of the “Arti minori” was completed, a period of literature New Tuscan School of lyric poetry. began that does not belong to the age of first beginnings, but to that of development. With the school of Lapo Gianni, of Guido Cavalcanti, of Cino da Pistoia and Dante Alighieri, lyric poetry became exclusively Tuscan. The whole novelty and poetic power of this school, which really was the beginning of Italian art, consist in what Dante expresses so happily—
that is to say, in a power of expressing the feelings of the soul in the way in which love inspires them, in an appropriate and graceful manner, fitting form to matter, and by art fusing one with the other. The Tuscan lyric poetry, the first true Italian art, is pre-eminent in this artistic fusion, in the spontaneous and at the same time deliberate action of the mind. In Lapo Gianni the new style is not free from some admixture of the old associations of the Siculo-Provençal school. He wavered as it were between two manners. The empty and involved phraseology of the Sicilians is absent, but the poet does not always rid himself of their influence. Sometimes, however, he draws freely from his own heart, and then the subtleties and obscurities disappear, and his verse becomes clear, flowing and elegant.
Guido Cavalcanti was a learned man with a high conception of his art. He felt the value of it, and adapted his learning to it. Cavalcanti was already a good deal out of sympathy with the medieval spirit; he reflected deeply on his own work, and from this reflection he derived his Guido Cavalcanti. poetical conception. His poems may be divided into two classes—those which portray the philosopher, “il sottilissimo dialettico,” as Lorenzo the Magnificent called him, and those which are more directly the product of his poetic nature imbued with mysticism and metaphysics. To the first set belongs the famous poem Sulla natura d’amore, which in fact is a treatise on amorous metaphysics, and was annotated later in a learned way by the most renowned Platonic philosophers of the 15th century, such as Marsilius Ficinus and others. In other poems of Cavalcanti’s besides this we see a tendency to subtilize and to stifle the poetic imagery under a dead weight of philosophy. But there are many of his sonnets in which the truth of the images and the elegance and simplicity of the style are admirable, and make us feel that we are in quite a new period of art. This is particularly felt in Cavalcanti’s Ballate, for in them he pours himself out ingenuously and without affectation, but with an invariable and profound consciousness of his art. Far above all the others for the reality of the sorrow and the love displayed, for the melancholy longing expressed for the distant home, for the calm and solemn yearning of his heart for the lady of his love, for a deep subjectivity which is never troubled by metaphysical subtleties, is the ballata composed by Cavalcanti when he was banished from Florence with the party of the Bianchi in 1300, and took refuge at Sarzana.
The third poet among the followers of the new school was Cino da Pistoia, of the family of the Sinibuldi. His love poems are so sweet, so mellow and so musical that they are only surpassed by Dante. The pains of love are described by him with Cino da Pistoia. vigorous touches; it is easy to see that they are not feigned but real. The psychology of love and of sorrow nearly reaches perfection.
As the author of the Vita nuova, the greatest of all Italian
poets, Dante also belongs to the same lyric school. In the lyrics
of the Vita nuova (so called by its author to indicate
that his first meeting with Beatrice was the beginning
for him of a life entirely different from that he had
1321). hitherto led) there is a high idealization of love. It seems as if there were in it nothing earthly or human, and that the poet had his eyes constantly fixed on heaven while singing of his lady. Everything is supersensual, aerial, heavenly, and the real Beatrice is always gradually melting more and more into the symbolical one—passing out of her human nature and into the divine. Several of the lyrics of the Canzoniere deal with the theme of the “new life”; but all the love poems do not refer to Beatrice, while other pieces are philosophical and bridge over to the Convito.
The work which made Dante immortal, and raised him above all other men of genius in Italy, was his Divina Commedia. An allegorical meaning is hidden under the literal one of this great epic. Dante travelling through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, is a symbol of mankind aiming at the double object of temporal and eternal happiness. By the forest in which the poet loses himself is meant the civil and religious confusion of society, deprived of its two guides, the emperor and the pope. The mountain illuminated by the sun is universal monarchy. The three beasts are the three vices and the three powers which offered the greatest obstacles to Dante’s designs: envy is Florence, light, fickle and divided by the Bianchi and Neri; pride is the house of France; avarice is the papal court; Virgil represents reason and the empire. Beatrice is the symbol of the supernatural aid without which man cannot attain the supreme end, which is God.
But the merit of the poem does not lie in the allegory, which still connects it with medieval literature. What is new in it is the individual art of the poet, the classic art transfused for the first time into a Romance form. Dante is above all a great artist. Whether he describes nature, analyses passions, curses the vices or sings hymns to the virtues, he is always wonderful for the grandeur and delicacy of his art. Out of the rude medieval vision he has made the greatest work of art of modern times. He took the materials for his poem from theology, from philosophy, from history, from mythology—but more especially from his own passions, from hatred and love; and he has breathed the breath of genius into all these materials. Under the pen of the poet, the dead come to life again; they become men again, and speak the language of their time, of their passions. Farinata degli Uberti, Boniface VIII., Count Ugolino, Manfred, Sordello, Hugh Capet, St Thomas Aquinas, Cacciaguida, St Benedict, St Peter, are all so many objective creations; they stand before us in all the life of their characters, their feelings, their habits.
Yet this world of fancy in which the poet moves is not only made living by the power of his genius, but it is changed by his consciousness. The real chastizer of the sins, the rewarder of the virtues, is Dante himself. The personal interest which he brings to bear on the historical representation of the three worlds is what most interests us and stirs us. Dante remakes history after his own passions. Thus the Divina Commedia can fairly be called, not only the most life-like drama of the thoughts and feelings that moved men at that time, but also the most clear and spontaneous reflection of the individual feelings of the poet, from the indignation of the citizen and the exile to the faith of the believer and the ardour of the philosopher. The Divina Commedia fixed and clearly defined the destiny of Italian literature, to give artistic lustre, and hence immortality, to all the forms of literature which the middle ages had produced. Dante begins the great era of the Renaissance.
Two facts characterize the literary life of Petrarch—classical
research and the new human feeling introduced into his lyric
poetry. Nor are these two facts separate; rather is
the one the result of the other. The Petrarch who
travelled about unearthing the works of the great
1374). Latin writers helps us to understand the Petrarch who, having completely detached himself from the middle ages, loved a real lady with a human love, and celebrated her in her life and after her death in poems full of studied elegance. Petrarch was the first humanist, and he was at the same time the first lyric poet of the modern school. His career was long and tempestuous. He lived for many years at Avignon, cursing the corruption of the papal court; he travelled through nearly the whole of Europe; he corresponded with emperors and popes; he was considered the first man of letters of his time; he had honours and riches; and he always bore about within him discontent, melancholy and incapacity for satisfaction—three characteristics of the modern man.
His Canzoniere is divided into three parts—the first containing