The reader of Petrarch's Rime Sparse is compelled as early as the first sonnet to impose narrative onto the poems. In Voi ch' ascoltate in rime sparse il suono, a poet-figure emerges and addresses the reader as he reflects on what he calls his primo giovenile errore. Finding herself at such an early point already engaged in what seems to be the poet's life story, the reader cannot help but read the subsequent poems with an eye to autobiography. At the same time, however, the Rime refuses to be so easily categorized and thus demands its reader to derive a more nuanced interpretation of the text. In this essay I plan to argue that the poet presents the reader with multiple autobiographical realities, a move which allows him to express his progression through time in a way which also resists time.
[...] The unique numericality of the anniversary poems initially causes them to stand out among the other poems in the Rime as markers of order, of narrative, of reality—in short, of what the reader might consider to form the basic timeline of the poet's autobiography. More specifically, the poet explicitly states that he first entered the laberinto, or fell in love with Laura, in “mille trecento ventisette, a punto / su l'ora prima, il sesto dì d'aprile” and that mille trecento quarantotto, / il dì sesto d'aprile, in l'ora prima / del corpo uscio quell'anima beata.” So, two fundamental assumptions which can be derived from the anniversary poems are that the poet falls in love with Laura within the first hour of April and that Laura dies within the first hour of April 1348—at which point the poet is still in love with her. [...]
[...] Regarding the tornare a me(nte) poems, then, it might be the case that the poet's statements are expressive, that when the poet states in sonnet 286 that Laura gelosa et pia / torna ov' io [the poet] he means to say “Hurray, Laura!” and not “Laura returned to me with sympathy.” Thus, the question becomes whether it might not be a category mistake to try to understand the tornare a me(nte) poems within the Rime as making false biographical statements. [...]
[...] For another example, see canzone 126. A category mistake is usually defined as a semantic error by which a thing is attributed some property which is inappropriate to its ontological or metaphysical existence: It is a category mistake, for example, to ask if the rock is elated or infuriated insofar as emotions are incompatible with inanimate things like rocks. To consider another illustration, if a prospective student goes on a tour of Columbia, and after visiting the various colleges and institutions on campus, she asks to see the university, she is making a category mistake. [...]
[...] Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics, translated and edited by Robert Durling. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1.1 -4. 211.12 -14. 336.12 -14. 62.11 -12. For tabular representation of each of the fifteen anniversary poems in light of the idea of the poet's love as frustrated, please refer to Appendix A. 195.1 -2. 285.7 Of course, I have discovered that I cannot make any claim about Petrarch without citing at least one exception to the rule. Here, one poem to note is sonnet 265, in which the poet describes Laura as alive. [...]
[...] In conclusion, Petrarch might arouse a desire for narrative in his reader as early as the very first stanza of the very first sonnet, Voi ch' ascoltate in rime sparse il suono, but any attempt on the part of the reader to impose autobiography on the Rime will necessarily prove unsatisfactory. Organizing principles like the true-false binary might initially seem like an appropriate means by which to gain a better understanding of the Rime, but the poems ultimately refuse categorization. [...]
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