Student Question

How should one analyze Petrarch's "Sonnet 90"?

Quick answer:

The main theme of the poem is a sort of neoplatonizing synergy between the narrator's human love of Laura and the movement of the soul towards God. This is achieved by describing both the beloved and the nature of the love in religious terms. The "light beyond all radiance" is associated in Christian theology with the "uncreated light" that radiates from God. In the sestet, the woman is described as angelic and resembling a heavenly spirit, suggesting that she inspires him not merely to carnal desire but to a higher, spiritual love.

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Sonnet 90 "Erano i capei d’oro a l’aura sparsi" ("She let her gold hair scatter in the breeze") is a poem from Petrarch's collection Il Canzoniere (English: Song Book) sometimes referred to as the Rime Sparse (Scattered Rhymes). Unlike many of Petrarch's poems, which are written in Latin, this collection was written in Italian. The poems in the book are generally ones praising Petrarch's beloved, Laura, and at times trying to articulate the relationship of human love to Christian love. 

This poem is a typical Petrarchan sonnet consisting of an octave comprised of two closed quatrains and a sestet, with a turn or break between the octave and the sestet.

The main theme of the poem is a sort of neoplatonizing synergy between the narrator's human love of Laura and the movement of the soul towards God. This is achieved by describing both the beloved and the nature of the love in religious terms. The "light beyond all radiance" is associated in Christian theology with the "uncreated light" that radiates from God. In the sestet, the woman is described as angelic and resembling a heavenly spirit, suggesting that she inspires him not merely to carnal desire but to a higher, spiritual love. 

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