Study Guide

Chiare Fresche et Dolci Acque Women and Femininity

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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.

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