Sonnet 269 Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

This famous Petrarchan sonnet, Sonnet 269, the basis for the translation “The Soote Season” by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, was probably written in the spring of 1352, after the death of Laura (1348). A traditional Petrarchan sonnet divided into an octave rhymed abbaabba and a sestet with the rhymed variation of cdcdcd, the poem is both a lament over the loss of Laura and a meditation on the relationship between the speaker and the natural world around him.

The opening of the poem, with its classical references to Zephyr (the spring wind), Procne (the swallow), and Philomel (the nightingale), invokes the substance and ethos of classical poetry. Yet the opening is also ironically poignant, for the western wind, Zephyr, has replaced the poet’s own breeze, Laura (l’aura, “breeze” in Italian), and left him without the hope generally associated with spring. The poet paints a concrete picture of the details of the season—the birds, the colors, the fair sky, the “glad” fields—yet notes the paradox that, while all around him the earth is in repair, he experiences only a “sweet despair,” the typical Petrarchan oxymoron describing the experience of love.

Indeed, the second part of the poem, the sestet, shows that the poet is at odds with his context. While the life-giving wind comes to nature, he experiences “only heavy sighs” since Laura has gone to her “heavenly sojourn.” Despite the renewal of the world around him, the speaker’s internal landscape, the world of his experience, is precisely the opposite—“Where deserts burn/ The beasts still prowl on the ungreening sand”—and he finds no resurrection of hope.

The poem is one of the best instances of Petrarch’s use of the natural world as an indicator of human experience. While in other poems the landscape had been an adequate mirror of his own emotional state, however, he now finds nature almost mocking his despair and tormenting with hope when he finds none.

Sonnet 269 Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bergin, Thomas G. Petrarch. New York: Twayne, 1970.

Bishop, Morris. Petrarch and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963.

Enenkel, K. A. E., and Jan Papy, eds. Petrarch and His Readers in the Renaissance. Boston: Brill, 2006.

Foster, Kenelm. Petrarch: Poet and Humanist. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1984.

Kircher, Timothy. The Poet’s Wisdom: The Humanists, the Church, and the Formation of Philosophy in the Early Renaissance. Boston: Brill, 2006.

Mann, Nicholas. Petrarch. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Quillen, Carol Everhart. Rereading the Renaissance: Petrarch, Augustine, and the Language of Humanism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Trapp, J. B. Studies of Petrarch and His Influence. London: Pindar, 2003.

Wilkins, E. H. Life of Petrarch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961.