Study Guide

Chiare Fresche et Dolci Acque Quotes

  • Admiration

    Clear, cool, sweet running waters
    where she, for me the only
    woman, would rest her lovely body (1-3)

    In Petrarch's mind, Laura is, well, da bomb. She is literally the definition of womanhood for him. It's interesting to note, however, that he seems to be mostly focused on her youth and beauty. Perhaps that's to be expected from an unfulfilled love.

    [...] and she was sitting there
    humble in such glory
    now covered in a shower of love's blooms:
    a flower falling in her lap,
    some fell on her blond curls
    like pearls set into gold
    they seemed to me that day (43-49)

    Laura's an irresistible picture here, adorned with the "jewels" of nature, which seem more fetching on her than gold or diamonds could ever be. It's really an image that sticks with Petrarch, and one that clearly reaches into his heart as well as his memory.

    How often I would say
    at that time, full of awe:
    "For certain she was born up in Heaven!"
    And her divine behavior,
    her face and words and sweet smile
    so filled me with forgetfulness (53-58)

    So we've stepped a bit beyond simple admiration here. We think the word for Petrarch at this stage is "gobsmacked." Absolutely everything about Laura's comportment ("divine behavior"?!) says Heaven. Interestingly, Petrarch suffers from geographical amnesia here, even though he seems to remember the physical details and emotional responses pretty well. Priorities, we guess.

  • Suffering

    [...] listen all of you together
    to these my mournful, my last words (12-13)

    Just in case you're not sure about the tone of this poem, Petrarch thoughtfully spells it out for you. But don't be concerned about that last line. These really aren't going to be his last words. We know this because he goes on to pen another 240 poems.

    If it, indeed, must be my fate,
    and Heaven works its ways,
    that Love close up these eyes while they still weep,
    let grace see my poor body
    be buried there among you
    and let my soul return to its home naked (14-19)

    Yup, he's gone there. When all else fails a miserable lover, he or she has to go for the death fantasy. It may be a poetic convention, but most of us have probably taken this same psychological trip at one point or other.

    [...] and—ah, the pity—
    to see me there as dust among the stones, Love will
    inspire her and she will sigh
    so sweetly she will win for me some mercy
    and force open the heavens
    drying her eyes there with her lovely veil (33-39)

    This is the real reward for Petrarch imagining his own death. "Won't she be sorry when I'm gone?" should really be a sanctioned genre for poetry. Petrarch knows that death won't bring him any closer to physical enjoyment of his love. At this point, he'll settle for knowing that Laura has an emotional response to him.

    [...] and since then I have loved
    this bank of grass and find peace nowhere else (64-65)

    Some people have stuffed animals as their comfort object. Petrarch has a grassy bank. We're not here to judge. However, we will point out that Petrarch is particularly attached to places in poetry. Laura's presence is imprinted in them, so it brings the poet comfort when he can't have his girl.

  • Memory and the Past

    [...] kind branch on which it pleased her
    (I sigh to think of it)
    to make a column for her lovely side (4-6)

    It's important to keep in mind that Petrarch is reflecting back to a time when he actually saw Laura lounging in this beautiful place. He's revisiting all of this in his mind and continuously wishing for something to happen that will make her aware of his desire. Yeah, it's a lot like a teenage crush.

    [...] then death would be less harsh
    if I could bear this hope
    into that fearful crossing (20-22)

    This one is a bit more complex. The poet is imagining his future death, but reflecting on a memory that he wishes to carry with him on the flipside. And that memory? It's open to interpretation, of course, but it might just be his hopeful desire for Laura.

    And there will come a time, perhaps,
    to that well-known place
    the lovely animal returns, and tamed,
    and there where she first saw me
    that day which is now blessed,
    she turns her eyes with hope and happiness
    in search of me (27-33)

    Petrarch bends the space-time continuum again here, fantasizing about a future time when Laura will change her mind about him and come running back. But in thinking about this great and glorious future, he reaches back to the first moment he laid eyes on her, at the church of St. Claire in Avignon.

    Falling from gracious boughs,
    I sweetly call to mind,
    were flowers in a rain upon her bosom,
    and she was sitting there (40-43)

    The poet re-creates a vision of Laura from the past—and it's sending chills up his spine. For Petrarch, place is truly important in his experience of love: the river, the tree on which she leaned, and the fact that she sat right over there. These objects help revive his strong feelings for Laura in her absence.

    How often I would say
    at that time, full of awe:
    "For certain she was born up in Heaven!"
    And her divine behavior,
    her face and words and sweet smile
    so filled me with forgetfulness
    and so divided me
    from the true image (53-60)

    Petrarch's emotional re-living of his encounter with Laura includes not just the vision of his beloved among the flowers, but also his own sense of discombobulation. It's interesting to us that he talks about being filled with forgetfulness at the time of this encounter when he seems to remember every last detail so well.

  • Women and Femininity

    Clear, cool, sweet running waters
    where she, for me the only
    woman, would rest her lovely body;
    kind branch, on which it pleased her
    […]
    to make a column for her lovely side;
    and grass and flowers which her gown,
    richly flowing covered
    with its angelic folds:
    sacred air serene
    where Love with those fair eyes opened my heart (1-11)

    Petrarch makes it pretty clear here that Laura is the ideal woman for him—at least physically. She's so beautiful that she's like the King Midas of Prettiness. Everything she touches becomes even lovelier than before. And don't let the religious language escape you here. Beauty is nothing in a fourteenth-century woman without innocence.

    […] Love will
    inspire her and she will sigh
    so sweetly she will win for me some mercy
    and force open the heavens,
    drying her eyes with her lovely veil (35-39)

    If you're making a handbook for "Goode Womyn," don't forget to include this: she should always have a heart that can be moved to pity, especially for the guy that idolized her. Petrarch's personal death fantasy can only be successful if Laura regrets shunning him and prays for his soul through her tears.

    [...] and she was sitting there
    humble in such glory
    now covered in a shower of love's blooms:
    a flower falling on her lap,
    some fell on her blond curls,
    like pearls set into gold
    [...]
    and some in lovelike wandering
    were circling down and saying, "Here Love reigns" (43-48, 51-52)

    If you've ever seen a Disney princess flick, you understand the standard of beauty Petrarch sets up here. It seems like nature itself is paying homage to her loveliness, sending flowers floating through the air to make Laura even more fetching than usual. Petrarch chooses flowers as ornaments for his beloved (rather than jewels) because they are symbols of her innocence and youth.

    And her divine behavior,
    her face and words and her sweet smile
    so filled me with forgetfulness
    and so divided me
    from the true image
    that I would sigh and say:
    "Just how and when did I come here?"
    thinking I was in Heaven, not where I was (56-63)

    This is Girl Power in the fourteenth century. Laura's face is not the only thing that allures: it's the way she walks and talks, as well. She is sweet and mild and kind—and beautiful. Perhaps it was a good thing that Petrarch never really got to know her.