Monday, December 28, 2015

Giosue Carducci

The other day I tracked down an English language translation of Carducci's Barbarian Odes. Carducci is not well known in the English language, perhaps due to the scarcity of translations. This one, effected by William Fletcher Smith and published by the George Banta Publishing Co, in 1939, seems to have been financed by Smith himself. The quality is poor, and the copy I found, running 49 pages, had numerous scribbled typographical corrections made in the margins by a dutiful pencil.

Even to find it I had to track down a copy in an auxiliary library of stacks kept by the UC system, cloistered in a very pleasant facility in Richmond, CA. The reading room was very nice as well, and due to the short length I quickly read the small collection.

The poems were originally published in Italian between 1873-1889, and are split into three 'Books'. Themes are typically focused on the ancestral, the glory of Rome and Italy, the poets Dante and Homer, and similar subjects. A working knowledge of Classical myths and history is valuable, as no notes are provided. Characters such as Garibaldi make appearances alongside Romulus and the like.

Most of the poems are not very good. The title 'Odi Barbare' refers not to the content, but instead to the meter and rhyme employed. This was lost on me, albeit having a decent grounding in poetry. It was forgettable, in all. Yet in his heydey he was the national poet of Italy, and in 1906 the first Italian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Interestingly he was openly an atheist, and died in 1907, just after receiving his Prize, aged 71. His pre-Christian morality also lends understanding to the use of the term 'Barbarian' to describe the 50-odd poems contained within.

One stuck out, though, which I will go ahead and transcribe below:

At the Station in an Autumn Morning

     How sullen there behind the trees the street-lamps follow each
other, yawning light over the mud through the branches dripping
with rain.
     Wailing, sharp, grating shrieks the engine near. Around are the
leaden sky and autumn morning as a vast phantasm.
     Where and to what move these people muffled and silent as they
hurry to the dark coaches? to what unknown sorrows or torments
of far distant hope?
     You, o Lydia, give to the dry form of the guard your ticket and
to trampling time you give your beauteous years, your joyous
moments, and your memories.
     Along the dark train the watchmen hooded in black go and
come as shadows; a pale lantern they carry and hammers of iron:
and the iron
     brakes when tested give out sorrowful sound and long: from
the depths of the soul replies a woeful echo of tedium that seems a
     The coach doors hammered to closing seem outrages: a scorning
seems the final call that rapid sounds; on the glass panes heavy
grates the rain.
     Now the monster, aware of its metallic soul, smokes, quakes,
heavily breathes, unbars its eyes of fire: fearful through the dark-
ness it hurtles its space-defying whistle.
     The profane monster goes; in fearful train it carries away my
love beating its wings. Alas! the white face and beauteous veil
saying farewell vanished in the darkness.
     O face flushed with sweet pallor, o eyes star-shining with peace,
o white untroubled face mid luxuriant curls bent with movement
     Life was trembling int he warm air; summer was trembling
when her eyes smiled upon me, and the young sun of June was
pleased to kiss with flood of light her soft cheek
     in through the chestnut curvings of her hair: as a halo my
dreams more beauteous than the sun were enfolding her noble self.
     Under the rain in the dark mist I now return: and into these
would I lose myself; I stagger as one drunk; I touch myself  to learn
if I, too, am a phantasm.
     Oh, what a falling of leaves, a falling cold, unceasing, mute,
heavy on the soul. I feel that alone, that eternal, that through all
in the universe is November.
     Better for him whose sense of being has strayed away, better
this gloom, this darkening mist: I wish, I yearn to plunge me into
a nothingness that may endure forever.

No comments: