Poetic Spotlight: Alas, so all things now do hold their peace

Portrait of Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), It...

Portrait of Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), Italian poet and humanist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the great wonders of the poetic world–at least in the western tradition–is the centuries old figure of one of Italy’s most interesting sons: Francesco Petrarch.  A poet and scholar, his was one of the voices most sought after in the Renaissance–that great pinnacle of western revival in the arts.

For good reason, might I add! Not only was he considered the father of the humanist movement (which would eventually change the face of Europe in a great many ways, I might add–Reformation, anyone?), he gave birth to what is now known as the Petrarchan sonnet, and his works serve as some of the models for lyrical poetry as a whole. You may recall in a previous post I mentioned the Italian sonnet? In some cases, it is another name for these–but on the whole, Petrarch’s words served as the basis for those Italian forms to come.

His brand of poetry was not typically weighed with politics or the like, as seen in many cases today, but rather with the matter of the heart–or to be more specific, the concepts of unattainable love. Beneath many of them lie a great pining the poetic heart too easily recognizes.

Italian, it is often said, is a language of love, and if that’s the case, you might consider thanking Petrarch for the pleasure–the model for the modern Italian language is actually based of a mix of Petrarch’s, Giovanni Boccaccio’s, and Dante Alighieri’s works.

So let us indulge now in a sample of the master’s words, with one of his iconic sonnets…

Sonnet 12–Alas, so all things now do hold their peace

Alas, so all things now do hold their peace,

Heaven and earth disturbèd in no thing;

The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease;

The nightes car the stars about doth bring.

Calm is the sea, the waves work less and less.

So am not I, whom love, alas, doth wring,

Bringing before my face the great increase

Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing

In joy and woe, as in a doubtful ease.

For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring,

But by and by the cause of my disease

Gives me a pang that inwardly doth sting,

When that I think what grief it is again

To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.

~By Petrarch, translated into English by Henry Howard