Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Canzionere 36 May 12, 2011

How’s your Italian?


S’io credesse per morte essere scarco
del pensiero amoroso che m’atterra,
colle mie mani avrei già posto in terra
queste mie membra noiose, et quello incarco;

ma perch’io temo che sarrebbe un varco
di pianto in pianto, et d’una in altra guerra,
di qua dal passo anchor che mi si serra
mezzo rimango, lasso, et mezzo il varco.

Tempo ben fôra omai d’avere spinto
l’ultimo stral la dispietata corda
ne l’altrui sangue già bagnato et tinto;

et io ne prego Amore, et quella sorda
che mi lassò de’ suoi color’ depinto,
et di chiamarmi a sé non le ricorda

Poor Petrarch.  In this sonnet he is wishing he could free himself from the obsession of his love, but he thinks that death would just put him into another war, from one grief to another.  He begs Love, who has painted him with color, but doesn’t remember to come when he calls her. .. 

Poor desperately obsessed Petrarch.  Of course, even death was not an escape.  He still suffered for another thirty years after Laure died.  It wasn’t until the last decade of his life that his writings suggest he was released and could focus on worship of God and not his muse.

I played with a multi-colour pencil crayon and my calligraphy pens to transcribe this sonnet today.  Here is the result:

Canzionere 36 da Petrarca

I think that when I  take the time to set this up for a good copy, with copy lines and borders, it will be quite effective.  I particularly like my Italian pseudonym Giovanna Uccello.  😉  it’s fun having an easily transliterated name… Jeanne Oiseau.  I mean, Shawn Bird.


Magic Fontaine April 24, 2011

Last year after my husband and I spent a couple of weeks touring Italy, people would ask us what place we enjoyed the most, and we were unable to answer. Venice was, well, Venice: beautiful, spectacular, sad, interesting. We’d go back to explore more of her rabbit warrens in an instant. Cinque Terre, the five Mediterranean Sea coast towns, were picturesque, delightful and soothing. Rome was amazing for a hundred different reasons, and special because my fourth Finnish host family joined us there. Pompeii answered a childhood wish. Geneva (okay- that was a side-trip to Switzerland) was lovely, organized, expensive, and fascinating. Each was so different that there was no way to choose between them. Each was completely special in its own way.


The Petrarch Museum in the white building on the right is believed to be on the site of Petrarch’s house.

This year I found myself talking about one place whenever anyone asked us about our trip to France. Sure, Nice was nice. Yes, Avignon was intriguing. Paris was bustling and full of things to see. The star of our visit was a small village that most people have never heard of.

Somewhere around 1310 Francesco Petrarca, his father and his brother made a visit to the source of the Sorgue River. It had been known for centuries as a miracle of nature. There was a hole at the bottom of a limestone cliff, a still pool, and then a raging river. Greeks and Romans had come to marvel at it in their time.  Petrarca was a boy, but he declared that this was a place he wanted to live. Some twenty years later, he bought property and spent fifteen contented years off and on living in his house on the banks of the Sorgue, trying to forget Laure, writing, and tending his books and his gardens: one at his house and another by the still pool of the spring at Fontaine de Vaucluse.

There is a magic in this place. The incongruity of the stillness and the noise. The contrast of the white cliffs and greenery. The fortress on the top of the hill that was in ruins even in Petrarca’s time. The sound of the newly born river which seems to burrow into your head and erase all hurry. The meditative nature of the place.

I could never have described it from the photographs. This is one place that one has to visit to fully appreciate. I wish I’d had more time to just soak in the atmosphere of the place.

At the Petrarch Museum, located on the site of his house, I found a comment he’d made that in the past, people had come to Fontaine de Vaucluse to see the miracle of the spring, but in the future, they’d come because he had lived there. I pointed out to my husband the enormous conceit of a man to make such an assertion. He just smirked and said, “We’re here, aren’t we?”

