Study Guide

Chiare Fresche et Dolci Acque Memory and the Past

By Francesco Petrarca, or Petrarch

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.

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