Petrarch Essay, Research Paper

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Petrarch (1304-1374), Italian poet and humanist, who is considered the

first modern poet. His perfection of the sonnet form later influenced such

English poets as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Edmund

Spenser. His wide knowledge of the classical authors and his restoration of

the classical Latin language earned him his reputation as the first great

humanist; but he also played an important role in the development of

Italian as a literary language.

Petrarch was born in Arezzo. In 1312 his family moved to Avignon, France.

Petrach took minor orders in the church about 1330. In 1327 he first saw

Laura (probably Laure de Noves), whose name he was to immortalize in his

lyrics and who inspired him with a passion that has become proverbial for

its constancy and purity.

Petrarch wrote in Latin and in Italian. His Latin works include “Africa”

(1338-1342), an epic poem about the Roman conqueror Scipio Africanus,

and Concerning Famous Men (1338?), a series of biographies. His vast

collection of letters is important for its historical and biographical details.

Petrarch’s most famous work is the collection of Italian verses, Rime in vita

e morta di Madonna Laura (after 1327) translated into English as Petrarch’s

Sonnets. Almost all of these sonnets and odes are inspired by Petrarch’s

unrequited passion for Laura


Known as “Italy’s greatest lyric poet” (Musa) Petrarch is a master of the

sonnet tradition alongside his countryman Dante. The sonnets of Petrarch

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helped define the conventional sonnet form; that is, fourteen lines divided

into an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines) with the rhyme scheme

following the pattern- -abba abba cde cde, or, abab abab cde dce; although,

there are variations in his sonnets (Tomlinson, 3) “his language is most

simple, and his meaning most direct. He goes straight to his object and

clothes it in the simplest words, and with little or no inversion.”(Tomlinson,


Petrarch began a collection of his Italian poetry in 1342. In its final form it

contained three hundred sixty-six compositions, principally sonnets, with

other verse forms interspread. (Auslander, 295) Written in the tradition if

chivalry, in which the lovers remain separated from his beloved, this body

of love poetry has been a major influence ever since, particularly on the

Elizabethan poets. (Auslander, 400)

In Sonnet number three Petrarch speaks of the first time he laid eyes on

the lady. He says: It was the morning of that blessed day then down

three lines he describes that morning as being the day he fell captive to the

lady: I fell a captive, Lady, to the sway. Petrarch is speaking of the day

when he first met Laura, a woman that some critics say was Laura De

Noves, while other critics say that Laura was just a figment of Petrarch s


Petrarch describes how he wasn t able to get close to this lady. He says

that: Of your swift eyes: that seemed no time to stay he s disappointed

that the woman he loves was gone before he got to know her better.

Petrarch also writes as though love caught him like a predator would catch

prey. He says that he stepped into the snare. It seems that he was

unaware of what was about to happen to him as is the case when most of

us fall in love.

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