2012 Translation Projects
Despite Pascoli's stature in Italy and his enormous influence on modern Italian poetry, he remains obscure in English. The sharp disparity between his national and international fortunes has often been ascribed, as such disparities often are, to "untranslatability" -- Montale, for example, called him "as untranslatable as Leopardi." And while many qualities (particularly formal and musical ones) are inevitably lost in translation, the unsettling beauties fundamental to his best work can, I believe, survive.
I think our collective neglect of Pascoli has two causes: the vicissitudes, on one hand, of literary fashion (Pascoli has never been associated with any glamorous movement or moment), and the real difficulty, on the other, of providing felicitous English counterparts for the lovely sonorities and deft forms of his originals. I can't do anything about the former, but with regard to the latter I will attempt whenever possible to create fluent English stand-ins for the formal and musical elements so vital to my experience of the originals.
Having spent the last several years compiling a large anthology of 20th-century Italian poetry (forthcoming from FSG), I've concluded that no other major Italian poet of the last century was so ill-served by translation. In the hopes of improving this situation, I will translate a substantial book-length selection of Pascoli's work, to be taken primarily from his three major collections: Myricae, Primi poemetti, and Canti di Castelvecchio, along with selections from his other work.
[from the Italian]
"November" by Giovanni Pascoli
Gemlike the air, the sun so bright above
you look for blossoms on the apricot trees,
recall the bitter whitethorn scent you love
and sniff the breeze.
But the whitethorn's withered, the brittle boughs
hatch their black schemes against the empty blue,
and earth rings hollow now beneath the blows
of every shoe.
Around you, silence, but for sighs that spill
in upon every gust, from grove and wood:
frail settlements of leaves. This is the chill
summer of the dead.
"Storm" by Giovanni Pascoli
Seaward, the skies
redden, as if alight;
hillward, black as jet,
ragged clouds gray-bright;
amid the black a hut:
a seagull's wing.
About Giovanni Pascoli
The work of Giovanni Pascoli (1855–1912) is considered the start of modern Italian poetry. By the time he succeeded Carducci as professor of Italian literature at the University of Bologna, in 1906, the elder poet's grandiloquent neoclassicism had already given way to Pascoli's plainer style, driven more by an almost imagistic focus on "small things" than by rhetoric; the nineteenth century had given way to the twentieth. In retrospect it's clear that, as Robert Dombrowski has argued, Pascoli "contributed more than any other poet of the time, including D'Annunzio, to the renewal of Italian poetry in the twentieth century."
Geoffrey Brock is the author of Weighing Light, the translator of Cesare Pavese's Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930–1950, and the editor of the forthcoming FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry. His awards include translation prizes from the MLA, the PEN Center USA, the American Translators Association, and Poetry magazine, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the Howard Foundation. He teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he lives with his wife, the writer Padma Viswanathan, and their two children.
Photo by Jonathan Williams