Concerning Petrarch, poetry, and a question from a reader:
I read a lot of poetry, and I listen to a lot of music.
Often these two habits will intersect in my life in strange and delightful ways, especially where and when my Gods are involved.
One particular song that I have always loved is Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue.
And I came to love it even more when the Indigo Girls released their cover of that song on their live album, 1200 Curfews, in 1995.
As you may or may not know, it was not until 1997 or so that I started getting specific spiritual nudges again. And sufficed to say, this song came up a lot on the radio at that time, and as a result, I heard the Indigo Girls’ cover several times a day.
But as much as I knew the lyrics, there was one particular verse that always baffled me, however.
She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue.
All I could think of was…what sort of words were those? And even more so, who wrote them?
I mean, as a person who loves poetry, I could absolutely agree that poetry, in all its forms, is the highest form of word-alchemy.
As well, I would be the first to agree that good poetry certainly can and does transcend time.
But I had to, absolutely had to… find out who was that ‘Italian poet from the thirteenth century’?
And no, I don’t think that anybody really knows.
As far as I can tell, Bob Dylan has never identified any particular poet as being the poet that he references…so I began to wonder if Dylan was just simply trying to convey some universally profound fact about love and human relationships, as well as something similar to what I just wrote up there about poetry being word-alchemy.
Cut to three years ago, I was in a large retail bookstore chain, just browsing, as I often do.
If you must know, I wasn’t even in the poetry section. Because, as much as I love poetry, I hardly ever buy books of it.
So it was more than likely that I’d been skimming a Kingdom Hearts graphic novel with my kid, or trying to choose between two or three sci-fi/fantasy anthologies, or whatever, when ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ came up on the in-store music system.
I remember looking up from the book that I had been browsing, to see that someone had left a copy of Petrarchian love sonnets on the floor.
…and that exact verse – with line about an Italian poet from the thirteenth century – was the verse that was playing when I noticed that book on the floor.
And no, I didn’t buy the book. I brought it back to the poetry section and left it there.
If I bought anything, I probably purchased an anthology of short horror stories and a comic book for my kid.
But when I got home, I Googled ‘Petrarch.’ Having been an English major in college, I did know that Petrarch was an Italian poet… and just as any English major who studied poetry, I was familiar with the Petrarchian sonnet.
What detail that I didn’t know, or likewise remember, was that Petrarch wrote most of those sonnets about love and loss…in the 13th century.
In that next week or so, I hemmed and hawed about this whole thing being a ‘universal sign’…
But eventually I did purchase a book of Petrarchian love sonnets a few months later.
You may take it however you will, but that book of Petrarchian love sonnets is on my altar because of one particularly sneaky incidence of pandoramancy coinciding with a misplaced book.