Petrarch, Canzoniere 19

Animals exist on earth of such courageous

sight that they dare to face even the sun;

others, because they’re harmed by such great light,

do not come out until the sun is setting;

and others in their mad desire hoping

for joy in fire, perhaps because it glows,

learn of its other power, that of burning.

Alas, my place is with this latter race!

I am not strong enough to face the light

of this lady; I cannot shield myself

in shadowed places or in evening hours;

and so with eyes of tears and weariness

my destiny directs me to behold her,

and well I know I follow what will burn me.

(translated by Mark Musa)

I wish I could read this in the original Italian (SLI 2.0?). For my Renaissance Poetry class, we’ve been assigned to read the first 263 poems of Petrarch’s Canzoniere this week and the sonnets pretty quickly start to feel monotonous and run into one another. Laura’s eyes, her gaze, Petrarch’s suffering, his unconsummated desire. We get it. Move on. But every now and then, Petrarch jolts you with an image that just sticks and makes you want to hear the language, to imagine the way it would sound to recite this to a lover, to feel the pleasant rhythm of the Italian as it rolls off the tongue.

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