And so we were. If Francesco Petrarca had not been writing about Fontaine de Vaucluse in the 14th century, I would never have known about it and I would never have sought the experience. I would never have found myself sitting by the river bank as the sound of the Sorgue carried me back seven centuries. He was pompous, but he was right.  His words are entwined in the magic of the place.


time travelling July 25, 2010

Filed under: Commentary,Grace Awakening,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:02 am
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Writing is a way of communicating across time and space. As a teen, I remember a friend ruminating about how his letter was going to time travel to me, and that when I read it, a week or so hence, I’d be in his past. When I read my teen diaries, I’m conscious that I am time travelling back to visit with another self, and I wish I had a little more of value to say about the times and experiences I was having! I was, sadly, a very boring diarist, as I explored my particular obsession ad nauseum. Nonetheless, the power of that time travel is still with me. My diaries are messages to the future that are still there, waiting for an even further flung future. My thoughts, my worries, my dreams are all congealing on those pages, just waiting for a future someone to read the message. Unfortunately, the communication is one way. How I wish I could send a message back to that young diarist and tell her that it would all work out: every last bit of it, as perfectly as could be wished, and assure her that she would find the meaning of the life story she was struggling to understand.

These days, I am spending a lot of time with Francesco Petrarca, a man who loved to write as much as he loved to read. Letters, poetry, essays were left behind him in a tidal wave of very well edited paper. He left us so many messages to the future that are still quoted by philosophers, theologians, historians, and poets. He was a fascinating guy, and it is amusing to read some of the commentators who evaluate Petrarca’s own perception of himself. He was apparently a blatantly proud self-promoter, using his celebrity with aplomb and thoroughly satisfied with his own worth. Although he wrote of his frailties of faith, his words suggest that he was humbly proud. He would be blissful that we are still pouring over his words today, and yet not particularly surprised about it. He believed his words were worth something significant; after all, his master work was his “Letter to Posterity” which he fully intended for people to be reading long after his death.

I am absolutely adoring the ‘Franco’ who is being revealed to me as I read his writings, and those of the philosophers, historians and such who have analyzed his life. I think I’m falling head over heels in love with him, actually. Funny how his intellectual charisma reaches across time through his words, and draws us to him. I can see him at a cocktail party, gathering an audience as he asks tricky questions, delights in argument and good conversation, and has everyone enchanted. Thanks for your words, Franco. I wish I could travel back to 1370 and tell you myself.


celebrating Petrarca July 23, 2010

Filed under: Commentary,Grace Awakening,Reading,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:22 am
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On July 20 & 19, 2010 it was the 306th anniversary of the birth of Francesco Petrarch in Arezzo, Italy and the 236th anniversary of his death in Arqua near Padua Italy 70 years later.

Petrarca will feature prominently in my life over the next few years, and I am finding him a fascinating man to get to know. Aside from his romantic tale of woe, as re-told briefly in Grace Awakening, he was a significant intellect of his time. It was his interest in Classical studies that ushered in the Renaissance. He was the one that coined the term, “The Dark Ages” for the Medieval period when men of intellect stopped studying the classics and lost themselves in church pronouncements and reinterpretations of history.  His writings were used to establish the  language rules for modern Italian.  He was declared the Poet Laureate of Rome in 1341 when he was only 35 years old.  His name is attached to the sonnet form he developed: the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet.

As Petrarca travelled around Italy and France, he collected the finest library in Christendom, one fought over after his death.  Here is a man who loved learning, celebrated travelling for new experiences, delved into history to better understand himself, climbed mountains for the aestetic of seeing the view at the top, struggled with faith, and loved purely with a devotion that was stronger than death.

One of the most wonderful (and challenging) things about Petrarca is that he was a prolific writer.  He wrote volumes and volumes about his life, his thoughts, and his beliefs. He wrote poetry about his love. He wrote biographies of those he admired. He wrote letters to his friends. Most of his writings survive, because his genius was well-recognised at the time. There is a lot of material to go through!

As I unfold the layers of his life, I hope that I can do justice to the story and that the embellishments I bring will be worthy of him.  He is surprising and amazing me at every turn.    It’s not going to be a quick book to write.  I have 70 years of writings to work through and tons of things to learn about the time and place.  I just hope this amazing man will captivate you when I am finally able to introduce you to him in a few years.


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