The Issue of Rhythm, Metre, Rhyme in Poet-Translators

Ungaretti, Montale and Shakespeare’s Sonnets

By Anna Fochi (Cardiff University, UK)

Abstract & Keywords


Significant developments in theoretical and descriptive Studies of Poetry Translation raise new critical questions even on long explored issues in literary criticism, offering new potentials for the critical appreciation of poems in translation. However, the link between the theoretical and methodological framework (notably established by Levý, Holmes, Lefevere or Bresson and Mattioli), and the practice of translation criticism still needs to be more distinctively explored and further verified on the field. It is the intention of this article to attempt a step in this direction, by proposing an exemplary case study, centred on the debated problem of rendering verse, rhyme and metre in translation, which has often been the object of prescriptive attitudes in literary criticism. For this reason two pre-eminent Italian Poet-Translators (Giuseppe Ungaretti and Eugenio Montale) are chosen, and their idiosyncratic metrical choices as translators of Shakespeare’s Sonnets are approached in a more historicizing and problematizing perspective. The case-study examines the poets’ decisions regarding metre, rhyme and rhythm, deconstructing their influence on both the translation process and the reception of the texts in translation. Therefore, the focus will be primarily on critical observation, rather than on evaluation, and the final judgment on the two poets’ results will be deliberately left open to individual response.

Keywords: literary translation, poetry translation, verse poetry, translation criticism, shakespeare’s sonnets, ungaretti, montale

©inTRAlinea & Anna Fochi (2011).
"The Issue of Rhythm, Metre, Rhyme in Poet-Translators", inTRAlinea Vol. 13.
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1. The twilight of normative approaches in translation

It has become a shared view within Translation Studies that normative and prescriptive approaches as well as too rigid dichotomies are not the best methods to employ. “Stabilire a priori come debba essere una traduzione è un’idea analogamente assurda al voler stabilire a priori come debba essere un’opera d’arte”[1], as Emilio Mattioli argues (Mattioli 2005a: 190).

However, the issue still appears to be of crucial relevance when dealing with the specific experience of translating verse poetry, as James Holmes already noted more than forty years ago.

What should the verse of a metapoem be? There is, surely, no other problem of translation that has generated so much heat, and so little light, among the normative critics. Poetry, says one, should be translated into prose. No, says a second, it should be translated into verse, for in prose its very essence is lost. By all means into verse, and into the form of the original, argues a third. Verse into verse, fair enough, says a fourth, but God save us from Homer in English hexameters (Holmes 1988: 25)

Although such normative and rigid positions tend to be abandoned in Translation Studies, the problem of how to render foreign verses remains a core aspect for both poetry translators and their critics. After all, the attention devoted to it is understandable. If we accept the idea that translation is an intricate process of decision-making where every step determines successive ones, it is not difficult to understand why the decision regarding the verse form to be used is so important. It is usually made at a very early stage in the entire process and consequently, it “can be largely determinative for the nature and sequence of the decisions still to come” (Holmes 1988: 25); even more so, because of the different semantic density of languages, which can strongly influence the development of diversified metrical structures as well as determining the possibilities of finding translating verse equivalents (see Levý 1993: 13-15). For example, the English language has a greater semantic density than the Italian language, and this inevitably leads to different prosodies and different systems of versification in the two languages, with stress-timed English versus syllable-timed Italian (see Raffel 1988: 21-22).
Clearly, it is not a minor decision, a decision that would not be right to take, or to judge, mechanically and aprioristically. Thus, Mattioli’s axiom sounds particularly appropriate here: choices in translation are for the translator only, and it would be a theoretical error to try to introduce predictable criteria whereas translation cannot be foreseeable (Mattioli 2005a: 190).

Different possible solutions are open for translators when faced with the choice of what verse form to adopt. However, it is important to remember that these solutions can never be seen as innocent choices, since each type of form, by its very nature, opens up certain possibilities, while at the same time closing others. James Holmes is certainly the first theorist who has fully studied and highlighted the complexity of the problem, reflecting also on his personal experience as poetry translator, when he has always meaningfully opted for what could be defined as an open and flexible approach, not pre-determined but based on the analysis of each individual text to be translated[2].

In line with Holmes, the need to avoid pre-conceived rules is strongly recommended also by André Lefevere, who points out that, in some cases, solutions such as metrical translation, as well as rhyme and blank verse forms, can even become “very rigorous straitjackets” for the translator, and therefore should never be taken lightly or automatically (Lefevere1975: 98-99).

The relevance of such propositions for the translation criticism of verse poetry is equally high. However, the notion of translation as a complex and interconnected process of decision-making, with the necessary corollary of the crucial role played by the initial metrical choices for the making of the whole text, often tends to be overviewed in the reading of translated verse poetry. That is the reason why we believe that a focalization on the specific issue of meter, rhyme and rhythm, in the light of both Holmes’ and Lefevere’s theoretical reflections, can shed new light and meanings onto the critical study of poetry in translation, even when the texts chosen have already been amply analyzed and explored. For this reason we have chosen the peculiar experience of two major Italian poet-translators, Giuseppe Ungaretti and Eugenio Montale, whose translations of Shakespeare’s Sonnets can be taken as an exemplary case-study, in so far as it highlights the peculiar relation of their distinctive metrical choices with both the development of their translations, as well as their reception by the target literary arena.

