Petrarch

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Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.

Francesco Petrarca (or Petrarch) (July 20, 1304July 19, 1374) was an Italian scholar, poet, and early humanist. Petrarch and Dante are considered the fathers of the Renaissance.

See also: De remediis utriusque fortunae

Quotes[edit]

To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer.
I rejoiced in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and commiserated the universal instability of human conduct.
Man has no greater enemy than himself.
No one, it seems to me, can hope to equal Augustine. Who, nowadays, could hope to equal one who, in my judgment, was the greatest in an age fertile in great minds?
Continued work and application form my soul's nourishment. So soon as I commenced to rest and relax I should cease to live.
It is better to will the good than to know the truth.
To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.
  • To-day I made the ascent of the highest mountain in this region, which is not improperly called Ventosum. My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer. I have had the expedition in mind for many years; for, as you know, I have lived in this region from infancy, having been cast here by that fate which determines the affairs of men. Consequently the mountain, which is visible from a great distance, was ever before my eyes, and I conceived the plan of some time doing what I have at last accomplished to-day.
  • I rejoiced in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and commiserated the universal instability of human conduct. I had well-nigh forgotten where I was and our object in coming; but at last I dismissed my anxieties, which were better suited to other surroundings, and resolved to look about me and see what we had come to see. The sinking sun and the lengthening shadows of the mountain were already warning us that the time was near at hand when we must go. As if suddenly wakened from sleep, I turned about and gazed toward the west. I was unable to discern the summits of the Pyrenees, which form the barrier between France and Spain; not because of any intervening obstacle that I know of but owing simply to the insufficiency of our mortal vision.
    • Letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro (26 April 1336), as translated by James Harvey Robinson (1898)
  • My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: "And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not." I was abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself. Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that he saw there were, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
    • Letter to Dionigi di Borgo San Sepolcro (26 April 1336), as translated by James Harvey Robinson (1898)
  • Hitherto your eyes have been darkened and you have looked too much, yes, far too much, upon the things of earth. If these so much delight you what shall be your rapture when you lift your gaze to things eternal!
    When I heard her thus speak, though my fear still clung about me, with trembling voice I made reply in Virgil's words —
What name to call thee by,
O virgin fair, I know not, for thy looks are not of earth
And more than mortal seems thy countenance.
  • Secretum Meum (1342), as translated in Petrarch's Secret : or, The Soul's Conflict with Passion : Three Dialogues Between Himself and St. Augustine (1911) edited by William Henry Draper
  • Man has no greater enemy than himself. I have acted contrary to my sentiments and inclination; throughout our whole lives we do what we never intended, and what we proposed to do, we leave undone.
  • Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart to life, and is prophetic of eternal good.
    • As quoted in Notable Thoughts About Women : A Literary Mosaic (1882) by Maturin Murray Ballou, p. 311
  • To begin with myself, then, the utterances of men concerning me will differ widely, since in passing judgment almost every one is influenced not so much by truth as by preference, and good and evil report alike know no bounds.
    • Epistola ad Posteros [Letter to Posterity] in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 59
  • I certainly will not reject the praise you bestow upon me for having stimulated in many instances, not only in Italy but perhaps beyond its confines also, the pursuit of studies such as ours, which have suffered neglect for so many centuries; I am, indeed, almost the oldest of those among us who are engaged in the cultivation of these subjects. But I cannot accept the conclusion you draw from this, namely, that I should give place to younger minds, and, interrupting the plan of work on which I am engaged, give others an opportunity to write something, if they will, and not seem longer to desire to reserve everything for my own pen. How radically do our opinions differ, although, at bottom, our object is the same! I seem to you to have written everything, or at least a great deal, while to myself I appear to have produced almost nothing.
    • Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio (28 April 1373) as quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 417
  • You, my friend, by a strange confusion of arguments, try to dissuade me from continuing my chosen work by urging, on the one hand, the hopelessness of bringing my task to completion, and by dwelling, on the other, upon the glory which I have already acquired. Then, after asserting that I have filled the world with my writings, you ask me if I expect to equal the number of volumes written by Origen or Augustine. No one, it seems to me, can hope to equal Augustine. Who, nowadays, could hope to equal one who, in my judgment, was the greatest in an age fertile in great minds? As for Origen, you know that I am wont to value quality rather than quantity, and I should prefer to have produced a very few irreproachable works rather than numberless volumes such as those of Origen, which are filled with grave and intolerable errors.
    • Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio (28 April 1373) as quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 418
  • Continued work and application form my soul's nourishment. So soon as I commenced to rest and relax I should cease to live. I know my own powers. I am not fitted for other kinds of work, but my reading and writing, which you would have me discontinue, are easy tasks, nay, they are a delightful rest, and relieve the burden of heavier anxieties. There is no lighter burden, nor more agreeable, than a pen. Other pleasures fail us or wound us while they charm, but the pen we take up rejoicing and lay down with satisfaction, for it has the power to advantage not only its lord and master, but many others as well, even though they be far away — sometimes, indeed, though they be not born for thousands of years to come. I believe I speak but the strict truth when I claim that as there is none among earthly delights more noble than literature, so there is none so lasting, none gentler, or more faithful; there is none which accompanies its possessor through the vicissitudes of life at so small a cost of effort or anxiety.
    • Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio (28 April 1373) as quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 426
  • Books have led some to learning and others to madness, when they swallow more than they can digest.
    • As quoted in "Lifetime Speaker's Encyclopedia" (1962) by Jacob Morton Braude, p. 75
  • How fortune brings to earth the over-sure!
    • As quoted in The International Thesaurus of Quotations‎ (1970) by Rhoda Thomas Tripp
  • It is better to will the good than to know the truth.
    • As quoted in The Renaissance : Essays in Interpretation (1982) by André Chastel , p 107
  • It is more honorable to be raised to a throne than to be born to one. Fortune bestows the one, merit obtains the other.
    • De vita solitaria (1346) as quoted in Madalyn Aslan's Jupiter Signs: How to Improve Your Luck, Career, Health, Finances, Appearance, and Relationships Through the New Astrology (2003) by Madalyn Aslan
  • Sameness is the mother of disgust, variety the cure.
    • As quoted in The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Inspirational Quotes (2005) by Wendy Toliver. p. 446
  • Five enemies of peace inhabit with us — avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride; if these were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace.
    • De vita solitaria (1346) as quoted in Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing‎ (2006) by Larry Chang, p. 144

