This recording was made by M. P. Lauretta for the Southend Poetry Group in August 2019.

 

Sonetto n. 7 dal Canzoniere

di Francesco Petrarca

La gola e ’l sonno e l’oziose piume
hanno del mondo ogni vertù sbandita,
ond’è dal corso suo quasi smarrita
nostra natura vinta dal costume;
et è sì spento ogni benigno lume
del ciel, per cui s’informa umana vita,
che per cosa mirabile s’addita
chi vòl far d’Elicona nascer fiume.
Qual vaghezza di lauro? qual di mirto?
— Povera e nuda vai, Filosofia —
dice la turba al vil guadagno intesa.
Pochi compagni avrai per l’altra via;
tanto ti prego più, gentile spirto,
non lassar la magnanima tua impresa.

 

English Translation

Glut and sleep and slothful feathers [feathers: metonymic for beds]
have banished every virtue from the world,
so that, having almost lost its way,
our nature is overcome by [bad] habit.

And so extinguished is every benign light
of heaven, by which human life is guided,
that he who wishes to bring down a stream
from Helicon is pointed out as a wonder.

What desire for laurel? what for myrtle?
‘Poor and naked you go, Philosophy’,
say the crowd intent on base profit.

Few companions you’ll have on that other road;
so much the more I beg you, gentle spirit,
do not abandon your magnanimous undertaking.

 

 

M. P. Lauretta lives in the U.K., where she enjoys watching (and writing about) nature and current events. She is currently working on two new collections: one of sonnets and one of villanelles. Her first collection is still available from Amazon, Apple iBooks, and Barnes & Noble.


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21 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Yeah, I know,M.P., that rhymes are damn hard to translate. That you made no effort to do so leaves us with not much of a poem (in translation) to chew on. I thank you, nonetheless, for making available the work of a great poet whose forms we love to imitate, but whose meanings are almost never revealed to us.

    Reply
    • M. P. Lauretta

      C.B., the whole point of this submission was the reading (the sound) in the original idiom. The translation was provided for meaning only so that non-Italian speakers could follow the reading and make sense of the emotion.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        M.P., I buy that, but what is the average Anglophone to make of, for instance, the “gn” consonant cluster? I happen to be aware of how “gnocchi” should be pronounced, but what of the others who are not? There are days when I wish I were fluent in every language, and this is one of them.

      • Monty

        Well said, MP: and, in the course of your translation, I applaud your lack of concern about rhymes.

        I don’t know anything about Petrarch other than that he (presumably) existed, and he had a ‘form’ named after him. What’s more, I don’t generally care for translations, with most of the ‘originals’ being the so-called Classics; hence coming from an age in which I have no poetical interest or persuasion (only the 1700’s onwards for me, I’m afraid – poets more tangible; poets I can be sure existed and not a myth) . . but I have read a few on these pages in the last cuppla years (normally, just out of curiosity; to see how a poem looks, visually, in another language): and on some occasions, I’ve been astounded to find that the English version is perfectly rhymed from start to finish.

        This always arouses my suspicion! I can’t help feeling that – in a 16-20 line translation – for the translator to find 16-20 perfect rhymes . . then some part of the translation must’ve suffered somewhere. There’s no way that on 16-20 occasions they could’ve come-up with the best possible word they can think of to translate a certain feeling/sentiment . . and each time that word happened to rhyme perfectly with another such word nearby. There simply HAS to be some occasions where the original meaning is slightly stretched or diluted in order to accommodate a perfect rhyme.

        Thus, hats off to you, MP, for your courage and conviction in dispensing with rhyme altogether in order to convey what you evidently believe to be the truest and purest translation. Like I said, I’ve got no interest in Petrarch; but if I did, and I was keen to read one of his poems in English . . I get the feeling that I’d trust your translation above anyone else’s.

        p.s. In my own modest evaluation of what constitutes a ‘real’ poem, I’d say that the only time one can be excused for writing a poem containing no rhymes . . is when one’s translating. Who needs rhymes in a translation? We’ve got rhymes everywhere.. everyday.
        But when we’re reading a translation from a language with which we’re not familiar . . we should only ask for meaning and truth.

      • M. P. Lauretta

        Dear Monty

        I must confess I have also wondered whether rhymes in translation might sometimes be achieved by changing the meaning.

        Perhaps I am too much of a purist, but my main problem with poems in translation is that the translation ends up being a different poem, a different product.

        So here I provided a translation that is not a poem. It preserves, as far as possible, the line structure so it can guide the non-Italian speaker visually through the sonnet, but it deliberately refuses to be a poem.

        The poem remains Petrarch’s glorious original.

        To me a poem is inseparable from its native building blocks; the words, the phrases – and, above all, the sounds.

        For example, if you have an English poem which, say, alliterates some sibilants to express a particular mood, but the language you translate it into does not offer words with the same meanings that also start with sibilants, that poetic device is completely lost.

        Then you have words that have the same meaning in any two languages but not the same connotations, so again quite a lot is lost, especially if connotation was originally used as a poetic device.

