante's terza rima, exhibit
much of the lofty thought and unyielding tread of the
master, tempered by a gentleness which was the pecu-
liar gift of the pupil.

Petrarch is extremely difficult to translate, partly
from the complexity of the rhymes, which it is equally
hard to transfer and fatal to disregard ; and even if
this difficulty be surmounted or evaded, there remains
in the very structure of the poems that subtlety where-
by art concealing art baffles the translator. Petrarch
was a devoted admirer of Virgil, and drew from him
the secret of making language and thought interdepen-
dent, so that not a word can be changed, dropped, or
added to the former without injuring the latter. I
give a variety of specimens, all from inadequate ver-

In sum we must hold that Petrarch was a very great
man and a very great poet, who ranks in his best work
with the kings of song, and on whose inferior work it
is far easier to pronounce a general sentence than a
specific condemnation of given parts. He is the noble
progenitor and director of a noble line of bards.


The opening sonnet, addressed to his readers, is as
follows— it is from Lord Charlemont 's translation,
slightly altered:

Ye who in rhymes dispersed the echoes hear
Of those sad sighs with which my heart I fed
When early youth my mazy wanderings led,

Fondly diverse from what I now appear.

Fluttering 'twixt frantic hope and frantic fear,
From those by whom my various style is read,
I hope, if e 'er their hearts with love have bled,

Not only pardon, but perhaps a tear.

But now I clearly see that of mankind

Long have I been the tale; whence bitter thought
And self-reproach with frequent blushes teem;

While of my frenzy shame the fruit I find.

And sad repentance; and the proof, dear bought.
That the world's joy is but a fleeting dream.

His blessing on everything connected with Laura
(Lady B. Dacre).

Blest be the year, the month, the hour, the day,
The season and the time, and point of space,
And blest the beauteous country and the place

When first of two bright eyes I felt the sway:

Blest the sweet pain of which I was the prey
When newly doomed Love 's service to embrace,
And blest the bow and shaft to which I trace

The wound that in my inmost heart found way;

Blest be the ceaseless accents of my tongue,
Unwearied breathing my loved lady 's name ;
Blest my fond wishes, sighs and tears and pains;

Blest be the lays wherein her praise I sung,

That on all sides have won for her fair fame;
And blest my thoughts! For over all she reigns.


To his friend Colonna, inviting him to Vaucluse.
The play on Colonna (column or pillar) cannot be
given in English, as is often the case with Lauro
and Laura.

Glorious Colonna! thou the pillar dear

Of all our hope, and the great Latin name,
Whom windy shower or Jove's infuriate flame

Hath never made from the true path to veer.

No palace, theatre, nor arches here

But in their stead the beech, the fir, the pine,
Where one may wander versing, or recline.

'Twixt the greensward and the fair mountain near,

Bid from the earth to heaven our spirits soar,
And nightingales, who sweetly to the shade
Throughout the night their lamentation pour

And thoughts of love instil into the heart.

But all these pleasures are but maimed and fade

If thou from us, my lord, shalt keep apart.

From the ode appealing to Colonna, who is going to

Rome :

noble spirit, which the limbs dost rule
Wherein doth pass his days of pilgrimage,
A valiant lord, courteous alike and sage.

Since to the honored staff thy hand is laid
That Rome and all her truant sons shall school
And call them back into their ancient way,
I speak to thee, since nowhere else a ray

1 see of virtue, which on earth is dead;
Nor find I one ashamed of doing wrong.

Nor know what she awaits, for what may long,
Our Italy; she will not feel her woe.
Lazy and old and slow.

Sleeps she for aye? Will none to rouse her cai-e?

Oh, that my hands were twisted in her hair!


I do not hope that from that sluggish sleep
Her head wiU rise, however man may call,
Her frame oppressed such heavy burdens keep;

But not unfated to thy arms has come,
Able to shake and lift her from her thrall,

The head of all our nation, even Rome.

Lay then upon those honored locks thy grasp

Firmly, and those dishevelled tresses clasp
Till the neglectful rise from out the mire.

Go! For her sorrows day and night I moan;

My feeble hope 1 rest on thee alone;
For if his race their sire

The war-god bid to honor turn his eyes

Within thy day, methinks, such light shall rise.

I give what is called a sestina, where six words, with

which the first six lines end, have the order changed in

the succeeding groups of six, solely to exhibit the

rhyming effect. The original is tedious, and the

translation is of course more so.

The loaded air and the oppressive cloud,
Raised by the might of the infuriate wind,
Threatens ere long to turn to falling rain.
Already now as crystal are the streams,
And in the place of herbage o 'er the vales
Naught else is there to see but frost and ice.

