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Ezra Pound Guido's Relat
Ezra Pound Guido's Relations The critic, normally a bore and a nuisance, can justify his existence in one or more minor and subordinate ways: he may dig out and focus attention upon matter of interest that would otherwise have passed without notice; he may, in the rare cases when he has any really general knowledge or "perception of relations" (swift or other) locate his finds with regard to other literary inventions; he may, thirdly, or as you might say, conversely and as part and sup­plement of his activity, construct cloacae to carry off the waste mat­ter, which stagnates about the real work, and which is continuously being heaped up and caused to stagnate by academic bodies, obese publishing houses, and combinations of both, such as the Oxford Press. (We note their particular infamy in a recent reissue of Pal-grave.) Since Dante's unfinished brochure on the common tongue, Italy may have had no general literary criticism, the brochure is somewhat "special" and of interest mainly to practitioners of the art of writing. Lorenzo Valla somewhat altered the course of his­tory by his close inspection of Latin usage. His prefaces have here and there a burst of magnificence, and the spirit of the Elegantiae should benefit any writer's lungs. As he wrote about an ancient idiom, Italian and English writers alike have, when they have heard his name at all, supposed that he had no "message" and, in the case of the Britons, they returned, we may suppose, to Pater's remarks on Pico. (Based on what the weary peruser of some few other parts of Pico's output might pettishly denounce as Pico's one remarkable paragraph.) The study called "comparative literature" was invented in Ger­many but has seldom if ever aspired to the study of "comparative values in letters." The literature of the Mediterranean races continued in a steady descending curve of renaissance-ism. There are minor upward fluc­tuations. The best period of Italian poetry ends in the year 1321. So far as I know one excellent Italian tennis player and no known Italian writer has thought of considering the local literature in re­lation to rest of the world. Leopardo read, and imitated Shakespeare. The Prince of Monte Nevoso has been able to build his unique contemporary position because of barbarian contacts, whether consciously, and via visual stimulus from any printed pages, or simply because he was aware of, let us say, the existence of Wagner and Browning. If Nostro Gabriele started something new in Italian. Hating barba­rism, teutonism, never mentioning the existence of the ultimate Britons, unsurrounded by any sort of society or milieu, he ends as a solitary, superficially eccentric, but with a surprisingly sound stan­dard of values, values, that is, as to the relative worth of a few perfect lines of writing, as contrasted to a great deal of flub-dub and "action." The only living author who has ever taken a city or held up the diplomatic crapule at the point of machine guns, he is in a position to speak with more authority than a batch of neurasthenic incom­petents or of writers who never having swerved from their jobs, might be, or are, supposed by the scientists and the populace to be incapable of action. Like other serious characters who have taken seventy years to live and to learn to live, he has passed through periods wherein he lived (or wrote) we should not quite say "less ably," but with less immediately demonstrable result. This period "nel mezzo," this passage of the "selva oscura" takes men in different ways, so different indeed that comparison is more likely to bring ridicule on the comparer than to focus atten­tion on the analogy—often admittedly farfetched. In many cases the complete man makes a "very promising start," and then flounders or appears to flounder for ten years, or for twenty or thirty (cf. Henry James's middle period) to end, if he survive, with some sort of demonstration, discovery, or other justification of his having gone by the route he has (apparently) stumbled on. When I "translated" Guido eighteen years ago I did not see Guido at all. I saw that Rossetti had made a remarkable translation of the Vita Nuova, in some places improving (or at least enriching) the original; that he was indubitably the man "sent," or "chosen" for that particular job, and that there was something in Guido that escaped him or that was, at any rate, absent from his translations. A robustezza, a masculinity. I had a great enthusiasm (perfectly jus­tified), but I did not clearly see exterior demarcations—Euclid in­side his cube, with no premonition of Cartesian axes. My perception was not obfuscated by Guido's Italian, difficult as it then was for me to read. I was obfuscated by the Victorian language. If I hadn't been, I very possibly couldn't have done the job at all. I should have seen the too great multiplicity of problems con­tained in the one problem before me. I don't mean that I didn't see dull spots in the sonnets. I saw that Rossetti had taken most of the best