Tendresses

Poetry from the European Languages

Petrarch (1304–1374)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Francesco Petrarcha was born in Arezzo of a family exiled from Florence in 1301. His father was a notary. He studied at Montpellier University and at law school, and became chaplain to Cardinal Colonna. He travelled in France, Flanders and Germany. He met his idealized woman, Laura, in 1327. She died of the Black Death in 1348. His series of love sonnets and other poems strongly influenced subsequent European poetry, for example Wyatt and Sidney in England. He settled at Vaucluse near Avignon, but, after the plague of 1362, moved to Padua and then Arqua, in the Euganean Hills, where he died, in July 1374, on or near his birthday, at the age of seventy.


Petrarch (1304–1374)

I

Diana was never more pleasing to her lover,

when, by a stroke of fate, he saw her naked,

shown in the deep pool of icy water,

than I was by the mountain shepherdess,

standing there to wash her delightful veil,

that keeps blonde, lovely hair from the wind’s stress,

so that, now heaven’s fires overspill,

she made me tremble with an amorous chill.

II

Now that the wind and earth and sky are silent,

and the wild birds and creatures curbed by sleep,

without a wave the sea rests in the deep,

Night’s chariot moving to its starred descent,

I gaze, think, burn, weep: she who destroys me

always appears to me in my sweet pain:

my state is anger, war, and misery,

but thinking of her gives me peace again.

III

Through the heart of the wild and inhospitable woods,

where even men with weapons travel riskily,

I go in safety since nothing troubles me

but the Sun, whose living rays are kindled by Love.

And I go singing (how foolish the thoughts that stir!)

of her, from whom heaven cannot separate me,

who fills my eyes: I see her here among women,

and young girls: and they are all beeches and fir!

I seem to hear her, and not the branches and breeze,

or the leaves and the birds, sounding in the glade,

or the waters murmuring in the roots of grass.

Rarely did silence and solitariness please

so much, or sublimity of woodland shade,

except, that too much of my bright Sun is lost.

IV

From what Idea, from what part of the skies

came that first form, out of which Nature made

that lovely, shining face, down here displayed,

to show what she can fashion for our eyes?

What nymph of fountains, goddess of the trees,

loosed such fine, gold hair to the wind?

When did a heart so many virtues seize,

that, through their total, I my death will find?

He looks for divine beauty uselessly

who never saw the eyes that she reveals,

how tenderly she lets them move and see;

nor can he know how love kills, or how it heals,

who does not hear how she sighs, so sweetly -

so sweet her speech, so sweet her laughter’s peals.

V

Filled with consuming thought that divides me

from other men, and sends me through life alone,

from hour to hour, out of myself I’m flown,

searching to find her, from whom I should flee.

And seeing her pass by, so sweet and deadly,

my spirit quivers to take wing, fly on,

so many armed sighs, with her, are gone,

whom Love and I know - our beautiful enemy.

Surely, if I am not wrong, from that brow

high and clouded, a ray of pity shines,

that, to some degree, brightens my sad heart.

Then, rousing my mind, I consider how

to tell her of this unwise choice of mine,

yet, having so much to say, I dare not start.

VI

The eyes of which I spoke so warmly, the hands,

the shoulders and the ankles and the face,

that separated me from my Self’s space,

and marked me out from every other man:

the lovely waving hair of shining gold,

the loving light of that angelic smile,

that made a paradise on earth a while,

are dust, a little dust, senseless and grown cold.

And I, I live (for which I despise myself),

and am saddened, left without the light I loved,

in a damaged boat, in a great storm’s madness.

Now, make an end to the songs of the loving Self.

The veins are dry where creation’s blood once moved,

and Poetry turned to eternal sadness.