Today in World Literature, we’re going to take a stab at connecting Petrarchan lyric verse to South Asian vernacular devotional lyric–I asked students to write in their journals about similarities and/or differences they noted, so I really want to have a chance to discuss their ideas. I want to start, though, by going over the sonnets from Rime Sparse, and especially Petrarchan conventions–as I was rereading Petrarch and the South Asian poets (Basavanna, Mahadeviykka, Kabir, Tukarem, Kshetrayya), I thought we could have a wonderful discussion of the differences in style between the sonnet form as Petrarch inaugurates it and the vacana; the spiritualization of Laura and the erotic quality of the devotional lyrics; the images of a self at war with itself; and, of course, the political value of poetry in the vernacular. We’ll also go over the paraphrasing assignment I’ll be distributing–I’ve tweaked it this year, adding a bit more structure to it:
Assignment I: Paraphrasing and Adapting Petrarch
For this assignment, choose two sonnets by Petrarch.
With the first sonnet, you should paraphrase the poem as accurately as possible in prose. You should try to keep all of Petrarch’s words, but rearrange the syntax and order in a way that makes sense to contemporary American students. If you have to look up a word to understand it’s meaning, do so! If you need to add something to clarify the meaning, use [brackets]. Follow the stanza breaks, because these represent logical units of thought. Remember, you’re not summarizing, but paraphrasing, so your job isn’t to generalize what the sonnets are about but instead to observe precisely what the sonnet says and does. However, if there is an ambiguity (and there will be!) in the literal sense, then choose a meaning you think most accurate.
With the second sonnet, put the poem into a contemporary medium you are familiar with—an email, a letter to Laura, a series of tweets or facebook posts, a journal entry to yourself. Your goal here will be to get an accurate sense of the content of the poems, by adapting it to a different medium. You’ll need to think about what the sonnet you’ve chosen is saying in general, and then paraphrase its content in your medium. If the poem is to Laura, maybe using the form of a letter or an email would make sense; if you see the poem as a bit of navel-gazing on Petrarch’s part, maybe twitter would be a good choice. Think about your medium, and why it would work to express the meaning of the poem.
The goal of this assignment is not only to help us more clearly understand how lyric poetry works and what the Petrarchan tradition is, but also to give you more opportunity to hone your skills of close reading and observation.
ALTERNATIVELY, choose one sonnet either to paraphrase or adapt, and then create your own. If you choose this option, you should craft a sonnet in the Petrarchan tradition: it should use Petrarchan conventions and conceits, a specific arrangement of lines, a clear and accurate rhyme scheme.
Example prose paraphrase:
Father in heaven, after each lost day of my unrequited love and after each night spent raving with the fierce desire in my heart, which has kindled into fire—seeing [the signs of] your sacrifices made beautiful adorn my dismay.
Henceforth, please grant me that I may turn, in your light [grace], toward another more truly fair life and more truly fair deeds. In this way, my bitter foe [Satan? Passion? Laura?] might hold my heart in despite [in anger]—because it has spread its snare for me in vain.
My Lord, eleven years have passed since I first [saw/fell in love with Laura.] Since that time, I have been bound beneath the heavy trace [of love for her], which weighs most cruelly on the meekest person.
[My Lord,] please pity the abject plight where I find myself [or, where I discover my true self to be]. Return my straying thoughts to a more worthy place. Show my straying thoughts that today, you were on Cavalry [on the cross—in pain for a higher cause].
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