sonnets, that one couldn't make a complete edition of Guido simply by taking Rossetti's translations and filling in the gaps, it would have been too dreary a job. Even though I saw that Rossetti had made better English poems than I was likely to make by (in intention) sticking closer to the direction of the original. I began by meaning merely to give prose translation so that the reader ignorant of Italian could see what the melodic original meant. It is, however, an illusion to sup­pose that more than one person in every 300,000 has the patience or the intelligence to read a foreign tongue for its sound, or even to read what are known to be the masterworks of foreign melody, in order to learn the qualities of that melody, or to see where one's own falls short. What obfuscated me was not the Italian but the crust of dead English, the sediment present in my own available vocabulary— which I, let us hope, got rid of a few years later. You can't go round this sort of thing. It takes six or eight years to get educated in one's art, and another ten to get rid of that education. Neither can anyone learn English, one can only learn a series of Englishes. Rossetti made his own language. I hadn't in 1910 made a language, I don't mean a language to use, but even a lan­guage to think in. It is stupid to overlook the lingual inventions of precurrent authors, even when they are fools or flapdoodles or Tennysons. It is sometimes advisable to sort out these languages and inventions, and to know what and why they are. Keats, out of Elizabethans, Swinburne out of a larger set of Elizabethans and a mixed bag (Greeks, und so wetter), Rossetti out of Sheets, Kelly, and Co. plus early Italians (written and painted); and so forth, including King Wenceslas, ballads and carols. Let me not discourage a possible reader, or spoil anyone's naive enjoyment, by saying that my early versions of Guido are bogged in Dante Gabriel and in Algernon. It is true, but let us pass by it in silence. Where both Rossetti and I went off the rails was in taking an English sonnet as the equivalent for a sonnet in Italian. I don't mean in overlooking the mild difference in the rhyme scheme. The mistake is "quite natural," very few mistakes are "un­natural." Rime looks very important. Take the rimes off a good sonnet, and there is a vacuum. And besides the movement of some Italian sonnets is very like that in some sonnets in English. The feminine rhyme goes by the board . . . again for obvious reasons. It had gone by the board, quite often, in Provençal. The French made an ecclesiastical law about using it 50/50. As a bad analogy, imagine a Giotto or Simone Martini fresco, "translated" into oils by "Sir Joshua," or Sir Frederick Leighton. Something is lost, something is somewhat denatured. Suppose, however, we have a Cimabue done in oil, not by Hol­bein, but by some contemporary of Holbein who can't paint as well as Cimabue. There are about seven reasons why the analogy is incorrect, and six more to suppose it inverted, but it may serve to free the reader's mind from preconceived notions about the English of "Elizabeth" and her British garden of songbirds.—And to consider language as a medium of expression. (Breton forgives Flaubert on hearing that Father Gustave was trying only to give "l'impression de la couleur jaune" (Nadja, p. 12).) Dr. Schelling has lectured about the Italianate Englishman of Shakespeare's day. I find two Shakespeare plots within ten pages of each other in a forgotten history of Bologna, printed in 1596. We have heard of the effects of the traveling Italian theater companies, commedia dell' arte, etc. What happens when you idly attempt to translate early Italian into English, unclogged by the Victorian era, freed from sonnet obsession, but trying merely to sing and to leave out the dull bits in the Italian, or the bits you don't understand? I offer you a poem that "don't matter," it is attributed to Guido in Codex Barberiniano Lat. 3953. Alacci prints it as Guido's; Si­mone Occhi in 1740 says that Alacci is a fool or words to that effect and a careless man without principles, and proceeds to print the poem with those of Cino Pistoia. Whoever wrote it, it is, indubit­ably, not a capo lavoro. Madonna la vostra belta enfolio Si li mei ochi che menan lo core MS. ogbi A la bataglia ove l'ancise amore Che del vostro placer armato uscio; usio Si che nel primo asalto che asalio Passo dentro la mente e fa signore, E prese l'alma che fuzia di fore Planzendo di dolor che vi sentio. Per6 vedete che vostra beltate Mosse la folia und e il cor morto Et a me ne convien clamar pietate, Non per campar, ma per aver conforto Ne la morte crudel che far min fate Et o rason sel non vinzesse il torto. Is it worth an editor's while to include it among dubious attribu­tions? It is not very attractive: until one starts playing with the simplest English equivalent. Lady thy beauty doth so mad mine eyes, Driving my heart to strife wherein he dies. Sing it of course, don't try to speak it. It thoroughly falsifies the movement of the Italian, it is an opening