And I within my heart more cold than ice
Of heavy thoughts am weighed beneath a cloud
Such as whilom arises from these vales
When close embraced by the loving wind
And fenced on every side by sluggish streams
When from the heaven there falls a gentler rain.

But in an hour will pass the heaviest rain,
And noontide heat dispel the snow and ice;
Whence sweep across our gaze the haughty streams,


Nor ever hid the heaven so black a cloud
That when it met the fury of the wind
It did not flee away from hills and vales.

But ah! tor me there smile no flowery vales;
Eather I weep in sunshine and in rain,
Both in the frosty and the softer wind;
The day that sees my lady feel no ice
Within, nor bear without the wonted cloud,
Then dry shall I behold the lakes and streams.

As long as to the sea descend the streams,
And boasts delight to range the shady vales,
Before those lovely eyes will stand that cloud
Whence wells from mine their everlasting rain;
And in the lovely breast the hardened ice
Which draws from mine the ever sighing wind.

All night I pardon every cruel wind
For love of one whose power between the streams
Shut me in lovely green and charming ice.
So that I pictured o'er a thousand vales
The shadow where I was, nor heat nor rain
Eeck'd I, nor sound from out the gathered cloud.

But no escape have I from cloud by wind
As on that day, nor ever streams by rain
Nor ice, whene 'er the sun shall ope the vales.

A denunciation of all the wickedness of the papal


May flame from heaven be on thy tresses shed,
Thou wicked one; by making others poor
Eich art thou grown and great, who like a boor

On water and on acorns late wast fed.

O nest of treachery! wherein are bred

All seeds of wrong that fill the earth to-day,
Where revelry maintains her fullest sway.

Slave to thy wine, thy viands, and thy bed,

Along thy halls old men and harlots pass
Eomping, and Belzebub amid their crew.


Wielding the fire, the bellows, and the glass.

Thy birth no bed of down nor shelter knew;
Bare to the wind, and shoeless on the grass,

Thy stench shall reek to God, and make thee rue.

An appeal to soften Laura's sternness (Mac-
gregor) :

A thousand times, sweet warrior, have I tried
Proffering my heart to thee, some peace to gain
From those bright eyes; but still, alas! in vain;

To such low level stoops not thy chaste pride.

If others sought the love thus thrown aside,
Vain were their hopes and labors to obtain
The heart thou spurnest; I alike disdain

To thee displeasing, 't is by me denied.

But if discarded thus, it find not thee
Its joyless exile willing to befriend,
Alone, untaught at others' will to wend,

Soon from life's weary burden will it flee.
How heavy, then, the guilt to both, but more
To thee, for thee it did the most adore.

A description of Laura's beauty (Anonymous,

1795) :

Loose to the breeze her golden tresses flowed,

Wild in a thousand mazy ringlets blown;

And from her eyes unconquered glances shone,
Those glances now so sparingly bestowed.
And true or false, meseemed some signs she showed

As o'er her cheek soft pity's hue was thrown.

I whose whole breast with Love 's soft food was sown,
What wonder if at once my bosom glowed?
Graceful she moved, with more than mortal mien,

In form an angel; and her accents won
Upon the ear with more than human sound,

A spirit heavenly pure, a living sun,
Was what I saw; and if no more 't were seen

To unbend the bow, will never heal the wound.


Among all Petrarch's poems, the ode beginning
"Chiare, fresche e dolce acque" is universally es-
teemed one of the most beautiful ; it is certainly one of
the most untranslatable. I give a portion from the
version of Leigh Hunt, who, if any one, knew Italian

poetry :

Clear, fresh, and dulcet streams,

Which the fair shape, that seems
To me sole woman haunted at noontide;

Fair bough, so gently fit

(I sigh to think of it).
Which lent a pillar to her lovely side;
And turf, and flowers bright-eyed,

O 'er which her folded gown

Flowed like an angel 's down ;
And you, O holy air and hushed,
Where first my heart at her sweet glances gushed,

Give ear, give ear, with one consenting

To my last words, my last and my lamenting.

If 't is my fate below.

And heaven will have it so.
That Love must close these dying eyes in tears.

May my poor dust be laid

In middle of your shade.
While my soul naked mounts to its own spheres;
The thought would calm my fears

When taking, out of breath.

The doubtful step of death ;
For never could my spirit find
A stiller port, after the stormy wind.

Nor in more calm, abstracted bourne
Slip from my travailed flesh, and from my bones

Perhaps some future hour.
To her accustomed bower

Might come the untamed and yet the gentle she;

And where she saw me first


Might turn with eyes athirst

And kinder joy to look again for me;

Then seeing 'midst the stones

The earth that held my bones,
A sigh for very love at last

Might ask of Heaven to pardon me the past;
And Heaven itself could not say nay
As with her gentle veil she wiped the tears away.

