Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Petrarchan sonnets originated in the Renaissance period, although the sonnet form is named after Petrarch he did not invent it, instead, Petrarch adopted the form, which then became widely known because of his poetry.  

Who was Francesco Petrarca? 

Francesco Petrarca also known as Petrarch was born on July 20, 1304, in Arezzo, Italy. He was a poet laureate, humanist, and scholar best known for his poetry, specifically the Canzoniere that is a collection of 366 poems.  

A woman named Laura inspired much of Petrarch’s work. It is not known whether Laura existed or whether Petrarch actually ever even spoke to her but it is said that she was a woman who he saw in the church who captured his attention because of her beauty. In a gist Petrarch was in love with Laura and many of his poems hold a theme of unrequited love as well as the grief that he felt when he learned of Laura’s death.  

Petrarchan Sonnet Form  

-A sonnet consists of 14 lines made up of two parts 

  • The first part usually introduces a theme or problem  

  • The rhyme scheme for the first part called an octave is AABBAABBA 

  • The rhyme scheme for the second part of the sonnet called a sestet solves the problem and the rhyme scheme is typically CDECDE or CDDECE 

-Here is one of Petrarch’s Sonnets, sonnet #1 in the Canzoniere, titled, ‘Voi Ch’ascoltate in rima sparse il suono’ or ‘You Who Hear the Sound, in Scattered Rhymes’ translated 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 Petrarch is lamenting the realization that he will never get to be with Laura perhaps because he has never spoken to her or also because it is suspected that if Laura was a real person she was already married or engaged to someone else.  

Translations of Petrarch’s Sonnets 

If you are interested in reading more of Petrarch’s sonnets you can find many different translations of his works.  

  • Earliest: Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Translation of Petrarch and The Earl of Surrey’s Translation of Petrarch  

  • Latest: The Complete Canzoniere a translation by A.S Kline   

  • Petrarch: Selected Poems  

    • Available through curbside pick at all library locations.