Canti: A Bilingual Edition

Canti: A Bilingual Edition

by Giacomo Leopardi

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Giacomo Leopardi is Italy's greatest modern poet, the first European writer to portray and examine the self in a way that feels familiar to us today. A great classical scholar and patriot, he explored metaphysical loneliness in entirely original ways. Though he died young, his influence was enormous, and it is no exaggeration to say that all modern poetry, not only

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Giacomo Leopardi is Italy's greatest modern poet, the first European writer to portray and examine the self in a way that feels familiar to us today. A great classical scholar and patriot, he explored metaphysical loneliness in entirely original ways. Though he died young, his influence was enormous, and it is no exaggeration to say that all modern poetry, not only in Italian, derives in some way from his work.

Leopardi's poetry is notoriously difficult to translate, and he has been less well known to English-language readers than his central significance for his own culture might suggest. Now Jonathan Galassi, whose translations of Eugenio Montale have been widely acclaimed, has produced a strong, fresh, direct version of this great poet that offers English-language readers a new approach to Leopardi. Galassi has contributed an informative introduction and notes that provide a sense of Leopardi's sources and ideas. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the roots of modern lyric poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A towering figure among European Romantic poets and a national hero of Italian letters, the tormented, learned, sometimes hyperbolic Leopardi (1798–1837) has inspired other writers--and defied translators--since before his early death: the 41 elegies, odes, love poems, and meditations called Canti lie at the heart of his work. Leopardi wrote at the bloody start of the movements that brought Italy independence: early odes call on the nation's "glorious ancestors" to revive lost patriotic hopes. Yet his enduring sadness was not so much political as metaphysical, erotic, and nostalgic: "my heart is stricken," he writes, "to think how everything in this world passes/ and barely leaves a trace." Landscapes and villages, and indeed his own memory, yield fleeting joys that self-consciousness takes away: "If life is misery," one of his characters asks the moon, "why do we bear it?/ But we're not mortal,/ and what I say may matter little to you." Several canti lament the deaths of beautiful women. To Leopardi's elaborate stanzas Galassi (who has also translated Montale) brings a light touch and a feel for modern speech. This bilingual version comes with copious notes aimed at beginners, informed, but not overwhelmed, by Italian scholarship. (Nov.)
The New Yorker Adam Kirsch
Because the bitterness of the thoughts in Leopardi's poems is redeemed primarily by the sweetness and purity of the language—what Galassi calls his "impenetrably perfect, sonorous expressiveness"—he presents an unusual challenge for the translator. He is one of those poets who are often said to be untranslatable, and it is remarkable how little he figures in the consciousness of English readers, compared with, say, Baudelaire or Hölderblin...In the face of this challenge, Galassi—who, in addition to being a poet and a translator, is the head of the publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux—has taken the tactful and intelligent approach of translating primarily for sense, rather than trying to re-create Leopardi's metres and rhymes.
The Wall Street Journal Eric Ormsby
With the help of his detailed notes—he seems to have read everything about Leopardi in several languages—Mr. Galassi's versions offer the reader without Italian the surest possible grasp of Leopardi's poems.
Galassi grants the impossibility of transferring Leopardi's musicality into English, yet his versions often have their own swing to them, and they always verify the depiction of Leopardi in the introduction as a discouraged but genuine patriot and a philosophical hapless lover. They reflect, too, the romantic displacement of devotion from God to nature, the distrust of science, the exaltation of eros, and the despair of meaningful change that Matthew Arnold's English harbinger of modernism, "Dover Beach," attests. An absorbing presentation of a literary giant.
The New Republic Helen Vendler
Leopardi's most lasting imprint on literature was made by his poetry, begun at the age of eighteen. It is a body of work charged on the one hand with a helpless longing, both sexual and philosophical, and on the other hand by a bitterness that was both personal and political…Since so many of Leopardi's poems are paralleled in his prose, the reader is grateful for Galassi's hundred pages of generous and helpful notes, which do not merely clarify allusions, explain myths, identify landscapes, and so on, but also reproduce (as do Italian critical editions of the poet) comparable passages extracted from the copious prose.
Eliot Weinberger
For 175 years, English-language readers have been hearing about the greatness of Leopardi's Canti. Now we know why, for at last there is a translator who is up to the task.
Walter Kaiser