2. Ungaretti’s and Montale’s metrical choices[3]

The 1609 in-quarto edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets comprises 154 poems; Montale translated only three of them, while Ungaretti’s selection includes 40 sonnets. Although in both cases there have been different editions, sometimes with interesting variants and amendments, the two translations can be regarded as almost contemporary. The first edition of Ungaretti’s 40 Sonetti di Shakespeare is dated 1946[4], while Montale’s Quaderno di traduzioni was published two years later, in 1948. It is important to point out that in the introductory note to this first edition, Montale refers to his three Shakespearean sonnets as rifacimenti; in other words, as poetic rehashing or re-creation rather than canonical translations. 

The two translations are the result of highly individual approaches, and the first striking difference can be observed at the formal level. We are indebted to Holmes for the identification and study of the main types of possible solutions chosen by translators. For example, according to him, when an analogical form (a form with a parallel function within the target poetic tradition) is chosen, the effect is to bring the foreign poem within the native tradition; in other words, to naturalise it. Whereas the mimetic form rather has the effect of re-emphasising the strangeness, the distance, since it does not interpret the translated text in terms of the native tradition, thus requiring “the reader to stretch the limits of his literary sensibility, to extend his view beyond the bounds of what is recognized as acceptable in his own literary tradition”. Moreover, both the mimetic and the analogical form are based on an essentially mechanical approach[5], whereas the content-derivative form is more an organic form[6].

Unlike Ungaretti, Montale’s focus is clearly, and primarily on the form. Not only does he prefer to translate the English sonnets in hendecasyllables, but he also decides to use rhymes. The hendecasyllable is traditionally chosen as the Italian analogical verse form for the iambic pentameter (“il corrispettivo più funzionale nel quadro della nostra tradizione letteraria”, Musatti 1980: 131- “the most functional analogical form in our literary tradition”, [my translation]). In this regard, therefore, Montale respects a prevailing translation canon, and his choice can be interpreted as a domesticating decision. However, on the other hand, he also opts for a mimetic choice regarding the overall metrical structure. Thus, through rhymes (or rather through an artful alternation of rhymes, half-rhymes and strong assonances), he recreates the structure of the Elizabethan/Shakespearean sonnet, based on three quatrains and a final couplet, with the scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Yet, to make the placing of Montale’s choices along the axis domesticating vs. foreignising even more problematic, he chooses a dignified linguistic register and noble rhymes, which are mostly rooted in the Italian highest and oldest literary tradition, constantly echoing the Stil Novo poets, Dante’s Divina Commedia  as well as Petrarch’s Canzoniere (Musatti 1980: 145). For example, in the translation of sonnet 22, the combination vv.1,3 credo : veda can be found fifteen times in Dante’s Divina Commedia and at least four times in Petrarch’s Canzoniere as either vedi : credi  or vede : crede. Moreover, Montale tends to convert the linguistic dynamism of the Shakespearean language (based on abundance of monosyllabic and short words, as well as on the recurrence of assonance and consonance at the end or within the line), into rhythmical dynamism (Lonardi 1980: 157-8). This explains the decision to avoid the coincidence of syntax and verse, introducing frequent run-on lines, especially in the final couplet. If the couplet of sonnet 22 shows a syntactical enjambment, in the couplet of Sonnet 33 Montale even introduces a syntagmatic enjambment[7].

Son. 22

Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gav’st me thine, not to give back again.

Spento il mio cuore, invano il tuo riprendere
vorresti:  chi l’ha avuto non lo rende.

Son. 33

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

Pur non ne ho sdegno:  bene può un terrestre
sole abbuiarsi, se è così il celeste.       

On the formal level, Ungaretti takes a completely different direction. Following Holmes’ classification, we can say that Ungaretti opts for a ‘content-derivative form’, thus moving from the poetical content and letting it take on its own unique poetic shape as the translation develops. Thus, Ungaretti does not use a rhyme structure, nor does he adopt any fixed metrical form. However, he does not translate in prose. The question of whether he translates in free verse has been debated by critics[8], but it is worth remembering that Ungaretti has repeatedly stressed that his verses are absolutely regular, although combined in flexible ways.

Ricordo, tra parentesi, circa la metrica, che i miei sono regolarissimi settenari e novenari, o novenari e settenari, oppure endecasillabi e quinari, o quinari e endecasillabi (Ungaretti 1967: 47).

I should incidentally point out that my lines are very regular settenari and novenari, or novenari and settenari, or hendecasyllables and quinari, or quinari and hendecayllables [my translation] [9]

Ungaretti’s sustained interest in metre and prosody, as well as his passionate study of the development of the main metrical forms in our lyrical tradition, are undeniable, and this explains his keen desire to defend his translation choices, by stressing its links with more canonical metrics[10].

Prosody, rhythm, textual harmony cannot be forgotten: it is an absolute rule for him, as his rather sharp criticism of Piero Rebora’s almost contemporary translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets shows (1941). According to Ungaretti, Rebora’s translation is “una corsa nei sacchi abbastanza duretta” (a pretty nasty potato-sack-race) due to its lack of rhythm (Ungaretti 1967: 36).

