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January 31, 2012

Rima # 189 by Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)- Analysis

Rima # 189 by Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch)- Analysis

Francesco Petrarca (a.k.a. Petrarch) was born in 1304, and died on July 19, 1374. He was an Italian poet, who some call the "Father of Humanism," because he was one of the earliest Renaissance humanists. In the 16th Century, Pietro Bembo created the model for the modern Italian language based on the works of Petrarch, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Dante Alighieri.

Petrarch's Rime (the plural form of Rima) was rumored to be inspired by a woman named Laura de Noves. The story goes that on April 6, 1327, which was Good Friday, Petrarch had given up his vocation of a priest. He saw Laura in the Church of Sainte-Claire d'Avignon, and it awoke in him a deep-seeded passion. Laura was the wife of Count Hugues de Sade. Petrarch and Laura had little, if any, personal contact. In his bookSecretum, he states that Laura refused him for the simple and proper reason that she was already married. Petrarch's love for Laura was definitely unconventional; her presence caused him great joy, but the unrequited love caused him intolerable desires and great inner conflict. His search for love left him in a desperate and eternal agony.

Rima 189, modern prose translation by Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, is about Petrarch's suffering at the hands of his beloved. She is both his savior and foe.

His ship-I believe that when he is referring to the ship he is referring to himself; he is the ship-is full of forgetfulness as it passes through the tumultuous sea, meaning that it is drifting aimlessly. It is midnight in the dead of winter, and he finds his ship between Scylla and Charybdis-he is confused by his thoughts, he doesn't know what to do. His beloved Laura is at the tiller-a lever attached to a rudder post of a boat that provides leverage for the helmsman to turn the rudder-or maybe in this case she is his enemy.

Scylla and Charybdis are sea monsters positioned on each side of the Strait of Messina, which is between Italy and Sicily. This is where the saying "between a rock and a hard place" comes from; in trying to avoid one sea monster you have to sail closer to another, there is danger no matter what.

Charybdis was once a beautiful water nymph, and the daughter of Poseidon and Gaia. She was very loyal to her father, so she flooded land that belonged to Zeus, in order to enlarge her father's underwater kingdom. One day Zeus caught her and turned her into a sea monster; her arms and legs were turned into flippers and the rest of her became a huge mouth. He was angry that she was taking so much of his land, so he made it so that she would be incredibly thirsty and would have to suck in huge amounts of water three times a day. When she spit out the water she created whirlpools.

Scylla's legend: a fisherman named Glaucus spread his day's catch on the grass to count them. The fish began to move and slipped back into the water. He picked some of the grass that they had been lying on and ate it. He had an overwhelming urge for the sea, so he jumped in. The gods blessed him with becoming a sea-god (hair green, fish tail). One day he saw the nymph Scylla bathing, she ran from him when he told her that he was in love with her. Glaucus decided to go to the enchantress Circe for help. Circe fell in love with him, but he didn't feel the same, so with anger and jealousy in her heart she poisoned the bay where Scylla bathed. Scylla was changed into a monster. She could not move from the rock where she had been bathing. In her misery, she destroyed everything that came close to her.

The oars are a metaphor for his thoughts. The tempest (violent storm) has erupted because he is so conflicted inside. One the one hand he is in love with an amazing woman, but on the other hand his love for her is destroying him. The oars have scorn (open dislike and disrespect) for the tempest; because they know that he is suffering immensely due to his love for Laura and they want him realize that holding onto this love his no worth his sanity. The wetness that he refers to is most likely him crying; he is sad, but he still holds out hope that his desire will come true. The sail is probably a metaphor for his heart.

In his sorrow, there creeps in a feeling of scorn that loosens the ropes that surround his heart and keep it in place. The ropes are metaphorically made up of his bad judgments and his ignorance.

His guiding lights (stars) are hidden from him, and he cannot find his way. Reason and skill are lost to him; he doesn't know why he puts himself through all of this. He is so caught up in his inner turmoil that he can't see the end of his journey; he begins to lose all hope of finding port (a place where ships may ride secure from storms).


Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. New York: Mentor, 1940. 296-8.

Charbydis legend: www. Mlahanas.de/Greeks/mythology/Charbydis.html