Oh hear, my friends, the dead, the lost, and you,
The living who may read these words and know
One day about some other thing, that Jo
Was here and felt the same and it was true.
A photograph recalls a memory:
The rearing limestone cliff, the blue of sky,
Unlikely green of river rushing by,
The mellow gold that warms the chestnut tree.
Words can’t describe, not really, cannot match
The glory of this place where Petrarch sat
But on the human level they may catch.
So after winds of time have blown trees flat
Still from these freshlaid words a thought may hatch
In quite another place you think “Oh. That.”
The story that they tell is love, love, love
The Lady and the Poet — well, it works,
But also he loved books and God, it irks.
Laura, all right, but Cicero above.
The Great Man theory is out of style
But without Petrarch, what world would this be?
I’m here for him: I’m his posterity,
Not for the love they want to so beguile.
Here for the books I love that he loved too,
The flame he kindled soul to soul and kept,
The ancient world he saved to meet the new.
This room, they say, is where the poet slept.
(He must have sometimes, so I guess it’s true.)
I found his fig tree. That was when I wept.
Did the Romantics have a field day here? Why not?
I never saw a place where the sublime
Made so much sense, nature so close to rhyme.
Wild towering cliffs, old ruins, ferny grot.
The colours are so bright they glow, the stone
As white as linen when you fold it clean
The waterweed is almost neon green
And see how very gold the trees have grown.
The kingfisher was such a dazzling blue
Bathetic fallacy, too much to feel,
Here’s nature spilling over, just for you.
Nestled in living rock, it’s no big deal
The little house where Petrarch wrote and knew,
Except it’s everything that makes it real.
The river has three voices, first the fall
And then the rushing torrent roar, the spate,
And third the breaking slap that will not wait
As rocks impede and for a while stand tall.
The birdsong seems intelligently timed
More song than chirrup, rolling out diverse
Trilled melodies, with choruses and verse
Since here the only sane response is rhymed.
Oh Petrarch, I have heard what you have heard
Here in your garden, here below the peak,
The water’s voices rising to a word
The poetry that spills from every beak.
Here , now, this place, it doesn’t seem absurd
That sonnets are the only way to speak.
Fontaine de Vaucluse 21st October 2015 (I didn’t type them in until I got back to Avignon.)