'Beyond the borders of Italy,' lamented Italo Calvino years ago, 'Leopardi simply doesn't exist. There is no way of conveying who he is, no way of defining him in relation to others, or of conveying why he is so important for us . . .' But now, with Jonathan Galassi's lucid translation and informative commentary, Leopardi the poet at last begins to take on palpable existence for the English reader. On one level, Leopardi, like Pindar orMallarmé or Celan, will always be untranslatable, because his haunting music and idiosyncratic language cannot be transported; but in other respects, Galassi's splendid new achievement will, for the non-Italian reader, provide an entry into the incomparable world of one of the greatest lyric poets of the nineteenth century.
W. S. Merwin
Ever since the age of the great Romantics, the poetry and the lifework of Giacomo Leopardi have remained a kind of enchanted garden in the landscape of Italian poetry. What we have come to know of his dedication, his learning, his circumstances, has all contributed to the mysterious beauty of that garden. His language, rooted in the classics and in the romantic spirit of his age, informs both the beauty and the ineffability of his work. Its distinctive tenor has not proven easy to translate, and for those of us whose first language is English, Jonathan Galassi's long labor of love with Leopardi's poetry is a welcome gift. His translations convey, to an astonishing degree, the tone, the delicacy and depth, the intimacy and passion, of the great originals, making them seem like recent discoveries. The Italian texts are provided on facing pages, and the combination, I expect, will make this a standard version for the language of our time.
The Washington Post Michael Dirda
Over the past half-century American readers have embraced the translated poetry of Rilke, Cavafy, Neruda and Akhmatova. Thanks to Jonathan Galassi's edition of the "Canti," it's Leopardi's turn now.
The New York Times Book Review Peter Campion
Like no other poet, Leopardi captures the subtlest sensations, just before they vanish. His language itself works as a vanishing act: it serves up all the richness of antiquity - gained from years spent steeping in Horace and Virgil - even as tones of skepticism and bitterness begin to eat away at that richness. 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. Galassi, the author of a magnificent translation of Eugenio Montale's poetry as well as two collections of his own poems, brings Leopardi's "Canti" alive by virtue of a flexible and unpretentious English idiom. Galassi, who is also the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, strives for accuracy throughout, but above all he works to make his translations living poems. The diction in these versions rightly conjures the 19th century, but never smells of a wax museum … The publication, at last, of a definitive English version of the "Canti" should constitute an event in itself. But this book does something even greater … Now, [Leopardi] may become as important to our own literature as, say, Baudelaire or Rilke, poets of comparable genius, whose work has long been available in fine translations … When the otherwise authoritarian Count Monaldo Leopardi opened his library to his preadolescent son, and allowed the boy to spend whole days there, that small permission changed world literature for good. Who knows? The next great American poet may be a high school girl in Wyoming lucky enough to come across Jonathan Galassi's translation in her own school library.
Richard Howard
With this carefully annotated version of the entire Canti—along with Flowers of Evil and Leaves of Grass the most influential poetic collection of the nineteenth century—we have at last not only an excuse but an obligation to read the fiercely learned but also fiercely intimate productions of a great writer whose energies were exhaustively distributed among classical translations, philological studies, and philosophical dialogues. Yet it is these poems that establish the passion and the power of this Italian master, so properly as well as poignantly given here by Jonathan Galassi. What a privilege as well as a joy finally to claim Leopardi, along with Baudelaire and Whitman, for one's own.
Michael Dirda
What finally makes Leopardi so appealing a poet is his combination of a classical intelligence coupled with a hypersensitivity to his own inner self and a sometimes enraptured, sometimes acerbic style…Over the past half-century American readers have embraced the translated poetry of Rilke, Cavafy, Neruda and Akhmatova. Thanks to Jonathan Galassi's edition of the Canti, it's Leopardi's turn now.
—The Washington Post

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
Bilingual edition
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Giacomo Leopardi

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2010 Giacomo Leopardi
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-23503-1

Chapter One



    Sempre caro mi fu quest'ermo cone,
    E questa siepe, the da tanta parte
    Dell'ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
    Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
    Spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
    Silenzi, e profondissima quiete
    Io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco
    Il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
    Odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
    Infinito silenzio a questa voce
    Vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,
    E le morte stagioni, e la presente
    E viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa
    Immensità s'annega il pensier mio:
    E il naufragar m'è dolce in questo mare.



