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The Rhyme-Word: Metonymic Progression 22 The Sestina: Diachrony 25 Chapter 2. Arnaut Daniel: "Lo ferm voler" 30 2. Guilhem de Saint-Grigori: "Ben granz avolesa intra" 44 3. Ezra Pound: "Sestina: Altaforte" Chapter 3. Man and Time: Christian Conceptions 56 3. Petrarch's Sestinas and the Problem of the Center 59 4. Excursus: Lorenzo de' Medici 60 5.

Time, the Pastoral, and Petrarch 63 6. XXII: "A qualunque animale alberga in terra" 99 3. LXVI: "L'aere gravato, e l'importuna nebbia" 4. Introductory 2. Sir Philip Sidney: "Since wailing is a bud of causeful sorrow" 3. Edmund Spenser: "Ye wastefull Woodes! Auden: "Paysage moralise" 5. Auden: "We have brought you, they said, a map of the country 6.

The Modern Sestina: W. Merwin: "Sestina" S. John Ashbery: "Poem" Chapter 7. Michelangelo Buonarroti: "Crudele Stella, anzi crudele arbitrio" 3. Giuseppe Ungaretti: "Recitativo di Palinuro" Chapter 8. I owe a fundamental debt to the reference work by Janos Riesz, Die Sestine: Ihre Stellung in der literarischen Kritik und ihre Geschichte ah lyrisches Genus Munich: Fink, , which provides a compre- hensive survey of the store of available sestinas as well as a summary of literary criticism of poems in this form.

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Some more recent critical work is cited in my text. The cataloguing and analysis of sestinas in the Slavic languages and of the complete corpus of available Italian Renaissance sestinas has yet to be accomplished. Durling Cambridge, Mass. In the interest of concision I have used the scientific system of bibliographic citation, which obviates the need for footnotes.

The sestina has attracted the attention of numerous Romanists and specialists in Italian literature and is discussed in many handbooks on prosody as well as in histories of national literatures. What is given here of the history of criticism is only what I have found to be of major relevance to the structural and semiotic analysis of the sestina form and to individual poems analyzed. The latter have been chosen from the immense stock of sestinas for their quality or influence; or because they represent the production in a major literary language.

A number of modern poems are discussed, written often just at the moment that the poets chose to define their voices through close communion with the past. Like the poems of Petrarch, they are works that enter into a complex net of interconnection with other works, a connection that is not chronological but is a kind of relation in which images out of memory are projected as far into the future as the end of time.


A sabbatical leave from Yale facilitated the writing of the manuscript. I would like to express my gratitude to John Freccero, now of Stanford University, for his encouragement and thoughtful reading of the manuscript. Los Angeles, California M. Preliminary This study of the sestina in the context of European and American poetry is also an attempt to reconcile the languages of literary scholarship, that is, synchronic analysis and historical criticism.

It is my hope to be able to show that these languages are both valid and that they are the less effective when scholarship tries to make each independent of the other. It is no mere accident that I choose the sestina as my focus of concentration, for the same two fundamental conceptions of time —cyclical and linear —involved in the creation of its form also govern the nature of critical debate about literature and its medium, language. The sequential reading of a text decrees that it be read as strings of words, but we perceive words as more than sections of a string.

Upon reading a text we form new expectations and new recollec- tions, modify our impressions. The material nature of books and their parts furthers a spatial as well as a temporal perception of what is being read. I term the sestina a "hieroglyph of time" while insisting on the metaphorical quality of the space involved. The term "form" entails a spatial status for poems, and this book in turn has a spatial status. This spatial metaphor needs further explanation. The question.

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In turn, the detailed analysis of a kind of poem at any one moment of its evolution is a question that challenges the synchronic bias. The nonmaterial aspect of the literary "object" heightens the speaking power contained in literary works. Although as an artifact the poem does not propose, does not predict, cannot be verified by evidence, the words in it will not behave accordingly: If a poem is true it is also not false, and a poem like a picture may be replete with propositions and predictions of any kind.

Finally, it may pre- figure them. It is one of my aims to show that the sestina has obsti- nately adhered to its principal forms throughout its history since the decisive contribution of Petrarch, whose sestina is a poetic mani- festation chief among those in lyric poetry, of speculation about the forms of time. One of my assumptions is that a poem is not a world unto itself, and I hope this book will challenge the synchronic bias in literary studies.

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I assume that any point that I can raise about a poem has countless points of tangency with other poems and with a host of collateral experiences. For example, once I refer to the lack of a center in the sestina structure, the reference is seen to apply to conditions outside the poem, such as the intense human search for centers as manifested in analogous structures, like those of towns, of Paradises, or of the human soul.

I contend in this book that Petrarch's unprecedented mythologizing of an amorous event was the leading condition for a new development for the sestina, whose form pre- sented itself to him as a prior fact. The story, as history imitated in the linearity of poetic process, and the myth, the primordial and primitive origin of an indefinitely recurring theme, meet in this work, and the myth establishes its dominance.

This confluence and resolu- tion of two aspects of temporality through the mythologizing of events created a literary symbol that, as such, constantly invites interpretative investigation. At the same time, the verbal recapitula- tions within sestinas call on the resources of memory, and the reader becomes involved in a spiraling extension of the words, without establishing for any one of them a simple, fixed meaning.

