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Analyze the meaning and literary devices in Petrarch's "The gentle breeze" sonnet.

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In this sonnet, Petrach explores the paradox of love: it both lightens his spirit and yet wearies him. He calls these dual emotions "double lights." Love burns as well as delights him, and he feels as if love holds him with knotted cords, yet he appreciates the lovely eyes and golden hair of his beloved.

Some of Petrarch's literary devices are lost in the translation from Italian. The speaker, however, uses the literary device of personification in this sonnet, picturing Love as a weaver spinning the eyes and the hair of his beloved. He also uses antithesis, in which opposites are paired, such as death and life.

Metaphor, which is a comparison not using the words like or as, is also used. Love is compared to blazing fire that burns the speaker and creates knots that bind him to his beloved.

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In this sonnet, number 198, Petrarch reflects on the pains of love. This poem is not what I would call positive, but rather, it holds tension between the lover and his beloved, who does not necessarily return his feelings. First, it would be helpful to have the full text:

The gentle breeze loosens, and stirs in the sun,
the gold Love spins and weaves with his own hand
near the lovely eyes, and binds my weary heart
with those very tresses, and lightens my spirits.

There's no marrow in my bones, nor blood
in my veins that doesn't feel the tremor,
when I'm near one who too often sets death
and life together in the balance,

seeing the fire blazing where I'm burned,
the knots glistening where I'm held,
now at her left shoulder, now her right.

I can't explain what I don't understand:
my mind's troubled by those double lights,
and oppressed and wearied by such sweetness.

Petrarch doesn’t feel great. His mind is “troubled by those double lights,” by which he means the lady’s eyes. He is “oppressed and wearied” by his emotions, which are batted in all directions by his love. It seems the lady does not treat him consistently. Sometimes he feels “held” at her left shoulder, and other times at her right. This implies that she is pulling him along but not making any promises. She is an unpredictable and difficult mistress. On the other hand, Petrarch cannot help being drawn to her. Seeing her lifts his spirits, and every part of his body feels “the tremor” of love. If only poor Petrarch could count on his lady’s constancy; in fact, it is the opposite.

In terms of literary devices, Petrarch uses imagery here to powerful effect. The first stanza describes the lady’s golden-haired beauty, and we can easily visualize her braids coming loose in the breeze, stirring Petrarch's amorous heart. He also uses metaphor, equating her braids with knots that bind, and her eyes with “fire blazing” that burns him physically. All of this describes the pains of unrequited love.

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This sonnet, like many penned by Petrarch, is written in honor of a woman named Laura. Petrarch was madly in love with Laura, a somewhat mysterious woman about whom little is known. But this sonnet actually opens with a literary device--a pun--that is a play on Laura's name. In Italian, "l'aura" translates to "the breeze." So by referring to a "gentle breeze" at the beginning of the sonnet, Petrarch associates his would-be lover with the renewing power of a pleasant breeze. A few lines later, we see a familiar example of the literary device of personification, as Petrarch describes "Love" giving him a "deep, although delightful wound." Petrarch also plays on the double meaning of the word "locks," which he uses to describe Laura's beautiful hair flowing in the breeze, and "braids," which have, Petrarch says, "bound" his heart like ropes. The entire poem, in fact, is a flashback, a literary device that invites the reader to imagine how deeply Petrarch loves Laura, and how this love (which was not returned by Laura) has affected him. Every experience in his life--here the sensation of a gentle breeze--recalls Laura's beauty. "To think on it," Petrarch tells the reader, "still thrills the sense."

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