    This lonely hill was always dear to me,
    and this hedgerow, which cuts off the view
    of so much of the last horizon.
    But sitting here and gazing, I can see
    beyond, in my mind's eye, unending spaces,
    and superhuman silences, and depthless calm,
    till what I feel
    is almost fear. And when I hear
    the wind stir in these branches, I begin
    comparing that endless stillness with this noise:
    and the eternal comes to mind,
    and the dead seasons, and the present
    living one, and how it sounds.
    So my mind sinks in this immensity:
    and foundering is sweet in such a sea.



    Dolce e chiara è la none e senza vento,
    E queta sovra i tetti e in mezzo agli orti
    Posa la luna, e di lontan rivela
    Serena ogni montagna. O donna mia,
    Gia tace ogni sentiero, e pei balconi
    Rara traluce la notturna lampa:
    Tu dormi, the t'accolse agevol sonno
    Nelle tue chete stanze; e non ti morde
    Cura nessuna; e già non sai nè pensi
    Quanta piaga m'apristi in mezzo al petto.
    Tu dormi: io questo ciel, the sì benigno
    Appare in vista, a salutar m'affaccio,
    E l'antica natura onnipossente,
    Che mi fece all'affanno. A to la speme
    Nego, mi disse, anche la speme; e d'altro
    Non brillin gli occhi tuoi se non di pianto.
    Questo di fu solenne: or da' trastulli
    Prendi riposo; e forse ti rimembra
    In sogno a quanti oggi piacesti, e quanti
    Piacquero a te: non io, non già ch'io speri,
    Al pensier ti ricorro. Intanto io chieggo
    Quanto a viver mi resti, e qui per terra



    The night is soft and bright and without wind,
    and the moon hangs still above the roofs
    and kitchen gardens, showing every mountain
    clear in the distance. O my lady,
    every lane is quiet now, and night lights
    glow in the windows only here and there.
    You sleep, for sleep came easily to you
    in your still room. No worry troubles you,
    nor can you imagine
    what a wound you opened in my heart.
    Yes, you sleep, while I come to my window
    to salute this sky that seems so kind,
    and eternal, all-commanding nature
    who created me for suffering.
    I deny you hope, she told me, even hope;
    let your eyes never shine except with tears.
    This was a holiday. Tonight you rest
    from play, and maybe in your sleep
    you dream of all the men you charmed today,
    and those who charmed you, too; but I don't come to mind,
    not that I hoped to. So I ask myself
    what's left in life for me,



    O graziosa luna, io mi rammento
    Che, or volge l'anno, sovra questo cone
    Io venia pien d'angoscia a rimirarti:
    E to pendevi alloy su quella selva
    Siccome or fai, the tuna la rischiari.
    Ma nebuloso e tremulo dal pianto
    Che mi sorgea sul ciglio, alle mie luci
    Il tuo volto apparia, the travagliosa
    Era mia vita: ed è, nè cangia stile,
    O mia diletta luna. E pur mi giova
    La ricordanza, e il noverar l'etate
    Del mio dolore. Oh come grato occorre
    Nel tempo giovanil, quando ancor lungo
    La speme e breve ha la memoria il corso,
    Il rimembrar delle passate cose,
    Ancor the triste, e the l'affanno duri!



    O graceful moon, I can remember, now
    the year has turned, how, filled with anguish,
    I came here to this hill to gaze at you,
    and you were hanging then above those woods
    the way you do now, lighting everything.
    But your face was cloudy,
    swimming in my eyes, due to the tears
    that filled them, for my life
    was torment, and it is, it doesn't change,
    beloved moon of mine.
    And yet it helps me, thinking back, reliving
    the time of my unhappiness.
    Oh in youth, when hope has a long road ahead
    and the way of memory is short,
    how sweet it is remembering what happened,
    though it was sad, and though the pain endures!



