Writing in 14th Century Italy, Francesco Petrarca’s or Petrarch’s sonnets not only influenced 16th Century English sonnet sequences but endure today in unlikely places. Featured on the American TV reality show ‘Dance Moms’, Sharon Kenny’s song ‘Hotel Heart’ (2011) is influenced by the Petrarchan blazon to stunning effect. The song also bears a striking similarity to Petrarch’s Sonnet CXXIV from Rime Sparse, which I will examine first before returning to ‘Hotel Heart’:
HE RECALLS HER AS HE SAW HER WHEN IN TEARS.
That ever-honour’d, yet too bitter day,
Her image hath so graven in my breast,
That only memory can return it dress’d
In living charms, no genius could portray:
Her air such graceful sadness did display,
Her plaintive, soft laments my ear so bless’d,
I ask’d if mortal, or a heavenly guest,
Did thus the threatening clouds in smiles array.
Her locks were gold, her cheeks were breathing snow,
Her brows with ebon arch’d–bright stars her eyes,
Wherein Love nestled, thence his dart to aim:
Her teeth were pearls–the rose’s softest glow
Dwelt on that mouth, whence woke to speech grief’s sighs
Her tears were crystal–and her breath was flame.
Like many of his sonnets, Sonnet CXXIV describes Petrarch’s unrequited love for Laura (the daughter of a Provençal nobleman). The sonnet begins mournfully with Petrarch’s recollection of Laura’s sadness on one particular day. The octave (first eight lines of the sonnet) is oxymoronic in that her ‘graceful sadness’ turns ‘the threatening clouds in smiles array’. In other words, even in sadness Laura’s beauty brightens the surrounding landscape.