(Rime sparse, Rerum vulgarium fragmenta)
   by Francis Petrarch
(ca. 1330–1374)
   Although PETRARCH assumed that his great lasting fame would come from his works in Latin, in particular his epic Africa on the exploits of his favorite hero, Scipio Africanus, his reputation today rests chiefly on his lyric poetry in the vernacular, a collection of short poems he referred to as “trifles” in a letter two years before his death. Petrarch never gave this collection of 366 Italian lyrics a proper title, referring to them as Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments of things in the vernacular), but they have become known to modern readers by the name Rime sparse (Scattered verse), or more often by the title Canzoniere (Song book). The chief theme of the collection is Petrarch’s love for the beautiful Laura, though the real subject of the poems is Petrarch’s own psyche: his emotions and aspirations as revealed in his expressions of love— in particular the inner conflict between his desire for worldly greatness and fame and his desire for heavenly reward.
   Of the 366 poems in the standard edition of the Canzoniere, 317 are SONNETS. Petrarch also includes 29 longer canzoni, as well as three more elaborate forms—nine sestinas, seven ballatas, and four madrigals. Of these poems, the vast majority are essentially love poems to the lady Laura, the paragon of beauty and excellence. Some 37 poems take other subjects, including the virtue of fame, religious and moral issues, political themes including Petrarch’s love of Italy and desire to resurrect the glory of the city of Rome, and matters concerning his friends or patrons. Other themes run through all of the poems, as Petrarch muses on the transience of earthly things, the ravages of time, and the virtues of peace and tranquillity.
   Petrarch underscores this transience by relating the death of his beloved Laura. He first met her, he tells us, on Good Friday, April 6, 1327, and she died on Easter Sunday, the same date 21 years later, probably during the BLACK DEATH.Manuscript tradition as old as the 16th century divides the Canzoniere into the first 263 poems, referred to as In vita di Madonna Laura (The Lady Laura in Life) and the last 103, called In morte di Madonna Laura (The Lady Laura after Death).While the titles and specific divisions were not made by Petrarch, they do reflect his own careful ordering of the poems.
   Despite Petrarch’s protestations to the contrary, he seems to have been keenly interested in the texts of his “trifles,” as evidenced by his own manuscript copy of the poems, still extant in the Vatican library. This manuscript contains a significant number of notes and corrections to the poems, as well as marginal annotations that reflect a meticulous concern for the precise ordering of the 366 lyrics. Scholars have determined that the text of the Canzoniere went through at least nine revisions over a 30-year period, indicating that each poem in the collection has been placed where it is in the final ordering with a particular purpose in mind. The poems of the first part concern the poet’s love for the living Laura, epitome of all that is admirable. They focus, however, not on her but on the poet’s reactions to her—the paradoxical effects of a love that is both pleasurable and painful at the same time:
   . . . blessed be the first sweet agony
   I felt when I found myself bound to Love,
   the bow and all the arrows that have
   pierced me;
   the wounds that reach the bottom of my
   (Petrarch 1985, 35, ll. 5–8)
   In poem 264, the canzone that begins the second part of the text, Petrarch wonders how after Laura’s death he can go on with his own life, drawn to the eternal reward of Christian love but still earthbound through his love of Laura:
   for with death at my side
   I seek new rules by which to lead my life,
   and see the best, but still cling to the worst.
   (Petrarch 1985, 63, ll. 134–136)
   As the collection ends (poem 365), the poet asks God to forgive his soul for straying from the eternal good to the mortal, earthly good that was Laura:
   I go my way regretting those past times
   I spent in loving something which was mortal
   instead of soaring high, since I had wings
   that might have taken me to higher levels.
   (Petrarch 1985, 77, ll. 1–4)
   Just what Laura represents in the text is a matter of some debate. Since few details of Laura’s life are ever revealed, some critics have suggested that she is purely a symbol, specifically of the laurel, the tree whose branches served as the symbol of fame and glory. A number of early poems in the collection use the imagery of Apollo and Daphne, whom the god turned into a laurel tree, suggesting that this connection was intended.Whether she existed or not, love for Laura is, in the text, a love for worldly glory, and Petrarch’s poems to her are the means by which that glory can be achieved. The reader finds, even in the second part of the collection, self-conscious references to the act of writing, expressing the paradox that Laura’s death has rendered him unable to write, but his love forces him to write; ultimately writing of his love causes him suffering, but also soothes his pain. The poems also preserve his love, and in doing so preserve the poet’s worldly reputation, gaining fame for both the poet and his inspiration.
   Throughout his Italian poems, Petrarch reveals the influence of DANTE as well as other vernacular poets like CAVALCANTI and CINO DA PISTOIA. One can also see echoes of classical poets like Ovid,Virgil, and Catullus, as well as TROUBADOURS like ARNAUT DANIEL and BERNART DE VENTADORN. But Petrarch’s own influence on subsequent centuries was more profound than that of any of these poets. Although ultimately the poet of the Canzoniere rejects worldly endeavors in favor of Christian salvation, the tension between the two desires and the paradoxes caused by his attempt to reconcile worldly and heavenly love struck a responsive chord in the Renaissance and led to Petrarch’s huge popularity throughout Europe during that time.
   ■ Bloom, Harold, ed. Petrarch. Introduction by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.
   ■ Mann,Nicholas. Petrarch. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
   ■ Petrarch, Francis. The Canzoniere, or, Rerum vulgarium fragmenta. Translated with notes and commentary by Mark Musa. Introduction by Mark Musa with Barbara Manfredi. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
   ■ ———. Selections from the Canzoniere and Other Works. Translated with an introduction and notes by Mark Musa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
   ■ Roche, Thomas P., Jr. Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences. New York: AMS Press, 1989.
   ■ Trinkaus, Charles. The Poet as Philosopher: Petrarch and the Formation of Renaissance Consciousness. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Canzoniere —   [italienisch, zu Kanzone], Sammlung von Liedern oder anderen lyrischen Gedichten …   Universal-Lexikon

