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“Ché non finire so cominciare”: Orality's Role in Shaping the Circular Poetics of Guittone's ballate-laude


The relationship between the ballata (a secular, popular poetic form with a refrain, often performed orally) and the lauda (a religious musical composition that gained popularity in Tuscany and Umbria in the 1260s) have long been contested by historians of Italian literature. The case of Siculo-Tuscan poet Guittone d'Arezzo's five ballate-laude demonstrate the high level of cross-fertilization between the ballata and the lauda, as he uses the secular poem's refrain form in creating his poetics of praise. More specifically, Guittone uses the refrain form to enact, with an extraordinary level of poetic self-awareness, an anti-sequential, circular, never-ending poetics of praise for the divine. A close examination of these poems, then, provides new perspectives on orality and textuality in the early Italian lyric, as well as pointing to new poetic possibilities resulting from the fusion of the two. These possibilities would prove fruitful in later Italian lyric, even contributing to Dante's attempts at out-of-time poetics in the Paradiso.

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