From the sonnets written after Laura's death

(Macgregor) :

Had I e'er thought that to the world so dear
The echoes of my sighs would be in rhyme,
I would have made them in my sorrow's prime

Barer in style, in number more appear.

Since she is dead, my muse who prompted here
First in my thought and feelings all the time,
All power is lost of tender or sublime

My rough dark verse to render soft and clear.

And surely my sole study and desire

Was but— I knew not how— in those long years

To unburden my sad heart, not fame acquire;
I wept, but sought no honor in my tears.

Now would I gladly please; but that high fair

Silent and weary calls me to her there.

On the death of his friend Senuccio (Morehead) :

O friend ! though left a wretched pilgrim here,
By thee though left in solitude to roam,
Yet can I mourn that thou hast found thy home

On angel pinions borne, in bright career I

Now thou behold 'st the ever-turning sphere.
And stars that journey round the vaulted dome:
Now thou behold 'st how short of truth we come,

How blind our judgment, and thine own how clear!

That thou art happy soothes my soul oppressed.
O friend, salute for me the laurelled band,


Guido and Cino, Dante and the rest :

And tell my Laura, friend, that here I stand.

Wasting in tears, scarce of myself possessed,

While her blest beauties all my thoughts command.

His sense of Laura's presence (Macgregor) :

Methinks from hour to hour her voice I hear:

My lady calls me! I would fain obey.

Within, without, I feel myself decay.
And am so altered — not with many a year —
That to myself a stranger I appear;

All my old usual life is put away.

Could I but know how long I have to stay —
Grant, Heaven, the long-wished summons may be near!
Oh, blest the day when from this earthly jail

I shall be freed, when burst and scattered lies
This mortal weed, so heavy yet so frail.

When from this black night my saved spirit flies,
Soaring aloft into the bright serene
Where with my Lord my lady shall be seen.

I give a few lines from Lady Barbarina Daere's
version of the Triumph of Death ; but the task of pre-
serving the rhymes is too arduous.

O hope, how false! How blind all human thought!
Whether in earth sank deep the dews of woe
For the bright spirit that has passed away.

Think, ye who listen! They who witnessed know
'T was the first hour of April, the sixth day,
That bound me, and, alas! now sets me free.

How Fortune doth her fickleness display!
None ever grieved for loss of liberty
Or doom of death as I for freedom grieve

And life prolonged, who only ask to die.



One must not suppose that Petrarch was the only
poet of his time ; but his genius was so far beyond all
others that it has thrown them into the shade, whence
they are not likely to emerge. But a place, though not
perhaps a brilliant one, must be accorded among Ital-
ian poets to the third great writer of the period, the
easy and witty master of prose narrative,— Giovanni
Boccaccio. His life, which extended from 1313 to
1375, would more properly come into a general dis-
cussion of Italian writers in prose as well as poetry,
^ and I only mention him here as connected with that
form of verse which all Italy adopted from him as the
best medium for narrative and satirical poetry, easier
to write and read than the complicated terza rima
of Dante, It is arranged in stanzas of eight lines, the
first six rhyming alternately and the last two form-
ing an independent couplet. It is most familiar to
English readers in Byron's "Don Juan," but Boc-
caccio, if not its absolute inventor, was the one who



gave it its vogue. He composed in it two poems, one
the "Teseide," whence Chaucer took the material of
his "Knight's Tale," and Shakespeare some hints for
the "Midsummer Night's Dream"; and another poem,
called "Filostrato," which sets forth the tale of Troi-
lus and Cressida. On this again Chaucer founded a
poem of portentous length, and Shakespeare a drama
exhibiting some of his rarest powers. I take from this
a few stanzas, chiefly to illustrate a quality of the Ital-
ian mind to which it is sure to revert if left to itself,
—I mean simplicity, sometimes approaching child-
ishness of thought. Even Dante and Petrarch, with
all the depth and intricacy both of ideas and expres-
sion, will sometimes startle us by coming back to an
absolutely simple stream of thought and verse ; and in
Boccaccio 's narrative we find an unchecked flow which
recalls such ancients as Theocritus and Catullus, and
which all careful students of Italy know is at the bot-
tom of her character under all the overlying art. This
is not merely in the expression; it is wholly by the
emotions and passions of the heart that the poet seeks
to awaken an interest. The works of nature and the
works of man are scarcely mentioned, and then only
as backgrounds to the men and women whose feelings
are related.

More she would say; but on her lover's breast
Fell with her face, as death itself were near,


Such mighty agony her heart oppressed,
Her spirit struggled for a passage clear;

The prince beheld upon her looks impressed

The change, and that his words she did not hear;

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