Pictures of Poems: Sonnet 90, Petrarch


Have you ever been the cactus in this situation? It is super annoying. But either side is pretty sucky.

Petrarch was a fourteenth century Italian poet who established this thing called the Petrarchan lover. The Petrarchan lover chastely pines away for an unobtainable, perfect woman and writes a lot of poetry about her in the meantime. I don’t know if I even have to say that this image of perfection is an illusion: a projection onto a real woman who is probably pretty grossed out.

Petrarchan love continues to poison western culture to this day.

You know how these days parents have to have all kinds of icky conversations with their teenagers about appropriate use of social media and sexting and all that horrible stuff? I think they should also have a “Don’t be a Petrarchan lover” conversation. Well, I guess a “Don’t be a stalker” conversation would be pretty much the same thing, but personally I like to stress the origins of things too. As in: you know this thing you think is true, pure, powerful love? It’s just a 700-year-old literary convention, and a stupid one. Don’t do it.

The sonnets are pretty though.


Sonnet 90, Petrarch

Upon the breeze she spread her golden hair
that in a thousand gentle knots was turned
and the sweet light beyond all radiance burned
in eyes where now that radiance is rare;

and in her face there seemed to come an air
of pity, true or false, that I discerned:
I had love’s tinder in my breast unburned,
was it a wonder if it kindled there?

She moved not like a mortal, but as though
she bore an angel’s form, her words had then
a sound that simple human voices lack;

a heavenly spirit, a living sun
was what I saw; now, if it is not so,
the wound’s not healed because the bow goes.


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