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  • Hi, I'm Rebecca Balcarcel. Let's find out where the sonnet comes from, the sonnet being

  • one of the most popular forms in the English language. You might think started with Shakespeare.

  • But it didn't. It actually started in Italy, with a guy named Francesco Petrarch. And Shakespeare

  • picked it up a couple-hundred years later. Let's find out more.

  • Frank in love, and how it led to the most famous of poem forms, the sonnet. Frank is

  • my pet name for Francesco, of course, and we'll see how love is what inspired him to

  • be so prolific with his sonnet writing. So here we have Francesco,

  • born in 1304, couple-hundred years before Shakespeare. In the letter he wrote to posterity,

  • he talked about his early life, and he mentions his

  • schooling. He says, "I learned as much of grammer, logic, and rhetoric as my age permitted,

  • or rather, as much as it is customary to teach in school. How little that is, dear reader,

  • thou knowest." This is funny because, obviously,

  • he doesn't think he learned that much in school, and we can sometimes relate. Young Francesco

  • was pretty promising, and everybody thought, wow, he

  • could be something like a lawyer. He started to study law. He says, "I then set out to

  • study law. I heard the whole body of the civil law, and would, as many thought, have distinguished

  • myself later, had I but continued my studies.

  • I gave up the subject altogether, however, so soon as it was no longer necessary to consult

  • the wishes of my parents. My reason was that although the dignity of the law, which is

  • doubtless very great, I felt it to be habitually degraded

  • by those who practiced it." So like now, sometimes lawyers were doing unscrupulous things, and

  • he did not want to go along with that. He said, "It went

  • against me painfully to acquire an art which I would not practice dishonestly, and could

  • hardly hope to exercise otherwise." That means that successful lawyers had to be dishonest,

  • and therefore, he just couldn't do it. He goes on: "Had I

  • made the latter attempt, my scupulousness would doubtless have been ascribed to simplicity."

  • He means that, if he had tried to be an honest lawyer,

  • people would have thought he was stupid, that he was simple. And so this was not going to

  • work at all. He says, "At the age of two and twenty I returned home." Now what's he going

  • to do? Well, let's go back to the idea of the church. Turns

  • out that his father was the one who wanted him to be a lawyer, and his father died, so

  • he was able to go to his first love, which was the church.

  • In four years he completed the minor orders, and he becomes a diplomat for the church.

  • That means he wasn't a priest, but rather, he would go around, broker peace treaties,

  • stuff like that. Now this job allowed him to travel quite a

  • bit. He was in France when something very important happened. Young Petrarch, early

  • twenties, is sitting in church, when suddenly he sees Laura.

  • So, as the historian Peter Sadlon puts it, "It's April 6th, 1327, Good Friday, at an

  • Easter mass, when Petrarch sees Laura for the first time." Now we don't really know

  • who Laura even was, so we have a bit of a mystery here. It could be

  • that she is Laura de Noves, who would have been born in 1310, but unfortunately was already

  • married by the time Petrarch meets her. So if it's that

  • Laura, then his love is never going to be requited. That means it's never going to be

  • returned, and he'll have to love from afar. We're not even sure that he ever even talked

  • to her, but he certainly fell in love with her, and he would

  • go on to write hundreds of poems to her, which in years to come would be shared, as people

  • took them around the world. They were translated into

  • every known language of the time. They became very popular. One of the reasons for this

  • popularity is probably that everyone can related to love at first sight. Laura is 17 when she

  • meets Petrarch, or she sees him, or really he sees

  • her, at mass when they're at church. And here's the actual remains of the church today, in

  • Avignon, which is again in France. Some nice Gothic

  • architecture there. And here is another portrait of Laura, and more remains of the church there,

  • and the little plaque that announces in French, that this is the place where Laura and Petrarch

  • met. It even talks about their immortal love, and it's immortal because the sonnets have

  • preserved their love forever.

  • Here we see the building as it is today. It's a theater, and you can still see some of the

  • archways and windows that look kind of church-like, but it is now in use as a performance base.

  • So the drama of great love can continue on stage.

  • Petrarch eventually writes 366 poems about Laura. 317 of them being sonnets. Now he collects

  • them all together, and he calls the group "Canzoniere," which means songs, like "cancion,"

  • in Spanish means song. Critic Stanley Martin writes that

  • Petrarch reimagined the conventions of love poetry in the most profound way: Love for

  • the idealized lady was the path towards learning how to

  • properly love God. Notice how in this painting we see Laura appearing before Petrarch almost

  • like an angel, and of course we have Cupid as well, about to shoot him with an arrow

  • of love, but the attitude he has toward her is quite reverent,

  • is worshipful, and it's through loving a woman that a man can purify his soul and discover

  • divine love. Here we see Petrarch depicted with a portrait

  • of Laura, which is on the right. With a pen in his hand, he reclines, leaning back toward

  • her, looking to her for inspiration. He also seems to be in attitude of ecstasy, hoping

  • that looking at her will inspire a new poem. Now Petrarch

  • wrote a sonnet that captures the moment when he first met Laura. He talks about how there

  • was an eclipse that day, and then goes on to say how love

  • attacked him, but he did not defend himself. "It was on that day when the sun's ray / was

  • darkened in pity for its Maker, / that I was captured, and did not defend myself, / because

  • your lovely eyes had bound me, Lady. / It did not seem

  • to me to be a time to guard myself / against Love's blows: so I went on / confident,

  • unsuspecting; from that, my troubles / started, amongst the public

  • sorrows. / Love discovered me all weaponless, / and opened the way to the heart through

