Francesco, is it you? Be confident.
Sorgue vineyard pathways never were too dusty
__For you—plump face and figure lusty.
Come nearer; focus my astonishment.

The monks and nuns sleep early after Compline.
__Fawn twilight gilds the summer evening;
__Its nectared air fans out old grieving,
And here I am, a poet’s shadow primed for parley,
Away from home to do a lady homage
__And adumbrate for her perceiving
__The Love involved in interweaving
Our isolated aspirations joined bizarrely.

Charmed concourse where the abbey vines grow gnarly
Concluded with my gallant mentor’s muted
__Request at times to be saluted
By sweet indulgences in compliment.


Sorgue: stream flowing where Petrarch’s beloved Laura lived
Compline (KAHM-plin): last hour of the monastic day, followed by grand silence
indulgences: merits gained for the deceased by praying for them

Poet’s note: This meeting took place during a solitary walk through vineyards belonging to Benedictine abbeys at Le Barroux in Provence. The poem is a ballata, or literary dance lyric, written in the form of one by Petrarch. The first line of a ballata can be repeated after each section of the poem, which requires it to be a completed thought, although repetitions rarely appear in printing. The rhyme link between the middle section and the last is a typical feature of the form. Below is the model poem with my translation of it.


At times, I have few struggles to endure
From her angelic figure and sweet smile.
__Her air is softer for a while;
Her face and playful eyes look less obscure.

What happened to my enervating sighs
__Once born of disappointed gloom,
__Breathed forth ignobly to predoom
My life to agitated anguish and despair?
Lo, now my quiet heart identifies
__Love furnishing a cheerful room
__Where she may grant what I presume
To ask as I turn toward her in beseeching prayer.

But war remains unfinished: I must bear
A heart deprived of true tranquility.
__Desire burns up my dignity
As fast as greater hope makes me secure.


Italian original Canzoniere del Petrarca 149

Di tempo in tempo mi si fa men dura
l’angelica figura e ’l dolce riso,
et l’aria del bel viso
e de gli occhi leggiadri meno oscura.

Che fanno meco omai questi sospiri
che nascean di dolore
et mostravan di fore
la mia angosciosa et desperata vita?
S’ aven che ’l volto in quella parte giri
per acquetare il core,
parmi vedere Amore
mantener mia ragione et darmi aita.

Né però trovo ancor guerra finita
né tranquillo ogni stato del cor mio,
ché più m’arde desio
quanto più la speranza m’assicura.



Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  

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10 Responses

  1. paul buchheit

    Beautiful sentiments and translation, Margaret. Makes me feel like I’m walking in the past.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Paul. I had that feeling myself. Walking on monastery property in perfect quiet because the monks are asleep to prepare for hours of chanting psalms in the middle of the night? That place is not easy to find in the present!


    Margaret, this is really wonderful. First off, the poem on its own terms is a joy to read. I love the Browning-like characterization of the servant and I love your use of language — especially the alliteration in the phrase “poet’s shadow primes for parley.” I also like the unexpected rhymes of “parley” and “bizarrely” which made me smile. And I have now increased my vocabulary by learning the words “Compline” and “adumbrate.”

    But I also really appreciate reading your source inspiration and following your creative process. That made the experience much more satisfying. I’ve learned something valuable about a poet and a form that I know very little about. Thank you for this beautiful offering!

    • Margaret Coats

      The creative process was holding on to a memorable but wordless evening for twenty years, then realizing just recently that the great laureate and I could have a real conversation if his part was the form. I knew generally what he wanted to say; apparitions from beyond, if they come from a good place, want our prayers. Now I myself am surprised at the subtleties of discourse among these three poems. The translation was done last, feeling that I needed to show SCP what I meant by a ballata. I’m glad you enjoy everything in this little collection.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    The first poem is exquisite, but the rendering of Petrarch is a dazzling tour de force that leaves me in awe. Translating a complex rhymed poem into English while maintaining both the rhyme scheme and the essential meaning…wow!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Beautiful, Margaret. The rhyme with “gnarly” is just as inspired as parley bizarrely. “Fawn twilight gilds … old grieving” is just about matchless. Congratulations on the translation, too. This Petrarch text evidently had to wait 4 centuries before any musician of note set it (Fr. Reichardt).

    • Margaret Coats

      Many thanks, Joseph. While the ballata seemed simple, Petrarch’s word artistry did not allow a line-for-line translation, and your judgment that I rendered the essence of the poem as I re-positioned concepts is most welcome. The last two lines did need to be in the order Petrarch gave them, and again you help me feel successful at conveying their unresolved tension.

    • Margaret Coats

      Julian, I found that “gnarly,” referring to grape vines, has a strong and beautiful connotation quite unlike “gnarled,” as used to describe hands. Gnarly vines undulate smoothly, offering maximum opportunity for sprouts to form into grape clusters, and of course producing more wine. Those two lines you call matchless are the words I give to Petrarch to describe the moment, and I’m delighted you find them worthy of him.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, you never fail to intrigue and inspire me with your poetry and the beautiful forms that shape it – the ballata is no exception. ‘Walking with Petrarch’ is indeed exquisite – to echo that beautiful word chosen by Joe S. I especially like the atmospheric; “Fawn twilight gilds the summer evening”. I had never thought of twilight as ‘fawn’, but I can see it now, and it’s gorgeous. I also love ‘nectared air’. The sound read aloud is a melodic delight, but it also complements the ‘fawn twilight’ and immerses my senses in a glorious, honeyed glow.

    As for the translation – I am awestruck by the perfect meter and rhyme. As for the meaning, I’m relying on you alone for that, and thank you for the opportunity to read this in English – beautiful, poetic English that lifts me to another realm. Thank you very much for the literary and sensory journey.

    • Margaret Coats

      Even the dust was golden, Susan. Thanks for letting me know I conveyed the colour-feeling of that evening. I was alone, but I felt someone was following me at a great distance. Several times I turned around, but saw only unpaved, uneven road such as you see in the photo. Once there was a tiny swirl of dust. Now that I have finally composed this poem for the 20th anniversary of the occasion, there is a figure at that place in my memory of the scene. So I wasn’t walking with Petrarch, but the ballata form creates a dance of sorts.


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