Il Canzoniere (c. 1351–1353)[edit]

Full text in Italian. English translations are taken from Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics (1976) ed. and trans. by ‎Robert M. Durling (ISBN 0674663489), unless otherwise stated.

To Laura in Life[edit]

  • Voi ch'ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
    di quei sospiri ond'io nudriva 'l core
    in sul mio primo giovenile errore
    quand'era in parte altr'uom da quel ch'i' sono.
    • You who hear in scattered rhymes the sound of those sighs with which I nourished my heart during my first youthful error, when I was in part another man from what I am now.
    • Canzone 1, opening lines
  • Et del mio vaneggiar vergogna è 'l frutto,
    e 'l pentersi, e 'l conoscer chiaramente
    che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.
    • And of my raving, shame is the fruit, and repentance, and the clear knowledge that whatever pleases in the world is a brief dream.
    • Canzone 1, st. 4
  • Ché i be' vostr'occhi, donna, mi legaro.
    • For your lovely eyes, Lady, bound me.
    • Canzone 3, line 4
  • Who overrefines his argument brings himself to grief.
    • "Canzone 11 [c. 1327]", as reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1968), p. 163
  • Tempo da travagliare è quanto è 'l giorno.
    • The time to labor is while it is day.
    • Canzone 22, line 3
  • Ma pur sí aspre vie né sí selvagge
    cercar non so ch'Amor non venga sempre
    ragionando con meco, et io co llui.
    • But still I cannot seek paths so harsh or so savage that Love does not always come along discoursing with me and I with him.
    • Canzone 35, st. 4
  • Ahi nova gente oltra misura altera,
    irreverente a tanta et a tal madre!
    • Ah new people, haughty beyond measure, irreverent to so great a mother!
    • Canzone 53, st. 6
  • Per fama huom s'innamora.
    • One falls in love through fame.
    • Canzone 53, st. 8
  • Inanzi al dí de l'ultima partita
    huom beato chiamar non si convene.
    • Before the day of his last departure no man is to be called happy.
    • Canzone 56, st. 4
  • Da'duo begli occhi che legato m'ànno.
    • [From] two lovely eyes that have bound me.
    • Canzone 61, line 4
  • Perché la vita è breve,
    et l'ingegno paventa a l'alta impresa,
    né di lui né di lei molto mi fido.
    • Because life is short and my wit is afraid of the high undertaking, in neither do I have much confidence.
    • Canzone 71, st. 1
  • Questa vita terrena è quasi un prato,
    che 'l serpente tra' fiori et l'erba giace;
    et s'alcuna sua vista agli occhi piace,
    è per lassar piú l'animo invescato.
    • This mortal life is like a meadow where the serpent lies among the flowers and grass, and if anything we see there pleases our eyes, the result is to enlime our souls more deeply.
    • Canzone 99, st. 2
  • Voi dunque, se cercate aver la mente
    anzi l'extremo dí queta già mai,
    seguite i pochi, et non la volgar gente.
    • You, therefore, if you seek ever to have quiet minds before the last day, follow the few and not the crowd.
    • Canzone 99, st. 3
  • Vinse Hanibàl, et non seppe usar poi
    ben la vittoriosa sua ventura.
    • Hannibal was victorious, but he did not know later how to make good use of his victorious fortune.
    • Canzone 103, lines 1–2
  • Pandolfo mio, quest'opere son frali
    da ll lungo andar, ma 'l nostro studio è quello
    dche fa per fama gli uomini immortali.
    • My Pandolfo, those works are frail in the long run, but our study is the one that makes men immortal through fame.
    • Canzone 104, st. 4
  • Amor regge suo imperio senza spada.
    • Love governs his empire without a sword.
    • Canzone 105, st. 1
  • Intendami chi pò, ch'i' m'intend'io.
    • Understand me who can, for I understand myself.
