the similarities and differences between Courtly Love and Sweet New Style poetry*

22 Oct

Italian Sweet New Style poets transcended the salient points of Courtly Love to the spiritual. However the rhetorical techniques, namely personification of love, were kept constant. The two styles coalesce on a technical basis with Sweet New Style deepening the exploration of love through the attribution of a divine construct to be discussed. It is assumed that poetry is married to rhetoric as it is the only medium through which the subject matter of love can be explored. Both Courtly love and Sweet New Style acknowledge the need for technicality in expressing a subject with inherent paradoxes as it retains reason, even if only through structure.

In Courtly Love the object of desire is acted upon by the subject of desire, the “domina” or female figure. Sweet New Style poets continued the notion of an external force acting upon the subject of love but with added divine twist. For Cavalcanti love is a spiritual concept which depends on the existence of god and thus a submission to divine will. Love has no existence of its own, it is the consequence of being acted upon by the divine and thus removing the physicality attributed to the definition of Courtly Love (Oatley, 2007: 142). Thus the shift towards the evolution of Sweet New Style poetry could be argued to be a resultant outcome from the societal and internal pressures and tensions that existed within Courtly Love in pre-renaissance period. Courtly Love poets acted solely upon passion and demands of the flesh which created an internal war within the individual as it lacked added introspection needed to attain meaning. An ever present concern translated through the church was the issue of placing the “domina” dominant female in control of men’s’ actions. It removed elements of humility and spirituality through the attribution of females to societally created god like position (Scott, 2011: 99). The shift towards Sweet New Style poetry epitomized through Guido Cavalcanti and Dante, added elements not only of spirituality but introspection and transcendence from the trivial/ physical demands of the body. Only through a submission of earthly desires can the full nature and extent of love be explored; A love which humbles those afflicted by its beauty. Thus for Sweet New Style poets without constrains of earthy whims the eyes become a crucial recurrent source of imagery. Evident through Cavalcanti, “Voi che per li occhi mi passate ‘l core e destaste la mente che dormia, guardarte a l’angosciosa vita mia, che sospirando la distrugge Amore/
(You who’ve pierced my eyes to my heart, awakening my sleeping mind, look at my anguished life, sighing, destroyed by Love. Trans- lated by Cirigliano, 1992, p. 30–31.) as cited in Oatley, 2007”. The eyes become the medium for intimacy; a means to view the soul and source of the divine while still retaining the purity and sweet sweet re-enchantment of love. The female figure in Sweet New Style poetry evolves from the “domina” to an angel, a spiritual being linked to platonic intellectual love (Lewis, 2001: 70). Cavalcanti’s initial fears of blasphemy are resolved through awareness of divine plan and thus it is only natural to appreciate divine will at work through the female’s beauty.

Allegory and thus the technicality remains constant mode of expression as love affects the inner world of both the poet and the women. As opposed to Courtly Love in which the affliction would only reside within the poet. Thus poetry in terms of Courtly Love predominately served as a means to attain a reward (Oatley, 2007: 141). Thus was contrived in its definition of love. Courtly Love poets deemed love an elitist construct only to be experienced by the French aristocracy of the eleventh century (birthplace of Courtly Love). It seems Courtly Love invokes an indulgent fantasy of love in which love loosely translated into the physicality of the act and thus to the weaknesses if man. Whereas Sweet New Style poetry was a shift in consciousness; expanding notion of love to reach understanding that such a concept is bigger than the individual and human weakness and therefore must be divine and a divine gift that should be acknowledged (Lewis, 2011: 71). The acknowledgement of which is encapsulated through precision and technicality of the poetry felt in Cavalcanti’s Canzone. The topic is treated with unparalleled tenderness. It is difficult to separate Courtly Love from Sweet New Style poetry they are not entirely different constructs but represent more of a fluid transition of ideas, conscious expansion and evolution. One, namely Sweet New Style, could not exist or have emerged without the other, Courtly Love poetry. They are linked ultimately in individual need to explore the affliction of love, the supernatural experience of paradoxical happiness and pain through everlasting medium of poetry. Furthermore Sweet New Style evolved to incorporate the egalitarian nature of love, irrelevant of class structure or societal position, the effects on the individual remain constant. In that salient point love becomes a universal divine truth, a sense of comfort exists in ceding to a higher divine will and the acceptance that everyone shares the same experience.

A point traced through Dante, Vita Nuova, XXV, in which sentiments shared implore the use of allegory to explain universality of afflictions. The notions that love does not belong to the aristocracy but to all men in general. Ideas of a latent previously unexpressed experience in everyday vernacular that are granted life through poetry re-establishes the enchantment of love for Sweet New Style Poets. Now that the broader concepts of Sweet New Style and Courtly Love have been addressed a narrower analysis of evolution of Sweet New Style is fundamental to examining the differences or similarities with each.
In Vita Nuova, Dante initially incorporates the model of Courtly Love in illustration of his love and desire for Beatrice’s affections. Only once problems posed by Courtly love become so overpowering that a new solution is needed does the gradual shift to Sweet New Style poetry become evident. As such Courtly love asserts the position of a “domina” dominant female figure who is responsible for the domesticity of the man or hero to perpetuate the mendacity of societal roles. Through completion of tasks however irrelevant to attain the women’s attention and affections the hero is incapacitated and prevented from reaching his full potential. Courtly Love represents the tradition of a pervasive love of seemingly unattainable women outside the confines of marriage (Robertson, 1988: 2). A crucial point as Courtly Love is idealized it is not seen as something that can exist in normal everyday relations. Link posed between domesticity in the evolution of the understanding of love; evolution of Sweet New Style; to the domesticity of man to divine will. Processes of Courtly Love gave rise to “courtship”, “courtesy” and “gentlemen” an outcome of domesticity is the refinement of the suitor (Oatley, 2007: 140). The backbone of aristocratic secret and often ritualized Courtly Love was the style of poetry which facilitated hidden desires to secret lovers. As such the power relations within Courtly Love are heavily skewered in favour of the female, “emotions can be close to the heart of creativity because most emotions of force involve contradictions and therefore set problems. The problems identified by the poets of the provenance was that love and worship of a lady trespassed on ones duty to love and worship God,” (Oatley, 2007:141). The evolution to Sweet New Style in Vita Nuova is encapsulated in, ” in quello che non… puote venire meno,”in which Dante relinquishes any hope for an external reward characteristic of the Courtly Love tradition. Instead through forgoing the expectation of physical rewards Dante shifts praising Beatrice signalling an evolution self-interested love (Scott, 2011: 99). As such Sweet New Style is an evolution of Courtly Love poetry transcending love poetry to a holistic spiritual realm without primary focus on that which is corporeal and tangible. Signifying the predominate variance in the text, smaller subtleties exist in use of imagery and technicality however both forms of poetry have a fundamental basis in exploration of the affliction of love and the use of poetry as the only viable medium for exploration.

Peace, love and empathy. vinyl splinters.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: