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This translation by T. Fisher Unwin was published in 1907, the year after Giosue Carducci had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the year of his death.
Some notes from the introduction by Maud Holland
His poetry is opposed to the spirit of Christianity. While he had serious political differences with Pope Pius IX, the roots of his animosity was not political or religious, but historical. He felt much closer to an ancient Greek conception of reality than to a Christian one.
Despite that philosophical fight, toward his later years he was attracted to the concept of the Virgin Mary.
Maud Holland thinks the best of Carducci’s poems are those
“. . . verses in which Carducci deals with the common things of earth.”
In reading this volume I came very much to agree with Holland, at least about the poems in this collection. Some are historical and left me on the outside, since I have too knowledge of the little details of Italian history. But, the poems set in nature were often touching and attractive for me.
Holland compares Carducci to famous English poets to help the reader of this English version:
“Less sensuous than Keats, but equally penetrated with the beauty of earth, Carducci is perhaps comparable to Wordsworth, but unlike that, unlike the English poet, he never moralizes on such subjects, but always leaves the things, and the emotions they evoke, to speak for themselves.”
The poems of this volume are mainly very short, just a few lines which, like a simple straight-forward, but soft and elegant painting, leaving a verbal picture in one’s head. Samples of this sort of poem are two animal poems, one The Ox and the other, To A Donkey. Pleasant, a bit touching, very straight forward:
“I love thee, O mild ox; a sentiment
Of strength and peace thou bringest unto me
Whether as solemn as a monument
Thou gazest o’er the fields, fertile and free,
Or whether bowing to the yoke content
Man’s nimble work is seconded by thee;
He shouts, he lifts the goad: with slow gaze bent
Thy patient eyes answer his urgency.
From the broad nostrils, black and moist, arise
Breaths of the spirit, like a joyous strain
The bellowing voice upon the calm air dies;
Ample and quiet is mirrored once again,
Austerely sweet within the sea-deep eyes,
Green and divine the silence of the plain.”
The other I so enjoyed is To A Donkey:
“O ancient patience, wherefore does thou gaze
Across the hedge upon the eastern skies,
Through the elder branches, o’er the flowery maze
Of fragrant white-thorn with moist kindling eyes?
Why does thou bray to heaven with dolorous cries?
Is it not Love, O rogue, that woos thy days?
What memory scourges thee? What hope that flies
Spurred on thy tired life down aching ways?
Art dreaming of Arabian deserts free
Where, matched in rivalry of fortitude,
Thou with the steeds of Job didst turn and flee?
Or wouldst thou fly to Hellas’ solitude, Calling on Homer, who does like thee To Telamonian Ajax unsubdued?
However in “Idyll of the Maremma” he looks back romantically upon Mary, a simple, but lovely rural girl he seeming could have married and had a rural and perhaps a better life. While it is beautifully written and ever so romantic to the core, it didn’t convince me. Carducci simply had to be who he was – the poet. I can’t really imagine him finding satisfaction in the life of a simple peasant farmer.
But he does paint a lovely picture for the reader.
“On April’s budding wing that doth with rose
Touch my low room, I see thee smile once more,
Suddenly, Mary, to my heart come close;”
He imagines the future he might have had with her:
“Strong sons have doubtless hung upon thy breast
And now, grown bold, look back to catch thine eyes,
Mounting the uncurbed steed in careless zest.”
He seems to be feeling a bit sorry for himself and his life choice. He thinks, perhaps, he would have been better off had he embraced that life that looks so lovely, simple and romantic than:
“Than sweat behind small rhymes confined and terse!
Better by work forget than stay to seek
The enormous riddle of the Universe!”
I loved the poem, but he just doesn’t convince me!
“Before San Guido” is a touching long poem on the occasion of his grandmother’s funeral. He speaks of the line of tall cypresses which line the road and bring back memories of his youth as he reflects upon the passing years. This was an especially lovely, gentle and touching poem.
Toward the end of the volume the editor chose some of his historical poems. The difficulty for me is that the issues were relatively minor moments in Italian history and I just don’t have the background in Italian history to really appreciate these poems.
I think for most modern readers Carducci’s style of poetry is more of historical interest than of poetic interest. Nonetheless, it was quite interesting to read this famous Italian whom I’d never even heard of before I read him as part of my project to read all the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature.Bob Corbett email@example.com
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org