onde l’Amore l’arco tendeva in fallo;
perle et rose vermiglie ove l’accolto
dolor formava ardenti voci et belle,
fiamma i sospir, le lagrime cristallo.
This poem is something of a concentrated experience of the entire Canzoniere. The beloved is not herself present, but the speaker admits to returning frequently to her angelic image, accessing it through a bittersweet memory. That image is portrayed by a litany of typical descriptive metaphors. Interestingly, in this poem it is a dynamic image that becomes crystallized in the poetry; the beloved is not static, but is crying. Of further note in this poem is the sonnet’s self-reflexive and self-conscious moment, “che ‘ngegno o stil non fia mai che ‘l descriva.” Part of the description of the beloved is the admitted incapacity of the description.
Incapable or not, this method of description dominated subsequent Italian poetic production and cultural life in general. As Francesco De Sanctis notes in his opening comments on Cinquecento literature, “it was all the fashion to Petrarchize” in Italy in the sixteenth century.19 Yet one should be careful not to understand this cultural hegemony as the peaceful reign of an uncontested dowager over an adoring and poetically unified population. “To Petrarchize” does not necessarily mean to reproduce, but can be explained as the engagement of a recognizable Petrarchan tradition and the predication of certain functions of the newly created poem on its relationship to that tradition. Here one must draw a line between what constitutes “Petrarchism” and what does it mean to “Petrarchize.” “Petrarchism” is a very linguistic project that involves the well-mannered reproduction of the Petrarchan aesthetic standard as well as the constant resurrection of
19 Francesco De Sanctis, History of Italian Literature, trans. Joan Redfern (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960), 429.