    Passata è la tempesta:
    Odo augelli far festa, e la gallina,
    Tornata in su la via,
    Che ripete il suo verso. Ecco il sereno
    Rompe là da ponente, alla montagna;
    Sgombrasi la campagna,
    E chiaro nella vane il fiume appare.
    Ogni cor si rallegra, in ogni lato
    Risorge il romorio
    Torna il lavoro usato.
    L'artigiano a mirar l'umido cielo,
    Con l'opra in man, cantando,
    Fassi in su l'uscio; a prova
    Vien fuor la femminetta a cor dell'acqua
    Della novella piova;
    E l'erbaiuol rinnova
    Di sentiero in sentiero
    Il grido giornaliero.
    Ecco il Sol the ritorna, ecco sorride
    Per li poggi e le vine. Apre i balconi,
    Apre terrazzi e logge la famiglia:
    E, dalla via corrente, odi lontano
    Tintinnio di sonagli; il carro stride
    Del passegger the il suo cammin ripiglia.

    Si rallegra ogni core.
    Sì dolce, sì gradita
    Quand'è, com'or, la vita?
    Quando con tanto amore
    L'uomo a' suoi studi intende?
    O torna all'opre? o cosa nova imprende?
    Quando de' mali suoi men si ricorda?
    Piacer figlio d'affanno;
    Gioia vana, ch'è frutto
    Del passato timore, onde si scosse
    E paventò la morte
    Chi la vita abborria;
    Onde in lungo tormento,
    Fredde, tacite, smorte,
    Sudàr le genti e palpitàr, vedendo
    Mossi alle nostre offese
    Folgori, nembi e vento.

    O natura cortese,
    Son questi i doni tuoi,
    Questi i diletti sono
    Che to porgi ai mortali. Uscir di pena
    E diletto fra noi.
    Pene to spargi a larga manor il duolo
    Spontaneo sorge: e di piacer, quel tanto
    Che per mostro e miracolo talvolta
    Nasce d'affanno, è gran guadagno. Umana
    Prole cara agli eterni! assai felice
    Se respirar ti lice
    D'alcun dolor: beata
    Se to d'ogni dolor morte risana.



    The storm is over:
    I hear birds rejoicing, and the hen
    is back in the road,
    repeating her song. See, brightness
    breaks through in the west, above the hills.
    The countryside unveils,
    and the river shimmers in the valley.
    Every heart is happy,
    and everywhere the hum revives,
    the day's work starts anew.
    The artisan comes to his door
    singing, with his work in hand,
    and stares up at the glistening sky. The young girl
    rushes out to gather
    fresh rainwater,
    and the vegetable seller shouts
    his daily shout again
    from lane to lane.
    Here's the Sun returning, see him smile
    on hills and farms. The servants
    open windows, terraces, and loggias.
    And from the highway I can hear
    bells chiming in the distance; the carriage screams
    as the traveler sets off again.

    Every heart is happy.
    When is life as sweet,
    as much enjoyed as now?
    When does a man attend to what he does
    with such devotion?
    Return to work, or take up something new?
    When is he less conscious of his troubles?
    Pleasure, child of suffering,
    empty joy, effect
    of dread that's past
    which made the man who hated life
    tremble with fear of death,
    which turned the people
    cold and mute and pale
    and made them sweat and shiver in long torment
    seeing lightning, clouds, and wind
    arrayed against us.

    O gentle Nature,
    these are what you give us,
    these are the delights
    you offer mortals. Surcease from suffering
    is happiness for us.
    You dole pain with a liberal hand: grieving
    rises spontaneous, and the brief enjoyment
    that now and then by miracle and marvel
    is born of anguish, is great gain.
    Race of men beloved of the immortals!
    Happy indeed if you're allowed
    relief from sorrow, blessed when
    death cures you of all sorrow.

"Excerpted from CANTI: Poems by Giacomo Leopardi, translated by Jonathan Galassi, published in November 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by Jonathan Galassi. All rights reserved."


Excerpted from Canti by Giacomo Leopardi Copyright © 2010 by Giacomo Leopardi. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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