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The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation.

James Saslow's annotated bilingual edition of Michelangelo's poetry is a major contribution to Renaissance scholarship. Saslow makes all of Michelangelo's poems available in English for the first time and relates them to the life and work of the artist. The book opens with an introduction covering a survey of critical approaches to the poetry, a brief biography, discussions of the content, form, and literary sources of his poetry, and a note on previous translations. Saslow describes the cultural context' which Michelangelo wrote and also suggests new ways in which his poetry can be illuminated in relation to the representation of gender. I was struck by Saslow's discussion of how Michelangelo's poetic creation of the beloved - both the male beloved as erotic object and the female beloved as mentor and friend - innovates within inherited Petrarchan forms.

The text of the poetry is based on the edition by Enzo Girardi in the Scrittori d'Italia series and follows his numbering for the 302 poems, and 41 fragments (in Saslow's edition printed as an appendix). Saslow includes poems not printed in earlier translations and provides concordances to previous editions and translations of the poetry and to Michelangelo's drawings. The text is illustrated by his drawings, paintings, sculpture, and manuscript hand, and Saslow's commentary draws the reader's attention to the connections between textual and visual art. For instance, no. 74 contains the image of the crudele arcier (cruel archer), which Saslow points out calls to mind the drawing "Archers shooting at a herm." This drawing is reproduced alongside no. 65, where the shield of the drawing adumbrates the poetic image of the scudo (shield), which, as Saslow notes, protects the lover from "the violence of passion." The commentaries, printed in smaller type at the end of each poem, also provide a guide to literary allusions, biographical contexts, and connections among poems.

The translations themselves are not only accurate and clear, but direct and contemporary in their language in a way that is close to the feeling of Michelangelo's Italian. Often Saslow manages to achieve a vivid and memorable language, as in his rendering of the final line of poem no. 267: "so that I'm done for, if I don't die soon" (ch'i' son disfatto, s'i' non muoio presto). In this late poem (1546-50), Michelangelo self-mockingly complains about constipation, loose teeth, and difficult urination in a bitterly comic vein that is perfectly captured by Saslow's pithy rendering of the final line. Most of the poems are not so directly physical but portray a complex and tormented intellectual and spiritual autobiography. The poems written to Vittoria Colonna give great insight into Michelangelo's Neoplatonic understanding of nature and artistic creation. These philosophical concepts are carefully rendered in translation and meaningfully explained in Saslow's commentary. In translating the love poems to Tomasso de' Cavalieri, Saslow manages to convey their gutsy urgency, especially in his evocation of mutual passion in no. 59 "If one chaste love, if one sublime compassion" ("S'un casto amor, s'una pieta superna") and flourishing desire in no. 90, "I'm much dearer to myself than I used to be" ("I'mi son caro assai piu ch'i' non soglio"). One senses a translator and scholar in deep sympathy with his subject despite the acknowledged gulf between them. Scholars and lovers of poetry will find these translations and notes an invaluable guide through the poems and their relation to the life and work, and a sheer pleasure to read in their own right.
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Author:Carroll, Clare
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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