Interestingly enough, Ungaretti’s selection and translation has been recently re-printed   in a 1999 three-hand edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, published by Einaudi. This edition also includes texts by the French poet Yves Bonnefoy. Bonnefoy had already published his own selection of Shakespeare’s sonnets (where, however, only four poems coincided with Ungaretti’s choice), but was willing to integrate his translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets so as to match it completely with Ungaretti’s text. Although Bonnefoy is translating more than fifty years later than Ungaretti, he shows a similar approach to the metrical issue. Bonnefoy is perhaps more radical in his statements, but fundamentally the two poets share the same belief. “Rythme et sens, produits l’un par l’autre” (rhythm and meaning produced one by the other), as Bonnefoy affirms, without in the least feeling obliged to take into account the structure of the Elizabethan strophe, nor the number or length of the lines of which it consists (Bonnefoy1998: 60). Thus, Bonnefoy echoes Ungaretti’s approach:

I novenari, gli endecasillabi, i quinari, non essendo per me mai schemi, non mi nascono dunque dopo trovate le parole, per partito preso; ma mi nascono insieme alle parole, muovendone naturalmente il senso (Ungaretti 1974: 573).

Since to me hendecasyllables, novenari and quinari are not fixed structures and thus they never come to mind after I have found the words, as if on principle; they always come to mind together with words, naturally influencing their meaning [my translation]

This statement from Ungaretti is not taken from his introduction to the Sonnets, but from an essay, Della metrica e del tradurre (On Metrics and Translation), which was intended as a response to Camillo Pellizzi’s critical review, and appeared in La Fiera Letteraria on October 3rd 1946. Pellizzi, who defines Ungaretti “un buon combattente” (a good fighter), admires his courage as a poet, because he has tried to approach a difficult text, “ci ha provato” (he has made an attempt), often even achieving some positive results. However, Pellizzi’s review is fundamentally negative, in particular as regards Ungaretti’s metrical choices. Referring to Ungaretti’s above mentioned statement about his use of absolutely regular verses, Pellizzi comments: “Non so cosa intenda Ungaretti per “regolarissimi”’ (Pellizzi 1946: 1 – I do not know what Ungaretti means by ‘very regular’ [my translation]). And the reviewer quotes lines which are the result of a free, not regular, novenario plus a regular settenario, or a combination of two regular settenari. He concludes that it would have been better if Ungaretti had openly adopted the free verse, perhaps simply taking Piero Rebora’ s work and ‘poeticising’ it. Pellizzi thinks that the only solution is to translate the sonnets in a structured metrical form, or otherwise limit oneself to an honest prose translation.

Ungaretti aveva dunque in mente un certo schema metrico italiano, ma poi non lo ha seguito, e la sua traduzione si può dire sia in verso libero. Se avesse adottato pienamente, per dir così, la disciplina di questa libertà, avremmo avuto forse un po’ più di Ungaretti, e anche, in più casi, una migliore esercitazione di poesia italiana […] Vien fatto di pensare che bastava riprendere il Rebora e cercar di dargli quei valori di poesia di cui più volte difetta (Pellizzi 1946: 1).

Thus Ungaretti was thinking of a certain Italian meter, but then he has followed another one, so that after all his translation is in free verse. However, if he had fully adhered to the freedom of this metrical style, we would have had more of Ungaretti, but also, frequently, a better example of Italian poetry […] Probably he just needed to take up Rebora and then only add those poetic values mostly missing in that translation [my translation].

Ungaretti’s passionate reply is a crucial key in understanding his poetics as translator. First of all, he rightly rejects the idea that poetical values can be mechanically added to any text, because that would mean reducing poetry and art to a mere form of embellishment, which can be distinguished from the content. Then, apart from defending the regularity of his novenari, used with similar ‘irregular’ patterns also by other authoritative poets like Carducci and Pascoli, he firmly stresses the close link between verse and poetic content in both his poetry and his translations.

Per me […] la regolarità d’un verso non è nel seguire gli schemi canonizzati dai trattati. E perciò i miei vocaboli hanno preso, nel Sentimento del tempo, per esempio – l’andatura di un novenario,  e lo considero regolarissimo - e l’uso ancora – con gli accenti fissi sulla 4° e l’8°, o sulla 6° e l’8°. Vi ricorrevo perché il raggiungimento armonioso del senso di questo o quel componimento, suggerivano, anzi esigevano, un simile novenario, d’una misura concepita, - e altrettanto si dica del settenario e del quinario in simili casi, - come quella d’un endecasillabo frammentario o, meglio, di elementi dell’endecasillabo. (Ungaretti1974: 74)

It is my opinion that verses are not regular because they adhere to canonical schemes. That is the reason why, for example, in Sentimento del tempo my words have taken up the rhythm of a novenario, which I regard as absolutely regular, and keep using it , with its fixed stresses on the 4th and the 8th syllables, or on the 6th and the 8th syllables.  I used that type of verse because the harmonious development of meaning in a poem would suggest, or rather would need, such a novenario, similar in its structure to a fragmented hendecasyllable, or even to elements of a hendecasyllable. Obviously the same could be said about settenario  or quinario in similar cases [my translation].

An example, taken from the sonnet (sonnet 2) which opens his selection, will help to clarify both Ungaretti’s and Pellizzi’s points of view.

Sonnet 2

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaze’d on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held.

Quando quaranta inverni // faranno assedio alla tua fronte
Scavando trincee fonde // nel campo della tua bellezza
L’imponente livrea // dell’ammirata giovinezza
Sarà ridotta a uno straccio d’abito // tenuto in poco conto[11].

