Even if Pete's new album does suggest a more ‘mature' approach to seduction, the obvious difficulty in trying to prove that Petrarch is Peter Andre's lyrical progenitor is the prickly matter of desire, and its consummation (or lack of). ‘Making sweet love' is, admittedly, one of the more readily-occurring sentiments in Pete's songs, something Petrarch obviously didn't share the luxury of being able to express, and aside from Laura's blowing hot and cold, Petrarch's chief agony comes from his struggle to reconcile his devotion to God with his more ‘earthly' desires. Read Il Canzoniere and it becomes pretty obvious that Petrarch's ardour frequently gets the better of him, as he falls into sensual rapture: ‘Think how gladdening it would be to catch fast within that fine, scarlet lip, where every sweetness and savour seems to be.' Soon his mind has wandered to her underpinnings: ‘If the outward parts are so lovely, how rare must be the others which she hides!' He's talking about her inner beauty, of course, but you can see how easily the original Renaissance Man of Good Intentions could be misinterpreted as a peddler of Dirty Letters, with a flair for smooth-talking sexual metaphor and a devious twinkle in his ‘love-struck' eye. Still, that's as racy as it got. No excommunication, no extradition. And no satisfaction.
How, then, did we ‘evolve' from Petrarch's barely sweet susurrations, to Pete's more candid proclamations? The answer lies with those wily Elizabethans, who found the perfect solution to the age-old dilemma of how not to reveal your unwholesome intentions: stop declaring them unwholesome. They did this by appropriating a form of neo-platonic philosophy, a system of belief whereby contemplation of — amongst other things — a higher, archetypal form of mortal love is a necessary rung on the ladder to true spiritual communion. As these new poets saw it, stretching somewhat the pious Platonic doctrine, this adopted world-view allowed them to stop off and take ‘rest' in various beds as they made their arduous spiritual ascent. When the Metaphysical poets threw a bit of carpe diem ‘die before you die' into the mix — ‘Love's mysteries in souls do grow/But yet the body is his book' (John Donne, ‘The Ecstasy') — the 17th Century sonneteers had cracked the secular/spiritual conundrum, and soon everyone was satisfied, be it Him Upstairs, Her Indoors, or You Down Below in the cellars ‘tasting' this year's lilac wine, with only the scullery maid for company. The literati may have liked to call it ‘anti-Petrarchism' but most people were happy to accept it as pragmatic. Sex was now an entirely legitimate, romantic component of love lyric. And it has been ever since.
Still not convinced that Western intellectual love poetry propagated Peter Andre? Please note then, his version of Michael Jackson's ‘She's Out of My Life', one of five covers included on his latest album, featuring the most apposite line: ‘And I took her for granted, I was so cavalier.' Now, is it merely a splendid coincidence that the modern use of the word ‘cavalier' reinforces the Petrarchan sentiment underscoring ‘Unconditional'? Or evidence (conscious or otherwise) of Pete's debt to the Grand Lyrical Master?
What it really comes down to is the issue of intellectual snobbery, combined with some sort of nostalgic belief that romance died out with the last of the Knights Templar. But believe this and you fall into the anachronistic trap of thinking that everyone was better intentioned in the golden, olden days when sponges and syphilis were the contraceptives of choice. However consummate those Cavaliers might have been, exploiting your lexical prowess as a foil for your baser intentions is not particularly honourable, and certainly not romantic. Pete may not have the skill to disguise his lust as anything else but then at least he's honest (‘Mysterious Girl' being a case in point).
There is of course the very reasonable counter argument that points out that Petrarch is poetry by virtue of the invention and sheer skill of his language, something Peter Andre could never similarly claim. But if you aren't reading Petrarch's Rime Sparse in the original Medieval Italian, rather some Cultured Person's anthology of love lyric, how can you appreciate this anyway?
Besides, anyone who condemns Pete as just a sentimental bicep would do well to remember ‘insania', Pete's neological gift to the English language. Just wait: in 300 years' time they'll be declaring that a cliché.
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