    • Canzone 105, st. 2
  • Proverbio "ama chi t'ama" è fatto antico.
    • The proverb "Love him who loves you" is an ancient fact.
    • Canzone 105, st. 3
  • Per bene star si scende molte miglia.
    • One goes many miles to be at ease.
    • Canzone 105, st. 4
  • Tal par gran meraviglia, et poi si sprezza.
    • A thing seems a great marvel but then is despised.
    • Canzone 105, st. 4
  • Una chiusa bellezza è piú soave.
    • Hidden beauty is sweetest.
    • Canzone 105, st. 4
  • Né del vulgo mi cal, né di Fortuna.
    • Nor do I care about the mob or about Fortune.
    • Canzone 114, st. 3
  • Vero è 'l proverbio, ch'altri cangia il pelo
    anzi che 'l vezzo.
    • True is the proverb, one's hair will change before one's habits.
    • Canzone 122, st. 2
  • Le bionde treccie sopra il collo sciolte.
    • The blond tresses loosened on her neck.
    • Canzone 127, line 77
  • Io parlo per ver dire,
    non per odio d'altrui, né per disprezzo.
    • I am speaking to tell the truth, not from hatred or scorn of anyone.
    • Canzone 128, st. 4
  • S'amor non è, che dunque è quel ch'io sento?
    Ma s'egli è amor, perdio, che cosa et quale?
    Se bona, onde l'effecto aspro mortale?
    Se ria, onde sí dolce ogni tormento?
    • If it is not love, what then is it that I feel? But if it is love, before God, what kind of thing is it? If it is good, whence comes this bitter mortal effect? If it is evil, why is each torment so sweet?
    • Canzone 132, st. 1
  • Pace non trovo, et non ò da far guerra;
    e temo, et spero; et ardo, et son un ghiaccio.
    • Peace I do not find, and I have no wish to make war; and I fear and hope, and burn and am of ice.
    • Canzone 134, lines 1–2
  • To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.
    • "Canzone 137", as reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1968), p. 163
  • Ché bel fin fa chi ben amando more.
    • For he makes a good end who dies loving well.
    • Canzone 140, last line
  • Sarò qual fui, vivrò com'io son visso.
    • I shall be what I have been, shall live as I have lived.
    • Canzone 145, st. 4
  • Sol se stessa, et nulla altra, simiglia.
    • Resembles herself and no other.
    • Canzone 160, line 4
  • Pien d'un vago penser che me desvia
    da tutti gli altri.
    • Full of a yearning thought that makes me stray away from all others.
    • Canzone 169, lines 1–2
  • Un bel morir tutta la vita honora.
    • A good death does honor to a whole life.
    • Canzone 207 (c. 1348), st. 5
  • Beato in sogno et di languir contento,
    d'abbracciar l'ombre et seguir l'aura estiva,
    nuoto per mar che non à fondo o riva,
    solco onde, e 'n rena fondo, et scrivo in vento.
    • Blessed in sleep and satisfied to languish, to embrace shadows, and to pursue the summer breeze, I swim through a sea that has no floor or shore, I plow the waves and found my house on sand and write on the wind.
    • Canzone 212, st. 1
  • Il sonno è veramente, qual uom dice,
    parente de la morte, e 'l cor sottragge
    a quel dolce penser che 'n vita il tene.
    • Sleep is truly, as they say, akin to death, and relieves the heart of the sweet care that keeps it in life.
    • Canzone 226, st. 3
  • Le città son nemiche, amici i boschi.
    • Cities are hateful to me, friendly the woods.
    • Canzone 237, st. 5
  • Nulla al mondo è che non possano i versi.
    • There is nothing in the world that cannot be done by verses.
    • Canzone 239, st. 5
  • L'alta beltà ch'al mondo non à pare
    noia t'è, se non quanto il bel thesoro
    di castità par ch'ella adorni et fregi.
    • Your high beauty, which has no equal in the world, is painful to you except insofar as it seems to adorn and set off your lovely treasure of chastity.
    • Canzone 263, st. 4

