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Galassi’s Translation of Leopardi: Reviews

Canti by Giacomo Leopardi. Translated by Jonathan Galassi

Canti by Giacomo Leopardi. Translated by Jonathan Galassi

Reviews are out for the new English edition of Giacomo Leopardi's Canti, translated and annotated by Jonathan Galassi. When it comes to translating Leopardi, I recall that translator J.G. Nichols cited a warning from Leopardi himself: "Those foolish poets who, seeing that descriptions are pleasing in poetry, have reduced poetry to continual descriptions, have taken away the pleasure, and substituted boredom for it." Nichols noted that in English poetry is highly descriptive, so that's what readers expect and translators tend to deliver.

What do I want in a translation? Accuracy above all, but also an enrichment of English poetics. Having read Nichols's translations of Petrarch and Leopardi, I'm interested in the learning more about the relationship between the two Italian poets...

The poet Peter Campion reviews the new translation in the New York Times, acclaiming Galassi's balance between poetry and scholarship. Campion highlights Galassi's ability to communicate the beauty and originality of the original:

"The 41 poems in Leopardi’s collected 'Canti' are distinct, and beautiful, for dwelling on a threshold between feeling and thought, between the sensuous world and the mind, between presence and absence. [...] What makes Jonathan Galassi’s translation of Leopardi’s poetry so superb is that he understands, and renders, that delicate movement of thought and feeling."

The Washington Post's Michael Dirda calls Galassi's translation moving, summarizes the life and significance of Leopardi, and gives a helpful overview of the contents as an example of great publishing:

"Galassi's own rich edition of the 'Canti,' prefaced by a long introduction, Italian originals and his English translations on facing pages, an annotated timeline of Leopardi's life and a hundred pages of often-detailed textual commentary. The last is particularly valuable for its citations from Italian scholarship"

I'm especially intrigued that "Galassi underscores that Leopardi confronted and eventually transcended the overwhelming influence of Petrarch."

Helen Vendler, editor at The New Republic , highlights the pessimism of Leopardi and expresses disappointment at the plainness of the translation. Article is behind a subscriber wall, so you may find a copy at your local library (date is Dec 2, 2010).

The Wall Street Journal review finds that pessimism is not the complete story for Leopardi. Alluding to classicist D.S. Carne-Ross, Eric Ormsby finds that Leopardi goes beyond pessimism toward a tragic vision: "[Leopardi's] 'Canti' bow to the inevitable even as they sing out against it."

Like other reviews, perhaps setting the tone, the New Yorker focuses mainly on Leopardi's background and biography. An abstract of the review is online.

As many of the reviews note, a new translation of Leopardi into English is a major event, and an invitation to read this great poet. Another opportunity to deepen our appreciation for Leopardi will happen at the New York Encounter on Monday, January 17th. 10:30 am:

Giacomo Leopardi: Infinite Desire

A homage to the Italian poet on the occasion of the publication of his poems in the U.S. with speakers Jonathan Galassi, President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Davide Rondoni, Author and Poet; and Joseph Weiler, University Professor at NYU School of Law.

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About Fred

Kansas City metro area, in Kansas. Father of three. Masters in English (mainly Chaucer through Donne) from Fordham. Work as Customer Service Manager in software specializing in successful implementation and training: bridging people with business requirements and technical specialists.
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  1. You’ve convinced me. I look forward to reading the book and attending the panel event!

  2. I see it’s a bilingual edition. Fantastic!

  3. Sharon, I got my copy in the mail this afternoon.

    It’s massive, just a bit thinner than my Complete Poems and Major Prose of Milton! Glancing inside I see that the historical poems are much more readable and enjoyable than the Nichols translation. I’m looking forward to digging in. We’re getting our plane tickets tonight – I hope we can stay for the discussion!

  4. Thanks, Fred. I’ve ordered mine too!

  5. Okay, guys, I am already way behind and nw I am intrigued, not havng read Leopardi, but only the snippets our dear Don Gius quotes.

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