Francesco Petrarca (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374), commonly written in English as Petrarch, was one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch’s rediscovery of Cicero‘s letters is often credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance. His love sonnets were admired and imitated throughout Europe during the Renaissance and became a model for lyrical poetry. They were all written to express his love for a mysterious highborn lady called Laura, who certainly never returned his affection and may not even have existed. Nevertheless his anguished sonnets to her set the standard for lyrical love poetry up until the present day. Not so well known and celebrated as Dante in the English-speaking lands, his story is fascinating and his emotions are as fresh now as they were hundreds of years ago. Here is my attempt to translate his first sonnet to Laura, in its original rhyming scheme.
All you who’ve heard in wandering scraps of rhyme
The sighs on which I fed my foolish heart
When in youth’s confusion I felt the dart
Of love – I was not then what I’ve become –
Who mark the reasoned sorrows that are found
Throughout my songs, of hope and fear bred,
I pray, if ever for love your heart has bled,
Then may your pity be with pardon crowned.
But now too well I see how my good name
Has been embroiled in long lived public scorn.
Myself I must convict of foolish schemes,
And the fruit of all my foolishness is shame
With deep repentance of the knowledge born
That life’s sweet joys are merely fleeting dreams.