  • canzoniere — /kantso njere/ s.m. [der. di canzone ]. 1. (crit.) [volume che raccoglie poesie di uno o più poeti: il C. del Petrarca ] ▶◀ antologia, (lett.) crestomazia, fiore, florilegio, raccolta, scelta. 2. (mus.) [volume che raccoglie canzoni e canzonette] …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • Canzoniere — Le Canzoniere (Chansonnier) ou Rerum vulgarium fragmenta (Fragments composés en vulgaire) est un recueil de 366 poèmes composés en italien par l écrivain Francesco Petrarca et consacrés à son amour intemporel : Laure, que Pétrarque aurait… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Canzoniere — Der Canzoniere (Originaltitel Rerum vulgarium fragmenta) ist die Geschichte des inneren Lebens Petrarcas. Der Zyklus besteht aus 366 Gedichten: 317 Sonetten, 29 Kanzonen, 9 Sestinen, 7 Balladen und 4 Madrigalen. Er enthält nicht alle Gedichte von …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Canzoniere — Can|zo|ni|e|re die; , n <aus gleichbed. it. canzoniere> Sammlung von Liedern od. anderen lyrischen Gedichten …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • canzoniere — 1can·zo·niè·re s.m. 1. TS lett. raccolta di componimenti lirici, spec. di un solo autore, legati tra loro da un filo conduttore 2. CO raccolta di testi di canzoni {{line}} {{/line}} DATA: av. 1584. ETIMO: cfr. fr. chansonnier. 2can·zo·niè·re s.m …   Dizionario italiano

  • canzoniere — {{hw}}{{canzoniere}}{{/hw}}s. m. 1 Raccolta di poesie liriche di uno o più autori. 2 Raccolta di canzoni o canzonette musicali …   Enciclopedia di italiano

  • canzoniere — pl.m. canzonieri …   Dizionario dei sinonimi e contrari

  • canzoniere — ит. [канцонье/рэ] сборник песен …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • canzoniere — s. m. 1. poesie 2. canzoni …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

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