PETRARCH (Francesco Petrarca), 1304-1374  

Sonnet LXI

Benedetto sia 'l giorno, e 'l mese, e l'anno,          Blessed be the day, the month, the year,

E la stagione, e 'l tempo, e l'ora, e 'l punto,         And the season, the time, the hour, the moment,

E 'l bel paese, e 'l loco ov'io fui giunto                And the lovely place where I was joined

Da' duo begli occhi, che legato m’hanno;           By two beautiful eyes that now ensnare me.

E benedetto il primo dolce affanno                     And blessed be the first sweet pang

Ch'i' ebbi ad esser con Amor congiunto             That I felt in finding Love,

E l'arco, e le saette ond'i' fui punto                     And the bow, and its arrows piercing me,

E le piaghe che 'n fin al cor mi vanno.                And the wounds that reached my heart.

Benedette le voci tante ch’io                               Blessed be the many words I used

Chiamando il nome de mia donna ho sparte,     Calling out the name of my lady,

E i sospiri, e le lagrime, e 'l desio;                       And the sighs, the tears, the love;

E benedette sian tutte le carte                             And blessed be all the writings

Ov'io fama l'acquisto, e 'l pensier mio,               That bring me fame, and blessed my thoughts,

Ch'è sol di lei, sí ch'altra non v'ha parte.            Only of her, in which others play no part.

Portrait by Altichiero da Verona (1330-1395).   Public Domain

Portrait by Altichiero da Verona (1330-1395).   Public Domain

Petrarch, who spent his life between Italy and France, was considered the greatest scholar of his age of both classical culture and the Christian religion. On 6 April 1327 he saw the vision of a golden-haired and elegant girl called Laura in the church of Sainte-Claire in Avignon, giving rise to a powerful, long-lasting but unrequited love which inspired his Canzoniere, or ‘Song Book’, a total of 365 poems - mostly sonnets - written over nearly fifty years until his death, all developed around the theme of his love - real or imagined - for Laura.

The form of his sonnets, broken into two parts of eight lines (known as the octet) and six lines (the sextet) respectively with a pivot, meaning a change of direction or meaning, at the beginning of the second part. This form, with its regular rhyming scheme of abbaabba cdecde (sometimes cdcdcd), has been one of the most significant elements of European poetry up to the present day.

The sonnet form was invented by Jacopo Lentini at the court of Frederick II, and since then the two major sonnet types in English literature are known as the Petrarchan sonnet and the Shakespearian sonnet.

The sonnets of Petrarch were therefore incredibly influential. They were translated into English by major poets like Geoffrey Chaucer, Edmund Spenser and Thomas Wyatt, and were imitated by John Milton, Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare and William Wordsworth. They have also been set to music by widely different composers, from Jacob Arcadelt (1505-1568), Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) and Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) to Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951).

The Italian text used is from Opere di Francesco Petrarca, edited by Emilio Bigi, Milano: Mursia,1963

Petrarch (in blue) at the Fountain of Vaucluse, in France, near the abbey which was his favourite residence. From the New York Public Library

Petrarch (in blue) at the Fountain of Vaucluse, in France, near the abbey which was his favourite residence. From the New York Public Library