A Good Round of Heavy Petrarching.Posted: November 3, 2012
Hey guys. Hey. It’s me. JAF. I’m not dead. I’m not even critically injured, horrifically maimed, or otherwise physically incapacitated. I’m just lazy. So incredibly, amazingly, astoundingly, mind-bendingly lazy.
I last appeared as a blip on the proverbial blogosphere radar 6 months ago, and I genuinely have no adequate reason for my absence from this, my internet baby. So I’ll just put it out there that MRG, LHB and KAB are the best (and most forgiving) minds of my generation and thankfully they have not been destroyed by the madness of my Chris McCandlessian self-indulgence. Thank you, bless you, I’m sorry, let’s move on.
As it so happens, I am currently back in the Old Country, from whence the germ of this blog was first conceived, studying the things I study the best—whiskey, unfiltered cigarettes, odd sleeping hours, and Medieval Literature. So as a “welcome back, old bean” sort of post, I’d like to introduce you to a dear, dear frienemy of mine, Petrarch.
I often ask myself hypothetical questions to while away the hours in between my various pretentious activities, and I have pondered on more than one occasion, “Can I have a deep and
completely only somewhat irrational antipathy towards someone that I have not only never met, but who died approximately 600 years ago?” When it comes to Petrarch, the answer is absofuckinglutely.
You see, Francesco Petrarca, as the Eyetalyuns knew him, was the first to call that roughly thousand year period between the Fall of Rome and the beginnings of the European Renaissance, “The Dark Ages.”
What an utter bastard he was.
As a member of the Italian intellectual class, and an early Renaissance humanist, Petrarch didn’t cast too kindly an eye upon the lives and times of his forefathers—and who can blame him, really? The oceanic-trench of a chip on my shoulder about how people don’t “appreciate” the “cultural” “flowering” of the medieval period is my cross to bear, and hopefully some day I’ll be able to hear that most well-meaning of phrases, “Oh, you study the Middle Ages? So you like Ren Faires, right?” without weeping. So, as a staunch defender of my world lit only by fire, I fundamentally despise Petrarch in the same way that popular fiction tells us dogs fundamentally have to pee on fire hydrants.
But I also feel bad for Petrarch. You see, among all his genuine achievements—like collecting, preserving and translating a multitude of Classical writings that would most likely been lost without his efforts, and various original writings on Christian philosophy, diplomacy and the usage of the Latin language—Petrarch is, and probably will only ever be, remembered best for his incredibly passionate, declarative poems to a woman he met once.
There’s a certain type of sympathy (alright, it’s actually pity) I reserve for men who spend their lives writing reams to a slampiece they’ll never have. Everyone knows this is a well–honored literary tradition—Petrarch was by no means the first sad sonovabitch to lust after that (always) perfect and (always, for some unfathomable reason) unobtainable poon, nor will he be the last. But thank Jesus for those men down the ages who have tried to come to terms with their goshdarned unfortunate sexual frustration through painfully personal verse, and, either because of shamelessness or on the “advice” of vindictive friends, have decided to let the world in on their emotional constipation and published that shit. Well, thank Jesus for the talented ones, anyway.
Petrarch’s muse was a lady named Laura. They supposedly met in church in 1327, and for the next forty years, almost to Petrarch’s death, he put pen to parchment in her imaginary honor. The collection of his 366 poems is called Il Canzoniere, and is perhaps the biggest influence on love poetry in Europe for the next 300 years. Divided into two sections, “in vita,” and “in morte” by Laura’s death in 1348, Petrarch deals largely with the fact that no matter how much he loves Laura (which makes him happy), he can never have her (which makes him sad), so he refuses to pursue her (since that would be sinful, and sin makes him sad), and just has to deal with loving her passionately from a distance (which makes him sad-happy). (s’dappy).
It all sounds very “dear diary,” since, well, you know, it is, but Petrarch can be forgiven for all the sex he ensured he was not having, because his poetry is so stupidly, asininely, heartbreakingly beautiful. Goddammit I just want to hate him, but he hurts my heart too much:
“If it, indeed, must be my fate,
and Heaven works its ways,
that Love close up these eyes while they still weep,
let grace see my poor body
be buried there among you
and let my soul return to its home naked;
then death would be less harsh
if I could bear this hope
unto that fearful crossing,
because the weary soul
could never in a more secluded port,
in a more tranquil grave,
flee from my poor belabored flesh and bones.”
So while it’s not a particularly scandalous return, I stick by my choice. Because, like that other great Latin poet of libidinal verse said, “I hate and I love.” So here’s to you, Petrarch—you’re too talented to join the great and ever-growing pantheon of pseudo-intellectuals which contains my other nemesi, but I can still have my revenge and tell
the readership of this mildly popular blog the world about how you spent your life alternating between verbally crying and masturbating over The Pussy on a Corinthian Column.
“Fortune and Love, and my own mind, which shuns
what it sees now and turns back to the past,
afflict me so that there are times I feel
envy for those who’ve reached the other shore.
While Love wears out my heart, Fortune deprives it
of any comfort, and my foolish mind
gets angry and it weeps—so in great pain
forever I must live and fight this way.
Nor can I hope the sweet days will return,
I see what’s left me go from bad to worse,
and I’ve already run half of my course.
Alas, not made of diamond but of glass
all of my hope I see slip from my hands
and every thought of mine split down the middle.”
What an utter bastard he was.