In Between the Lines: The Examination of Italian and English Poetry Across the 16th and 17th Centuries

This exhibit was created by Daryan Rose-Havens as part of an internship through the Italian department and the Rare Books department of Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University. 

The poets and poems selected for this exhibit are from rare books that can be found in the Rare Books department of Howard-Tilton Memorial Library at Tulane University. 

Poetry as a means of expression continues to withstand the test of time – in fact many of the first records of poetry date back as far as Sumerian times (3000 BC) and Ancient Greece (800 BC). Poetry can be found in a variety of mediums including but not limited to being written, spoken, sung, or performed. Each poem has its very own reading [Note: reading can refer to the physical act of silently/verbally reading the poetry and/or one’s comprehension of the poem] that gives way to its very own beauty. It is within the poetry from a given time period that one is able to take a glance into the world of the poem and the poet. Despite the various roles that poetry has performed throughout history, it is in the 16th and 17th centuries that Europe witnesses an explosion of popularity in poetry as a means of personal or public expression that truly reflects the time period in which it is written.   

Throughout my research in Medieval, Early-Modern to Renaissance literature, I found interesting differences in the poetry that was being produced in Italy and in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. In order to gain a complete understanding of the poetry from this period, one must first understand the historical context:

England experienced a transformation in politics, religion, and English arts in a way that forever changed its course of history. From Queen Elizabeth I to James I, the English government in the 16th and 17th century went through radical changes including a civil war in which the role of the monarch and parliament caused a division throughout the country. In addition to political turmoil, the church underwent drastic changes in the late 16th century, early 17th century when the Protestant reformation spread across Europe. At the same time, the country also saw a flourishment in the arts with literary figures such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Edmund Spencer. Similar to Shakespeare’s historical plays (Henry IV I & II, etc.), the poetry that arose from this time period also reflected the changing climate of the country. In the poem “Listen Jolly Gentlemen,” we see a celebratory poem in honor of King James and even in the poem “Delight in Disorder,” one may find a political allegory woven into the seemingly romantic poem. Likewise, several poems can be found that describes the author’s preference or disliking of monarchs at the time, (a majority focus on Elizabeth I, Charles I/II, and James I).

When one thinks of Italy, the first thought that comes to mind (generally speaking) is ‘Renaissance.’ That is because the Renaissance left such lasting effects on the country and its culture, that its presence is still felt today. During the Renaissance, Italy went through a transformation in almost every area of life: Many cities formed their own governments or republics, (i.e. The Republic of Florence, The Republic of Venice); The Catholic church underwent its own reformation (the Counter-Reformation) as a response to the Protestant Reformation; cities began to experiment with their architecture (Brunelleschi’s duomo in Florence and il Duomo di Siena and its alternating color scheme); and most importantly, the flourishment in the arts (famous artists such as Raphael, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, etc., were all contemporaries during the Renaissance). The works of literature from this time period highlight the interest that the Italians had in subjects such as love, nature, mankind, sexuality, and God. Michelangelo’s poetry focuses heavily on his relationship with God throughout his poems as well as his struggle with his sexuality, (it is hypothesized that Michelangelo was homosexual due to some of his love poems as well as pieces of art being dedicated to Tommaso de’ Cavalieri). Similarly, in the Paolo Rolli poems, he describes love through different aspects of nature and how it must adapt.With the height of the Renaissance being in the 16th and 17th century, it is no surprise that the poets of the time wrote about such subjects.

Ultimately, it is the reader’s interpretation of a poem that truly gives it meaning.

Note: The English poems are written in old English.
The translation of Italian poems is an extremely difficult process and ultimately it is up to the translator on how exact the translation(s) is in terms of word placement and rhyming scheme.  

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