The un- centered structure of the sestina is thus carried out in the continuous metonymies created by the rhyme words. In this chapter, I will elu- cidate the means by which the conditions of formal and semantic openness and closure exhibited by poems and exemplified in the sestina are dealt with so that the poem consistently points beyond itself, toward interpretation. The organization of the chapters that follow is prompted by the. Nevertheless, not every poem cited or analyzed receives equal space or time. My procedure has been to give each the attention necessary to clarify its relation to the dynamics of the sestina.

It will become evident, I hope, that the poems chosen for expanded treatment are fully representative of the body of sestinas available. Chapter 2 examines the beginning of the sestina's invention in Provencal poetry and studies poems written after the invention of the form; Chapter 3 characterizes the principal changes in the po- tential of the form as realized by Petrarch; Chapter 4 presents detailed readings of five of his sestinas and one by Dante; Chapter 5 studies the crisis of Renaissance Neoplatonism that surfaces in the French sestina; Chapter 6 explores the intimate connection between the ses- tina and pastoral poetry as a whole, including a number of pastor- alizing commemorative uses of verse that frame it within privileged blocks of time.

Chapter 7 is devoted to a functional adaptation of the sestina to a particular kind of allegorical discourse exemplified in Italian poetry, that of the voyage. The Epilogue provides a sum- mary of my theoretical framework and the general premises according to which I have proceeded, in the light of the practical analyses of earlier chapters.

Since I have not attempted to make a literary arti- fact, the reader will note shifts of tone that I consider inevitable concessions to the nature of the material involved. A Symbolic Icon The tail-biting serpent is a figure of time Gombrich 66 that links beginnings to endings and hence signifies eternity.

The figure is codified in a host of verbal images, but it is also a living sign, retaining those features of cyclicity first read, translated, and condensed in the process of its encoding. This book will concern a poetic form, the sestina, that involves an analogous concept of ending closure and the idea of perpetual rebirth. To assess the strength and value of an image through a written text is a proposition that takes us far from the purely visual sphere, and I should warn that I will not refer to the serpent-image itself.

The visual, hence spatial, metaphor that I have momentarily called to life has its dangers, for the temporality of poetry demands the clear and present dramatization of what in visual art is static: the serpent actually biting his tail before our eyes. My analogy of the serpent refers specifically to the poetic practice of "head-tailed" rhyme characteristic of the sestina and to its impli-.

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I contend that the sestina consti- tutes Western poetry's most comprehensive use of time as a structural principle, and that it is Petrarch's implementation of this principle that endows his work with generative power. No instance of poetic invention better demonstrates that it is not the inventor, nor the pre- cursor, but the most effective proponent of an idea who becomes the instrument of its fate. The obsessive concern with time that charac- terizes the content of Petrarch's sestinas is manifested in the "head- tailed" structure.

Much against my better intentions, this spatial metaphor will appear throughout this book, betraying the surface petrifications of language. However, it can follow the erratic, crooked, and labyrin- thine paths of actual human desire. Since the sestina itself, especially in the hands of its leading practitioner, manifests the urgent quest for the impossible integration of time and poetic structure, we find distilled in it the quintessence of the poetic function. Here we best perceive what Jacques Lacan called the "metonymic" nature of desire Lacan , meaning that the object of desire is always irre- trievably displaced, so much so that the link between an impulse and its semantic object is available only by rediscovering the incom- mensurability of desire and object.

In poetry, the ontological state of desire surfaces through continguity relationships. For at the instant when an object of desire is named, its uniqueness, even its being as an unattained object, is displaced, and the naming word makes room for another. The revolutions of homonyms in the sestina are uniquely conducive to the reenactment of this quest for the disappearing ob- ject, because the circle reproduced in it is never quite closed.

Among the arts, poetry appears, on a continuum tending toward self-reflexiveness, well before music, and after representational painting. In addition to the recurrence inherent in language, rhythm as a sine qua non of poetic structure makes constant reference to pastness. Recurrence versus often means poetry versus , or the main feature of poetry as opposed to prose.

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The fact of recurrence implies retrospection, the containment of the past in the present, persisting as memory. Of course poems differ widely in the apportionment and frequency of recurrence. Jakobson's well-known definition of the "poetic function" as a "focus on the message for its own sake" Jakobson I he and others have refined to salutary effect: Comparing the patterns of equivalence in music with those of poetry, he per- ceived in their patterning a focus on the sign itself "introversive semiosis" [] , which is shared in various degrees by all manifestations of the aesthetic function.

For most poetry, semantic. In the sestina, compared with other poems, recurrent is codified to the utmost.

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  4. The proportion of introversive to ex. Sestinas are not about ideas; they are ideas. Their form, more con- ducive to suggestive juxtaposition than to connected statement, thereby is more able to embody recurrence as process. The stricter the codification of form, the greater the degree of that form's relation to the past, both within the organization of the poem and with re- ference to its literary, mythological, or historical past.

    The structural elaboration by the poem of its own, changing frames makes us ex- perience how the interpretation of a sign constitutes yet another sign, which has in turn to be interpreted ad infinitum. Always near and yet just beyond reach, final meaning is the brass ring at the end of the ride. The Sestina Form The sestina form invented by Arnaut Daniel, and transmitted sub- stantially as he had conceived it, was a play of homonymic equiv- alences with a concomitant prevalence of semantic signficance over narrow lexical meaning.

    The final rhyme-word of each strophe is repeated as the initial rhyme- word of the following one, because the same set of rhyme-words is used in a rigorously determined order in six of the seven strophes. The rhyme-words, numbered 1 2 3 4 5 6 in the first strophe, are re- ordered to form the sequence 6 1 5 2 4 3 in the succeeding ones, each building from the last.