|Sketch of Laura as Venus C1444|
It would seem that Petrarch wrote 366 sonnets. I'm not sure how the translator of The Fifteen Sonnets decided which 15 to chose for his collection but he seems to have created a truncated version of Petrarch's love for Laura, from the joyous start to her death. Although whether Laura was a real person or not, is another story entirely.
Given how things turned out for Pietro and Amaranta, the truncated version seemed most apt.
O joyous, blossoming, ever-blessed flowers!
’Mid which my pensive queen her footstep sets;
O plain, that hold’st her words for amulets
And keep’st her footsteps in thy leafy bowers!
O trees, with earliest green of springtime hours,
And all spring’s pale and tender violets!
O grove, so dark the proud sun only lets
His blithe rays gild the outskirts of thy towers!
O pleasant country-side! O limpid stream,
That mirrorest her sweet face, her eyes so clear,
And of their living light canst catch the beam!
I envy thee her presence pure and dear.
There is no rock so senseless but I deem
It burns with passion that to mine is near.
When Love doth those sweet eyes to earth incline,
And weaves those wandering notes into a sigh
With his own touch, and leads a minstrelsy
Clear-voiced and pure, angelic and divine,—
He makes sweet havoc in this heart of mine,
And to my thoughts brings transformation high,
So that I say, “My time has come to die,
If fate so blest a death for me design.”
But to my soul, thus steeped in joy, the sound
Brings such a wish to keep that present heaven,
It holds my spirit back to earth as well.
And thus I live: and thus is loosed and wound
The thread of life which unto me was given
By this sole Siren who with us doth dwell.
Sweet air, that circlest round those radiant tresses,
And floatest, mingled with them, fold on fold,
Deliciously, and scatterest that fine gold,
Then twinest it again, my heart’s dear jesses;
Thou lingerest on those eyes, whose beauty presses
Stings in my heart that all its life exhaust,
Till I go wandering round my treasure lost,
Like some scared creature whom the night distresses.
I seem to find her now, and now perceive
How far away she is; now rise, now fall;
Now what I wish, now what is true, believe.
O happy air! since joys enrich thee all,
Rest thee; and thou, O stream too bright to grieve!
Why can I not float with thee at thy call?
Doth any maiden seek the glorious fame
Of chastity, of strength, of courtesy?
Gaze in the eyes of that sweet enemy
Whom all the world doth as my lady name!
How honor grows, and pure devotion’s flame,
How truth is joined with graceful dignity,
There thou mayst learn, and what the path may be
To that high heaven which doth her spirit claim;
There learn that speech, beyond all poet’s skill,
And sacred silence, and those holy ways
Unutterable, untold by human heart.
But the infinite beauty that all eyes doth fill,
This none can learn! because its lovely rays
Are given by God’s pure grace, and not by art.
O wandering steps! O vague and busy dreams!
O changeless memory! O fierce desire!
O passion strong! heart weak with its own fire;
O eyes of mine! not eyes, but living streams;
O laurel boughs! whose lovely garland seems
The sole reward that glory’s deeds require!
O haunted life! delusion sweet and dire,
That all my days from slothful rest redeems;
O beauteous face! where Love has treasured well
His whip and spur, the sluggish heart to move
At his least will; nor can it find relief.
O souls of love and passion! if ye dwell
Yet on this earth, and ye, great Shades of Love!
Linger, and see my passion and my grief.
I once beheld on earth celestial graces
And heavenly beauties scarce to mortals known,
Whose memory yields nor joy nor grief alone,
But all things else in cloud and dreams effaces.
I saw how tears had left their weary traces
Within those eyes that once the sun outshone,
I heard those lips, in low and plaintive moan,
Breathe words to stir the mountains from their places.
Love, wisdom, courage, tenderness, and truth
Made in their mourning strains more high and dear
Than ever wove soft sounds for mortal ear;
And heaven seemed listening in such saddest ruth
The very leaves upon the bough to soothe,
Such sweetness filled the blissful atmosphere.
Those eyes, ’neath which my passionate rapture rose,
The arms, hands, feet, the beauty that erewhile
Could my own soul from its own self beguile,
And in a separate world of dreams enclose,
The hair’s bright tresses, full of golden glows,
And the soft lightning of the angelic smile
That changed this earth to some celestial isle,—
Are now but dust, poor dust, that nothing knows.
And yet I live! Myself I grieve and scorn,
Left dark without the light I loved in vain,
Adrift in tempest on a bark forlorn;
Dead is the source of all my amorous strain,
Dry is the channel of my thoughts outworn,
And my sad harp can sound but notes of pain.
