670 years ago Francesco Petrarch settled down to write of his love for young Laura, spied by him on an April day and stolen by the plague exactly a year later. His work is one of civilzation’s most immaculate achievements, opening out into spirituality and nature and refining the sonnet form. Following his acclaimed translation of Dante’s Inferno, ‘immediately joins ranks with the very best available in English’ (Richard Lansing), Peter Thornton brings the poetry of Petrarch to the 21st Century in direct and luminous verse.
152 Questa humil fera, un cor di tigre o d’orsa
This gentle beast with tiger’s heart or bear’s,
showing a human face, an angel’s shape,
spins me so often between fear and hope
I cannot tell my laughter from my tears.
If she will not accept or free me soon
but keeps me hanging like this, in between,
till the sweet poison coursing through my veins
reaches my heart, then, Love, my life is done.
I cannot, with the weakened strength that’s left,
tolerate changes that remain so swift:
to burn, to freeze; to blush and then turn pale.
Hoping to end these pains, I slip away
like someone who from hour to hour fails;
for he is powerless who cannot die.