Canzoniere 211

Version 1

Voglia mi sprona, Amor mi guida et scorge,                      Desire spurs me on, Love is my guide and escort,
Piacer mi spinge, Usanza mi trasporta,                              Pleasure pushes me, Habit carries me,
Speranza mi lusinga et riconforta                                         Hope flatters and reconsoles me,
et la man destra al core stanco porge;                                and puts her right hand to my weary heart;

e ‘l misero la prende, et non s’ accorge            5                and my suffering heart takes it, and does not notice
di nostra cieca et disleale scorta:                                         our blind and unreliable escort;
regnano i sensi, et la ragion è morta;                                  the senses reign, and reason lies dead;
de l’ un vago desio l’ altro risorge.                                       one longing desire leads to another.

Vertute, Honor, Bellezza, atto gentile,                                  Virtue, Honour, Beauty, graceful gestures,
soave honesto ragionar m’invesca                   10              and her pleasant, honest talk have hooked me,
et l’angelica voce dolce humile.                                           along with her angelic, sweet humble voice.

Nel laberinto intrai, né veggio ond’ esca.                           I entered the labyrinth, and can see no way out,
su l’ ora prima, il dí sesto d’ aprile,                                     at the first hour, on the sixth day of April,
lasso me, inseme presi l’amo et l’esca.                             Alas, I took the hook and bait together.

Version 2

Voglia mi sprona, Amor mi guida et scorge,                      Desire spurs me on, Love is my guide and escort,
Piacer mi tira, Usanza mi trasporta,                                     Pleasure pulls me, Habit carries me,
Speranza mi lusinga et riconforta                                         Hope flatters and reconsoles me,
et la man destra al cor già stanco porge;                           and puts her right hand to my already weary heart;

e ‘l misero la prende, et non s’ accorge              5              and my suffering heart takes it, and does not notice
di nostra cieca et disleale scorta:                                         our blind and unreliable escort;
regnano i sensi, et la ragion è morta;                                  the senses reign, and reason lies dead;
de l’ un vago desio l’ altro risorge.                                       one longing desire leads to another.

Vertute, Honor, Bellezza, atto gentile,                                  Virtue, Honour, Beauty, graceful gestures,
dolci parole ai be’ rami m’ àn giunto                  10            her sweet words have tied me to her beautiful
ove soavemente il cor s’ invesca.                                        branches, where my heart is snared.

Mille trecento ventisette, a punto                                          Thirteen hundred and twenty-seven, precisely
su l’ ora prima, il dí sesto d’ aprile,                                     at the first hour, on the sixth day of April,
nel laberinto intrai, né veggio ond’ esca.                            I entered the labyrinth, and can see no way out.


Overview

A poem from the In vita section of the Canzoniere, the sestet of which was heavily reworked by Petrarch.  Again, like Canz. 124, poetry is presented as an emotional response to a set of external stimuli, represented once more by abstracts.  The text in italics above indicates the points at which Petrarch has made changes from the original version to the definitive version which appears in the Canzoniere.  A marginal note in Petrarch’s autograph manuscript, which has the air of an epigraph (though it does not appear in the Canzoniere itself), provides a fascinating glimpse into the construction of the poem and its relationship to the sequence as a whole:

Marginal note above ‘Voglia mi sprona’ (‘Desire spurs me on’)

Mirum:  hoc cancellatum et damnatum post multos annos, casu relegens, absolvi, et transcripsi in ordine statim, non obstante […].  1369 iunii 22, hora 23, veneris.  Pauca postea, die 27, in vesperis, mutavi fine[m], [et de] hoc f[inis erit].

(Amazing:  this is a poem which I had left unfinished and forgotten about many years ago, but I happened by chance to reread it, and I finished it and immediately transcribed it into its proper place, Friday 22 June 1369, 11 pm.  Shortly afterwards, on the 27 June, in the evening, I changed the ending and from now on the conclusion will be different.)