To Laura in Death[edit]

  • Co la morte a lato
    cerco del viver mio novo consiglio,
    et veggio 'l meglio, et al peggior m'appiglio.
    • With Death at my side I seek new counsel for my life, and I see the better but I lay hold on the worse.
    • Canzone 264, st. 8
  • Non è sí duro cor che, lagrimando,
    pregando, amando, talor non si smova,
    né sí freddo voler, che non si scalde.
    • There is no heart so hard that by weeping, praying, loving, it may not at some time be moved, nor will so cold that it cannot be warmed.
    • Canzone 265, st. 4
  • Ché 'ncontra 'l ciel non val difesa humana.
    • For no human defense avails against Heaven.
    • Canzone 270, st. 6
  • La vita fugge, et non s'arresta una hora.
    • Life flees and does not stop an hour.
    • Canzone 272, line 1
  • Veramente siam noi polvere et ombra,
    veramente la voglia cieca e 'ngorda,
    veramente fallace è la speranza.
    • Truly, we are dust and shadow; truly, desire is blind and greedy; truly, hope deceives.
    • Canzone 294, st. 4
  • L'acque parlan d'amore, et l'òra e i rami
    et gli augelletti et i pesci e i fiori et l'erba,
    tutti inseme pregando ch'i' sempre ami.

    Ma tu, ben nata, che dal ciel mi chiami,
    per la memoria di tua morte acerba
    preghi ch'i' sprezzi 'l mondo e i suoi dolci hami.

    • The waters speak of love and the breeze and the branches and the little birds and the fish and the flowers and the grass, all together begging me always to love. But you, born in a happy hour, who call me from Heaven: by the memory of your untimely death you beg me to scorn the world and its sweet hooks.
    • Canzone 280, st. 3–4
  • I' so' colei che ti die' tanta guerra,
    et compie' mia giornata inanzi sera.
    • I am she who gave you so much war and completed my day before evening.
    • Canzone 302, st. 2
  • Cosí nel mondo
    sua ventura à ciascun dal dí che nasce.
    • And so on earth
      our destiny is with us from our birth.
    • Canzone 303, st. 4 (tr. Mark Musa)
  • O che lieve è inganar chi s'assecura!
    • Oh how easy it is to deceive one who is confident!
    • Canzone 311, st. 3
  • Canzon, s'uom trovi in suo amor viver queto,
    di': Muor' mentre se' lieto,
    ché morte al tempo è non duol, ma refugio;
    et chi ben pò morir, non cerchi indugio.
    • Song, if you find a man at peace with love,
      say: 'Die while you're happy,
      since early death is no grief, but a refuge:
      and he who can die well, should not delay.'
    • Canzone 331, st. 6 (tr. A. S. Kline)
  • Ei sa che 'l vero parlo:
    ché legno vecchio mai non róse tarlo.
    • He knows that I am speaking the truth, for no worm ever gnawed old wood.
    • Canzone 360, st. 5
  • Obedir a Natura in tutto è il meglio.
    • To obey Nature in all is best.
    • Canzone 361, st. 2

