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Francesco Petrarch Andre? Jordan's ex owes his love lyrics to the Father of Humanism

Scratching the bottom of your chocolate box for a suitable Valentine's Day offering this year? You could do a lot worse than Peter Andre's new ‘Unconditional' love songs album. All warbled from the bottom of Pete's reupholstered heart (in case you didn't know, his ex has just married a man with an even greater inversely proportional brain to brawn ratio), it's probably the most genuine romantic article on commercial offer this February 14. The cynics amongst you may view it as one record company's craven bid to capitalise on Pete's status as a former Mr Katie Price, but before you dismiss Pete's latest platitudes as an Amoeba's guide to human relationships and trot off to buy the latest Proper Book of Love Poetry, there's a literary heavyweight due your derisive snort; he's called Francesco Petrarch, and he's got the heritage of Western love lyric, including Peter Andre's ‘poetry', to answer for.   

Born in Arezzo in 1304, the Father of Humanism, as he is regally monikered, was also the progenitor of the love sonnet in Western literature. While attending the Good Friday Mass in 1327, Petrarch espied Laura, a golden-haired beauty, who was to be the inspiration for Il Canzoniere, some 300 sonnets that agonise over the splendour of dolce mia guerrera, ‘my sweet warrior'. A complex love object, Laura is possessed of ‘both beauty of body and goodness of soul', yet as the archetypal cruel mistress, ‘somewhat lacks sympathy'. The theme of the principessa on a pedestal may have been directly inherited from the medieval cult of frauendienst (literally, woman worship), and the chivalric code of courtly love, but it was Petrarch who really dared to bring a psychological realism to his lady — ‘Only to make peace with your eyes/But it does not please you with your noble mind/to stoop so low'. This, combined with his wincing articulation of romantic suffering, set the template for the personae of the lover and the beloved popular in Western poetry ever since.

The key tropes of a Petrarchan sonnet are now so ubiquitous, they are the oldest romantic clichés in the book. The beloved is the sun, set amongst the heavens and the stars, who beguiles with dazzling eyes, and plunges the lover's world into darkness by virtue of his/her absence. The lover, meanwhile, is a tossed ship, hopelessly navigating love's tempests, and the turbulent high seas of the beloved's moods; or, alternatively, the ailing patient, who threatens to die in a heartbeat, all the while craving just one look, dreaming of just one kiss, barely daring to dream of anything else (yet somehow always managing to). Then there are Petrarch's trademark paradoxes, which just as readily characterise the beloved (‘the mild and lovely fierce one', he pronounces Laura) as love itself (that ‘amorous chill'). And whether it be Juliet's irregularly pentametered complaint to Romeo that ‘parting is such sweet sorrow', or Bill Whither's soul speak lament, ‘Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone', Petrarch punctuates our erotic idiom at all points along the high to low brow cultural continuum.

And so to return to troubadour Pete's latest offerings. Some old, some new, some borrowed, and every single one of them suitably blue and mournful, there's more than a trace of Petrarch about them. Take ‘Call the Doctor', a textbook case of Petrarchan suffering — ‘Now my heart's racing/I'm burning up and I'm pacing'. And how about the even more sophisticated ‘All Cried Out', which inverts traditional Petrarchan dynamics by casting Pete's crooner-protagonist in the role of the beloved: ‘You said I give you so much love it lit the stars', and, ‘You said you would only be complete/By loving every part of me'. It's a definite improvement on his previous pièce de résistance, the 90s sex-on-the-beach classic, ‘Mysterious Girl', where any possible Petrarchan sentiment is undermined by Pete's preening jocularity — ‘No doubt I'm the only man/who can love you like I can' (unconvincing ‘I and I' and multiple personalities clearly troubling his 26-pack there). Only when he took a break from singing to show the camera just exactly what Mysterious Girl was missing did his ‘rapper' sidekick Bubbla Ranks manage to express something more akin to the sonneteer's sensibility — ‘Girl you are my heart's desire/And you a love a set me soul on fire', Jamaican patois aside.

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February 16th, 2010
5:02 AM
Does this entire column qualify for Pseud's Corner?

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