Although we do not know precisely when the poem was begun by Petrarch, its date of completion tells us that it was completed shortly before the poet’s sixty fifth birthday, marking it out as one of the more mature works in the Canzoniere, completed many years after the Laura’s death, notwithstanding its position in the In vita section of the collection.  The poem centres around a series of personified abstractions, whose effects on the poet are recounted, before moving towards a recollection of the day upon which he fell in love with Laura.  The precision of the reference to the hour, day, date and year in the marginal note is mirrored in the final tercet, in which Petrarch’s fascination with time surfaces in response to his recollection of Laura’s words (version 2, l. 10).  In addition to the so-called “anniversary” poems sprinkled throughout the Canzoniere, Petrarch’s obsession with time sometimes manifests itself in a fondness for making poetry out of dates, as seen both here and in poem 336.

At first, it is unclear whether the abstracts themselves should be interpreted as exerting a positive or a negative influence on the poet.  Usanza is quite an unusual word for Petrarch, occurring only eight other times in the Canzoniere (poems 33, 40, 81, 116, 128, 258, 264 and 301; all but the last two in the In vita section), but a significant concept for St. Augustine in his De doctrina Christiana, where he identifies habit (consuetudo, mos) as one of the key actors in the human propensity for sin.

Mapping the Changes: The Search for an Implicit Petrarchan Poetics

The substitution of tira for spinge in l. 2 may seem of little consequence. However, when viewed in tandem with the other verbs in the opening quatrain, tira can be seen to constitute a better fit within the overall context of the poet’s relationship with the abstracts he describes.  Sprona implies that Voglia is positioned either on or behind the poet; guida e scorge places Amor by his side; trasporta (perhaps re-instigating the equine metaphor introduced by sprona) signifies that Usanza is carrying the poet from below.  Spinge would place Piacer behind the poet, and thus could be interpreted as serving much the same function as Voglia, driving the poet on or encouraging him, whereas tira places Piacer in front of the poet, dragging him, perhaps against his will or better judgement, towards that which he hopes will be salvation, but knows will be his ruin.  Thus, the addition of tira makes it clear that the poet is beset upon all sides by these potentially fatal abstracts, which we are soon encouraged to read in a negative manner by his extended treatment of Speranza and subsequent inimical characterisation of the remaining abstracts in the second stanza.  Of course, aesthetic reasons may have played their part too, as the imbalance of three verbs beginning with the letter “s” to one beginning with “t” is corrected by the change.

Speranza is portrayed as an opportunistic predator preying on the weak heart, which it deceives by flattery and consolation.  The heart itself is presented as innocent and naïve, unable to discern the true nature of Amor: cieca e disleale.  This false hope enables the victory of emotion over reason and sets off a chain reaction of one dangerous desire after another.  Again, the addition of già in l. 4 of Version 2 appears insignificant.  Aesthetic concerns may have also influenced Petrarch’s decision here, the combination of sounds produced by cor già having a harmonious effect by establishing a half-rhyme with scorge (l. 1) and porge (l.4).  In addition, however, the substitution affects a subtle change in the dynamic of the stanza by emphasising the descent into emotional weariness suffered by the poet.  The quick succession of the abstracts in the opening three lines endows the poem with a dynamism not usually associated with Petrarch, but just as the poem appears to be building towards a crescendo, the impetus begins to fall away as the poet begins to realise the falseness of his hope and the devastating consequences of his misplaced faith.  The addition of già implies that the heart is already in a weakened state prior to this disappointment, and it is quite possible that Petrarch wishes to suggest that this is not the first time he has been deceived in such a manner.  Moreover, the weakness implied by già may be precisely why the heart is willing to embrace this false hope.  Thus, the octave as a whole, particularly in Version 2, seems to form an emotional arc of sorts, while the initial promise of a positive crescendo is replaced by the negative one of one longing desire leading to another.  In this sense a parallel pendular movement can be detected within the octave, with the cor as its point of maximum displacement.  The first quatrain builds up to the mention of the cor, which is the object of l. 4. In l. 5, this sequence is reversed as the poem begins to double back on itself.  Cor now becomes the subject, followed by a reference to Amor, and then to desio, which can be taken as a synonym for Voglia.  The poet is now back where he started, but in an even worse position spiritually and psychologically.

