Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance’

Francesco Petrarca – Petrarch – from Canzoniere
trans. Mark Musa

Sonnet 3

It was the day the sun’s ray had turned pale

with pity for the suffering of his Maker

when I was caught (and I put up no fight),

my lady, for your lovely eyes had bound me.

It seemed no time to be on guard against

Love’s blows; therefore, I went my way

secure and fearless – so, all my misfortunes began

in the midst of universal woe.

Love found me all disarmed and saw the way

was clear to reach my heart down through the eyes,

which have become the halls and doors of tears.

It seems to me it did him little honor

to wound me with his arrow in my state

and to you, armed, not show his bow at all.

Sonnet 157

That day for forevermore so cruel and honored

sent to my heart its image so alive

there is no wit or style that can describe it,

but often I recall it with my mind.

Her attitude, adorned with gracious pity,

the bittersweet lamenting that I heard,

caused me to wonder were she mortal woman

or goddess, for she cleared the sky around her.

Her head fine gold, her face was like warm snow,

her eyebrows ebony, her eyes two stars

from where Love never bent his bow in vain—

pearls and red roses where the gathered grief was

transformed into ardent, lovely words—

her sighs of blame, her tears as though of crystal.

Sonnet 90

She’d let her gold hair flow free in the breeze

and whirled it into thousands of sweet knots,

and lovely light would burn beyond all measure

in those fair eyes whose light is dimmer now.

Her face would turn the color pity wears,

a pity true or false I did not know,

and I with all love’s tinder in my breast—

it’s no surprise I quickly caught on fire.

The way she walked was not the way of mortals

but of angelic forms, and when she spoke

more than an earthly voice it was that sang:

a godly spirit and a living sun

was what I saw, and if she is not now,

my wound still bleeds, although the bow’s unbent.

Sonnet 5

When I summon my sighs to call for you,

with the name love inscribed upon my heart,

And LAUdable sound at the beginning

of the sweet accents of that word comes forth.

Your REgal state which I encounter next

doubles my strength for the high enterprise,

that “TAcitly the end cries, “for her honor

These better shoulders for support than yours.”

And so, to LAUd and to REvere the word

itself instructs whenever someone calls you,

A lady worthy of all praise and honor –

Unless, perhaps, Apollo be offended

A morTAl tongue be so presumptuous

to speak of his eternally green boughs.

*Laure ta, laure ta! : praise you, praise you!

Sir Philip Sidney

Astrophil & Stella 9

Queen Virtue’s court, which some call Stella’s face,

prepared by nature’s chiefest furniture,

hath his front built of alabaster pure:

gold is the covering of that stately place.

The door, by which sometimes comes forth her grace,

red porphyr is, which lock of pearl make sure;

whose porches rich, which name of cheeks endure,

marble, mixed red and white, do interlace.

The windows now, through which this heavenly guest

looks over the world and can nothing such

which dare claim from those lights the name of best,

of touch they are that without touch doth touch,

which Cupid’s self from Beauty’s mine did draw:

of touch they are and poor I am their straw.

Lady Mary Wroth (neice of Sir Philip Sidney)

Pamphila to Amphilanthus 1

When night’s blacke Mantle could most darknesse proue,

And sleepe (deaths Image) did my senses hyre,

From Knowledge of my selfe, then thoughts did moue

Swifter then those, most swiftnesse neede require.

In sleepe, a Chariot drawne by wing’d Desire,

I saw; where sate bright Venus Queene of Loue,

And at her feete her Sonne, still adding Fire

To burning hearts, which she did hold aboue,

But one heart flaming more then all the rest,

The Goddesse held, and put it to my breast,

Deare Sonne now shoot, said she: thus must we winne;

He her obey’d, and martyr’d my poore heart.

I waking hop’d as dreames it would depart,

Yet since, O me, a Lover I haue beene.

Edmund Spenser



My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun;

coral is far more red than her lips red:

if snow be white, whyy then her breasts are dun;

if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,

but no such roses see I in her cheeks,

and in some perfumes is there more delight

than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

that music has a far more pleasing sound.

I grant I never saw a goddess go:

my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.

and yet, by heaven I think my love as rare

as any she belied with false compare.

Sting’s “Sister Moon


Sonnet 14

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.

I, like a usurped town, to another due,

Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, and me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

That am betrothed unto your enemy.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Sonnet 17

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt

To nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,

And her soul early into heaven ravished,

Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.

Here the admiring her my mind did whet

To seek thee, God; so streams to show the head;

But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,

A wholly thirsty dropsy melts me yet.

