Words of Love: The Tragic Romance of Francesco Petrarch

By Veronica Huston February 14, 2013 09:54 AM
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Words of Love: The Tragic Romance of Francesco Petrarch

If there was ever a man who could pin beauty to paper with a pen, and bring it to life, that man is Francesco Petrarch, more commonly known as Petrarch. As an homage to Valentine’s Day, I would like to bring to light one of the most famous poets and romantics of all time. Even more than Robert Frost or Edgar Allen Poe, he was an idol, an inspiration, a beacon of artistic light to all those who put pen to paper. It is even thought among many writers that a poet is not truly a poet unless he has read and studied Petrarch’s inspiring work.

A writer since age twelve, Petrarch has written many amazing works, such as On His Own Ignorance and that of Many Others, On Illustrious Men, Secretum (or The Book of Secrets), Triumphs, and The Cazoniere. The Cazoniere is commonly thought of as his greatest work, as well as the one he is most famous for. He wrote The Cazoniere for his lost love, a girl who he called Laura. He worked tirelessly on it for most of his life, before and after Laura was carried away by the Black Death that swept over Europe in 1348, finishing only a year before his own death. In this book, which is a collection of poems and ballads, Petrarch revolutionized the sonnet.

Sonnet 159

In what bright realm, what sphere of radiant thought
Did Nature find the model whence she drew
That delicate dazzling image where we view
Here on this earth what she in heaven wrought?
What fountain-haunting nymph, what dryad, sought
In groves, such golden tresses ever threw
Upon the gust? What heart such virtues knew?—
Though her chief virtue with my death is frought.
He looks in vain for heavenly beauty, he
Who never looked upon her perfect eyes,
The vivid blue orbs turning brilliantly –
He does not know how Love yields and denies;
He only knows, who knows how sweetly she
Can talk and laugh, the sweetness of her sighs.

Petrarch is still considered to be one of the greatest writers of all time, and one of the first true celebrities of the Renaissance. He was even granted the prestigious honor of being crowned poet laureate by the Roman Senate. He stands as an inspiration to all future writers and inspired many talented authors such as Giovanni, Shakespeare, and Chaucer. He also brought back the classical style of writing and was greatly inspired by the writers of old, like Virgil and Cicero. Historians believe that Petrarch was aware of his unique place in history because of a collection of letters he addressed to friends, which were inspired by the letters of Cicero. In the most famous of these, Letter to Posterity, Petrarch talks of his interests and views. It reveals who Petrarch was, and shows that he wanted us to remember him not just as some dead writer, but as a person and an artist. He wanted us to know who he was, what he believed in, and what he stood for.

I find The Cazoniere and his life with Laura fascinating, his greatest work and his greatest inspiration. The period of his life with Laura, in my opinion, was the most important and interesting. To lose a love that he felt such passion for must have been so traumatic for him. The burning passion and terrible, heartbreaking pain that she inspired in him, a precious gift that was stolen away without reason, inspired such beautiful poetry which must have been a solace to him. He documented his love for her in many poems; most of his work is dedicated to her.

There is only one hiccup in this epic love story: no one can prove that this ‘Laura’ actually existed. Petrarch could have changed her name, which in Latin means ‘fame.’ She could have been the wife of a wealthy nobleman that he really did meet in a church in Avignon on April 6, 1327, or she could simply be an idol, the perfect woman that Petrarch concocted for inspiration. He knew well of Dante’s beloved Beatrice and how she brought out the best of his skill (despite being a child and his cousin), and how some attribute his finest work, the Divine Comedy, to her early death.

But whoever Laura was, whether or not she existed, she is still one of the greatest muses in all of literature. She was a light in the troubled life of a Renaissance writer, with which he helped to lead the humanist movement that altered culture and mankind’s perception of itself forever. Their story may be fictional, but their love was true; one has only to read any of Petrarch’s works to be sure of that. His poetry feeds the soul and gives hope that love is truly out there, and no matter what happens, it won’t leave you. Love is like beauty. It may fade, but it never dies.