Petrarchan sonnet: Giant of Provence

From fragrant fields of lavender, a vast
Forbidding blade of blasted, sun-bleached stone
Rears like a thunderhead. It stands alone,
Inviting bold adventurers to cast
Their caution to its endless winds. Its past
Is littered with their shattered hopes; it’s shown
No mercy, done no favours, idly blown
Careers, looked on as legends breathed their last.
And come July, when hard-limbed men again
Face agonies of hunger, heat and thirst
Upon its slopes in search of victory,
How many will remember through the pain:
For all their training and technology,
It was a poet reached the summit first.


I consider myself still in training with the Petrarchan sonnet. For this workout, I picked the formidable climb of Mont Ventoux, the 6,000-foot mountain in southern France made famous by the Tour, and notorious by the amphetamine-stoked demise of British favourite Tom Simpson in 1967. But the ‘Giant of Provence’ seemed a doubly appropriate subject for this form: the first recorded ascent was made in 1336 by none other than Petrarch himself. He, of course, did it on foot: I’ve never attempted the climb, but I suspect I’d end up walking, too. N.

Petrarchan sonnet:

How clear-cut and straightforward life would be
If all I wanted was to be a star
Or two-bit billionaire: jet, chauffeured car,
Yacht, fifty-bedroomed palace by the sea
In Monaco or Malibu; mind free
Of any thought beyond the next cigar;
Luxuriate in knowing just how far
I’d come – and that they all wish they were me.
Such little goals: all that a man requires
Is money, and they’re his. But should he yearn
To live with heart untroubled, soul unbound
And as his conscience leads him – then he’ll find
His road is hard and lonely; he must learn
To look within, find his own worth, as round
About, the world just shrugs, leaves him behind.


It’s Budget Day here in Britain today, so all the talk is of tax, spending, cuts, borrowing, debt, investment – the grey, deathly liturgy of money. This is my second go-round at the Italian/Petrarchan sonnet. It put up a good fight. N.

Italian sonnet: A Lover and His Lass

He parks the truck, then takes her by the hand.
They walk together round the field. The bright
March sun strikes silver from the sward; his white
Lambs, soft as new-baked loaves, awake the land
And hope within them. He shares all his grand
Schemes for the flock: she leans on him, the light
Of love strong in her eyes, and holds him tight,
Mind filled with home and children she’s got planned.
Does it occur to them that they may see
Their cloudless heaven ripped by sudden storm
Their high ideals hurled down and smashed like glass?
No thought of this. Not here, not now. They’re free
To dream. The sky is clear, the sun is warm
And smiling on the lover and his lass.


Tom Davis challenged me to write an Italian sonnet, so I have! This is a very ancient form, ‘invented’ by the Italian poet Petrarch: indeed, it’s often called the Petrarchan sonnet in his honour. I’ve never written one before, and now I know why. The rhyme scheme is complex: the first eight lines (the octave) are a non-negotiable ABBAABBA; the last six lines (the sestet) can be one of several patterns (I’ve gone with a traditional CDECDE) the only proviso being that (unlike the more familiar Shakespearian and Spenserian forms) it mustn’t end with a rhyming couplet. Sheesh.
Even here, though, I can’t let Shakespeare go entirely, having stolen my title from Much Ado About Nothing. I spotted the lover and lass in question while out on my bike this morning: I couldn’t actually hear what they were talking about, but that’s what artistic licence is for. N.