But why should I beg more love, whenas thou

Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine;

And dost not only fear lest I allow

My love to saints and angels, things divine,

But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt

Lest the world, flesh, yea the devil put thee out.

Sonnet 18

Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.

What! Is it she which on the other shore

Goes richly painted? Or which, robbed and tore,

Laments and mourns in Germany and here?

Sleep she a thousand, then peeps up one year?

Is she self-truth, and errs? Now new, now outwore?

Does she, and did she, and shall she evermore

On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?

Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights

First travel we seek, and then make love?

Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,

And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,

Who is most true and pleasing to thee then

When she is embraced and open to most men.

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Just the other day, I read Joshua Calhoun’s essay, “The Word Made Flax: Cheap Bibles, Textual Corruption, and the Poetics of Paper” in the PMLA 126:2 (March 2011). It is an essay squarely in the tradition of codicology — the study of bookmaking — and discusses how paper was made from flax, a living plant, in the Renaissance. Other things might be embedded in the paper from the paper-making process: discolored water, flecks of organic matter, plant fibers, human hair, large husky pieces of the stalk of the flax plant, known as shives, bits of cloth, even bookworms — which were not metaphors for avid readers, but actual worms that ate through the paper!

In order to make the Bible widely available in English, Renaissance printers often used affordable paper — cheap paper made from rough flax. The living Word was printed on paper visibly made from the living world. Henry Vaughn, an early modern poet, wrote about this in his poem, “The Book.”

Eternal God! Maker of all
That have lived here since the man’s fall;
The Rock of Ages! in whose shade
They live unseen, when here they fade;

Thou knew’st this paper when it was
Mere seed, and after that but grass;
Before ’twas dressed or spun, and when
Made linen, who did wear it then:
What were their lives, their thoughts, and deeds,
Whether good corn or fruitless weeds.

Thou knew’st this tree when a green shade
Covered it, since a cover made,
And where it flourished, grew, and spread,
As if it never should be dead.

Thou knew’st this harmless beast when he
Did live and feed by Thy decree
On each green thing; then slept (well fed)
Clothed with this skin which now lies spread
A covering o’er this aged book;
Which makes me wisely weep, and look
On my own dust; mere dust it is,
But not so dry and clean as this.
Thou knew’st and saw’st them all, and though
Now scattered thus, dost know them so.

O knowing, glorious Spirit! when
Thou shalt restore trees, beasts, and men,
When Thou shalt make all new again,
Destroying only death and pain,
Give him amongst Thy works a place
Who in them loved and sought Thy face!

Henry Vaughn (1655)

The first line in this poem strikingly alludes to the beginning of the Nicene Creed, which could be incorporated in the Anglican church services. The first stanza invokes the fall of man, as recorded in Genesis 3, while the second goes on to meditate on God’s providential foresight into the future — his ability to know the very paper on which the story of Genesis would be printed in the Renaissance and its origins in seed, in grass,  before it was ever dressed, spun or made into linen. The last two lines of the  second stanza turn the natural origins of paper toward metaphor: toward an acknowledgment that the lives and deeds and thoughts of people who wore the linen could be either “good corn” or ” fruitless weeds.”

The poet notes the tree that was used to make the wooden cover of his book, and that allusion to the “Tree”  is rich with implications and for connections to the tree of Genesis —  the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — and the tree, the Cross, that Christ was crucified upon to redeem sinners and save them.

In the third stanza, the poet remembers the “harmless beast,” one of God’s innocent creatures, that gave up its skin to make leather to cover the wooden cover of the book. In that very remembering, the poet alludes to the animal sacrifice that God made in the garden of Eden in order to make skins to cover Adam and Eve when they were ashamed of their nakedness. The death of a creature, and the memory of how sin entered Eden, causes the poet to meditate on his own dust and to weep for the reality that death is part of our experience of the world. At the same time, the poet knows that God knows and sees everything.

This leads him in the final stanza to exalt in the realization that God will restore “trees, beasts and men” when he shall “make all new again.” He looks forward to a place in heaven, after God has destroyed death and pain, for all those who love God and seek his face. These thoughts come from an incredible inspiration for the poem is an observant response to the paper on which Henry Vaughn’s book was printed.

In 2011, the 4ooth anniversary of the 1611 printing of the King James Bible, it is worth remembering the extraordinary ways that the Bible came to people in the Renaissance and continues to reach people all over the world to this very day.

King James Bible – 1613

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