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Hieroglyph of Time

Hieroglyph of Time: The Petrarchan Sestina

Marianne Shapiro
Copyright Date: 1980
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Hieroglyph of Time
    Book Description:

    Hieroglyph of Time was first published in 1981. “A dance of the intellect among words,” Ezra Pound called the sestina. A poetic form invented by a Provençal troubadour, Arnaut Daniel, the sestina was elaborated and refined by Petrarch and is used today exactly as it was created. In Hieroglyph of Time, the first critical study of the sestina, Marianne Shapiro analyzes poems by Daniel, Petrarch, Pontus de Tyard, Sannazaro, Sidney, Spenser, Auden, Pound, Merwin, and Ashbery and discusses sestinas composed in German and Portuguese. In so doing, she traces a strand that links modern to Medieval poetry. Shapiro’s methodology demonstrates, furthermore, that it is possible to reconcile the language of structuralism with a historical approach to literary scholarship. Hieroglyph of Time begins with a general introduction to theories of temporality and a chronological discussion of the sestina tradition. The repetition of end words in the sestina makes the form a reflection on time, and the sestina itself, Shapiro argues, is a poignant and searching exploration of temporality. The heart of the book is devoted to an explication of five of Petrarch’s sestinas. Shapiro pursues Renaissance imitations of the Petrarchan sestina in the work of Pontus de Tyard, a member of the Pléiade who adapted the sestina in a neoplatonic mode, and of Spenser and Sidney, who made the sestina a pastoral poem. After examining twentieth-century uses of the pastoral, she recapitulates her survey, returning to Italian literature to see how the ship allegory is used by three poets in the Medieval, Renaissance, and modern periods -- Petrarch, Michelangelo, and Ungaretti.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5516-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Prefatory Note
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-29)

    This study of the sestina in the context of European and American poetry is also an attempt to reconcile the languages of literary scholarship, that is, synchronic analysis and historical criticism. It is my hope to be able to show that these languages are both valid and that they are the less effective when scholarship tries to make each independent of the other. It is no mere accident that I choose the sestina as my focus of concentration, for the same two fundamental conceptions of time —cyclical and linear —involved in the creation of its form also govern the nature...

  5. Chapter 2 Arnaut and Arnaldians
    (pp. 30-52)

    The hermetic troubadours of Languedoc and the French southwest provinces brought to vernacular poetry the notion that artistic creation is the result of the contention against semantic inadequacy and formal limitations. As maker and shaper, the poet or singer was conceived as determining the conditions of meaning. Their brilliant moment occurred during the inception of troubadour poetry as we know it, as a phenomenon of its beginnings. Unlike more demotic colleagues, they found maximal freedom in the awareness of an intellectual definition, sometimes corroborated by a heightened sense of aristocracy in concert with their patrons. For these poets, the fit...

  6. Chapter 3 Concepts of Time and the Petrarchan Sestina
    (pp. 53-90)

    A brief review of formative conceptions of time known to Petrarch is pertinent to the examination of his poems. Plato’sTimaeushad a decisive influence on medieval conceptions of time. It enunciates the idea of a gulf between Being and the created universe. Time is characterized as “a moving likeness of eternity . . . a likeness moving according to number” (37b). The Body of the Universe, that is, the celestial sphere and its revolving rings, and the Soul of the Universe, the motion represented by those rings, had already been created. Time came into existence to enable the cosmos...

  7. Chapter 4 Dante; Five Sestinas by Petrarch
    (pp. 91-140)

    No single phenomenon accounts for Dante’s curiously static realization of temporal succession in his sestina. Thestantiaexactly defines the perimeter of the lover’s consciousness and the psychological barrier that separates his submission to Love from the deeper influence of more fundamentally natural forces. Temporal notations are superimposed on each other in an achronic segmentation that displays virtually no organic principle of succession. The imagery of spatial restriction is omnipresent. Bypassing the process in the corse of which significance is fixed, it invites the establishment of a set inventory of significance within spaces marked out by sacred confines. Time arranged...

  8. Chapter 5 Dialectics of Renaissance Imitation: The Case of Pontus de Tyard
    (pp. 141-159)

    The redundancies of poetic form tend to prolong the possibility of constructing or deconstructing poems even after some of their many sign systems have fallen into oblivion. That is how poems sometimes survive their own forms or genres— through the hidden unit of mutually confirmed structures.

    A semiological approach to a poem should discover a movement whereby the firm assumption of analogy between two orders (easily labeled form and content) gives way to a synecdochic relation within a single order. So long as the natural world is treated as a figure for another order, or poetic form as a figure...

  9. Chapter 6 The Pastoral Sestina
    (pp. 160-209)

    Formative ideas transposed from one context to another have in common a certain generosity of outline, a plenitude that enables poets to accommodate within them, before the ideas fade, empirical data, epistemic variations, and perennial figures of human imagination. This comprehensive hermeneutic value was achieved by Renaissance pastoral. Its outstanding preference for the sestina resides partially in the redundancies and in the preponderance of the signifier. The mind of love, erotic and impassioned, usurps the foreground of the pastoral. Since it is the inner states that find their classic symbolism in the shepherd, the speaker’s declaration of his stance uncovers...

  10. Chapter 7 The Ship Allegory
    (pp. 210-232)

    The ship-allegory in Petrarch’s fourth sestina finds its way to paradox. Terms for release and constraint mark the passage of time, which is translated into the flow of things in space. The deceptive presence of semiautomatic allegorical patterns screens an exploration of that overt content:

    Chi è fermato di menar sua vita

    su per l’onde fallaci e per li scogli

    scevro da morte con un picciol legno

    non pò molto lontan esser dal fine;

    pero sarebbe da ritrarsi in porto

    mentre al governo ancor crede la vela.

    L’aura soave, a cui governo e vela

    commisi entrando a l’amorosa vita


  11. Chapter 8 Epilogue
    (pp. 233-238)

    At the heart of interpretation, there persists the apparent contradiction that a poem affirms itself as a whole and an absolute, and at the same time belongs to a system of complex historical and cultural relations. For many readers, the major obstacle to the credibility of literary theory as an enterprise is that it seems to throw the specificity of the individual poem into question and to subordinate it to overarching patterns of likeness. Interpretation tends to describe the coherence of a whole so as to expose immanent meaning; explanation grasps this whole as itself part of ever larger wholes....

  12. References
    (pp. 239-246)
  13. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 247-254)