Shawn L. Bird

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

poem- magique April 12, 2015

Today’s prompt from

Describe in great detail your favorite room, place, meal, day, or person. You can do this in paragraph form.

Now cut unnecessary words like articles and determiners (a, the, that) and anything that isn’t really necessary for content; leave mainly nouns, verbs, a few adjectives.

Cut the lines where you see fit and, VOILA! A poem!


I wrote about a magical place.  Here’s the version edited as per instructions:


Through arch

through time

long-abandoned château 

what were windows,

looking down

Rivière de Sorgue bubbles


Musée de Petrarque stands stately



We walk

ancient path

limestone cliffs,

tiny secluded valley

the pool where

river is birthed

A hole I could hold in my hands.

Feel magic:

the poet still walks.

Fontaine de Vaucluse


Here is this beautiful place, a site of a novel (theoretically in progress, though actually resting, like dough) from our visit in 2011.  I dream of returning there to stay and work on this project when the trees are all leafed.   The arch is behind the Musee, a modern-ish town is directly behind the limestone wall/cliff.  I’m standing on the path to the fontaine (the river source).  There is another photo from this walk on the cover of my poetry chapbook 2011.

Fontaine de Vaucluse Sorgue River Chateau above Musee de Petrarque on right.

Fontaine de Vaucluse
Sorgue River
Chateau above
Musee de Petrarque on right.



Here is the first version (I couldn’t do it in a paragraph form, despite myself!)  I think it could make a fine poem itself:

Through the arch and back through time

the long-abandoned château des Evêques de Cavaillon, XIV

rocks crumbling from what were windows, vacant eyes looking down to where

The Sorgue bubbles by, twisting this way, then that.

Musée de Petrarque stands stately amid garden and tall stretched poplars.

We walk along the ancient path beneath the limestone cliffs,

This tiny secluded valley, until we reach the pool where the river is birthed

from a hole I could hold in my hands.

You can feel the magic here; the poet still walks at

Fontaine de Vaucluse


Which version do you prefer?  The ‘brevity is an art’ version or the ‘extended version’?

I expect WordPress to link to a complete blog post about our visit to Fontaine de Vaucluse below (entitled Magic Fontaine); you may be interested in reading that post, as well.  

Teacher moment: Do you know who Francesco Petrarch/Petrarque/Petrarca is?    He was the father of humanism.  He coined the term “The Dark Ages.”  He traveled around Europe rescuing ancient Greek and Roman texts; at his death, he had the largest library in Christendom. He is called ‘the first tourist.’  He was a philosopher and scholar.  Most of those things are forgotten.  He is best remembered because he invented the sonnet form (specifically The Petrarchan aka Italian sonnet).  For 50 years he wrote these 14 lined poems to/about Laure/Laura (deNoves) de Sade, a married woman who died, likely of bubonic plague, in 1348.  He met her the first time April 6, 1327 in Avignon at Ste Claire Convent and his adoring sonnets in praise of her remain with us today. They are called Canzoniere. (Somewhere on this blog you’ll find one-#61- that I’ve translated from the Italian, likely also linked below). He was a man who knew he was making contributions to history.  He expected to be remembered.  I have a little crush on him, as in my Grace Awakening series, the musical young man, Ben, was Petrarch in a past life…)


literary immortality July 6, 2012

I’ve been spending the last few days transcribing my copy of Susanna Dobson’s Life of Petrarch (1777) and as I plug away on the typing I am musing on immortality.

The other day I alluded to and listed Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18,” and as I read it, I am thinking of the comparison between Will’s unknown inspiration, and Petrarch’s Laure.  Here’s that sonnet again:


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

The immortality happens in the closing couplet.  So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.  “This” is, of course, Will’s poem.  He claims that he has made his beloved immortal by describing her (or him) in this poem.  The immortality has limited value, being as we have no idea of whom he was speaking, but the moment of loving adoration is captured for all time.

Petrarch is a little more specific.  He names his love, and of course, the people of his time knew exactly who she was.  He calls her Laure, and his poetry abounds with symbolism of the laurel.  A crown of laurels was (and still is) a mark of distinction. Petrarch believes she is his crown and his success.  History (particularly the Abbé de Sade in his Mémoires sur la vie de François Pétrarque, 1764) records her as Laure de Noves, wife of Hugues de Sade.  (In English, we call her Laura).

