Way back around Christmas time, Pipistrella found out I was listening to Italian language tapes and while they are great for spoken/heard language skills, I was getting practically no consistent exposure to Italian reading/writing. In her creative way, she got me a copy of Introduction to Italian Poetry: A Dual-Language Book. This little gem is well under 200 pages so don’t expect a comprehensive collection of Italian poetry. What you can expect, however, is a brilliant tour of Italian poets from the Middle Ages to modern day. As the title implies, all the selections appear side by side, line by line in the original Italian along with a contemporary English translation.
Native Italians have assured me that the translations are good ones; making only minor concessions where needed to preserve the meaning and flow of the poems. For my own part, even without Italian fluency I found the English version moving and powerful.
The supporting material such as author biographies, examinations and interpretations are English only and do a splendid job of putting eras and styles in perspective. Even someone with no real poetry background (*raises hand*) can easily digest the material and benefit from the Luciano Rebay’s commentary.
I cannot hope to pick a single selection from the book and quote it as my favorite. The range of topics and styles is simply too broad. A few in particular, though, have stuck with me more strongly than others.
Lorenzo De’ Medici manages to deliver a parade of images in Trionfo de Bacco e di Arianna (Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne), all while juggling a life as philosopher, artist, businessman and prince.
Cecco Angiolieri’s “S’i’ fosse foco, arderi ‘l mond” is so irreverent that it’s hard to imagine how he didn’t end up getting tied to a pile of kindling given the era in which he wrote. In any case, I imagine he wasn’t recited in polite company.
Berni, Boccaccio, Ariosto, Tasso, Leopardi, D’Annunzio, Quasimodo… Oh, who am I kidding. These are the pillars of the Italian poetic tradition. They each deserve more laurels than I can offer.
I’ll leave you with this one though, because it reminded me so much of looking at old photographs of bombing runs on my mother’s home town…
Uomo del mio tempo
Man of My Time
You are still the one with the stone and the sling,
Man of my time. You were in the cockpit,
With the malevolent wings, the meridians of death,
– I have seen you – in the chariot of fire, at the gallows,
At the wheels of torture. I have seen you: it was you,
With your exact science set on extermination,
Without love, without Christ. You have killed again,
As always, as your fathers killed,
As the animals killed that you saw you for the first time.
And this blood smells as on the day
When one brother told the other brother:
“Let us go into the fields.” And that echo, chill, tenacious,
Has reached down to you, within your day.
Forget, O sons, the clouds of blood
Risen from the earth, forget your fathers:
Their tombs sink down in ashes,
Black birds, the wind, cover their heart.