The airiest and most fugitive among Petrarch's love-poems, so far as I know,--showing least of that air of earnestness which he has contrived to impart to almost all,--is this little ode or madrigal. It is interesting to see, from this, that he could be almost conventional and courtly in moments when he held Laura farthest aloof; and when it is compared with the depths of solemn emotion in his later sonnets, it seems like the soft glistening of young birch-leaves against a background of pines. CANZONE XXIII. "Nova angeletta sovra l' ale accorta." A new-born angel, with her wings extended, Came floating from the skies to this fair shore, Where, fate-controlled, I wandered with my sorrows. She saw me there, alone and unbefriended, She wove a silken net, and threw it o'er The turf, whose greenness all the pathway borrows, Then was I captured; nor could fears arise, Such sweet seduction glimmered from her eyes.
Turn from these light compliments to the pure and reverential tenderness of a sonnet like this:- SONNET 223.
"Qual donna attende a gloriosa fama." Doth any maiden seek the glorious fame Of chastity, of strength, of courtesy? Gaze in the eyes of that sweet enemy Whom all the world doth as my lady name! How honor grows, and pure devotion's flame, How truth is joined with graceful dignity, There thou mayst learn, and what the path may be To that high heaven which doth her spirit claim; There learn soft speech, beyond all poet's skill, And softer silence, and those holy ways Unutterable, untold by human heart. But the infinite beauty that all eyes doth fill, This none can copy! since its lovely rays Are given by God's pure grace, and not by art.
The following, on the other hand, seems to me one of the Shakespearian sonnets; the successive phrases set sail, one by one, like a yacht squadron; each spreads its graceful wings and glides away. It is hard to handle this white canvas without soiling. Macgregor, in the only version of this sonnet which I have seen, abandons all attempt at rhyme; but to follow the strict order of the original in this respect is a part of the pleasant problem which one cannot bear to forego. And there seems a kind of deity who presides over this union of languages, and who sometimes silently lays the words in order, after all one's own poor attempts have failed.
"O passi sparsi; o pensier vaghi e pronti" O wandering steps! O vague and busy dreams! O changeless memory! O fierce desire! O passion strong! heart weak with its own fire; O eyes of mine! not eyes, but living streams; O laurel boughs! whose lovely garland seems The sole reward that glory's deeds require; O haunted life! delusion sweet and dire, That all my days from slothful rest redeems; O beauteous face! where Love has treasured well His whip and spur, the sluggish heart to move At his least will; nor can it find relief. O souls of love and passion! if ye dwell Yet on this earth, and ye, great Shades of Love! Linger, and see my passion and my grief.
Yonder flies a kingfisher, and pauses, fluttering like a butterfly in the air, then dives toward a fish, and, failing, perches on the projecting wall. Doves from neighboring dove-cotes alight on the parapet of the fort, fearless of the quiet cattle who find there a breezy pasture. These doves, in taking flight, do not rise from the ground at once, but, edging themselves closer to the brink, with a caution almost ludicrous in such airy things, trust themselves upon the breeze with a shy little hop, and at the next moment are securely on the wing.
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.
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