Here is Petrarch’s Canzoniere 6 which shows a play on the laurel at the end:

Now so depraved is my poor fool, desire,
To persecute this lady, turned in flight,
Unloosed of Love’s entrapments, footing light,
Ahead of my slow run he flies. Prior

To my objections, by the roads most dire,
The more I call, the more he takes to flight;
Restraint is weak, nor has the spur its bite
When Love and nature in him do conspire.

And then he grasps the bridle to direct
The way, and takes me for a vassal, hastes
Post-haste, as though to death, my worsened state

To reach at last the laurel and collect
The bitter fruit of others’ plagues, the tastes
That grieve one more, unless they consolate.

(trans.  “Hypocorism” on Yahoo Answers)

This poem is echoing the section that I’m transcribing at the moment.  Laura is being stalked.  Petrarch follows her about Avignon, gazing dreamily at her or trying to talk to her.  She covers her face and takes off in the other direction.  You can almost hear her running steps while Petrarch shouts rhyming verses extolling her beauty.  It’s a wonder her hubby Hugues didn’t call him out and beat him to a pulp!  (Now that’s an interesting scene, isn’t it?  Hmm.  Expect to see something along those lines).

The summary of this vague sort of comparison between Will and Francesco is that  to truly be immortalized, the beloved needs a name, and a personality.  Laure seems far more real than Will’s anonymous beloved.  While Laure is busy running in the opposite direction, pulling her veil over her head, and trying to maintain her virtue against the onslaught of Petrarch’s devotion, Will’s beloved is a static object, simply receiving affection and adoration.  There is no sense of individuality.  Nonetheless, the love does become immortal because it is recorded.  Words are powerful.

Here’s an afterword by poet Jacopo Sannazzaro   (1458–1530).  A hundred years earlier, Petrarch had lived at the spring that is the source of the Sorgue River, writing his canzonieres to Laura beneath the limestone cliffs that echo with the burbling of the river.

Sorgues, the River  Laura de Sade

THE NYMPH by Sorga’s humble murmurings born,

Illustrious now on wings of glory soars;        

Her high renown its awful echo pours           

Wide o’er the earth. Splendors like these adorn        

Her, destined, in her modest beauty’s morn,          5

To charm the eye of Petrarch. Her the doors 

Of fame’s proud dome enshrine; the radiant stores   

Of fancy blaze around her; nor does scorn    

On her low birthplace and obscurer tomb      

Glance a triumphant scowl. What suns illume                    10

With lustre like the Muse? How many dames,          

Wise, chaste, and lovely, of distinguished race,        

Have slept in death forgotten, lost their names,        

While hers from age to age beams with still heightened grace.         

(Trans. Capel Lofft)

Indeed.  The words craft immortality; the love brings fame.

This image is popularly considered to be Laure de Noves de Sade, beloved of Petrarch, though the Musee Petrarque in Fontaine de Vaucluse asserts that there are NO verified pictures of her, most being painted years after her death.


sonnet 61 shoes February 17, 2012

Filed under: Poetry,projects — Shawn L. Bird @ 5:54 pm
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When we were in Paris last March, I found a shoe sale. I ended up buying a pair of black leather wedge shoes (for just 12 Euros!  John said, “How much?  Why don’t you buy the brown pair, too?” lol) Now, I don’t really believe in plain black anything, and those wedges seemed to me to be a black board just waiting for something to be written upon them.

So I looked for some fine tipped, permanent opaque pens.  I couldn’t find them anywhere within 100 km, so bought the Sakura pens on eBay direct from Japan, and waited for the day when inspiration would strike.

The day has arrived!

My plain black wedges are plain no longer! They sport the complete Petrarchan sonnet Canzoniere 61, in Petrarca’s original Italian. You might remember that this is the poem I translated for Grace Awakening.

Where there are inadvertent spaces (like where I needed to even up a line, and where the next word didn’t fit) I added roses. For each line of the sonnet I switched colours.  I completely free-handed these, and I was quite delighted that the entire poem fit EXACTLY between the 2 shoes!  Lucky fluke, eh?

