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April 2012

A confusion of harmonies

by Eric Ormsby

On Petrach and Luis de Góngora y Argote.

Petrarch was a master at keeping his obsessions fresh. In the 366 poems of what he entitled the Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, and which we know as his Canzoniere or “Songbook,” he rings every imaginable change on his near half-century passion for the elusive Laura. Late in life he arranged the poems in dramatic sequence as a chronicle of his “lost days.” Those perduti giorni were the days, the all too many days, which he spent entangled in that mad pursuit. Remarkably, though there are inevitably longueurs in such a work, there are no weak poems; the intensity, and the elegance of expression, remains at the highest pitch throughout. Petrarch described his life as a “long wandering in a blind labyrinth.” If his obsessions remain fresh, that may be because at each twist of the maze, it was not the golden-haired Laura that he glimpsed but the secret Minotaur squatting defiantly in his own divided ...

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Eric Ormsby's latest book is The Baboons of Hada, a selection of his poems (Carcanet).


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 30 April 2012, on page 17

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