Sunday, October 09, 2011

Introduction to Italian Poetry, Ed. Luciano Rebay

Introduction to Italian Poetry, Ed. Luciano Rebay, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1969.

Praise by You, my Lord, for sister water,
Who is most useful and humble and precious and chaste.

(St Francis, Canticle of Living Creatures, 9)

If I were fire, I would set the world aflame;
If I were wind, I would storm it;
If I were water, I would drown it;
If I were God, I would send it to the abyss.
If I were Pope, then I would be happy,
For I would swindle all the Christians;
If I were Emperor, do you know what I would do?
I would chop off heads all around.
If I were death, I would go to my father;
If I were life, I would flee from him;
The same I would do with my mother.
If I were Cecco, as I am and I was,
I would take the women who are young and lovely,
And leave the old and ugly for others.

(Cecco Angiolieri, If I were fire, I would set the world aflame, Complete, 23)

So gentle and so virtuous she appears,
My lady, when greeting other people
That every tongue tremblingly grows silent,
And eyes do not dare gaze upon her.

[Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare
La donna mia quand’ella altrui saluta
Ch’ogne lingua deven tremando muta,
E li occhi no l’ardiscon di guardare.]

(Dante, from So gentle and so virtuous she appears, 29)

Let him be happy who wants to be:
There’s no certainty of tomorrow.

[Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:
Di doman non c’[e] certezza.]

(Lorenzo de’ Medici, refrain from Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne/ Trionfo di Bacco e di Arianna, 56-7)

She who is young and beautiful,
Pray that she not be bitter,
For it does not renew itself,
Age—as does the grass:
Let no one remain proud
With her sweetheart in May.

(Angelo Poliziano, from Welcome to May, 63)

Love comes forth laughing
With roses and lilies on his head,
And he comes looking for you.
Greet him with joy, my pretty ones.
Which of you will be the first
To give him the flower for May?

[Amor ne vien ridendo
Con rose e gigli in testa, E vien di voi caendo.
Fategli, o belle, festa.
Qual sar[a] la pi[u] presta
A dargli e’ fior del maggio.]

(Angelo Poliziano, from Welcome to May, 65)

Giambattista Marino. 1569-1625. The seventeenth century is regarded in Italian literature as a period of decadence whose main traits are frequently epitomized in one word: “Marinism.” The term, derived from the name of Giambattista Marino, implies a special attitude toward literature in general and poetry in particular. The poet’s aim is no longer to teach, to enlighten, or simply to please the reader; it is, in Marino’s own formulation, to produce surprise, the marvelous: “[E] del poet ail fin la meraviglia.” And how will a poet create the marvelous? By using all manner of far-fetched images, telescoped metaphors, hyperbolic sentences, synonyms, antonyms, alliterations.
All such devices about in Marino’s poetry. For instance, in his chief work, Adone, a mythological poem over forty thousand lines long about the love of Venus for Adonis, we find dawn described as a “beautiful nurse” rising “from purple feathers to feed with her heavenly humors grass, plants, and flowers.” And in his famous “Canzone dei baci” The Song of Kisses), the words “bacio” (kiss), “baciare” (to kiss), and “bocca” (mouth) are monotonously intermeshed again and again in all possible combinations and patterns.
But not everything that Marino wrote is extravagant conceit, tiresome tirade, empty sound effect. Especially among his numerous love poems (Marino had many love affairs: in one lyric he confessed that all women made him “burn with desire”) there are quite a few compositions that reveal an uncommon gift for creating fresh images and for portraying original situations. [93] Our selection, “Bella schiava,” describing the poet’s passion for a black servant, is a case in point.
Marino was celebrated as the greatest Italian poet of his time. He lived in Naples, his native city, until 1600. In that year, after being imprisoned a second time for disorderly conduct, he escaped and went to Rome. From Rome he moved to Turin, to the court of Carl Emmanuel of Savoy, and from there to Paris in 1615. It was in France that Marino’s fame reached its apogee. He [94] lived at the court of the Queen, Maria de’ Medici, and to her, in 1623, he dedicated his poem Adone, which was acclaimed as an unsurpassable masterpiece. Soon afterward Marino returned to Italy, greeted with triumphant receptions in every city he visited. Covered with glory, he spent the remaining two years of his life in Naples. The impact of his influence can be detected not only in the works of several minor Italian writers, but also in the writings of poets such as Crashaw in Great Britain and Gongora in Spain. (93-5)