According to Pellizzi, these are not regular verses. However, if we accept Ungaretti’s view, we could say that the first line consists of a settenario and a novenario; lines 2 and 3 of two settenari each; line 4 of a hendecasyllable plus a settenario. Besides that, if the quatrain is read aloud, paying attention to pauses, stresses, sinaléfe, its undeniable melodious qualities are fully confirmed[12]. Moreover, although this is not the rule in Ungaretti’s translation, in this quatrain two lines are rhymed (bellezza/giovinezza, thus highlighting two key concepts in the sonnet) and the other two are half-rhymes (fronte/conto). Then the balanced presence of three four-syllable words in line 3 should also be observed. They give the line a note of dignified admiration which visually and phonetically seems to expand the adjective proud of the Shakespearean text, and then creates a rhythmic contrast with the more fractured following line, thus phonically reinforcing the dramatic semantic opposition introduced by the quatrain. In this regard, then, we can understand Ungaretti’s insistence on the close connection between rhythm and poetic contents in his translations.

3. Different ideas of translation

We have already observed how both Holmes and Lefereve have amply stressed that a translator’s initial metrical choice is highly influential for the development of a text in translation. Certainly, as we will see, this is particularly evident with both Ungaretti and Montale, with the addition that in their case the different directions taken on the formal level actually reflect fundamental divergences on the very notion of translation.

Going back to the hot dispute between Ungaretti and the literary critic Pellizzi, there is at least one point on which the two agree. They both believe that there are only three possible ways to translate a poem: 1) a prose version, 2) a free poetic re-interpretation, 3) a proper translation. It is this third type which Ungaretti chooses. However, on the definition of this type of translation, his views are significantly different from those of Pellizzi. According to Pellizzi, a proper translation aims at an exact (fully equivalent) rendering, which rigorously begins from the metrical structure. Ungaretti, instead, conceives this third type as a text that aims to be an actual piece of poetry, and is therefore based on selective choices, while at the same still strives to respect the poetical content of the original text, starting from attention to the single word. He is aware that translation is a result of a necessary approximation (Ungaretti 1967: 46).  Yet, although he defines himself as a “modesto glossatore” (a modest glossator), that is to say, nothing more than an annotator and commentator, his view of translation is not even in line with the still-popular notion of translation as a mere transfer, from a source to a target. It is true that, as he openly affirms, translation is the result of a compromise between two spirits. But what comes out from his writings and comments on translation is a more ambitious concept of translation, based on the idea of a poet translator who is not really looking for a compromise, but rather strives to establish an intimate dialogue with another poet.

Unlike Ungaretti, Montale has left very few comments on his activity as a translator. However, it is still possible to derive his idea of translation from his direct and indirect activity in the field. As Gilberto Lonardi concisely highlights, Montale starts from the premise of the impossibility of ‘faithful’ translation.

Con Montale vale la regola che la traduzione è sempre infedele: ma per lui con l’aggiunta importante che l’infedeltà non è lo scacco involontario pagato alla ricerca di una fedeltà. Questa fedeltà non è, semplicemente, la mira più pressante di Montale. La mira è anzitutto alla forma, che, come l’apriori kantiano, sta sopra la realizzazione, l’hic et nunc del prodotto individuo, d’autore (Lonardi 1980: 154).

With Montale the rule is that translation is always unfaithful: however, he does not take it as an unintentional setback consequence of seeking after fidelity. Undoubtedly, Montale’s main target is not to be found in fidelity. His target mostly lies in the poetic form, which, like the Kantian a-priori, predominates over an author’s achievement and over the hic at nunc of an individual product (my translation).

In this, Montale appears to be clearly influenced by Benedetto Croce’s aesthetics, based on the notion that any work of art is unique and therefore neither transferable nor translatable. According to Croce, it is possible to interpret the content (the so-called ‘brutta fedele’ translation), but a translation which is ‘aesthetically faithful’ is simply not possible. What is possible, however, is the re-formulation of the aesthetic expression which will be based on the intuition and the new development of the original contents, after being mixed and melted in the ‘crucible’ by the translator’s own feelings and perceptions. The new expression, the new text, therefore, is a new entity, not to be regarded as translation: it will have a more or less similar content but expressed in a different form: thus, it will be an independent work of art although with a certain air of ‘family likeness’ (Croce1928: 19, 76).

Montale never abandoned this view, and in time his fundamental scepticism regarding the possibility of translation became even more pronounced, as the episode of the posthumous publication of Poesia Travestita in 1999 reveals. The booklet is a very peculiar collection of translations, based on an idea/wish of Montale, who in 1978 had presented it to Maria Corti: the idea is to take one of his lyrical poems Nuove stanze, from Le occasioni, and have it translated into Arabic. From that moment on, his paternity of the poem should be kept secret and the text, attributed to an unknown Arabic poet, should be translated into French, and then, in sequence, into Polish, Russian, Czechoslovak, Bulgarian, Dutch, German, Spanish, to finally go back to Italian.  As Maria Corti reports:

A suo parere la poesia alla fine del trattamento sarebbe stata del tutto irriconoscibile; me lo disse con un gradevole, consueto risolino ironico (Montale 1999: 7).

In his mind the poem would be absolutely unrecognizable at the end of the process: he said that with his pleasant typical snigger [my translation].