Mi appears five times in the first four lines of the poem, but disappears with in the second quatrain, when cor becomes the subject of the verbs prende and s’accorge.  In Version 2, this movement is reversed over the course of the sestet.  The presentation of the poet as passive and the heart as active recalls the self-fragmentation noted in the last entry (Canz. 124).  The mi sound does re-enter, but it is swallowed up by other words and loses its prominence as the poem progresses.

There are a number of possible reasons for the reworking of the sestet in Version 2.  The tenth line in Version 1 contains a possible contradiction: the soave honesto ragionar and the angelica voce of l. 11 are unmistakably positive attributes to which he should respond well.  There is no reason for honest speech to beguile him.  Out of the nine words in ll. 10-11, five are adjectives.  It is possible that this proliferation of descriptive words was unsatisfactory aesthetically.  Similarly, l. 11, when read in accordance with conventional metrical rules, requires the reader to stress the third syllable of angelica rather than the second, making it quite an awkward line in terms of scansion.  The rewritten tenth and eleventh lines of Version 2 characterise Laura as a tree (presumably the laurel), which allows for the possibility of interpreting the dolci parole as a reference not only to Laura’s words, but to Petrarch’s poetry as well.  His dedication to poetry and his literary ambition are thus represented as a snare similar to his physical desire for the beloved, one potentially as damaging as the other in the context of his final salvation.  This meta-literary reading strengthens the possibility of interpreting the laberinto of l. 14 as a reference to the Canzoniere itself, which constantly resists closure and struggles to offer a way out of the spiritual conflict in which the poet is embroiled.  One final association occurs via the image of being tied to branches, that is the crucifixion of Christ.  The subsequent reference to the date of Petrarch’s inamoramento reminds the reader that it took place on Good Friday, the day, as Petrarch states in Canz. 3, onde i miei guai / nel commune dolor s’incominciaro.

The Purging of Dante

It is interesting that the only clear reference to Dante, ragionar m’invesca (V1, l. 10), is omitted in the final version.  The words in question echo those of Pier Delle Vigne in Inf. XIII, 55-57:

E ‘l tronco: ‘Sì col dolce dir m’adeschi,

ch’ i’ non posso tacere; e voi non gravi

perch’ io un poco a ragionar m’inveschi

The conversation takes place in the Wood of the Suicides, in the second cornice of the seventh circle, containing those who committed violence against themselves.  This is certainly an intriguing subtext, perhaps constituting an acknowledgement of Pertrarch’s own role in his present suffering.  With this in mind, the rewriting of these lines seems to indicate a desire in Petrarch to bury the Dantean reference deep beneath the surface of his own text.  The dolci parole of the new line echo the dolce dir of Dante’s l. 55, while the introduction of the rami seems to have been suggested by the form taken by Pier delle Vigne’s infernal punishment.  Is this apparent purging of Dante’s presence in the first version of the text an illustration of Harold Bloom’s theory of anxiety of influence?  Or, as in Canz. 100, is Petrarch putting into practive his theory of literary imitation, as outlined in the famous letter to Boccaccio, Familiares XXIII, 19?

The influence of the competing abstracts results in a sensory overload for Petrarch, clouding his reason so that eventually his rational faculties cease to function.  The inevitable result is the prevalence of the emotions and the senses, placing the poet in the realm of the bestial.  The laberinto of l. 14 seems to confirm this, calling to mind the Minotaur, a creature who shares characteristics of both human and animal, but whose bestial side prevails.  It is perhaps significant in relation to the Dantean subtext that the Minotaur appears at the entrance to the seventh circle of Hell in Inf. XII, ll. 12-27, the canto preceding Dante’s meeting with Pier delle Vigne.

– Summary by Mike Hodder

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