Quotes about Petrarch[edit]

Francesco Petrarca, the mirror of our century, after completing a vast array of volumes, on reaching his seventy-first year, closed his last day in his library. ~ Manzini de la Motta
He extirpated numerous prejudices, and paved the way to further improvements, in the circle of human knowledge… ~ Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann
Solitude alone supplied him with all this power… ~ Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmermann
  • Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch's wife,
    He would have written sonnets all his life?
  • Petrarch was the final blossom and perfection of the Troubadours.
    • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, remark in The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge, Vol. I (1836), p. 83
  • Lovely Laura in her light green dress,
    And faithful Petrarch gloriously crowned.
    • John Keats, last lines of the sonnet "Keen, fitful gusts..." (October/November 1816), published in The Complete Works of John Keats, ed. by H. B. Forman, Vol. I (1817), p. 45
  • Francesco Petrarca, the mirror of our century, after completing a vast array of volumes, on reaching his seventy-first year, closed his last day in his library. He was found leaning over a book as if sleeping, so that his death was not at first suspected by his household.
    • Manzini de la Motta (1 July 1388) as quoted in Petrarch : The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters (1898) edited by James Harvey Robinson and Henry Winchester Rolfe, p. 428
  • The reason for this contrast between the French and the Italian mediaeval literature is not far to seek. Allegory is a characteristically mediaeval form; and in Italy the Middle Ages began so late and the Renaissance came so early that that country never had the opportunity to fall completely under the spell that held France from the time of the Roman de la Rose till the end of the fifteenth century. Thus Petrarch, in spite of the fact that he wrote perhaps more pure allegory than any other Italian, was at the same time an enthusiast for the New Learning.
  • Petrarch, a character on whom I never think but with love, formed his mind entirely in Solitude, and there rendered himself capable of transacting the most important political affairs. Petrarch was, doubtless, sometimes what persons frequently become in Solitude, satirical, peevish and choleric. He has, in particular, been reproached with great severities, on account of his lively pictures of the manners of his age, and especially his description of the infamous vices practised at Avignon, during the pontificate of the sixth Clement. But Petrarch possessed a profound knowledge of the human heart, and extraordinary address in working upon the passions and directing them as he pleased. The Abbé de Sade, the best historian of his life, says, that he is scarcely known, but as the tender and elegant poet, who loved with ardor and sung in the most impassioned strains the charms of his mistress; and that nothing more is known of his character. Even authors are ignorant of the obligations which literature owes him; that he rescued it from the barbarism beneath which it had so long been buried; that he saved the best works of the ancient writers from dust and destruction, and that all these treasures would have been lost to us, if he had not sought and procured correct copies of them.
  • It is not perhaps, generally known, that he first revived the study of the Belles Lettres in Europe; that he purified the taste of the age; that he himself thought and wrote like a citizen of ancient and independent Rome; that he extirpated numerous prejudices, and paved the way to further improvements, in the circle of human knowledge; that to the hour of his death, he continued to exercise his distinguished talents, and in each successive work always surpassed the preceding. Still less is it known, that Petrarch was an able statesman; that the greatest sovereigns of his age confided to him the most difficult negotiations, and consulted him on their most important concerns; that in the fourteenth century, he possessed a higher reputation, credit and influence, than any man of learning of the present day; that three popes, an emperor, a king of France, a sovereign of Naples, a crowd of cardinals, the greatest princes, and most illustrious lords of Italy, courted his friendship, and desired his company; that, as a statesman, an ambassador and minister they employed him in the most intricate affairs of those times; that, in return, he was not backward in telling them the most unpleasant truths; that Solitude alone supplied him with all this power; that none was better acquainted with its advantages, Cherished them with such fondness, or extolled them with such energy, and at length, preferred leisure and liberty to every other consideration. He appeared, a long time, enervated by love, to which he had devoted the prime of his life, but he suddenly abandoned the soft and effeminate tone, in which he sighed at the feet of his Laura. He then addressed himself, with manly boldness, to kings, emperors, and popes, and always with that confidence which splendid talents and high reputation inspire.

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