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Poetry Without End: Reiterating Desire in Petrarch’s Rvf 70 and 23

  • Author(s): Gragnolati, Manuele
  • Southerden, Francesca
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

This paper proposes a new reading of Petrarch’s RVF 70, an intertextual canzone (and part-cento) that ends with an explicit textual return to the poet’s own RVF 23, the so-called canzone delle metamorfosi [canzone of the metamorphoses]. The incipit of canzone 23, ‘Nel dolce tempo de la prima etade’ [In the sweet time of my first age] forms the final line of canzone 70 and is the last in a series of quotations of the incipits of earlier poems (by the pseudo-Arnaut Daniel, Cavalcanti, Dante, and Cino da Pistoia), each of which closes one of the stanzas of Petrarch’s poem. The trend has been to read RVF 70 teleologically and as a palinode, in which the poet renounces errant desire and arrives at a new mode of loving and speaking by moving beyond the limitations of the previous tradition and his own earlier poetics, including the sensually-directed eros expounded in canzone 23. Instead this paper explores what happens if we take RVF 70 as a more literal return to RVF 23, which unsettles or resists the resolution of change proposed in the poem by keeping the question of desire more open and expressing a form of poetic subjectivity that paradoxically seeks to have it both ways – to recognize a fault in desire without renouncing it and to take pleasure in repeatedly giving itself over to what harms it. In this reading, the poet’s decision to end RVF 70 with a return to the beginning of his own RVF 23 not only destabilizes the narrative of conversion on which critics usually insist, but leads the poems to reenter themselves endlessly, making repetition and deferral the blueprint of Petrarch’s poetics.

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