The Poetry of Petrarch

Petrarch; Translated by David Young

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Petrarch was born in Tuscany in the fourteenth century and grew up in the south of France. He lived his life in the service of the church, traveled widely, and was revered as the model man of letters of his time.

His greatest gift to posterity was his Rime in vita e morta di Madonna Laura, the cycle of poems popularly known as his songbook. By turns full of wit, languor, and fawning, endlessly inventive, in tightly composed yet ornate forms they record their speaker's unrequited obsession with the woman named Laura. In the centuries after it was designed, the "Petrarchan sonnet," as it would be known, has inspired the greatest love poets of the English language—from the time of Spenser and Shakespeare to our own.

David Young's fresh, idiomatic version of Petrarch's poetry is the most readable and approachable that we have. In his skillful hands, Petrarch almost sounds like a poet out of our own tradition, bringing the wheel of influence full circle.


Praise for The Poetry of Petrarch

"A supple English version of the complete songbook in blank verse, which is at once faithful and elegant . . . Young's decision to render Petrarch's lyrics in blank verse is amply justified by the results, which preserve the dignity of the original while maintaining a musical, 'poetic' effect. Perhaps the greatest compliment to be paid Young's translation is that although it never strays from the literal sense of the original, written more than 600 years ago, the language always sounds fresh and contemporary. The book is beautifully produced, with the bare essential of annotation provided in marginal glosses rather than in the usual clutter of footnotes . . . Petrarch's greatest contribution to literature was the first enduring collection of love poetry in a modern European language, an imaginative and subtle anatomy of the spiritual dimensions of love, which this fine new translation brings to glowing life for contemporary readers."—Jamie James, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Young's translation is fresh: the sonnets are clear and unstilted. He sticks to regular, agreeable iambics, without trying to match in English the ready rhymes available to Petrarch in the original Italian . . . The courtly, self-negating passion of [these poems] comes across almost alarmingly well in Young's rendition . . . Petrarch wrote, revised, and added to the sequence over forty-seven years, and perhaps that slow, rich development is what comes across best in Young's translation."—Peter Walpole, Virginia Quarterly Review

"David Young's version of Petrarch will refresh our images of the West's crucial lyric poet. We are given a Petrarch in our own vernacular, with echoes of Wyatt, Shakespeare, and many who come after."—Harold Bloom

"To read love poetry—to speak of the language of love—is to read Petrarch, who is largely responsible for inventing what W. B. Yeats called 'the old high way of love.' David Young has made the old way
fs26new again: his translation is limpid, uncluttered, rhythmically alive, and, above all, readable. Lovers of poetry will discover here the language they have spoken all their lives."—James Longenbach

"True love—or rather, the truest—is always obsessive and unrequited. No one has better dramatized how it scorches the heart and fires the imagination than Petrarch did, centuries ago. He dipped his pen in tears and wrote the poems that have shaped our sense of love—its extremes of longing and loss—ever since. Now in David Young's elegant new versions, his songs are as soaring and searing as ever. Indeed, not only is this a vibrant translation for our day but, their immense range slowly savored, these poems will sound anew the depths of each reader's own heart."—J. D. McClatchy

"Young's new version of Petrarch makes this great poet seem closer to us than before, both in language and as a living presence. His marginal comments and introduction help to convey a coherent sense of Petrarch the man, his life, and the myth he made of it."—W. S. Merwin

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Read an Excerpt

The sonnets of Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-74) helped to establish Italian as a literary language. David Young is the author of nine volumes of poetry, most recently of At the White Window.
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  • Petrarch; Translated by David Young

  • Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-74) is widely considered the first modern poet; his lyric works, especially his sonnets, established Italian as a literary language and inspired Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Spenser.

    David Young is Emeritus Longman Professor of English at Oberlin College. He is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including At the White Window, and has also translated Rainer Maria Rilke, Miroslav Holub, and numerous Tang Dynasty poets.