Montale’s idea of translation is clearly traceable also in his three sonnets from Shakespeare, which, as already mentioned, he significantly defined ‘rifacimenti’ and ‘motivi’, rather than translations. They have been amply studied and reviewed, and have been almost unanimously praised above all for being convincing pieces of poetry in themselves: unmistakably ‘Montalian’ perhaps, but continuously attentive to the lyric tone, or rather, to the Italian canon of lyric poetry.  Critics have also pointed out how this effect is necessarily connected to the compressing and cutting of the Shakespearean sonnets. Yet, this solution is in general fully accepted, since it is seen as an inevitable consequence of Montale’s implicitly appreciated decision to adopt rhymed hendecasyllables although translating from a language with a greater linguistic density. Montale’s ‘condensing’ is praised because it is seen as functional to the development of a text which is “a more coherent Italian poem” (Musatti1980: 132-3 and Talbot 1995: 82). Moreover, by ‘simplifying’ Shakespeare’s ‘exuberant’ and often ‘too complex’ images, Montale’s translation is also praised because it more effectively conveys an otherwise complex and perhaps distant text. Thus, it would be to Montale’s merit to have made these sonnets, and Shakespeare himself, more acceptable and finally more enjoyable for the contemporary Italian reader (Meoli Toulmin1971: 460).
The translation of sonnet 33 is certainly the one to have received most critical attention, because it is the only one that offers a direct comparison between Ungaretti and Montale (see Appendix).

In point of fact, however, it is rather Montale’s translation which has been especially analyzed and commented. In particular we can refer to Musatti’s attentive and sophisticated reading for a full appreciation of the poetic qualities of Montale’s text. However, in the specific context of this paper, we only want to focus on the type of cutting and compressing adopted by Montale in his text, which is certainly worth some further studying. The articulation of the English sonnet is thematically fairly simple and clearly structured, but it is actually based on a complex connotative orchestration. The first quatrain, which thematically describes a natural event, is already a very rich network of metaphorical registers and cultural codes connected to the idea of the “great chain of being” and to the notion of world harmony. Thus the sun is seen as a king, the top of the medieval symbolical pyramid, and also as an alchemist who interprets the sacred and vitalizing power of nature, a power which is similar to the totalizing and healing power of the holy king. This certainly gives special relevance to the anthropomorphic vision on which the whole sonnet is built (see Shakespeare/Serpieri 1995: 456-461). However, as Meoli Toulmin clearly demonstrates, Montale avoids, or at any rate strongly dilutes, any anthropomorphic echo in the first two quatrains of his translation, reducing it to a mere poetical image. It is a solution which the critic has no problem in finding perfectly justifiable, because it is functional to the creation of a more easily acceptable text and thus in line with her own implicit functional approach.

L’immagine così particolereggiata del mattino rivela nel testo originale molti tratti umani. I sostantivi eye, face, e visage, nonché i verbi flatter, kiss, permit e steal suggeriscono tutti, infatti, una personificazione; e l’importanza di questi attributi umani è confermata dalla costatazione che, in tutta la prima parte del sonetto, la parola sun non è mai usata. Solo all’inizio dell’ultima quartina [...] Shakespeare introduce finalmente la parola sun, che crea insieme una metafora e un gioco sulle parole sun (sole) e son (figlio). Montale elude ogni eco antropomorfica di questa immagine mattinale, riducendola ad una semplice figura poetica, l’occhio del mattino, il quale splende anziché blandire, bacia d’oro anziché baciare con aureo volto, e fugge infine, anziché dileguarsi di nascosto, com’è qui nel significato del verbo inglese steal [...]
Liberati da queste immagini complesse, forse un po’ incongrue per una fantasia italiana, i versi riflettono più fedelmente il linguaggio poetico abituale di Montale, e, pur fornendo un’idea parziale del pensiero di Shakespeare, forse lo rendono più accessibile ai lettori contemporanei (Meoli Toulmin1971: 459-460 – emphasis added) [13].

There are several human features in this very detailed image of the morning sun. All the nouns eye, face, and visage, as well as the verbs flatter, kiss, permit and steal evoke a personification. The relevance of these human features is then confirmed by the absence of the noun sun throughout the first part of the sonnet. Finally Shakespeare introduces the word sun, but only at the beginning of the last quatrain, at the same time creating both a metaphor and a pun, sun and son. Montale avoids any anthropomorphic echo in this morning image, reducing it to a mere poetic image, the eye of the morning, which shines rather than flatters, gilds through a kiss rather than kisses with golden face, and shuns rather than steals unseen, as the English text would imply […] Having got rid of such complex images, which might sound incongruous enough to Italian readers’ imagination, these lines better reflect Montale’s more habitual poetic language. Moreover, in spite of providing us with only partial insight into Shakespeare’s mind, they are likely to render it more accessible to contemporary readers [my translation].

Ungaretti does not share a target-oriented approach to translation. Thus, he tries to establish a closer semantic correspondence to the Shakespearean text (although with some lexical shifts), giving pre-eminence to the Shakespearian word rather than to the verse form. Obviously, also this choice has its own consequences, and he cannot create a text which is equally convincing, especially if judged using the same translation paradigms followed for Montale’s rifacimenti. Fundamentally, this sonnet, like all ‘his’ sonnets, is criticized for being a less coherent Italian poem.  At their best, Ungaretti’s sonnets are read as an interesting and admirable effort, which however seems to have stopped half-way, without fully adhering to any ‘canonical’ model of translation, as if he did not know which way to follow: “come chi volesse insieme volare e correre” (as someone who does not know if it is better to run or to fly, Pellizzi 1946: 2).

