Era il giorno ch’al sol si scoloraro
per la pietà del suo fattore I rai,
quando i’ fui preso, e non me ne guardai,
ché i be’ vostr’occhi, mi legaro.
Tempo non mi parea da far riparo
contra’ colpi d’Amor; però m’andai
secur, senza sospetto; onde i miei guai
nel comune dolor s’incominciaro.
Trovommi Amor del tutto disarmato
et aperta la via per gli occhi al core
che di lagrime son fatti uscio et varco:
però, al mio parer, non li fu onore
ferir me di saetta in quello stato,
a voi armata non mostrar pur l’arco.
English Translation by George Laver
It was the very day on which the sun dimmed,
For the pity of its Maker, the rays;
When I was taken, my guard sent astray
By your fine eyes, woman, transfixed.
With neither time nor reason to make me safe
Against Love’s blows, I went
Sure and heedless; and my troubles thence
Were born in all-encompassing strife.
By Love was I found hopelessly exposed, my weakness all displayed,
A path wide open between eyes and heart,
Which now, by constant weeping, as the gates of tears are made.
And yet I feel wronged by great injustice on his part
To have wounded me by arrow, and while in such state;
While to you, woman, you who were armed, loath even his bow to raise.
Apologies again for the delay in entries. Unfortunately, since final exams are looming ever closer, this will be my final scheduled contribution to the Portsmouth Point Poetry section of the blog before it is inherited by a new contributor. As this final entry falls on Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to finish with a poem relating to the broad and multi-faceted theme of love. Nowadays, what we refer to as “love poetry” is perhaps too often dismissed or denied recognition for its seeming fondness and lack of real depth or complexity. It is in the hope of challenging such assumptions that I have chosen the third poem from the Canzoniere of Francesco Petrarca , or Petrarch.
In the Canzoniere, a 366-poem collection variously referred to as Rime, Rime Sparse and, in more scholarly contexts, Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta (roughly translating to Fragments of Vernacular Matters), Petrarch reflects on his love affair of more than 20 years with the enigmatic Laura (tentatively proposed to be Laura de Noves, the wife of Count Hugues de Sade) through several different poetic forms, the most frequent of which being the famous Petrarchan sonnet, in which form some 317 of the rime are written.
The third poem in the collection, itself taking this form, describes the moment on Good Friday, April 6th 1327, when Petrarch allegedly first encountered Laura. It is clear that this meeting, for all the woman’s enchanting presence, is far from a simple or a happy one, and a sense of foreboding on the part of the speaker is evident throughout. For Petrarch, it is on this day that all his “troubles” begin, the first day of the three or so decades during which he is forced to fight great battles of willpower between pious reverence for his God and earthly desire for his lover.
We see what is arguably a desperate attempt on the poet’s part to reconcile these internal forces through renunciation of any culpability for his feelings towards the woman; placing himself in the position of the wronged party, he states that he is merely the victim of the whimsical choice of a personified love, and that he at any rate was grossly underprepared for such emotional troubles.
It is perhaps telling of the significance attached to love by poets of Petrarch’s time that it is shown to evoke such tormenting and conflicting emotions. What the poet offers us is far from a simple expression of affection; we find in this piece the beginning of a personal conflict which will come to change the life of the speaker forever, and it is through an inability to comprehend and control the vast and multiform complexities of love that such a conflict arises.