The Complete Poetry.
Continuing an encouraging trend for the translation of early Italian lyric, this volume, published in the vital Lorenzo da Ponte Italian Library series, offers us the first complete translation of the poetry of a foundational figure in Italian literature: Giacomo da Lentini. Richard Lansing's translations and notes, Akash Kumar's introduction and a selection of annotated illustrations all combine into a nicely presented bilingual edition, which makes an important poet accessible to a far wider audience.
Even before Kumar's introduction and Lansing's translations, this book offers a useful pause for thought in the form of three black and white photographic facsimiles of the MS Banco Rari 217 (Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, also know as the Canzoniere Palatino). These images may be somewhat smaller and obviously lacking the immediacy of full colour facsimile, but they offer the reader a moment to reflect on the gap between this new printed book and the material, manuscript culture in which Giacomo da Lentini's poetry circulated in the 13th century and through which it has survived for subsequent generations of readers. Indeed, the gap between beautifully illustrated manuscript, black and white image and printed text is in itself a useful reinforcement of that sense of distance and difference which is always part of reading a medieval text in a modern edition. This is perhaps doubly true when it comes to translations, especially when presented as bilingual editions.
Kumar's introduction makes a clear case for this translation of da Lentini's verse and the importance of making his work more readily available to an anglophone readership. Part of this case hinges on the absence of the Notary from a 2008 anthology claiming to chart 'the making of the sonnet', despite the fact that Giacomo is our most convincing candidate for inventor of this poetic form (Hirsch E and Boland E (eds) (2008) The Making of Sonnet. New York: Norton). Beyond its usefulness to comparative literary history, da Lentini's poetry is interesting for its technical variation and argumentative complexity. We are also reminded of da Lentini's position as already translational, both in his own engagement with the Proven9al troubadour tradition (most emphatically in Giacomo's own partial translation of Folquet de Marselha's canso, 'A vos, midontc, voill retrair' en cantan' in 'Madonna, dir vo voglio') and in the preservation of his texts in linguistically Tuscanized forms in the manuscript tradition. Kumar does an excellent job of situating the poet within his cultural, intellectual and historical milieu.
Lansing's translations are presented in parallel with the printed Italian text in four sections--'The Canzoni and Discordo', 'The Tenzoni', 'The Sonnets' and 'The Lyrics of Dubious Authorship'--and it is a great relief to see the tenzoni fully incorporated into the book, rather than relegated to the end, or worse an appendix, of the volume. This has historically been something of a rarity, though is hopefully an increasingly common practice, as it foregrounds the dialogic nature of these poems, which were created within and in relation to various networks of literary production and circulation.
The translations clearly convey the content of da Lentini's texts and those of his correspondents, maintaining the complexity and, at times, enigmatic nature of the language and imagery, which is elucidated (where possible) in the notes. Take, for example, the treatments of two images, one from Giacomo's 'Madonna, dir vo voglio' ('My Lady, I Wish to Tell You') (pp. 18-23), the other from the first sonnet in the tenzone with the Abbot of Tivoli, 'Ai deo amore, a te faccio preghera' ('O God of Love, Pray Hear My Plea') (pp. 92-93). In 'Madonna, dir vo voglio', Giacomo writes, 'lo meo lavoro spica--e non ingrana', translated as 'My wheat sprouts ears, and yet no seed takes root' (pp. 1, 32). The notes then gloss this image as a 'metaphor expressing the thought that the poet's love, unreciprocated by his lady, has not come to fruition' (p. 158). The Abbot of Tivoli's sonnet, however, lacks any such clarity in its description of love. He states that he has 'cavelli e barba a tua fazzone / ed ogni parte aio, viso e cera / e seggio in quattro serpi ogni stagione', which Lansing renders as '[I] have a beard and hair like yours, / A face and look like yours as well, / And sit with four snakes at all times' (pp. 18a, 4-6). The notes articulate the strangeness of this image, the meaning of which is 'uncertain and has generated a number of interpretations none entirely convincing', before giving us some of the critical suggestions (p. 166). Lansing clarifies what can be clarified and leaves us with different options to consider when the text presents an interpretive riddle.
Overall, the translations are clear even when they take some poetic license. They also maintain metrical impetus as well as preserving some echo of rhyme schemes and rhetorical flourishes found in the Italian. We see this in canzone 7 as the A and B rhymes are occasionally preserved through English near rhymes, or sonnet 40 (of dubious authorship) where 'basilisk' and 'blissfully' resonate, rather than rhyme, at the ends of lines 1 and 3, home to the A-rhymes in the Italian. It would be useful to have more details on the translation, as it is necessarily interpretive. We do see something like this, which is rewarding, in the notes to the technical tenzone on the nature of love between Iacopo Mostacci, Pier de la Vigna and Giacomo.
The argument of the introduction and the texts reproduced and translated in this volume depend upon Roberto Antonelli's critical edition (Antonelli R (2008) I poeti della Scuola siciliana. Vol 1. Giacomo da Lentini. Milan: Mondadori), the most recent edition of the Notary's verse. More discussion of the choice of this edition or its potential limitations (it has not been without its critics), alongside further information on the translator's choices, would have been a valuable addition. The clarity of this volume and its apparatus, however, do make scholarly as well as casual engagement with the texts it contains easy, and this encouragement to further engagement with Giacomo da Lentini will hopefully spur more students and otherwise inquisitive readers to discover this little trove of poems and the world in which they were created.
This is not a book that pretends to remove the distance between modern reader and medieval text. Instead, what Lansing and Kumar do is to offer us a bridge over that gap and one which makes it far easier to cross for students and readers keen to find out more about a pivotal figure in the history of Italian and European literature.
Reviewed by: David Bowe, University College Cork, Republic of Ireland
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 1, 2019|
|Previous Article:||La "preistoria" allargata: Leonardo Sinisgalli risponde a Elio Brando.|
|Next Article:||Ovid's Metamorphoses in Twentieth-Century Italian Literature.|