SiStan ChapLee

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Somebody to Love

Torquato Tasso, Rime amorose [Love Poems], Milan: Società Editrice Sonzogno, 1909, pages 104, cm 11 x 17. The price was 30 cents, N.B. not 30 cents of one Euro, but of one lira, that would currently mean some 0.02 cents of one US dollar.

A brief but significant selection. Just, as a clear example of how deeply biased Italian criticism is towards our poet, the editor in the foreword starts by maintaining that he can freely omit Tasso's biography since it is "all too well known." Well, for one thing, he ignores that Tasso was gay, or 'bi' but mainly homo. But the most ridiculous statement is that the poet's misfortunes should be "ascribed, as to their very main cause, to his religious monomania, that was instilled in him from his early years, as a subtle venom, by Jesuit tutors."

This having been said, these poems -- sonnets and canzoni -- obviously follow the Medieval and Renaissance patterns while spicing them with typical Tassean ingredients: already Romantic landscapes, a sense of horror, Natural History (cf. Il Mondo Creato), the end of the world, etc. Very interesting is his witty re-use of classical lore, especially in the canzone Chi di mordaci ingiuriose voci, in which the chaste Diana / Moon is described as a slut by twisting her mythological adventures. Very interesting, too, is Tasso's way of quoting Dante: He usually cites from Paradiso, not from Inferno as it has become commonplace from the 19th century on; and, Dante's words are often inserted in a very different context, making them acquire a very different meaning. Here's an attempt to translate the sonnet Non potea dotta man ritrarci in parte, dealing with the Countess of Scandiano who had just given birth to a daughter.
No expert hand could portray, even in part,
The rays and gold of your eyes and hair,
Nor the great treasure disclosed by two lips,
Nor your roses strewn among the privets; (*)

No metal, or marble, or paper were worthy
Of containing their lights and their merits.
So Nature prepared to shape this beautiful
Work where, trembling, Art had to withdraw;

And out of your blood, of yourself, She made
A living, breathing image, in a little face
Expressing great things, unbelievably charming.

You enjoy, happy, mirroring yourself in her;
And she now recognizes you by your smile; (**)
And in her smile, others can admire her mother.

(*) Common Renaissance metaphor to hint at a woman's breast; more often with lilies than privets.
(**) Quoting Virgil's risu cognoscere matrem.