Thus, Ungaretti’s texts often tend to be overshadowed by Montale’s success. However, if different premises were followed, and different interpretants were applied[14], the nature of Ungaretti’s effort (if not the success) would certainly be easier to identify. We think that in order to better understand and analyze Ungaretti’s translation, we should draw on more recent contributions in translation theories and aesthetics. In particular, although Ungaretti apparently refers to a traditional notion of rhythm, his writings point to a more complex idea of the connection between metre, overall harmony and poetic content, which seems to point forward to Henri Meschonnic’s important contributions. Meschonnic retrieves the idea of the preplatonic notion of rhytmós as a form inherent to poetic subjectivity, and not external and preexistent to it. This type of rhythm is not characterised and defined in terms of measurement, repetition or of regularity in intervals and stresses, but rather in terms of modulation of a flux, and as such it has influenced the development of Translation Studies in Italy[15].

Il ritmo non è formalista, nel senso che non è una forma vuota, un insieme schematico che si tratterebbe di mostrare o no, secondo l’umore. Il ritmo di un testo ne è l’elemento fondamentale, perché ritmo è operare la sintesi della sintassi, della prosodia e dei diversi movimenti enunciativi del testo ( Mattioli 2002: 9]

Rhythm is never formalist, that is to say, it is not an empty form, a schematic set which should, or should not be shown, depending on the mood of the moment. The rhythm of a text is its founding element, since rhythm means synthesizing the syntax, the prosody and the discursive movements of a text [my translation].

Such a notion of rhythm is perfectly in line with Ungaretti’s continuous attention to both his own declared poetics and to Shakespeare’s poetics in the Sonnets[16]. His hope is that his translation will be the result of the meeting of these two poetics. As his numerous writings on the subject clearly show, Ungaretti’s approach to these sonnets does not represent any occasional interest in some isolated texts, but should be placed within a prolonged research work. His keen interest in the text and in their author (‘lo Shakespeare lirico’, Ungaretti 1967: 18) derives from a constant study of the development of lyric poetry throughout Europe, which leads him to a very careful, although highly personal, selection of authors and works from the Baroque tradition (see Tordi 1983 and Baroncini 1999). Thus, correct understanding becomes paramount for him.

[...] cercai nel decidere di attenermi sempre a quel modo che non staccasse dall’autore, il diretto, segreto contatto. Mi importava di dare, soprattutto a me stesso, un’interpretazione dello Shakespeare che non m’ingannasse (Ungaretti 1967: 20).

[...] when I had to take a decision, I always did my best to hold to the way that would not move away from a direct intimate contact with the author. What really mattered to me was above all to satisfy myself that an interpretation of Shakespeare would not mislead [my translation].

In this regard, Ungaretti could be taken as an indicative example of that close link between translation and criticism which will be a fundamental principle of Antoine Berman’s theoretical developments. Undoubtedly, in his translation poetics Ungaretti clearly stresses the need to base translation on attentive reading and correct interpretation of the text. Thus, his poems, whatever opinion we can have on the success of his efforts, can be seen as the fusion of consideration and poetical form, which, after all, is Berman’s stimulating view of translation as the result of critical reading: “la critique d’une traduction est celle d’un texte qui, lui-même, résulte d’un travail d’ordre critique” (Berman 1995: 41). Not surprisingly, Ungaretti is the only Italian name that appears in Antoine Berman’s list of XX century good translators (Violante Picon 1998: 25). 

This important aspect of Ungaretti’s experience is perfectly highlighted by Agostino Lombardo’s attentive reading of Ungaretti’s translation (1979). Lombardo, a great Shakespearean scholar and translator of Shakespeare himself, points out the important role Ungaretti’s translation played in the understanding and appreciation of the Sonnets in Italy. As Lombardo explains, when, in 1944, Ungaretti’s first selection was published, the knowledge of the Sonnets in Italy was still very poor and limited, almost ‘embryonic’. The few existing studies were basically focussed on extra-literary problems: the identification of the addressee, the identity of the young friend, the Dark Lady, etc. It is true that, in 1919, Benedetto Croce had had the merit of sweeping away all these false problems and had also detected the link between the Sonnets and Shakespeare’s dramatic production, but he still regarded them only as a minor production, a rather superficial, light form of poetry: poems of imitation, strongly affected by a fixed form which he found inadequate to true Shakespearean inspiration.

Instead, according to Lombardo, Ungaretti clearly demonstrates that he has identified the main elements of Shakespeare’s art in the Sonnets, starting from perhaps the main one: the concrete language on which they are built. It is this powerfully concrete language which distinguishes them from the conventional tone of traditional imitation sonnets, and, at the same time, shows that they are a text from a poet whose contemporaries were John Donne and the Metaphysical poets. As Lombardo stresses, Ungaretti has perceived the peculiarity of this language and how the Sonnets are more dramatic expressions than purely lyric texts. Thus, together with “il Petrarca degli energici momenti” (the Petrarch of the strenuous moments), it is Michelangelo’s less polished and harsher musicality that guides his interpretation (Ungaretti 1967: 21). Previous translators had wrongly regarded the Sonnets as a young imitation work (fundamentally in line with the Italian tradition of lyric poetry), therefore to be translated in a language which would easily place them within the more conventional Italian sonnet tradition[17].

Unlike them, Ungaretti’s translation has the merit of having highlighted this concrete nature of language, by endowing it with plastic strength and by surrounding it with those pauses and silences so typical of his own poetry, which probably would not have been possible if his translation had been guided by very different metrical choices. Thus, according to Lombardo, the text in translation develops its own effective rhythm, achieving the effect obtained in the English text by the recurrence of monosyllables and the consequent shifting of stresses.

