Here we have another epistolary sonnet – that is, a written exchange with a friend. Unlike Rvf 24, for which we have some evidence in Petrarch’s notes of who the recipient might be, it is unclear for whom this poem was intended.
Rosanna Bettarini’s commentary explains, with wonderful Italian flourish that I can’t capture in English, so I paraphrase:
The interesting thing about the epistolary sonnets included in the collection is that the ‘language of love’ is interwoven with the ‘language of friendship,’ which is nothing if not a discontinued reflection on the ‘language of poetry,’ exchanged with (modest) individuals who have often perished or are difficult to identify, heirs to the Florentine stilnovistic poet-friends surrounding Guido Cavalcanti.
So, we have here a friend who seems to have turned away from romantic love, then back to the “narrow path” toward God (verse 5). Scholars have suggested various friends and poets, Cino da Pistoia, Tommaso Caloiro da Messina, Sennuccio del Bene – all explicit recipients of other poems. I am surprised (and will have to research this further) why Petrarch’s brother Gherardo is not a candidate.
I suggest Gherardo (casually, having done -0- serious research) because he chose the monastic life (sounds like the second quatrain), and because the tercets made me think immediately of Petrarch’s famous letter “The Ascent of Mount Ventoux,” in which Gherardo figures prominently.
The “Ascent of Mount Ventoux” is also itself a letter from Petrarch’s Familiares (Book IV, letter 1). It is addressed to his sort of spiritual guide, a very well-connected Augustinian monk and professor at the University of Paris (and later the University of Naples) named Dionigi da Borgo San Sepolcro, a mutual friend of Giovanni Boccaccio. Dionigi is probably the one who introduced Petrarch and Boccaccio to one another.
But, returning to sonnet 25, the very anonymity of the recipient also reveals something to us about Petrarch’s idea of friendship – how friends address each other, what is the substance of their connection. I see concern and interest in the affairs of the other (1st quatrain). In the second quatrain, Petrarch is grateful and exuberant at his friend’s well being – he wants the Good for him. The tercets admit that there will be ups and downs, nothing will stay the same, but that it is all for the good, so reject discouragement.
If you’re interested, there is a character in the “Triumph of Love” called the “true friend” (vero amico), who is similarly difficult to identify and offers a similarly ‘essential’ model of how friends can – and should – interact. More on this topic to come.