by Francesco Petrarch
She ruled in beauty o’er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home,
And now her time for heavenly bliss has come,
‘Tis I am mortal proved, and she divine.
Two images stood out for me when I read this poem.
In line two, the speaker describes his ‘noble lady’ as living in a ‘humble home’. When I first read this, I thought he meant that her physical home was humble. Upon re-reading the poem, though, I realised that he meant his heart. As soon as I saw this, I experienced a nice ‘ahh!’ moment.
In line four the speaker refers to himself as being ‘mortal proved’ and his beloved as ‘divine’. At first glance, the latter reference seems a very standard one for a love poem. What made the line stand out, therefore, is the way the speaker uses the word ‘mortal’.
When he says he is ‘mortal proved’ he means he is alive. Nine times out of ten, however, when we use that word we do so in connection with death. We say ‘all men are mortal’, meaning that one day, all men die; we talk about the mortality rate; we say that so-and-so is in ‘mortal danger’ and so on. Petrarch (or his translator) completely turns the use of the word around in a way that gives it new vigour and life.
As an addendum to the above it occurs to me that if mortal means one who is alive then divine could be said to be more than a standard poetic reference to one who is alive in heaven. After all, saying the same thing twice would be a waste of poetic space. If that is so, the word becomes a very sad one as it surely implies something that is in opposition to all that mortal means: separation, distance, and yes, death.
Read the full poem here