Comprensione, anzitutto, della concretezza del linguaggio dei Sonetti, di un rapporto con l’oggetto che, mentre lo allontana nettamente dal linguaggio dei sonetti d’”imitazione”, lo dimostra – ciò che spesso si dimentica – creazione di un poeta che è contemporaneo di John Donne e dei ‘metafisici’ [...] Ma quella concretezza è posta ancor più in rilievo dalla traduzione, dove il procedimento fondamentale non è quello di sciogliere l’immagine in un’onda sonora che la sfumi ma, al contrario, quella di darle il massimo di plasticità e di risalto, a tal fine circondandola di quelle ‘pause’, di quei ‘silenzi’ [...] che sono tanta parte della poesia ungarettiana e che qui conseguono l’effetto che nel testo inglese si ottiene attraverso l’uso dei monosillabi e il conseguente spostamento degli accenti (Lombardo1981: 488-89).

Above all, an understanding of the concrete nature of the Sonnets’ language, and of its special relationship with reality which, while distancing this language from the conventions of imitation sonnets, at the same time reminds us that they are the achievement of a poet who is contemporary with John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets. [...] However this concreteness is further enhanced by the translation, which does not try to blur poetic images through waves of sound, but rather strives to endow them with as much plasticity and prominence as possible. For this reason images are surrounded by those pauses and silences [...] which play such an important role in Ungaretti’s poetry and that here achieve the effect obtained in the English text by the use of monosyllables and the consequent shifts of stress [my translation].

4. Conclusions: translation and the movement of language

Lombardo’s analysis has shown how Shakespeare’s Sonnets ultimately lead Ungaretti to subtly work on the language. The Sonnets fully integrate Ungaretti’s prolonged research into the inner renovation of the lyric word:  translation, thanks to its intrinsically metaliterary and intertextual nature, becomes for him an essential tool for excavating further within the unfathomable depth of the word.

However, the linguistic focus is also relevant for Montale, who explicitly mentions the role of verse translation as an indispensable experience in his struggle to transform the heavy polysyllabic Italian language: “per scavare un’altra dimensione nel nostro pesante linguaggio polisillabico” (to dig a different dimension into our heavy polysyllabic language [my translation] Luperini1986: 176). Essentially, Montale turns what could be seen as a fatal drawback for translation between distant languages into an important resource for his own poetry. Thus the differences in structure and speed between the two languages and verses actually prompt his experimentation and his search for alternative solutions, which ultimately reverberate on his later poetic work.  “Montale ama cercarsi una forma già data con cui fare i conti” (Montale loves to look for a pre-exixtent form with which to come to terms [my translation] Lonardi1980: 153), almost a sort of self-disciplined practice towards the development of a more dynamic lyric language.

At least in this regard, we could find a point of contact between so different translation experiences in this shared interest in the development of lyric language. Ungaretti’s and Montale’s translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets could even be read in the light of Friedmar Apel’s excellent definition of the good translator. Apel highlights an important aspect in both of Ungaretti’s and Montale’s experiences, since they are clearly based on the belief that languages are not static and poet-translators can therefore effectively contribute to their movement.

Questo scrittore opera per la lingua e nella lingua, ed è così un autore nazionale in duplice senso (Apel 2005: 155).

This writer works for and within the language: therefore he is a national author in two ways [my translation].

However, Montale starts from a different idea of translation, thus arriving at very distant results. Unlike Ungaretti, he follows a path that, although preserving the foreign rhyme scheme and the structure of the Elizabethan sonnet, rather moves in the opposite direction, and fundamentally brings the foreign poem closer to the traditional model and accepted canon of lyric poetry in Italy. In some respects naturalizing (choice of analogical verse form, noble rhymes and high linguistic register), and in other ways modernising (introducing rhythmical dynamism), Montale cuts and simplifies the Sonnets, which are all solutions that, partly at least, can be regarded as direct consequences of his initial metrical choices.

Opting for more fluent discursive and figurative structures, Montale recreates more functional lyric texts that can therefore be easily perceived as coherent Italian poems, indisputably within the native canon of lyric poetry. This has certainly influenced their final evaluation and appreciation in several critical studies, establishing the canonicity of his translation almost beyond question within Italian Studies. As Lawrence Venuti shows, “the translation of a canonical text can itself acquire canonicity, becoming a standard by which to evaluate competing retranslations or to pre-empt them” (Venuti 2008: 46). Apparently this is the case for Montale’s translation of the Sonnets, mostly thanks to the application of the dominant formal and thematic interpretants of Italian lyric poetry, which, being shared by both popular and elite readers, tend to become transparent and can therefore be perceived as perfectly adequate to the Shakespearian texts[18].

Ungaretti bases his translation on a very different idea of rhythm and verse, as well as on an idea of translation more in line with Antoine Bresson’s later developments. Ungaretti’s effort is to maintain an intimate dialogue with the author of the text, “lo Shakespeare lirico”, first hoping to reach him through the pages he is carefully reading, and then striving to give a new voice to the poetic content he has thus interpreted, hopefully without ‘betraying’ either the author or the very nature of poetry. This determines the ossimorical nature of his translation, dominated by an improbable ideal of ‘free faithfulness’ (Baroncini1999: 139). As already observed, it is an interesting and ambitious although difficult goal. Clearly, the risk lies in weakening ‘transparency’ and in undermining the reader’s identification with the text, as well as in producing less harmonious and coherent Italian poems, which is amply confirmed by the mixed nature of many academic reviews.

