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Characteristic of, or derived from, the work of the major Italian poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304–74), especially his sonnets and other love lyrics in Italian. The Petrarchan sonnet, also known as the Italian sonnet, is divided into an octave rhyming abbaabba and a sestet normally rhyming cdecde, and thus avoids the final couplet found in the English or ‘Shakespearean’ sonnet. The Petrarchan conceit is an exaggerated comparison or striking oxymoron of the kind found in sonnets written under Petrarch's influence: common varieties are the comparison of a lady's eyes with the sun, and the description of love in terms of its pleasurable pains. The widespread imitation of Petrarch's love poetry in Europe, reaching its height in the 16th century, is known as Petrarchism. This important imitative tradition is marked by the increasingly conventional presentation of courtly love, in which the despairing poet speaks in fanciful and paradoxical terms of his torments as the worshipper of a disdainful mistress. A notable Petrarchan convention is the blazon or catalogue of the lady's physical beauties: coral lips, pearly teeth, alabaster neck, etc. Petrarchism is evident in French poets of the Pléiade and in the English sonneteers from Wyatt to Shakespeare. For a fuller account, consult Gordon Braden, Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance (1998).

Subjects: Literature

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