Where are our sweet friends now? Where are the beloved faces? Where are the agreeable words, where the soothing and pleasant conversation? What lightning bolt devoured them? What earthquake overturned them? What storm submerged them? What abyss swallowed them? Once we were all together, now we are quite alone.
—Francesco Petrarch, from Letters on Familiar Matters May 1349, excerpted and translated by John Aberth, The Back Death: The Great Mortality of 1348-1350, A Brief History with Documents (Bedford, 2005)
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
Petrarch wrote these words to a friend in another city during the height of the plague as he reflected on what cost the disease took on human friendships and companionship. His series of questions begin by painting for his reader, reminding him, what that time of community had been like in the "before" -- a time filled with "sweet friends," "beloved faces," and "pleasant conversation." It is a pleasant memory, but just like the plague has ripped through those happy times, so do Petrarch's questions. Now those friends, that pleasant time, has been "devoured," "overturned," "submerged," "swallowed." And like the disease that has taken his friends away from him, his metaphors are unstoppable forces of nature: "lightning," "earthquakes," and "storms." They have moved his memories and his friends into the abyss, an endless darkness leaving him alone. There is some hope in Petrarch's words, however, because the loneliness at the end is that of a "we," not an "I" -- there can be a loneliness in a "we," but it implies some companionship, some sense that even alone, we are together.
—Jennifer N. Brown, Ph.D. is the author of Fruit of the Orchard: Catherine of Siena in Late Medieval and Early Modern England (University of Toronto Press, 2018)