Earlier in the week I led you through the process of translating Petrarch’s Canzoniere 61. I thought I’d share with you the final version that is going to press in Awakening Dreams. There have been a few words changed up to improve consonance and punctuation has clarified meaning. As well, line 2 was altered as it didn’t end on the correct beat (iambic rhythm) in the draft.
Most blesséd be the day, the month, the year,
And blesséd be the hour, the moment when,
I found this place, and saw my sweet torment.
Her lovely eyes completely tied me here.
So blesséd was her breath as I came near,
That Love entangled me within her scent,
Against his arrows left me impotent,
And bound my heart to hers. So, thus endeared,
Sweet blesséd voices call my lady’s name,
And weave her glorious beauty in my verse.
My sighs, my tears, and my desires contained,
Most blesséd are the papers I disperse,
To share the thoughts that bring me fame,
The thoughts of her that are my blissful curse.
Translation (c) Shawn Bird
Not only did this moment capture Petrarch, but it captivated artists through the centuries who imaged the moment that Petrarch describes in this sonnet, and painted it as they imagined it. The painting on the left is the actual moment of meeting in St. Clara’s in Avignon. I have been in what is left of this convent chapel, as you can see from the photo below. If it really looked like this artist has captured it, it is really very sad to see the ruins that it is now.
The picture on the right shows a lot of the symbolism represented in the poem. Laure is represented by the laurel tree in the background, cupid (aka Love) has fired his arrow at Petrarch and it has struck him in the heart. Laure is presenting him with the laurel wreath that represents his literary success. (He was crowned Rome’s Poet Laureate in 1341). Petrarch himself frequently played with Laure/laurel the woman/fame metaphor. What is interesting in this painting is that Petrarch is shown as an old man, while Laure is shown as a young woman. In fact there are only 6 years between them. (He was born in 1304, she in 1310). Perhaps it represents them at their deaths? She was 38, and he was 70.
Here I am in the ruins of St. Claire convent, standing pretty close to where the artist set the scene on the left, by the looks of things. I just found the painting this morning, and this similarity kind of gives me chills. There is no roof. It is an open space garden and performance area now.
Shawn at Ste Claire Convent (Theatre des Halles) Avignon France