quite good enough for Herrick or Campion. It will help you to understand just why Her-rick, and Campion, and possibly Donne are still with us. The next line is rather a cliché; the line after more or less lack­ing in interest. We pull up on: Whereby thou seest how fair thy beauty is To compass doom. That would be very nice, but it is hardly translation. Take these scraps, and the almost impossible conclusion, a tag of Provençal rhythm, and make them into a plenum. It will help you to understand some of M. de Schloezer's remarks about Stra­vinsky's trend toward melody. And you will also see what the best Elizabethan lyricists did, as well as what they didn't. My two lines take the opening and two and a half of the Ital­ian, English more concise; and the octave gets too light for the sestet. Lighten the sestet. So unto Pity must I cry Not for safety, but to die. Cruel Death is now mine ease If that he thine envoy is. We are preserving one value of early Italian work, the canta-bile; and we are losing another, that is the specific weight. And if we notice it we fall on a root difference between early Italian, "The philosophic school coming out of Bologna," and the Elizabethan lyric. For in these two couplets, and in attacking this sonnet, I have let go the fervor and the intensity, which were all I, rather blindly, had to carry through my attempt of twenty years gone. And I think that if anyone now lay, or if we assume that they mostly then (in the expansive days) laid, aside care for specific state­ment of emotion, a dogmatic statement, made with the seriousness of someone to whom it mattered whether he had three souls, one in the head, one in the heart, one possibly in his abdomen, or lungs, or wherever Plato, or Galen, had located it; if the anima is still breath, if the stopped heart is a dead heart, and if it is all seri­ous, much more serious than it would have been to Herrick, the imaginary investigator will see more or less how the Elizabethan modes came into being. Let him try it for himself, on any Tuscan author of that time, taking the words, not thinking greatly of their significance, not balking at clichés, but being greatly intent on the melody, on the single uninterrupted flow of syllables—as open as possible, that can be sung prettily, that are not very interesting if spoken, that don't even work into a period or an even meter if spoken. And the mastery, a minor mastery, will lie in keeping this line unbroken, as unbroken in sound as a line in one of Miro's latest drawings is on paper; and giving it perfect balance, with no breaks, no bits sticking ineptly out, and no losses to the force of individual phrases. Whereby thou seest how fair thy beauty is To compass doom. Very possibly too regularly "iambic" to fit in the finished poem. There is opposition, not only between what M. de Schloezer distinguishes as musical and poetic lyricism, but in the writing it­self there is a distinction between poetic lyricism, the emotional force of the verbal movement, and melopoeic lyricism, the letting the words flow on a melodic current, realized or not, realizable or not, if the line is supposed to be sung on a sequence of notes of different pitch. But by taking these Italian sonnets, which are not metrically the equivalent of the English sonnet, by sacrificing, or losing, or simply not feeling and understanding their cogency, their sobriety, and by seeking simply that far from quickly or so-easily-as-it-looks attainable thing, the perfect melody, careless of exactitude of idea, or careless as to which profound and fundamental idea you, at that moment, utter, perhaps in precise enough phrases, by cutting away the apparently nonfunctioning phrases (whose appearance de­ceives) you find yourself in the English seicento songbooks. Death has become melodious; sorrow is as serious as the night­ingale's, tombstones are shelves for the reception of rose leaves. And there is, quite often, a Mozartian perfection of melody, a wis­dom, almost perhaps an ultimate wisdom, deplorably lacking in guts. My phrase is, shall we say, vulgar. Exactly, because it fails in precision. Guts in surgery refers to a very limited range of internal furnishings. A thirteenth-century exactitude in search for the exact organ best illustrating the lack, would have saved me that plunge. We must turn again to the Latins. When the late T. Roosevelt was interviewed in France on his return from the jungle, he used a phrase which was translated (the publication of the interview rather annoyed him). The French at the point I mention ran: "Us ont voulu me briser les reins mais je les ai solides." And now the reader may, if he like, return to the problem of the "eyes that lead the heart to battle where him love kills." This was not felt as an inversion. It was 1280, Italian was still in the state that German is today. How can you have "PROSE" in a coun­try where the chambermaid comes into your room and exclaims: "Schon ist das Hemd!" Continue: who is armed with thy delight, is come forth so that at the first assault he assails, he passes inward to the