Beautiful Slave

Black—yes, but you are beautiful, O Nature’s
Graceful exhibit among Love’s beauties.
Dawn is gloomy alongside you; defeated and darkened
Are ivory and crimson by your ebony.
When or where did the ancient world, or ours,
Ever see such lively, ever feel such pure
Light coming out of dark ink,
Or such ardor issuing from spent coal?
Servant of her who is my servant, here I am
Bearing my heart caught in a brown noose
Which can never be untied by a pure-white hand.
There where you burnt the most, O Sun, for your shame alone
A sun has been born; a Sun who in her beautiful face
Bears the night, and in her eyes has day. (95)

Bella schiava

Nera s[i], ma se’ bella, o di Natura
Fra le bella d’Amor leggiadro mostro.
Fosca [e] l’alba appo te; perde e s’oscura
Presso l’ebeno tuo l’avorio e l’ostro.
Or quando, or dove il mondo antico o il nostro
Vide s[i] viva mai, sent[i] s[i] pura
O luce uscir di tenebroso inchiostro,
O di spento carbon nascere arsura?
Servo di chi m’[e] serva, ecco ch’avvolto
Porto di bruno laccio il core intorno,
Che per candida man non fia mai sciolto.
L[a] ’ve pi[u] ardi, o Sol, sol per tuo scorno
Un sole [e] nato; un Sol, che nel bel volto
Porta la notte ed ha negli occhi il giorno. (94)

Rain in the Pine Wood

Hush. On the edge
Of the wood I do not hear
Words which you call
Human; but I hear
Words which are newer
Spoken by droplets and leaves
Far away.
Listen. Rain falls
From the scattered clouds.
Rain falls on the tamarisks
Briny and parched,
Rain falls on the pine trees
Scaly and bristling,
Rain falls on the myrtles—

On the broom-shrubs gleaming
With clustered flowers,
On the junipers thick
With fragrant berries,
Rain falls on our faces—
Rain falls on our hands—
On our clothes—
On the fresh thoughts
That our soul discloses—
On the lovely fable
That yesterday
Beguiled you, that beguiles me today,
O Hermione.

Do you here? The rain is falling
On the solitary
With a crackling that persists
And varies in the air
According to the foliage
Sparser, less sparse.
Listen. The weeping is answered
By the song
Of the cicadas
Which are not frightened
By the weeping of the south wind
Or the ashen sky.
And the pine tree
Has one sound, and the myrtle
Another sound, and the juniper
Yet another, instruments
Under numberless fingers.
And we are immersed in the spirit
Of the woodland, alive with arboreal life;
And your ecstatic face
Is soft with rain
As a leaf,
And your hair
Is fragrant like
The bright broom-flowers,
O earthly creature
Whose name is

Listen, listen. The harmony
Of the high-borne cicadas
Gradually becomes
Beneath the weeping
That grows stronger;
But a song mingles with it—
Rising form down there,
Form the far damp shade.
Fainter and weaker
It slackens, fades away.
Only one note
Still trembles, fades away,
Rises again, trembles, fades away.
One hears no sea voice.
Now one hears upon all the foliage,
The silvery rain
That cleanses,
The pelting that varies
According to the foliage
Thicker, less thick.
The daughter of the air
Is mute; but the daughter
Of the miry swamp, in the distance,
The frog,
Is singing in the deepest shade,
Who knows where, who knows where!
And rain falls on your lashes,
Rain falls on your black eyelashes
So that you seem to weep
But from pleasure; not white
But made almost green,
You seem to emerge from bark.
And within us all life is fresh,
The heart is our breasts is like a peach
The eyes between the eyelids
Are like springs in the grass,
The teeth in their sockets
Are like bitter almonds.
And we go from thicket to thicket,
Now joined, now apart
(And the rough green vigor
Entwined our ankles,
Entangled our knees)
Who knows where, who knows where!
And rain falls on our faces—
Rain falls on our hands—
On our clothes—
On the fresh thoughts
That our soul discloses—
On the lovely fable
That yesterday
Beguiled me, that beguiles you today,
O Hermione.

(Gabriele D’Annunzio, Rain in the Pine Wood, Complete, 113-119)


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