Renaissance and Reformation Lyric Poetry
William J. Kennedy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0152


Over the past two decades, critical emphases on social, cultural, and political topics in literary studies have greatly enriched our understanding and appreciation of poetic texts. Scholarship and critical reading have approached European Renaissance texts with an urgency that speaks even to the crises and divisions of our own troubled times, whether in terms of gender, social class, religion, language, or racial difference. In some cases, critics have approached individual poems as documentary evidence to support their interpretations of history. Occasionally, this approach forfeits the subtlety and powerful nuance of poetry whose formal features might complicate rather than clarify difficult themes. Older academic criticism has produced many fine analyses of form and meaning still worth learning from, and most of the recent studies in this bibliography continue to refer to them. The task now is to shore up the gains of every approach, building on an understanding of how poetry works so as to enter the alien yet somehow familiar world of the Renaissance past with fresh eyes, open minds, and lively expectations.

General Overviews

General overviews of literary history invite broad comparisons among vastly different cultures, societies, and individual situations. The comparative studies listed here strenuously resist simplifications and reductive conclusions. Taking as a starting point the view that the history of Renaissance lyric poetry begins with innovations in both Latin and Italian verse initiated by Francesco Petrarch 1304–1374 in forms of pastoral eclogue and verse epistle (in Latin) and of sonnet and ode (in the vernacular), they move outward to include other poetic forms developed in the later Renaissance. These forms, mentioned in subsequent entries, will include elegy, epigram, verse satire, devotional lyric, epithalamion, blazon, and so forth. In this context, scholarship and criticism have moved to and through the outposts of western Europe to include transatlantic encounters. Wimsatt 1972 provides tools for analyzing the formal structures of vernacular poetry. Nichols 1979 presents a collection of Latin poetry in a simulated classical style that united educated Europeans as a lingua franca and a literary ideal. Greene 1982 grounds his inquiry into the Renaissance imitation of classical lyric on the experience of change and loss, which renews trapped energies. Mirollo 1984 examines art as well as poetry to chart migrations of imitative styles across the boundaries of language and custom. Patterson 1987 looks deeply into the social divisions and political conflicts registered in pastoral eclogue. Jones 1990 excavates gendered distinctions made palpable in women’s poetry written both in compliance with and opposition to men’s poetry. Braden 1999 includes women’s poetry in his overview. Greene 1999 tracks European encounters with the Americas through a poetic discourse of desire that leaves the project of empire finally unfulfilled. Kennedy 2003 questions in Petrarchan poetry the shifting vocabularies of national sentiments that are founded less on agreement about national identity than on a dialogue about what identity might mean.

  • Braden, Gordon. Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

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    Compact survey of Petrarch’s lyric poetry and the Petrarchism of such later poets as Boccaccio, Bembo, Stampa, Boscán, Ronsard, Teresa of Avila, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, linked by questionable argument that a poetics of narcissism obscures differences between love and solipsism.

  • Greene, Roland. Unrequited Conquests: Love and Empire in the Colonial Americas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

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    Seminal study of Petrarchan poetry as agent of cultural transformation in the transatlantic world. Focus on Columbus, Jean de Léry, Wyatt, Sidney, and the Incan Garcilaso. Should be read with author’s Post-Petrarchism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) on fiction and ritual in Petrarch, Sidney, and Edward Taylor as precursors of Whitman, Yeats, Neruda, and Adán.

  • Greene, Thomas M. The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.

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    Influential study of Renaissance practices of imitation, theorizing four modes of creation: reproductive, eclectic, heuristic, and dialectical creation. Focus on Petrarch’s discovery of the ancients and on humanist theory and poetry by Ronsard, Du Bellay, Wyatt, and Jonson. Should be read with author’s Vulnerable Text (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986) on Scève, Jonson, and Shakespeare’s sonnets.

  • Jones, Ann R. The Currency of Eros: Women’s Love Lyric in Europe, 1540–1620. Women of Letters. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

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    Groundbreaking comparative study of the imitation, negotiation, and appropriation of poetic forms by women writers, with incisive commentary on the ideological climate governing their production. Chapters on Isabella Whitney and Catherine des Roches, Pernette du Guillet and Tulia d’Aragona, Gaspara Stampa and Mary Wroth, and Louise Labé and Veronica Franco.

  • Kennedy, William J. The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

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    Traces emergence of cultural affiliations in Renaissance commentaries on Petrarch and in poetry of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Cariteo, Du Bellay, Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, and Mary Wroth. Should be read with author’s Authorizing Petrarch (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994) on Renaissance commentaries and the poetry of Bembo, Colonna, Labé, and Spenser’s Amoretti.

  • Mirollo, James. Mannerism and Renaissance Poetry: Concept, Mode, Inner Design. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.

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    Describes controversial term “mannerism” as a mode of imitative style (maniera) that exploits or distorts model’s features for stylish effects intended to purify social manners and morals. Examples from Italian, French, Spanish, and English art and poetry include Tasso, Marino, Scève, Ronsard, Góngora, Marlowe, Donne, Crashaw, and others.

  • Nichols, Fred J., ed. and trans. An Anthology of Neo-Latin Poetry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

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    A bilingual anthology with monograph-length introduction on 15th- to 17th-century European humanist poems composed in Latin based on classical models. Authors include some who wrote only in Latin (Pontano, Mantuan, Matullus, Vida, Buchanan, Johannes Secundus, Sarbiewski) and others who wrote also in their vernaculars (Petrarch, Sannazaro, Du Bellay, Milton).

  • Patterson, Annabel A. Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

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    Paradigmatic study that posits the influence of cultural and political forces on reception and imitations of Virgil’s Eclogues. Studies ancient and Renaissance commentaries of Servius, Landino, Poliziano, and others in their historical contexts, and their influence on the pastoral poetry of Marot, Spenser, Carew, Marvell, and others.

  • Wimsatt, William K., ed. Versification: Major Language Types. New York: Modern Language Association, 1972.

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    Valuable essays on principles of metrics and stanzaic construction in European poetry. Thomas Cole on classical Greek and Latin, A. Bartlett Giamatti on Italian, Lowry Nelson Jr. on Spanish, Jacqueline Flescher on French, Morris Halle and Samuel Jay Keyser on English.

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