How the abundant sunlight inundates everything! The great clumps of grass and clover are imbedded in it to the roots; it flows in among their stalks, like water; the lilac-bushes bask in it eagerly; the topmost leaves of the birches are burnished. A vessel sails by with plash and roar, and all the white spray along her side is sparkling with sunlight. Yet there is sorrow in the world, and it reached Petrarch even before Laura died,--when it reached her. This exquisite sonnet shows it:- SONNET 123. "I' vidi in terra angelici costumi." I once beheld on earth celestial graces, And heavenly beauties scarce to mortals known, Whose memory lends nor joy nor grief alone, But all things else bewilders and effaces. I saw how tears had left their weary traces Within those eyes that once like sunbeams shone, I heard those lips breathe low and plaintive moan, Whose spell might once have taught the hills their places. Love, wisdom, courage, tenderness, and truth, Made ill their mourning strains more high and dear Than ever wove sweet sounds for mortal ear; And heaven seemed listening in such saddest ruth The very leaves upon the boughs to soothe, Such passionate sweetness filled the atmosphere.
These sonnets are in Petrarch's earlier manner; but the death of Laura brought a change. Look at yonder schooner coming down the bay, straight toward us; she is hauled close to the wind, her jib is white in the sunlight, her larger sails are touched with the same snowy lustre, and all the swelling canvas is rounded into such lines of beauty as scarcely anything else in the world--hardly even the perfect outlines of the human form--can give. Now she comes up into the wind, and goes about with a strong flapping of the sails, smiting on the ear at a half-mile's distance; then she glides off on the other tack, showing the shadowed side of her sails, until she reaches the distant zone of haze. So change the sonnets after Laura's death, growing shadowy as they recede, until the very last seems to merge itself in the blue distance. SONNET 251. "Gli occhi di ch' io parlai." Those eyes, 'neath which my passionate rapture rose, The arms, hands, feet, the beauty that erewhile Could my own soul from its own self beguile, And in a separate world of dreams enclose, The hair's bright tresses, full of golden glows, And the soft lightning of the angelic smile That changed this earth to some celestial isle, Are now but dust, poor dust, that nothing knows. And yet I live! Myself I grieve and scorn, Left dark without the light I loved in vain, Adrift in tempest on a bark forlorn; Dead is the source of all my amorous strain, Dry is the channel of my thoughts outworn, And my sad harp can sound but notes of pain.
"And yet I live!" What a pause is implied before these words! the drawing of a long breath, immeasurably long; like that vast interval of heart-beats that precedes Shakespeare's "Since Cleopatra died." I can think of no other passage in literature that has in it the same wide spaces of emotion.
The following sonnet seems to me the most stately and concentrated in the whole volume. It is the sublimity of a despair not to be relieved by utterance. SONNET 253. "Soleasi nel mio cor." She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine, A noble lady in a humble home, And now her time for heavenly bliss has come, 'T is I am mortal proved, and she divine. The soul that all its blessings must resign, And love whose light no more on earth finds room Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom, Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine; They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care, And naught remains to me save mournful breath. Assuredly but dust and shade we are, Assuredly desire is blind and brief, Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
In a later strain he rises to that dream which is more than earth's realities. SONNET 261. "Levommi il mio pensiero." Dreams bore my fancy to that region where She dwells whom here I seek, but cannot see. 'Mid those who in the loftiest heaven be I looked on her, less haughty and more fair. She touched my hand, she said, "Within this sphere, If hope deceive not, thou shalt dwell with me: I filled thy life with war's wild agony; Mine own day closed ere evening could appear. My bliss no human brain can understand; I wait for thee alone, and that fair veil Of beauty thou dost love shall wear again." Why was she silent then, why dropped my hand Ere those delicious tones could quite avail To bid my mortal soul in heaven remain?
It vindicates the emphatic reality and pesonality of Petrarch's love, after all, that when from these heights of vision he surveys and resurveys his life's long dream, it becomes to him more and more definite, as well as more poetic, and is farther and farther from a merely vague sentimentalism. In his later sonnets, Laura grows more distinctly individual to us; her traits show themselves as more characteristic, her temperament more intelligible, her precise influence upon Petrarch clearer. What delicate accuracy of delineation is seen, for instance, in this sonnet! SONNET 314. "Dolci durezze e placide repulse." Gentle severity, repulses mild, Full of chaste love and pity sorrowing; Graceful rebukes, that had the power to bring Back to itself a heart by dreams beguiled; A soft-toned voice, whose accents undefiled Held sweet restraints, all duty honoring; The bloom of virtue; purity's clear spring To cleanse away base thoughts and passions wild; Divinest eyes to make a lover's bliss, Whether to bridle in the wayward mind Lest its wild wanderings should the pathway miss, Or else its griefs to soothe, its wounds to bind; This sweet completeness of thy life it is That saved my soul; no other peace I find.
In the following sonnet visions multiply upon visions. Would that one could transfer into English the delicious way in which the sweet Italian rhymes recur and surround and seem to embrace each other, and are woven and unwoven and interwoven, like the heavenly hosts that gathered around Laura. SONNET 302. "Gli angeli eletti." The holy angels and the spirits blest, Celestial bands, upon that day serene When first my love went by in heavenly mien, Came thronging, wondering at the gracious guest. "What light is here, in what new beauty drest?" They said among themselves; "for none has seen Within this age come wandering such a queen From darkened earth into immortal rest." And she, contented with her new-found bliss, Ranks with the purest in that upper sphere, Yet ever and anon looks back on this, To watch for me, as if for me she stayed. So strive, my thoughts, lest that high path I miss. I hear her call, and must not be delayed.
These odes and sonnets are all but parts of one symphony, leading us through a passion strengthened by years and only purified by death, until at last the graceful lay becomes an anthem and a Nunc dimittis. In the closing sonnets Petrarch withdraws from the world, and they seem like voices from a cloister, growing more and more solemn till the door is closed. This is one of the last:- SONNET 309. "Dicemi spesso il mio fidato speglio." Oft by my faithful mirror I am told, And by my mind outworn and altered brow, My earthly powers impaired and weakened now, "Deceive thyself no more, for thou art old!" Who strives with Nature's laws is over-bold, And Time to his commandments bids us bow. Like fire that waves have quenched, I calmly vow In life's long dream no more my sense to fold. And while I think, our swift existence flies, And none can live again earth's brief career, Then in my deepest heart the voice replies Of one who now has left this mortal sphere, But walked alone through earthly destinies, And of all women is to fame most dear.
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