I am quite contented with the result, and even more content that I did manage to get the project done before a year was up!


Canzoniere 61 the final translation July 14, 2011

Filed under: Grace Awakening,Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:16 am
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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.

Petrarch and Laura

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


Canzoniere 61 – process July 11, 2011

Filed under: Grace Awakening,Poetry,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:11 am
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Here’s a picture of my day. Today’s project was translating a sonnet from Petrarch’s original Italian into English. I had received permission from Penguin to use a translation by Anthony Mortimer of Canzoniere 13 for Grace Awakening, but after the publisher went out of business, I let the deadline to pay for the use go past. I still wanted a Petrarchan Canzoniere in that particular section of the novel though, and that meant I had to do my own translation.  I also wanted it to rhyme following Petrarch’s strict scheme, and I wanted it to be in iambic pentameter.

I started with the public domain version of the original Italian sonnet 61:

Benedetto sia ‘l giorno, et ‘l mese, et l’anno,
et la stagione, e ‘l tempo, et l’ora, e ‘l punto,
e ‘l bel paese, e ‘l loco ov’io fui giunto
da’duo begli occhi che legato m’ànno;

et benedetto il primo dolce affanno
ch’i’ ebbi ad esser con Amor congiunto,
et l’arco, et le saette ond’i’ fui punto,
et le piaghe che ‘nfin al cor mi vanno.

Benedette le voci tante ch’io
chiamando il nome de mia donna ò sparte,
e i sospiri, et le lagrime, e ‘l desio;

et benedette sian tutte le carte
ov’io fama l’acquisto, e ‘l pensier mio,
ch’è sol di lei, sí ch’altra non v’à parte.

My next step was to plug the poem into the Google translator to get the basics. The result was this:

Blessed be ‘the day, et’ the month, year et,
et the season, and ‘the time, et the time, and’ the point,
and ‘the beautiful country, and’ the spot where I arrived I was
da’duo beautiful eyes that tied m’ànno;

et blessed is the first sweet breath
ch’i ‘I had to be combined with Amor,
et l’arc, et Whence the arrows’ point was,
et the wounds’ Nfiniti go to my heart.

Blessed are the many voices that I
calling the name of my wife or esparto,
and the sighs, the tears et, and ‘the desire;

Blessed are all the cards et
known where I buy, and ‘s my thought,
which is only about her, yes that another party does not v’à.

Writing draft- false start and then the better flow

As you can see, while not perfect, it’s certainly good enough to know where he was going, and to catch the Italian words I wasn’t familiar with.  I could fill in the blanks from there.   I spent some time on, which is my go-to site when I’m creating a complex rhyming poem, and played with various options.  I baked a cake.  I instant messaged a friend in France. I went to a farewell party.  I watched Star Wars Episode IV (which is really still Episode one, to me).   I had a bath.  I read the editor’s most recent comments on Awakening Dreams.  I wrote lines.  I re-wrote lines.

As of this moment, I am satisfied with this result, although it may not be the final version.  I finished it at 2 a.m. so it’s allowed to not quite be perfect yet.  I have my iambic pentameter. I have Petrarca’s ABBA ABBA CDCDCD rhyme scheme.  I have stayed true to Petrarch’s intent in this poem, I think, and that’s the most important thing.

Most blesséd be the day, the month, the year
And blesséd be the hour and the moment
When I arrived to find my own 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 the arrows left me impotent,
And bound my heart to hers, so thus endeared.

Dear 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 my thoughts that bring me fame,
The thoughts of her that are my joyful curse.




Translation (c) Shawn Bird 2011



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.


ancient texts May 5, 2011

Filed under: Grace Beguiling - Petrarch — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:56 pm
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Francesco Petrarca loved old texts.  He travelled throughout Europe gathering the literature of ancient Greece and Rome.  He’d hire copyists, or he’d copy them out himself.  At his death, he had the largest library in Christendom.

There is a famous historical biography of Petrarca written by Abbé de Sade in the 18th century.  It is quoted liberally in the exhibits at the Musée Petrarque at Fontaine de Vaucluse, so I asked the curator whether they had an English translation.  They did not and she didn’t know whether there ever had been. However, by the time we got back to our apartment in Avignon, there was an email from her.  She’d double checked with the museum’s librarian.  There had been a translation made in 1776 in England by Susannah Dobson.  I laughed at that.  What were the chances I’d ever see a two hundred year old book?

