Petrarch / (Chaucer) / Wyatt / Surrey: Invention of the Sonnet

Petrarch (1304-1374), Rime 140                  Trans. Anna Maria Armi (1946)*

Amor, che nel penser mio vive e regna              Love who within my thought does live and reign,

E 'l suo seggio maggior nel mio cor tène,          Who keeps his favoured seat inside my heart,

Talor armato ne la fronte vène,                          Sometimes likes on my forehead to remain,

Evi si loca, et ivi pon sua insegna.                      And there in arms displays his bow and dart.


Quella ch'amare e sofferir ne 'ensegna              She who taught us to love and suffer pain,

E vòl che 'l gran desio, l'accesa spene,              Who demands that desire and ardent hope

Ragion, vergogna e reverenza affrene,                 Be bound by reason, within worship's scope,

Di nostro ardir fra se stessa si sdegna.              Feels for our daring an inner disdain.


Onde Amor paventuoso fugge al core,              Hence Love in fright again to the heart flies,

Lasciando ogni sua impresa, e piange, e              Abandoning all tasks, tries to hide,


Ivi s'asconde, e non apar piú fòre.                  Trembles and weeps and comes no more outside.


Che poss'io far, temendo il mio signore,          What can I do, who fear my master's power,

Se non star seco in fin a l'ora estrema?              But stay with him until the final hour?

Ché bel fin fa chi ben amando more.                  Because he ends well who well loving dies.


Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), "The Long              Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1517-1547), "Love

Love That in My Thought Doth Harbor"                  That Doth Reign and Live Within My Thought"


The long love that in my thought doth harbor,                  Love, that doth reign and live within my thought,

And in mine heart doth keep his residence,                     And built his seat within my captive breast,

Into my face presseth with bold pretense                        Clad in arms wherein with me he fought,

And therein campeth, spreading his banner.                    Oft in my face he doth his banner rest.


She that me learneth to love and suffer                          But she that taught me love and suffer pain,

And will that my trust and lust's negligence                    My doubtful hope and eke my hot desire

Be reined by reason, shame, and reverence                  With shamefast look to shadow and refrain,

With his hardiness taketh displeasure.                          Her smiling grace converteth straight to ire.


Wherewithal unto the heart's forest he fleeth                  And coward Love, then, to the heart apace

Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,                        Taketh his flight, where he doth lurk and plain,

And there him hideth, and not appeareth.                      His purpose lost, and dare not show his face.


What may I do, when my master feareth,                      For my lord's guilt thus faultless bide I pain,

But in the field with him to live and die?                         Yet from my lord shall not my foot remove:

For good is the life ending faithfully.                              Sweet is the death that taketh end by love.

* Petrarch, Sonnets and Songs. Trans. Anna Maria Armi. N.Y.: Pantheon, 1946. 231.

Petrarch, Rime 189                                                  Trans., Anna Maria Armi

Passa la nave mia colma d'oblio                              My ship is sailing, full of mindless woe,

Per aspro mare, a mezza notte il verno,                  Through the rough sea, in winter midnight drear,

Enfra Scilla e Caribdi; et al governo                        Between Scylla and Charybdis; there to steer

Siede 'l signore, anzi 'l nimico mio;                          Stands my master, or rather stands my foe.


A ciascun remo un penser ponto e rio                      At each oar sits a rapid wicked thought

Che la tempesta e 'l fin par ch'abbi a scherno;          Which seems to scoff at storms and at their end;

La vela rompe un vento umido, eterno,                      The sail, by wet eternal winds distraught,

Di sospir, si spernaze, e desio;                                  With hopes, desires and sighs is made to rend.


Pioggia di lagrimar, nebbia di sdegni                          A rain of tears, a fog of scornful lines,

Bagna e rallenta le giá stanche sarte,                          Washes and tugs at the too sluggish cords

Che son d'error con ignoranzia attorto                        Which by error with ignorance are wound.


Celansi i duo mei dolci usati segni;                              Vanished are my two old beloved signs,

Morta fra l'onde è la ragion e l'arte,                              Dead in the waves are all reason and words,

Tal ch'i' 'ncomincio a desperar del porto.                      And I despair ever to reach the ground.

[Note: Chaucer never writes "sonnets," but he knows Petrarch and begins adapting his verse in Middle English.]

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343?-1400),                                  Sir Thomas Wyatt, "My Galley"

Troilus and Criseyde, V: 638-44.

O sterre, of which I lost have al the light,                          My Galley chargèd with forgetfulness

With herte soor wel oughte I to biwaille                            Thorough sharp seas, in winter nights doth pass

That evere derk in torment, nyght by nyght,                      'Tween rock and rock; and eke mine enemy, alas,

Toward my deth with wynd in steere I saille;                      That is my lord, steereth with cruelness,

For which the tenthe nyght, if that I faille

The gydyng of thi bemes bright an houre,                          And every oar a thought in readiness,

My ship and me Caribdis wol devoure.                              As though that death were light in such a case.