mind, and lords it there, and catches the breath (soul) that was fleeing, lamenting the grief I feel. "Whereby thou seest how thy beauty moves the madness, whence is the heart dead (stopped) and I must cry on Pity, not to be saved but to have ease of the cruel death thou puttest on me. And I am right (?) save the wrong him conquereth." Whether the reader will accept this little problem in melopoeia as substitute for the crossword puzzle I am unable to predict. I leave it on the supposition that the philosopher should try almost everything once. As second exercise, we may try the sonnet by Guido Orlando which is supposed to have invited Cavalcanti's Donna mi Prega. Say what is Love, whence doth he start Through what be his courses bent Memory, substance, accident A chance of eye or will of heart Whence he state or madness leadeth ? Burns he with consuming pain > Tell me, friend, on what he feedeth > How, where, and o'er whom doth he reign ? Say what is Love, hath he a face ? True form or vain similitude ? Is the Love life, or is he death ? Thou shouldst know for rumour saith: Servant should know his master's mood— Oft art thou ta'en in his dwelling-place. I give the Italian to show that there is no deception, I have invented nothing, I have given a verbid weight about equal to that of the original, and arrived at this equality by dropping a couple of syllables per line. The great past master of pastiche has, it would seem, passed this way before me. A line or two of this, a few more from Lorenzo Medici, and he has concocted one of the finest gems in our language. Onde si move e donde nasce Amore qual e suo proprio luogo, ov' ei dimora Sustanza, o accidente, o ei memora? E cagion d'occhi, o e voler di cuore? Da che procede suo stato o furore? Come fuoco si sente che divora? Di che si nutre domand' io ancora, Come, e quando, e di cui si fa signore? Che cosa è, dico, amor? ae figura? A per se forma o pur somiglia altrui? E vita questo amore owero e morte? Ch '1 serve dee saver di sua natura: Io ne domando voi, Guido, di lui: Odo che molto usate in la sua corte. We are not in a realm of proofs, I suggest, simply, the way in which early Italian poetry has been utilized in England. The Italian of Petrarch and his successors is of no interest to the practicing writer or to the student of comparative dynamics in language, the collectors of bric-a-brac are outside our domain. There is no question of giving Guido in an English contem­porary to himself, the ultimate Britons were at that date un-breeched, painted in woad, and grunting in an idiom far more dif­ficult for us to master than the Langue d'Oc of the Plantagenets or the Lingua di Si. If, however, we reach back to pre-Elizabethan English, of a period when the writers were still intent on clarity and explicitness, still preferring them to magniloquence and the thundering phrase, our trial, or mine at least, results in: Who is she that comes, makying turn every man's eye And makying the air to tremble with a bright clearenesse That leadeth with her Love, in such nearness No man may proffer of speech more than a sigh? Ah God, what she is like when her owne eye turneth, is Fit for Amor to speake, for I cannot at all; Such is her modesty, I would call Every woman else but an useless uneasiness. No one could ever tell all of her pleasauntness In that every high noble vertu leaneth to herward, So Beauty sheweth her forth as her Godhede; Never before so high was our mind led, Nor have we so much of heal as will afford That our mind may take her immediate in its embrace. The objections to such a method are: the doubt as to whether one has the right to take a serious poem and turn it into a mere exercise in quaintness; the "misrepresentation" not of the poem's antiquity, but of the proportionate feel of that antiquity, by which I mean that Guido's thirteenth-century language is to twentieth-century Italian sense much less archaic than any fourteenth-, fifteenth-, or early sixteenth-century English is for us. It is even doubtful whether my bungling version of twenty years back isn't more "faithful," in the sense at least that it tried to preserve the fervor of the original. And as this fervor simply does not occur in English poetry in those centuries there is no ready-made verbal pigment for its objectification. In the long run the translator is in all probability impotent to do all of the work for the linguistically lazy reader. He can show where the treasure lies, he can guide the reader in choice of what tongue is to be studied, and he can very materially assist the hurried student who has a smattering of a language and the energy to read the original text alongside the metrical gloze. This refers to "interpretative translation." The "other sort." I mean in cases where the "translator" is definitely making a new poem, falls simply in the domain of original writing, or if it does not it must be censured according to equal standards, and praised with some sort of just deduction, assessable only in the particular case.
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