Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Of the 366 poems included in the collection that Petrarch made of his poetry, 317 are sonnets, 29 are canzoni, 9 are sestine, 7 are ballate, and 4 are madrigals. In giving the work the title Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, Petrarch called attention to the fact that the brief poems were written not in Latin but in the vernacular. The work also became known as Rime (Rhymes) and Canzoniere.
In considering the sonnets and songs of Petrarch, scholars invariably compare the poet with Dante, who also wrote in the vernacular Italian instead of Latin. Both these giants of Italian literature centered their poetry on a gracious lady suddenly discovered, idealized, and then praised throughout a lifetime. Dante wrote his La vita nuova (c. 1292; Vita Nuova, 1861; better known as The New Life) about Beatrice Portinari, whom he met when he was nine years old and she eight; he never stopped worshiping her as the ideal woman, and he continued to celebrate her in his poetry even after her death in 1290. Petrarch’s ideal woman was Laura, possibly Laura de Noves, whom he first met on April 6, 1327, when he was in his twenty-second year. Laura died in 1348 from the plague.
Like Dante, Petrarch kept his passion at a distance—one might say at a poetic distance—from the woman who charmed him. In the works of both Dante and Petrarch, however, it is difficult to believe that the love was merely an excuse...
(The entire section is 1459 words.)
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