“Canzoniere” is a book of poems composed out of two parts. Thanks to this work Petrarca, whose name was anglicized as Petrarch, became famous. The whole book of poems is inspired by his great love for Laura. This work served as a patter for other generations of writers.

This book doesn’t offer a simple and a classical love story. The writer didn’t keep a journal in verses of the occurred events. The poems are statements of his conscious, fear, feelings and passion. On one hand, he even enjoys solitude because then he can be immersed in his inner world that is filled with conflicts.

The poet described Laura as someone divine, magical and she was the reflection of all the best virtues and innocence. At the same time, Laura is cruel because she constantly puts the poet in a conflict that awakens hope and desperation inside of him.

Petrarch describes love as a constant longing and the man as a woman’s slave. He thinks that feelings are a sort of a disease and torture to which a man can’t stand up to.

Place: Avignon

Book Summary

The first part refers to the time when Laura was alive while the other one is dedicated to the period after her death. The poems are arranged to follow up with the development of the love but also of the spiritual states, the poet goes through. The character of Laura is a symbol of Petrarch’s love and the longing to get something almost unreachable.

Even though Petrarch glorified Laura to the point where we remember the traditions in which the women were something pure and divine, she wasn’t an allegoric figure but a real life character. Her beauty and power that she owns are revealed in the poems.

Laura provokes a real love, passion, struggle, restlessness and mood swings in the poet. From one poem to another we see the changes in his feelings and states and he reveals his dreams, sufferings, pain and happiness caused by the love for Laura. By keeping track of his states he created “Canzoniere”.

In the first sonnet, he emphasizes the love sufferings, daydreaming, and artistic creation. It’s all an intimate autobiographical confession. He uses antithesis (“Yet I see clearly now I have become an old tale amongst all these people”), aphorism (“the world’s delight is a brief dream”), gradation (“and shame is the fruit of my vanities, and remorse, and the clearest knowledge”), and metaphor (“You who hear the sound, in scattered rhymes”).

The sonnet is structured in 2 quatrains, 2 tercets and the last verse carries the moral. The rime goes abba, abba, cde, cde.

In LXI. sonnet love that made him famous is the source of his inspiration. He uses epithets (beautiful country, sweet suffering), polysyndeton (“Blessed be the day, and the month, and the year, and the season, and the time, and the hour, and the moment”), metaphors and oxymoron.

In the CXXXIV sonnet, a great feeling of inner conflict reigns. He uses antithesis (“fly above the sky, and fall to earth”), oxymoron (“and burn, and I am ice”), paradox (“I see without eyes”) and allegory (“One imprisons me, who neither frees nor jails me, nor keeps me to herself nor slips the noose”).

The book of poems mostly consists out of sonnets but there are also ballads madrigals. Petrarch didn’t invent the sonnet but he made it famous.

“Canzoniere” is considered to be a confession, a type of novel or a poet’s journal which he kept for more than 30 years.

The book is divided into two parts. In the first one, that takes about one-third of the book we can see his infatuation with Laura. He talks about her and the love he feels for her. The second part, which has about 100 poems, was dedicated to life after Laura’s death and it was written after 1348.

Passion and guilt prevail in the first part and his Christian duty is also implemented. The second part brings us emotions such as the notion of life passing by, melancholy and disappointment.

It is notable that the book wasn’t planned in advance and that it came to life without any idea of its length of the function.

Some of the poems are also about politics. The writer used those parts to communicate with the artists of his time.

The book finishes with the word “peace” which is symbolic because the poet searches for peace the whole time and it was unreachable to him just like the love of the one he loved.

Characters: poet and Laura

Character analysis

Laura – the woman that infatuated the poet. She was incredibly beautiful and she was described so perfectly that she didn’t seem real. The poet was in love with her for 21 years and that love was strong all along. She was a powerful and a divine woman without any flaws. Her perfection influenced the poet because he couldn’t resist the love he felt for her.

Francesco Petrarca Biography

Francesco Petrarca, known as Petrarch (Arezzo, 1304 – Arqua, 1374) was an Italian renaissance poet.

His father was a notary and two years before Petrarch was born he was banished from Florence. His family lived in Pisa and then moved to Avignon.

In 1316 Petrarch started his studied in Bologna with his brother Gerard and 10 years later he went back to Avignon where he built his social life. The popularity he created followed him his whole life.

In 1327 in Avignon he saw Laura. That encounter marked his whole life. He stayed devoted to her even though the love was never mutual. He was 23 and his obsession with Laura lasted a life time. The Canzoniere emerged from that same obsession.

He worked for Cardinal Giacomo Colonne for 17 years and then he traveled Europe. In 1350 he met Boccaccio and they became friends.

In 1361 the plague started and Petrarch went to Venice.

He spent the last 13 years of his life in Arqua, Italy and he died there on July 19th, 1374.

He influenced the European writing with his Canzoniere and his style. His other famous works are: “Africa”, “Secretum” and “On Famous Men”.