Sonnet Wars…

by sunil on March 5, 2016

Old Draft that has been lying about a while:


This post should have gone into the ‘Dewey ‘ section of the blog but I found the content remarkably amusing and witty to have not shared it with my regular readers here. I am reading Paul R Walker’s The Feud that sparked… ..   The book details the life and society in Quattrocento Florence, especially how an inadvertent council competition kickstarts a great revival of art and ends up changing the western world forever.  The narration is focused on the lives of the key players of the time who pioneered their respective fields – Filippo Brunelescchi, ( Architecture), Donatello ( Sculpture), Mascacchio (Painting) and Ghiberti ( a combination of this and that, but mostly identified as goldsmith, and generally accepted as less talented than the others above)

During the construction of the famous Florentine dome,  Filippo ( being Filippo) had not clearly revealed how he was going to solve the practical issues facing the physical construction of the great Florentine dome. As the building progressed, Filippo , understandably began to be the subject of ridicule by his prompt critics, who, rest assured, were many. One such regular and dominant critic was Giovanni di Gherardo da Prato, ( Prato read Dante at a local university ).

Prato carried on a series of engineered attacks against Filippo. One after another,  from the mystery of building the dome without the centring ( therefore the curvature) to the authenticity of maintaining the design after having sworn to the original model, and finally the lack of light at the sacred space, Prato literally left no stone unturned in criticising Filippo. And soon as often with these things, the complaints and contests spilled on to the Florentine Public Life.
At its peak, it seems these two guys used sonnets to ridicule each other in public. I found the sonnets profoundly intelligent yet amusing; admirably composed with an intense sense of self consciousness about their own prejudices as much the other’s, it’s though the sonnets were competing to be art themselves… It reminded  me a cute little smart-alec verse Voltaire had once penned to Saint Lambert conceding his loss to woo Mme. du Chatelet:

Saint-Lambert it  is all for thee

the flower grows

the roses thorns are all for me

for thee the rose



But for now, the sonnet wars.


I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.


O you deep fountain, pit of ignorance,

You miserable beast and imbecile,

Who thinks uncertain things can be made visible:

There is no substance to your alchemy.


The fickle mob, eternally deceived

In all its hope,

may still believe in you,

But never will you, worthless nobody,

Make that come true which is impossible.


So if the Badalon, your water bird,

Were ever finished—which can never be—

I would no longer read on Dante

at school


But finish my existence with my hand.

For surely you are mad. You hardly know

Your own profession.

Leave us, please, alone.

~ Giovanni di Gherardo da Prato



And here is Filippo’s response…


When hope is given us by Heaven,

O you ridiculous-looking beast,

We rise above corruptible matter

And gain the strength of clearest sight.


A fool will lose what hope he has,

For all experience disappoints him.

For wise men nothing that exists

Remains unseen; they do not share


The idle dreams of would-be scholars.

Only the artist, not the fool

Discovers that which nature hides.

Therefore untangle the web of your verses,


Lest they strike sour notes in the dance

When your “impossible” comes to pass.


~ Filippo Brunelleschi


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