  • the eyes, / which are made the passageways and doors of tears: / so that it seems to

  • me it does him little honour / to wound me with his arrow, in that

  • state, / he not showing his bow at all to you who are armed." So he's referring to Cupid

  • here, who is able to wound Petrarch with his arrow, but

  • Laura is not going to be hurt by the arrow, because she is armed. There's some kind of

  • defense that she has against this love and this arrow of Cupid. But he's weaponless,

  • and his eyes are the way that the love has managed to enter, because

  • he sees her, and is so struck and moved by her that he does indeed fall in love. Now

  • let's get ready to look at the structure of this poem. You

  • notice how it has a stanza of four lines, and then another four lines, and then we have

  • two sets of three. So basically, we have a set of eight and a set of six, and this is

  • typical for what's now called the Petrarchan sonnet. So we have

  • in most Petrarchan sonnets that octave, which is the set of eight lines, and then a sestet,

  • which is the set of six lines. Now remember your root

  • words, and you know that "oct" means eight and "ses" means six. There's also a rhyme

  • pattern: A B B A A B B A, in the octave. So that means we might have something like nation,

  • fair, care, station, for the first set, and the same sounds

  • again for the second set. For the sestet we move into some new sounds, and we label those

  • C, D, the C sound, the D sound. And there'll be an

  • alternating of C D C D. Or even a fifth sound might come in: C D E C D E. In any case, we

  • have 14 lines total, and there's a turn at the ninth line. So after the octave, we get

  • what's called a volta, which is a shift in the poem, and

  • this is usually the point where the poet starts to really make an interesting point. The whole

  • thing will be in a particular rhythm. It's called

  • iambic pentameter, which means it's in a rhythm that goes like this: da DA da DA da DA da

  • DA da DA. So let's look at another example. This is sonnet 292. You can see the purple

  • part is the octave, the brown is the sestet, and the volta

  • is marked with the brown arrow. I'll just read it. "The eyes I spoke of once in words

  • that burn, / the arms and hands and feet and lovely face

  • / that took me from myself for such a space / of time and marked me out from other men;

  • / the waving hair of unmixed gold that shone, / the smile that flashed with the angelic

  • rays / that used to make this earth a paradise, / are now a

  • little dust, all feeling gone; / and yet..." Now this is the volta, right? Because "yet"

  • always signals a change. Everything that has come before has

  • described the beautiful lover. However, she's died, because all of her hair and eyes and

  • so on are now dust, and the feeling from them is gone. So the lover has died, and yet he

  • remains. So the sestet it going to talk about that: "and yet

  • I live, grief and disdain to me, / left where the light I cherished never shows, / in fragile

  • bark on the tempestuous sea. / Here let my loving song

  • come to a close; / the vein of my accustomed art is dry, / and this, my lyre, turned at

  • last to tears." This is so sad. He compares himself to a bark, which is a boat, on a stormy

  • sea. He says my loving song, the poem, is going to have

  • to come to a close, because the inspiration for it, this vein, is now dry. And this, my

  • lyre, meaning poetry itself, and poem-writing, has turned to

  • tears. Now let's take a closer look at the rhythm that Petrarch uses. It's called iambic

  • pentameter. Don't let the word scare you. "Penta" means five, so you have five of something.

  • "Meter" means rhythm. It just means we have a rhythm

  • that has five of something, and what the something is is iams. So one iam would be a da-DA, and

  • five of them go, duh-DUM duh-DUM duh-DUM duh-DUM duh-DUM. We have an unstressed syllable followed

  • by a stressed one. "Until I finish this I'll stay awake." There's an example. Let's feel

  • it in our bodies by using a snap clap five times. So

  • it goes like this: Snap clap snap clap snap clap snap clap snap clap. "Until I finish

  • this I'll stay awake." That'll help you feel the rhythm physically. And then you can sense

  • it in the poem, as you read it. Now let's take a look at some

  • conventions. That means some typical themes that Petrarch uses in his poems, and then

  • afterwards, everybody else uses in their sonnets too. Courtly

  • love for an unattainable lady is common in many sonnets, in particular Petrarch. Love

  • is horribly painful. The angelic lady is cruel in rejecting the poet's love. Love is a religion

  • who's practice egnobles the lover. Love at first

  • sight appears in many sonnets. Christian and Classical, which means Greek, imagery coexist.

  • We have both references to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as

  • well as Hera or Aphrodite. Cupid is cruel and powerful. The poet is at war with himself,

  • and has internal struggles. These are typical of Petrarch's sonnets, and later sonnet-writers,

  • sonneteers, will use the sonnet to explore those same

  • themes even as they use different words.

  • Eventually, Laura dies, and Petrarch writes on a fly-leaf of a favorite book, which is

  • written by Virgil, he says, "Laura, who was distinguished by her own virtues, and widely

  • celebrated by my songs, first appeared to my eyes in my early

  • manhood, in the year of our Lord 1327, upon the sixth day of April, at first hour, in

  • the Church of Santa Clara, Avignon." So that's when he saw her

  • for the first time. In the same city, on the same month of April, on the same sixth day,

  • at the same first hour, in the year 1348, that light was taken from our day, while I

  • was by chance in Verona, ignorant, alas! of my fate." So when

  • he says, "that light was taken" he means that Laura was taken. And he happened to be in

  • Verona, which is where Shakespeare chose to set Romeo and

  • Juliet, where it takes place. So that's kind of interesting. Poor Petrarch.

  • Now the question of who Petrarch's Laura really was continues unanswered to this day. It might

  • have been Laura de Noves, but we're not entirely sure. Trying to answer this question, her