Critical Inquiries on Leopardi
1. The Making of Leopardi in English
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1 The Making of Leopardi in English
In the introduction to his Imitations, Robert Lowell famously remarked: ‘I have been reckless with literal meaning, and laboured hard to get the tone’.1 The poet’s aim was to recapture the tone of the original; that which resists transference into a different language and cultural system. He wanted his poems to convey what the original authors could have written, if they were writing in twentieth-century America. Lowell was making clear reference to a long-rooted tradition of translation theories, including John Dryden’s notion of mimesis, and the anti-literalist views of writers closer to his age, such as Boris Pasternak who, notably, professed his scepticism for all translations focusing on the literal meaning rather than the tone of a poem.2
The hybrid nature of Lowell’s imitations has since fuelled debates on the manner and purpose of translating practice, and on the metaphors of translation, in particular.3 His versions of Leopardi, in addition, have become a significant landmark for assessing recent approaches on the ← 21 | 22 → Italian in the English-speaking world. Lowell’s renditions of ‘L’infinito’, ‘Il sabato del villaggio’, and ‘A Silvia’ – albeit, at times, factitious, and presenting some glaring inaccuracies – typify the outcome of a difficult dialogue between two poets from different times and places. In the words of Alfredo Rizzardi, ‘Il costante allontanarsi dal testo originale […] è per Lowell un modo di vivere – in altra situazione, in altro tempo, in altro ritmo del mondo – le...
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