        And of course languages slice up reality in different ways. For example in Italian ‘nephew’, ‘niece’, ‘grandson’ and ‘granddaughter’ all translate as ‘nipote’ (you work out the rest from the context). And the Italian ‘prugna’ (sorry C.B., it’s that ‘gn’ sound again) and ‘susina’ (which are noticeably different fruits both in shape and flavour) both translate into English as ‘plum’.

        And of course we all know about Innuits having many names for snow…

  2. M. P. Lauretta

    C.B., you’ve lost me now. Of course consonant clusters can be pronounced differently in other languages, just as vowels are too, by the way. So what?

    You don’t need to be proficient in Italian to enjoy this recording because the translation is designed to guide you through it, precisely so that you don’t feel lost at any point. It takes you by the hand, so to speak. That was its sole intended purpose.

    Instead of worrying about not being fluent in every language, why don’t you just relax and enjoy detecting the familiar devices of iambic pentameter, etc. in what is, after all, a musical language – to say nothing of the lofty sentiment expressed in this poem?

    Why not enjoy what we share instead of becoming overly concerned over some pretty harmless linguistic differences?

    Let your hair down, put your feet up, and let timeless beauty transcend real or perceived boundaries.

    This is Petrarch for heaven’s sake! How can you resist Petrarch for writing in Italian?

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      OK, M.P., I didn’t realize, until I read your last reply, that there was a sound recording at the top. Now everything is clear. In regard to translations, it is difficult, but not impossible, to translate rhyming poetry. I wish you would read Richard Wilbur’s translation of Canto 25 of Dante’s Inferno and tell me how you think he did with that. In Helen Palma’s book of translations of Beaudelaire’s sonnets, she goes on at length in her introduction about the adjusments that were necessary to carry them off. For instance, the rhyme schemes might have needed to be altered somewhat, and certainly the end-rhymed words did not necessarily have the same meanings in the original and in the translation. Some authors (translators) refer to their renditions as “versions.”

      Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    M.P.

    After reading your translation I tried to discern the rhythm in the original (I don’t speak Italian). Only then did I listen to your wonderful recitation. As you say, Italian is a beautiful language. Thank you for sharing it in this way. How nice if every translator (who was able to do so) included a recording of them reading in the original language. Sweet.

    Also, noticing that Italian lends itself to feminine endings (as in every line of this sonnet), does Petrarch ever write sonnets with all masculine endings? or with mixed endings (as we often do in English)?

    Reply
    • M. P. Lauretta

      Dear James

      Thank you for your kind words, and I am so glad you enjoyed the recording. It means my submission achieved its purpose.

      You make a very good point about feminine endings in Italian and although I have not looked into this in any depth, I suspect it is to do with the language itself.

      The reason I believe Italian is so musical is because it has a fairly even distribution of vowels and consonants, which confers a certain overall smoothness. This has led some people to believe that meter in Italian poetry is syllable-based rather than stress-based as in English, but this is a misconception because it is in fact stress-based. Superficially it may appear syllable-based because of that even distribution, but that is because the stresses tend to coincide with the syllables, however, it is the stresses that set the rhythm, and that becomes obvious to me when I read a poem out loud.

      Now, it is not that Italian lacks words with masculine endings, but they tend to be either short words or verbs in future tenses, and because of their very nature masculine endings would introduce a certain choppiness which would break the customary smoothness.

      Although I write my poems in English, I suspect if I wrote in Italian I would only use masculine endings for a special purpose, e.g. to achieve a comical effect, just as in my English sonnet “My Lovely” (which is about my car) I use feminine endings because I think they are humorous in that context.

      I hope the above makes some sense.

      BTW, I am not a translator, and I cannot stress enough that the translation here is not the poem but merely a handy key to it.

      Reply
  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Italian meter is definitely stress-based, rather than syllabic. But the standard Italian line (which Petrarch uses here) is hendecasyllabic in structure. There are always eleven syllables, even when the lines have feminine endings. This is unlike the standard English iambic pentameter line, where a feminine ending pretty much means that the line will have more than the expected ten syllables.

    Of course, since the majority of Italian words end with a vowel, there is much more scope for elision in the Italian hendecasyllabic line than there is in English, where the elisions are usually medially located within a given word. In the above sonnet, there are two elisions in the first line, and almost every other line has at least one.

    Reply
    • M. P. Lauretta

      Hmm… now you’ve made me curious.

      Can you point me in the direction of a sonnet in Italian that uses only masculine endings?

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        No, such a sonnet would be highly unlikely in standard Italian — either that, or strangely comical. Words such as “piu” or the various single-syllable personal pronouns don’t fit easily at the end of an Italian verse.

        There are some Italian dialects where more words end with a final stress than in Tuscan, so perhaps such a sonnet would be more likely in those dialects.

      • M. P. Lauretta

        Yes, that’s exactly what I thought, it would be very unusual, and in Italian I would certainly use it for comical effect.