She ruled in beauty o’er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
’Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; no ears they find
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are;
Assuredly desire is mad and blind;
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.
Dreams bore my fancy to that region where
She dwells whom here I seek, but cannot see.
’Mid those who in the loftiest heaven be
I looked on her, less haughty and more fair.
She took my hand, she said, “Within this sphere,
If hope deceive not, thou shalt dwell with me:
I filled thy life with war’s wild agony;
Mine own day closed ere evening could appear.
My bliss no human thought can understand;
I wait for thee alone, and that fair veil
Of beauty thou dost love shall yet retain.”
Why was she silent then, why dropped my hand
Ere those delicious tones could quite avail
To bid my mortal soul in heaven remain?
Gentle severity, repulses mild,
Full of chaste love and pity sorrowing;
Graceful rebukes, that had the power to bring
Back to itself a heart by dreams beguiled;
A tender voice, whose accents undefiled
Held sweet restraints, all duty honoring;
The bloom of virtue; purity’s clear spring
To cleanse away base thoughts and passions wild;
Divinest eyes to make a lover’s bliss,
Whether to bridle in the wayward mind
Lest its wild wanderings should the pathway miss,
Or else its griefs to soothe, its wounds to bind;
This sweet completeness of thy life it is
Which saved my soul; no other peace I find.
The holy angels and the spirits blest,
Celestial bands, upon that day serene
When first my love went by in heavenly sheen,
Came thronging, wondering at the gracious guest.
“What light is here, in what new beauty drest?”
They said among themselves; “for none has seen
Within this age arrive so fair a mien
From changing earth unto immortal rest.”
And she, contented with her new-found bliss,
Ranks with the perfect in that upper sphere,
Yet ever and anon looks back on this,
To watch for me, as if for me she stayed.
So strive my thoughts, lest that high heaven I miss.
I hear her call, and must not be delayed.
Oft by my faithful mirror I am told,
And by my mind outworn and altered brow,
My earthly powers impaired and weakened now,—
“Deceive thyself no more, for thou art old!”
Who strives with Nature’s laws is over-bold,
And Time to his commandment bids us bow.
Like fire that waves have quenched, I calmly vow
In life’s long dream no more my sense to fold.
And while I think, our swift existence flies,
And none can live again earth’s brief career,—
Then in my deepest heart the voice replies
Of one who now has left this mortal sphere,
But walked alone through earthly destinies,
And of all women is to fame most dear.
Sweet wandering bird that singest on thy way,
Or mournest yet the time for ever past,
Watching night come and spring receding fast,
Day’s bliss behind thee and the seasons gay,—
If thou my griefs against thine own couldst weigh,
Thou couldst not guess how long my sorrows last;
Yet thou mightst hide thee from the wintry blast
Within my breast, and thus my pains allay.
Yet may not all thy woes be named with mine,
Since she whom thou dost mourn may live, yet live,
But death and heaven still hold my spirit’s bride;
And all those long past days of sad decline
With all the joys remembered years can give
Still bid me ask “Sweet bird! with me abide!”
Lust and dull slumber and the lazy hours
Have well nigh banished virtue from mankind.
Hence have man’s nature and his treacherous mind
Left their free course, enmeshed in sin’s soft bowers.
The very light of heaven hath lost its powers
Mid fading ways our loftiest dreams to find;
Men jeer at him whose footsteps are inclined
Where Helicon from dewy fountains showers.
Who seeks the laurel? who the myrtle twines?
“Wisdom, thou goest a beggar and unclad,”
So scoffs the crowd, intent on worthless gain.
Few are the hearts that prize the poet’s lines:
Yet, friend, the more I hail thy spirit glad!
Let not the glory of thy purpose wane!
O ye who trace through scattered verse the sound
Of those long sighs wherewith I fed my heart
Amid youth’s errors, when in greater part
That man unlike this present man was found;
For the mixed strain which here I do compound
Of empty hopes and pains that vainly start,
Whatever soul hath truly felt love’s smart,
With pity and with pardon will abound.
But now I see full well how long I earned
All men’s reproof; and oftentimes my soul
Lies crushed by its own grief; and it doth seem
For such misdeed shame is the fruitage whole,
And wild repentance and the knowledge learned
That worldly joy is still a short, short dream.
The Fifteen Sonnets selected and translated by Thomas Wentworth Higginson 1900
A Poem For A Thursday
One Hundred Years of Solitude Readalong