Study Guide

Chiare Fresche et Dolci Acque Themes

  • Admiration

    He sees her across a crowded piazza on a Sunday outside of church. She doesn't even know he exists. She will never care. This will not stop him from dedicating his entire life to her. Sound familiar? While the scenario may seem trite or cliché to us now, guys like Petrarch created the conventions we apply to one-sided crushes in our day.

    Petrarch had his own betty to worry about. Laura is gorgeous, young, pure of heart. What he loves about her may not hold up on closer inspection, but it doesn't matter—he'll never get the chance to put those qualities to the test. It's kind of an ideal situation. This type of admiration isn't meant to go anywhere or gratify anyone else. Canzone 126 all about Petrarch and his emotional response to a beautiful, untouchable stimulus (or would that be "stimula"?).

    Questions About Admiration

    1. What qualities does Petrarch admire about Laura? Can you tell from reading this poem? Why or why not?
    2. How does Petrarch's appreciation for Laura affect his relationship with the world around him?
    3. In what ways does Petrarch's general mode of admiration extend to the poem itself?
    4. How does the poet's sense of wonderment towards his beloved work with the sorrowful tone of the poem?

    Chew on This

    Looks schmooks—Petrarch's esteem for Laura is defined not primarily by her beauty, but by the poet's ability to be transported away from reality when he sees her.

    In Canzone126, the poet's enjoyment of beauty is complicated by his emotional response to his absent beloved.

  • Suffering

    If you've ever watched The Princess Bride, you'll understand the usefulness of the term "ultimate suffering" to describe the tormented Petrarch's problem with Laura. While the pain might have been real, we have to rein in our pity. Suffering for love is all part of fin'amor, in which a lover suffers because he can't get his girl. Psychological torment is part of the game and gave material to the troubadours of southern France, whom Petrarch so admired.

    The gorgeous things in Canzone126—the flowers, the river, his lady—distract us from Petrarch's pain. But there are tears and sighs and wishes for death embedded in all of that. Moreover, the poet wants us to know that the tone of the poem is sad (just check out line 13). So is it real? Take a look at Petrarch's reply to a friend on the subject and decide for yourself.

    Questions About Suffering

    1. What is the purpose of suffering in Canzone126? Is it simply meant as a lament? Or is something more complex going on here?
    2. What, exactly, is causing Petrarch to be so gloomy here? What is all this "sorrowful dying" about?
    3. How does beauty affect Petrarch's emotional state?
    4. In what way does his imagined death affect the poet? Does it make him suffer, or... something else?

    Chew on This

    Suffering in Petrarch's Canzone 126 is cathartic rather than destructive. Um, yay?

    Petrarch has a complex relationship to beauty in Canzone 126. It both soothes his tormented soul and drives him to despair.

  • Memory and the Past

    While most poetry that begins with a direct address (like this one) does a good job at tricking us into believing we are in the moment, Canzone126 doesn't even try. It's clear from the very beginning that Petrarch is reflecting back on an encounter with his beloved Laura that has remained very fresh in his memory.

    But he's not just going on about some beautiful chick that he once saw hanging out on the banks of a river. He's re-evaluating his emotional life, re-living the feelings and thoughts that passed through his mind at the time, and creating a fantasy for the future that can reverse all the disappointments of the past. Never mind that this fantasy requires his death. As long as he can keep the memories of his hopes and desires when he crosses over, it's all good.

    Questions About Memory and the Past

    1. In what ways does Petrarch fuse the past and the future in Canzone126?
    2. What inspires the poet to think of this particular encounter with Laura?
    3. How does the idea of "destiny" work in a poem that is essentially a reflection on the past?
    4. What is the purpose of Petrarch's remembrance here? What is he trying to achieve or communicate by writing about it?

    Chew on This

    Time travel alert: Petrarch uses the past as a way of talking about his vision of the future with an absent Laura.

    Geographical location sparks Petrarch's memory in Canzone126 and inspires his fantasy of Laura's change of heart.

  • Women and Femininity

    Don't let this theme title fool you. Petrarch was never part of a women's studies program nor was he a proto-feminist—like, ever. But we can still talk about female beauty and ideas of femininity since the male gaze in Canzone 126 is so occupied with the ethereal Laura. Her attractiveness has everything to do with her beauty, softness, and innocence. These are the qualities that "divide [him] from the true image" of the world around him and leave him sighing in bliss. And that's just from the memory of Laura.

    This brings up another important point about ideal women (or The Ideal Woman): they're untouchable, unattainable—generally not of this world. In this, Petrarch's taking his cue from the troubadours who had been putting their lady loves on a pedestal for years before his poems were ever written. In the world of romantic obsession, there really isn't anything better than a beautiful woman who's out of your league. Who wants pesky reality intruding when you're trying to idolize?

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. How would you characterize the language that Petrarch uses to speak of Laura in this poem?
    2. What is the most important quality of Petrarch's beloved here, in your opinion? Why do you think so?
    3. What role does Laura play in Petrarch's fantasy of the future?
    4. How is Petrarch affected by Laura's beauty here? How does he deal with it?

    Chew on This

    In Canzone126, Petrarch deliberately refuses to show a full portrait of Laura to convey that her beauty is inexpressible and intangible.

    The ideal of feminine beauty is less important to Petrarch in Canzone126 than his association of Laura with the natural world.