        Indeed, some Italian dialects do have more words ending with a final stress, so you have pointed me in the right direction after all.

        I’m going to have a look in my collection of Trilussa’s sonnets (very funny).

  5. Buceli da Werse

    The beauty of Petrarca’s sonetto is rendered beautif’lly in M. P. Loretta’s rendition of it. Ms. Loretta is right to suggest “Italian is so musical…because it has a fairly even distribution of vowels and consonants, which confers a certain overall smoothness.” Is it any wonder that, Chaucer, in the Renaissance, was enamored with that great flourishing of Italian literature at the time of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarca, and modeled much of his poetry upon ‘t. I cannot think of a single writer in English whose poems are as translucent as the great Italian writers. [T. S. Eliot thought Shelley our most linguistically Italianate writer; I think, rather, Chaucer.]

    I love the casual opening of Petraca’s sonetto, “La gola e ’l sonno e l’oziose piume,” and then the surprising predicate. What is also remarkable to me is Petrarca’s immediacy. But the conclusion of the ottava is as surprising to me as it is unusual, and perhaps self-serving, as breathtaking as the indictment I can’t but help feel while reading his lines. He too was beset with “la turba al vil guadagno intesa”, as we are in this New Millennium. [As an aside, I think the crowd intent on “filthy lucre” is far worse now in America than it was in northern Italy in the early Renaissance; and yet, that brings excitement and energy as well.] O, that other road is a hard one. Yet notice the musicality of his language “Pochi compagni avrai per l’altra via…”. His pleading not to abandon his magnanimous enterprise is one that touches my inner soul, so far am I from it at times.

    Reply
    • M. P. Lauretta

      Amen.

      As far as English poets are concerned, I think Samuel Daniel is unfairly neglected these days, although he was quite influential in his day and was even emulated by Shakespeare.

      Here is my favourite Samuel Daniel sonnet:

      Care-charmer Sleep, son of the sable Night,
      Brother to death, in silent darkness born,
      Relieve my languish and restore the light,
      With dark forgetting of my cares, return!

      And let the day be time enough to mourn
      The shipwreck of my ill-adventur’d youth;
      Let waking eyes suffice to wail their scorn
      Without the torment of the night’s untruth.

      Cease Dreams, th’imagery of our day desires,
      To model forth the passions of the morrow;
      Never let the rising Sun approve you liars,
      To add more grief to aggravate my sorrow.

      Still let me sleep, embracing clouds in vain,
      And never wake to feel the day’s disdain.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        M.P. I swear I had never heard of Samuel Daniel until this moment. The sonnet you cite is exquisite. I shall explore his work post haste! Retirement allows for indulging the luxury of such diversions! Thank you for the introduction.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Daniel also wrote an important prose essay, “A Defence of Rime,” around 1603. It was not as influential as Sir Philip Sidney’s “Apology for the Art of Poesy,” but it did defend the use of rhyme in English verse at a time when there was still serious opposition to it from classicists.

      • M. P. Lauretta

        Care-charmer Sleep is from Delia, which is a cycle of sixty sonnets.

        In 1930 Harvard University Press published Delia together with A Defence of Ryme, which as Joseph Salemi rightly points out is an important essay. That book went through several reprints and is currently over $300 on Amazon.

        The good news is you can grab a digital copy for free here: https://archive.org/details/poemsanddefenceo1930dani

        Grab it before it disappears, as these things often do! 😉

        His Complete Works is also available there if you do a search.

        Samuel Daniel was heavily influenced by Petrarch’s work and travelled to Italy several times, however, he came to the conclusion that what is now referred to as the English (or Shakesperian) sonnet form (3 quatrains and a final couplet) is better suited to the English language (and I totally agree with him).

        Samuel Daniel was a master of the form and if you read Delia you will see how much Shakespeare ‘borrowed’ from him. (I don’t mean to belittle the Bard, but the similarities are obvious.)

        I think it’s high time Samuel Daniel was rediscovered and given credit for his marvellous work.

  6. M. P. Lauretta

    Ciao David

    Grazie dell’invito!

    By the way, I love your website (so much so that I already had it bookmarked) and I am flattered by your invitation.

    I will email you when I get a moment.

    ATB

    M. P.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      M.P.

      As I read Daniel’s “Delia” this afternoon I was moved to write the following. As I said earlier, thank you for the introduction:

      What Folly Dares

      What folly dares inflict its spectral pow’r
      To grieve my love and I who burn to love her?
      For some deceit has in this bitter hour
      Transformed me into a forsaken lover.
      Where once the light and warmth of love prevailed
      Now darkened chill of scorn leaves me betrayed.
      Such scorn, as like a lance, leaves me impaled
      And left to die, bewildered and dismayed.
      Let truth rise up and smite the poisoned lie
      That turned her tender heart away from mine.
      And though she spurn me till the day I die,
      My love I’ll ne’er surrender nor resign.
      In troth, I vow, while faith and hope remain,
      To prove my love and win her heart again.

      Reply

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