                                                                                        An endless wind doth tear the sail apace

[Troilus, a Trojan knight, fears his                                      Of forcèd sighs and trusty fearfulness.

beloved, Criseyde, will not return from

the Greek camp to which she was                                      A rain of tears, a cloud of dark disdain,

summoned by her father, a traitor,                                      Hath done the wearied cords great hinderance;

and sent by the Trojans in a                                               Wreathèd with error and eke with ignorance.

prisoner exchange.]

                                                                                        The stars be hid that led me to this pain.

                                                                                        Drownèd is reason that should me consort,

                                                                                        And I remain despairing of the port.

Petrarch, "Rime 190"                                                  Trans. Anna Maria Armi

Una candida cerva sopra l'erba                                      A pure-white doe in an emerald glade

Verde m'apparve, con duo corna d'oro,                      Appeared to me, with two antlers of gold,

Fra due riviere, all'ombra d'un alloro,                          Between two streams, under a laurel's shade,

Levando 'l sole, a la stagione ascerba.                          At sunrise, in the season's bitter cold.


Era sua vista sí dolce superba,                                      Her sight was so suavely merciless

Chi'i lasciai per seguirla ogni lavoro;                              That I left work to follow her at leisure,

Com l'avaro, che 'n cercar tesoro                                  Like the miser who looking for his treasure

Com diletto l'affanno disascerba.                                  Sweetens with that delight his bitterness.


"Nessun mi tócchi--al bel collo d'intorno                        Around her lovely neck, "Do not touch me"

Scritto avea di diamanti e di topazi--                              Was written with topaz and diamond stone,

Libera farmi al mio Cesare parve".                                  "My Caesar's will has been to make me free."


Et era 'l sol giá vòlto al mezzo giorno;                              Already toward noon had climbed the sun,

Gli occhi miei stanchi di mirar non sazî,                              My weary eyes were not sated to see,

Quand'io caddi ne l'acqua, et ella sparve.                          When I fell in the stream and she was gone.


Sir Thomas Wyatt, "Whoso List to Hunt"

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,

But as for me, alas, I may no more.

The vain travail hath wearied me so sore

I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mind

Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore,

Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,

Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.


Whoso list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,

As well as I, may spend his time in vain.

And graven with diamonds in letters plain

There is written, her fair neck round about,             [note this "sestet" doesn't split into 2 x 3-line groups]

"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,

And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

[Noli me tangere = Touch me not]

Petrarch, "Rime 310"                                                          Trans. Anna Maria Armi


Zefiro torna, e 'l bel tempo rimena,                                      Zephyr comes back and brings the lovely weather,

E i fiori e l'erbe, sua dolce famiglia                                       Flowers and grass, its sweet family ties,

E garrir Progne, e pianger Filomena                                     And Philomela warbles, and Procne cries,

E primavera candida e vermiglia.                                          And spring returns, the white and the pink feather;


Ridono i prati, e 'l ciel si rasserena;                                      The meadows laugh and the sky is serene;

Giove s'allegra di mirar sua figlia;                                         Jupiter gladly gazes on his daughter;

L'aria, e l'acqua, e la terra è d'amour piena;                          Love fills the air and the earth and the water;

Ogni animal d'amar si riconsiglia.                                          And all the creatures' instincts on love lean.

       [Note that the sestet begins the emotional "turning" from harmony to alienation.]

Ma per me, lasso!, tornanoi piú gravi                                  But to me only come the heaviest sighs

Sospiri, che del cor profondo tragge                                  That from my heart she will draw out and pull,

Quella ch'al ciel se ne portò le chiavi;                                  Who flew away with its keys to the skies;


E cantar augelietti, e fiorir piagge,                                      And small birds singing, and blossoms so full,

E 'n belle donne oneste atti soavi                                        And lovely women, their acts fair and mild,

Sono un deserto, e fere aspre e selvagge.                          Are a desert to me, beasts rough and wild.


Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, "The Soote Season"

The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,

With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale,

The nightingale with feathers new she sings;

The turtle to her make hath told her tale.


Summer is come, for every spray now springs;

The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;

The buck in brake his winter coat he flings,                  [note the Norton editors do not full-stop

The fishes float with new repairèd scale;                      this stanza, which would make it a true

                                                                                 "quatrain"--but is 4+8+2 more reasonable?]

The adder all her slough away she slings,

The swift swallow pursueth the fliès small;

The busy bee her honey now she mings.

Winter is worn, that was the flowers' bale.


And thus I see among these pleasant things,     [Note the "turning" happens at the end of the poem in a

Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.  rhyming couplet, unlike Petrarch's terza rima "aba" stanza.

                                                            If we accept a "three quatrain" logical structure above, we have the

                                                         "English" or "Shakespearian" sonnet as early as 1557, when Tottel's

                                                           Miscellany was published.  For the next great development, linking

                                                           sonnets together tracking the development of a relationship,

                                                           see Sidney's Astrophil and Stella.  This strategy was anticipated

                                                           by Petrarch, however, who had issued an authorized arrangement

                                                           of all his songs to "Laura," chronologically arranged by grouping

                                                           together those written before and after her death.]