The sonnet has always interested me of all the poetic structures. I am very well-published and received several awards for my traditional original sonnet compositions. This lead to a bi-annual publication The Well-Tempered Sonnet but I discontinued after the death of a very close friend and mentor Dr. Charlene Berry. This love of the sonnet led to a project encompassing the origins and subsequent first 400 years of the sonnet and to those who contributed to its growth and popularity. Though the project remains uncompleted, I discovered many fascinating pieces of information regarding the sonnet that I will share now. My findings have been published as I have had several stolen from me through the years so these precautions are in place. It is a shame that some unscrupulously individuals must steal my hard work and place their name on the work that took years to conduct.
I will discuss my conclusion and previously published material from 2006 based on a decade long time of research: the first person that history records as to have written the sonnet. I have discussed this in my lectures and with leading historians. Through the years, I have have a great deal of interest from readers and researchers who love the sonnet form even from the days of my lectures. This will be an on-going addition in response to these wonderful people's interest. Thank you.
Pietro della Vigna
There are a few claims by very early scholars that Pietro della Vigna should claim the title of the first composer of sonnets. Of the rare resources available about this man, one in particular does yield some useful information if one is able to sift through the five hundred and eighteen pages of attacks of one early scholar attempting to discredit everything said about another. It is my attempt to present just the common facts between them. After reviewing many of the sources for the poets of this time period, several of the historians believe this man composed the first sonnet.
There is a consensuses that Pietro della Vigna was born in 1190 to an ancient family but that is were the commonalities end. There is disagreement where he was born; either Cajazzo or Capua. One account indicated that records show he attended the University of Cajazzo and his alumni stated that he was a competent and trustworthy man. A very early document mentions that his father was a wine maker in Capua, this could support that Pietro was born in Capua.
It is clear that he achieved a doctorate in law and in 1220 was appointed Notary Public and several early documents from the period record him as Judge Peter of Capuaand Judge of the Magna Curia. He later served as a secretary to Fredric II from 1217 to 1248.
An early historian indicated that records from the period show that Pietro della Vigna received an appointment as an administrator of the church of Cajazzo and a document of 1239 shows him living in a castle in Cajazzo under the authority of the Emperor Fredric II. A vivid description is included about the twenty rooms on the first floor and mentions a heard of donkeys on the second floor.
There are records of many documents mentioning his name through this period, or at least someone of the same name, which unfortunately does happen. One such document places him in Cremonain the wake of Frederico for about 3 months and about a month later he was arrested in Cremona.
It appears that he had a sister and brother and married (about 1212) a woman with the name Mary also from an ancient family and had several children by her. Records suggest that he died in April of 1249. There appears to be only a sonnet that remains that is often attributed to him. If these dates are correct, then he very well could have composed a number of sonnets before Giacomo da Lentino. This is certainly a source of controversy and will remain such for many years. After reviewing many different references of this man, I found many variations of the following sonnet and because of the variations it was difficult to translate. The following version appeared more than the others in these references and so was chosen to represent his work. Very few examples have survived history and stumbled on it in a rare archive collection.
Perocché Amore non si può vedere
E non si tratta corporalmente ,
Quanti ne son di sì folle sapere,
Che credono che Amore sia niente.
Ma po' ch' Amore si face sentere
Dentro dal cor signoreggiar la gente ,
Molto maggiore pregio dee avere ,
Che se il vedesse sensibilmente.
Per la virtute della calamita ,
Come lo ferro attra' non si vede,
Ma sì lo tira signorevolmente.
E questa cosa a credere me 'nvita ,
Che amore sia , e dammi grande fede ,
Che tuttor fia creduto fra la gente.
[Blasis, Giuseppe de. Della Vita e Della Opere di Pietro della Vigna. Napoli, 1860.
Copyright James D. Taylor Jr./The Well-Tempered Sonnet 2006.