The concept was absurd, but of course I looked on the internet, and shock of shocks there was a 2 volume set listed on eBay…

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Now that same two volume set is sitting in my kitchen.  Two beautiful books.  Two leather bound books that came off the press in 1776.


That’s 235 years ago.  Thats 133 years older than the city I live in.

I feel so remarkably awed to have these books in my possession.  Petrarch collected ancient books, and I have collected ancient books about him.

I guess ideally I’d speak fluent Italian and Latin, and I’d be able to read all Petrarch’s own words whichever  language he’d used, but unfortunately I can’t, so I have to rely on translations.  Since I can’t find any copies of Abbé de Sade’s Memoires sur la Vie de François Pétrarque listed on the internet, Susannah Dobson’s translation will do for now.

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PS.  The provanance of the books is interesting as well.  They have book plates in them:

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Sir John Mordaunt was a rather famous military man in his time, and now his books are at my house. Wild.  He lived in Walton Hall in Warwickshire (as you can see on his book plate).  These books used to sit on the library shelves in Walton Hall. The house was rebuilt in the 19th century. Presumeably these books were in the Mordaunt library until the home was sold to become a girls’ school in the last century.  Imagine.  My books used to live in this house.  Crazy, eh?

Oh- and there’s a Harry Potter connection as well, since in the 15th century Walton Hall was the home of the Lestrange family…  😉


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.


any other April 1, 2011

Filed under: Commentary,Grace Awakening,Grace Beguiling - Petrarch — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:38 am
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“My own age has always repelled me, so that, had it not been for the love of those dear to me, I should have preferred to have been born in any other period than our own.”

~Petrarch in “Letter to Posterity”

I came across this quote in a junior high text book.  It seemed rather profound in the context of his appearance in Grace Awakening, not to mention the development of Grace Beguiling.

I am so looking forward to wandering around Avignon and the Vauclus region, exploring the places where Francesco Petrarca and Laure de Noves de Sade walked 700 years ago.  He first saw her at the church across from our hotel  684 years ago!  

Because Petrarch was such a prolific writer, his words remain with us today.  His thoughts, emotions, and battles are just like those we must sort out in our own lives today.  His words are timeless.  He didn’t just belong to his time, and it’s wonderful how he shared himself so generously with the future.

Imagine how much fun Petrarch would have had in our world.  His blog would have been fascinating to read.  He would have loved being able to travel around the whole world with little effort, and I know he would have loved the internet: entire libraries of thought at his disposal in an instant!  Best of all- there is no black plague to steal his beloved muse in our time.  He could follow all her doings on Facebook and sigh at her profile photo.

I am thankful to live when I do, with all our modern benefits and health care.  If I long for the beauty of a previous age, I am not so foolish so as to imagine that I’d have been among the nobility who would have been able to enjoy it!  I’m glad Petrarch felt enough out of touch with his time, as he looked back to Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and forward to posterity.

How about you?  What time would you like to have been born in?


freaky coincidences strike again… February 10, 2011

Click to view full-sized image

All the time I was writing Grace Awakening, I’d look up some myth or fact and there would appear a strange coincidence that made the hair stand up on my arms.

I just had another one. You know that famous picture by Sandro Botticelli- Printemps? I use the close up the Three Graces component of that picture to illustrate the Grace Awakening section of this blog. If you pull out the perspective a bit, standing right beside the Graces in the centre of the  painting is a young woman. I understood that she’s supposed to be Aphrodite/Venus. She’s supervising everything that’s going on.

Guess who Botticelli based this particular image on? Are you sitting down? I’ve just learned that it was Laure de Noves de Sade, muse of Petrarch who is standing there watching the Graces dancing with that beatifical expression.  Apparently Laure beguiled Botticelli as well as Petrarca.

(The source is Mario Fubini, Laure in Dictionnaire des personnages littéraires et dramatiques de tous les temps et de tous les pays , Éd.)

Wow. Creepy.

But oh so cool!!

Grace Beguiling, indeed!


PS click on the painting and it will enlarge to full screen


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