“Platonic Love? I don’t believe a word!
If Petrarch did, he was a stupid runt!
If Laura did, she was a batty bird!”
So mocked a woman, elderly, in front,
In German, so if my translation’s blunt,
Forgive me. That she found the tale absurd
May from her choice of language be inferred:
Her wrathful scorn spurned incoherent grunt.
The guided tour moved on. I reached her side;
“Well said! I quite agree!” A look of mirth
Twinkled from wise old eyes. “Yes, sod that guide!
Platonic Love is sterile. Life and birth
Can’t spring from it! Shake hands, young man. Deride
Whatever thwarts the life-force here on earth.”
These lines were inspired by meeting Frau Gerda Kettenbach, wife of a professor, during a conducted tour of Petrarch’s House in the Colli Eeuganei on 10.August 1993.
The guide was making a meal of the ‘platonic love’ of Petrarch and Laura, exciting the wrath of this ‘character’ in front of me, who gave articulate dissent instead of just incoherent grunts of disapproval. I made a supportive comment re her views. We ended up drinking a bottle of wine together after the tour, before taking our buses back to our respective hotels. It was the last time I was ever addressed as “young man” [junger Mann], and that at the age of 54. On the bus, I began a sonnet a la Petrarch, in honour of this delightful, unforgettable woman, and finished it in the garden of my hotel, Therme Adriatico, in Abano.