The Poetry of Giovanni Meli, A Bilingual Anthology (Sicilian-English).
Translation is never an easy task. Translating poetry is even harder. In Conversations on the Craft of Poetry (1959), Robert Frost stated: "I could define poetry this way: it is that which is lost out of both prose and verse in translation," as it is very difficult, if not impossible, at times, to replicate, in another language, content and format. These challenges are overshadowed though by the goal of such a meticulous job: translating a national literary work allows for it to become a universal piece, to make its author renowned in other countries and cultures. Fate that is due to the great Sicilian artist Giovanni Meli (1740-1815). In all of his poetic works, from La Buccolica (1766-1772), to La fata galanti (1762), and his satirical compositions Origini dAaAa munnu (1768), Don Chisciotti e Sanciu Panza (1785-1787) and Favuli murali (1810-1814), to name a few, Meli expresses himself in Sicilian, a language close to my heart and the heart of the talented translator, Gaetano Cipolla. The 2015 anthology Cipolla has edited, introduced, and translated is homage to the "perfect Sicilian poet" on the 200th anniversary of his death, in Palermo. After a lengthy introduction to the historical period, the philosophy, and local circumstances in which to place Meli's opus, the book is divided into six sections remarking the editor's clever selections of Meli's most representative poetic creations, enriched by Miller's, Ronalds', and Vesco's illustrations. No pictorial aid is needed when the poet describes womanly physical attributes (his ladies Nici, Dori, Clori, Filli), focusing on lips, hair, voice, mouth, and eyes. Though, as even Cipolla declares, these topics are not original but rather trace the Sicilian School of Poetry's model, readers witness a renewed and sensual surrender to the charm of the beloved one that unveils a mayhem, a corporeal whirling that everyone in love can appreciate. Meli's praises and literary expertise are not confined to women's beauty. In Praise of Wine Meli writes of the "healing" power of Bacchus's nectar, echoed by Sarudda in Ditirammu, within this anthology's section labeled Miscellanea, "when I consume a lot of wine, all of my cares, all of my gloom, just fade in the air" (p. 321). In this poem, Sarudda's praises are for specific types of wine, i.e. vernaccia, the dark wine of Mascali, muscatel, the Calabrese wine, Malvasia, Risalaimi, and Ciacuddi versus the non-local wines of France, Cyprus and even Florence, which he considers "not good wines at all, waters spiced for show" (p. 325) and the poor choices of the British who drink beer instead of wine, "a true sign that in wealth they're poor, indeed" (p. 325). Never have I read such an exquisite, energetic, and faithful non-prosaic description of the status and reaction of one who is inebriated. "I see folks in groups of four, ahi, ahi!/What's this cloud inside my eye?/My head is heavy, what is wrong?/My legs are rubbery, what can it be?/I'm going to fall" (pp. 329-330). Cipolla reminds the readers in an endnote that this poem, published in 1787, was indeed considered one of the poet's masterpieces. The work that follows and that concludes the volume, Don Chisciotti e Sanciti Panza, is also well acclaimed but one of the main delights of the anthology is, to me, the collection of Moral Fables. In the eighteenth century the fable was a very popular literary genre, one that was heavily influenced by Aesop with the extensive use of animal characters and moral lessons. Within this anthology, through the dialogues between dogs, we learn of how humankind has turned freedom into slavery (p. 214); how humankind shall always use blueprints or plans after reading about the unwise decisions of monkeys (p. 236); and how to attain a place in the sun by proving one's worth even if it causes pain, thanks to the example of the mosquito (p. 244). This anthology is essential to understand the culture of eighteenth-century Sicily, to revitalize the use of local idioms, and to appreciate the work of a translator/traduttore, in this case not a "traditore" but a fully-invested and patient advocate of a great poet and a culture that, unfortunately, do not occupy a place of predominance. My hope, as a reader and global citizen, is to see more of these volumes revealing unchartered territories.
Reviewed by: Giovanna Summerfield, Auburn University, USA
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2017|
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