Petrarch Laura Francesco Petrarch and Laura For a woman he would never know
For a woman he could never have
He should change the world forever
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If you would find an explanation for all this, you must recollect that although the delights of poetry are most exquisite, they can be fully understood only by the rarest geniuses, who are careless of wealth and possess a marked contempt for the things of this world, and who are by nature especially endowed with a peculiar elevation and freedom of soul. Consequently, as experience and the authority of the most learned writers agree, in no branch of art can mere industry and application accomplish so little.

The Sonnet

The earliest recorded sonnets are by Giacomo (or Iacopo) da Lentini, called "il Notaro" (fl. 1233 - ca. 1245), who was at the court of the Emperor Frederick II in Sicily (reigned 1220-1250). Giacomo da Lentini is usually credited with the invention of the sonnet but Petrarch perfected it. Most of the entries in Il Canzoniere are sonnets.

The Petrarchan sonnet, at least in its Italian-language form, generally follows a set rhyme scheme, which runs as follows: abba abba cdc dcd. The first eight lines, or octave, do not often deviate from the abba abba pattern, but the last six lines, or sestet, frequently follow a different pattern, such as cde cde, cde ced, or cdc dee. Each line also has the same number of syllables, usually 11 or 7 by Petrarch. The English Sonnet has 10 syllables per line.

More Info: How to Write a Sonnetby Shakespeare Festival
Lesson Plan: Teaching the Sonnetby Albert Baggetta

English Sonnet Timeline

More on Petrarch's Writing
(from yahoo groups by Seth Jerchower)

Petrarch's Italian poems are of the following schemes:

He wrote most often using the following verses: hendecasyllables (verses consisting of 11 syllables) and septenaries (7 syllables). Note that the English sonnet is based on Iambic Pentameter, a verse consisting of five stressed feet, classically composed of a short and long syllable, is not quite the same (in English poetry this typically yields a 10 syllable verse, although the stresses are not "quantitative", that is, consisting of combination of short and long syllables, but "qualitative", composed of unaccented and accented syllables; many English verses are truncate, that is, they end on an accented syllable, which yields 10 syllables: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways"; when the accent falls on the penultimate -- next to last syllable -- the result is 11 syllables "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer"). The Italian hendecasyllable consists of 3 or 4 accented syllables, usually marked by a distinct pause, called an ictus (a strong ictus can be seen in the above verse by Elizabeth Barret Browning, where, if the poem is read with a Trochaic accentuation (strong/weak stresses), "thee? Let" are both stressed, causing a sense of pause).

The canzone ("song", of Provençal origin, is a multi-strophed composition often alternating between verses of different lengths and with an elaborate rhyme scheme. Each strophe is composed of two parts, the "fronte" and the "sirma". In turn, these are composed of typically two parts, called the "stanza". The sonnet is, in actuality, an isolated strophe of a canzone (the first to use this form was Giacomo da Lentini, a Sicilian poet, around 1230 in the court of Frederic II). If we take the sonnet as an example of the canzone's strophe, the following schemes emerge(a capital letter indicates a hendecasyllable)

A 1st stanza fronte

A 2nd stanza

C 3rd stanza sirma

C 4th stanza

The rhyme scheme can vary (in the sonnet usually limited to the sirma). Internal rhyme may also occur. Finally, the canzone is concluded by several independent verses, often based on the last stanza of the sirma, called a "congedo". Again, the canzone takes different forms; Petrarch at his best breaks away from the Provençal and Sicilian models.

The sestina is composed of 6 strophes of 6 hendecasyllables in which the final words are repeated in each strophe, and alternated in such a way that the concluding word of each strophe is the same as the concluding word of the first verse of the following, without repeating the same order. This is concluded by a "congedo" of 3 verses, in which the original word/rhyme scheme is repeated internally and at the end of each verse. This too is of Provençal origin, and was considered the most challenging scheme.

The ballata (not to be confused with the romantic ballad, such as those of Robert Burns) is of Arabic origin (called the "zarjal", and was introduced through the Provençal troubadours. As the word suggests, it was originally based on dance lyrics (< ballar = "to dance"). It may consist of one or more strophes (all of Petrarch's are of one strophe). There are different types, depending on the number of verses
ballata minima: ripresa di un solo verso più corto dell'endecasillabo
ballata piccola: ripresa (refrain) of one hendecasyllabic verse.
ballata minore: ripresa of 2 hendecasyllabic verses, or of a hendecasyllable and a septenary.
ballata mezzana: ripresa of 3 hendecasyllabic verses.
ballata grande: ripresa of 4 verses
ballata stravagante: ripresa of more than 4 versi.

Petrarch exclusively employs the "ballata grande". Like the canzone, the verse length may vary, but the scheme is somewhat more complicated:

Ballata XI del Canzoniere di Petrarca.
Lassare il velo o per sole o per ombra, A
donna, non vi vid'io B
poi che in me conoscete il gran desio B
ch'ogni altra voglia d'entr'al cor mi sgombra. A

[I piede/foot]
Mentr'io portava i be' pensier celati C
ch'ànno la mente desiando morta, D
vidivi di pietate ornare il volto; E

[II piede/foot]
ma poi ch'Amor di me vi fece accorta, D
fuor i biondi capelli allor velati, C
et l'amoroso sguardo in se raccolto. E

Quel ch'i' più desiava in voi m'è tolto: E

sì mi governa il velo F
che per mia morte, et al caldo et al gielo, F
de' vostr'occhi il dolce lume adombra. A

Unlike the "canzone" there is no "congedo"

Finally, the "madrigale", likely of Italian origin, although the etymology is uncertain (<matrix/mater? <"mandriale" = referring to a "herd" or "flock", therefore pastoral? popular?). Petrarch is the first poet to use this as a literary form, for short, lyrical, pastoral themes.
The scheme he uses is as follows:


© Copyright 1999-2006
Peter Sadlon
Updated Sept 10th 2007

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