Certainly, his translation has reinforced the canonical status of the Sonnets in Italy, which until then had only been regarded as a minor work by Shakespeare. However, the powerfully concrete language of Shakespeare’s Sonnets is still seldom perceived by readers of Ungaretti’s translation, who, not sharing Ungaretti’s interpretant of these texts as fundamentally dramatic expressions rather than purely lyric texts, tend to ‘discard’ his translation project all together, at times without properly exploring it.

Thus this case-study confirms the persisting need for further development of proper literary translation criticism, based on the awareness of the specificity of literature in translation. The point is “to read translation as a translation” (Venuti 2008: 49). This implies a form of literary criticism necessarily differentiated from general literary criticism (Osimo 2000: chap.35), or, as Antoine Berman has shown, a hermeneutic analysis of a text which has its own peculiar status to explore. It is in line with Berman’s methodology, and in particular with its third step, that this article hopes to have highlighted the relevance of the translator’s personal research and project for the critical appreciation of the texts in translation. “La recherché du traducteur, pour préciser sa ‘position traductive’, et le projet dans lequel il a voulu s’engager” (the translator’s research, in order to define his/her approach to translation, and the project on which he/she has decided to embark), besides the other two fundamental steps in translation criticism: la lecture et relecture de la traduction (the reading and re-reading of the translation) and la lecture de l’original (the reading of the original text - Berman 1995: 65, quoted by Violante Picon 1998: 24).


Sonetto 33


Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchymy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But, out! Alack! He was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when the heaven’s sun staineth.


Spesso, a lusingar vette, vidi splendere
sovranamente l’occhio del mattino,
e baciar d’oro verdi prati, accendere
pallidi rivi d’alchimie divine.
Poi vili fumi alzarsi, intorbidata
D’un tratto quella celestiale fronte,
e fuggendo a occidente il desolato
mondo, l’astro celare il viso e l’onta.
Anch’io sul far del giorno ebbi il mio sole
e il suo trionfo mi brillò sul ciglio:
ma, ahimè, poté restarvi un’ora sola,
rapito dalle nubi in cui s’impiglia.
Pur non ne ho sdegno: bene può un terrestre
sole abbuiarsi, se è così il celeste.


Ho veduto più d’un mattino in gloria
Con lo sguardo sovrano le vette lusingare,
Baciare d’aureo viso i verdi prati,
Con alchimia di paradiso tingere i rivi pallidi;
E poi a vili nuvole permettere
Di fluttuargli sul celestiale volto
Con osceni fumi sottraendolo all’universo orbato
Mentre verso ponente non visto scompariva, con la sua disgrazia:
Uguale l’astro mio brillò di primo giorno
Trionfando splendido sulla mia fronte;
Ma, ah! non fu mio che per un’ora sola,
Il nuvolo della regione già lo maschera a me.
Non l’ha in disdegno tuttavia il mio amore;
Astri terreni possono macchiarsi se il sole del cielo si macchia.


Apel, Friedmar, ‘Il movimento del linguaggio e il problema della traduzione in Herder’, in Traduttologia. La teoria della traduzione letteraria, ed. by Franco Buffoni, vol. 1 (Roma: Istit. Poligrafico e Zecca dello stato, 2005a), pp. 149-155.

Baroncini, Daniela, Ungaretti e il sentimento del classico (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1999).

Berman, Antoine, Pour une critique des traductions: John Donne (Paris: Gallimard, 1995).

Bernardini Napoletano, Francesca, ‘Il barocco romano e la poesia di Giuseppe Ungaretti’, in Ungaretti e la cultura romana, ed. by Rosita Tordi (Roma: Bulzoni Editore, 1983).

Bonnefoy, Ives, ‘Traduire les sonnets de Shakespeare’, in Théâtre et poésie: Shakespeare et Yeats (Paris: Mercure de France, 1998).

Buffoni, Franco, ‘Traduttologia’, in Traduttologia. La teoria della traduzione letteraria, ed. by Franco Buffoni, vol. 1 (Roma: Istit. Poligrafico e Zecca dello stato, 2005), pp. 5-19.

Croce, Benedetto, Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e linguistica generale, 6th edn (Bari: Laterza, 1928).

Fochi, Anna, ‘Due paradigmi di traduzione. Ungaretti e Montale di fronte al sonetto XXXIII di Shakespeare’, Studi di filologia e letteratura, 2 (1978), pp. 211-220.

Holmes, James, Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1988).

Lefevere, André, Translating Poetry. Seven Strategies and a Blueprint (Assen/Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1975).

Levý, Jiří, ‘Il verso: l’originale e la traduzione’, Testo a fronte, 8 (1993), pp. 5-31.

Lombardo, Agostino, ‘Ungaretti e i sonetti di Shakespeare’, in Atti del Convegno Internazionale su Giuseppe Ungaretti – Urbino 3-6-ottobre 1979, ed. by Carlo Bo and others (Urbino: Edizioni 4venti, 1981), pp. 482-496.

Lonardi, Gilberto, ‘Fuori e dentro il tradurre montaliano’, in Il Vecchio e il Giovane e altri studi su Montale (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1980), pp. 144-163.

Luperini, Romano, Storia di Montale, (Bari: Editori Laterza, 1986).

Mattioli, Emilio, ‘La poetica del ritmo di Henri Meschonnic ‘, in Ritmologia. Il ritmo del linguaggio. Poesia e traduzione, ed. by Franco Buffoni (Milano: Marcos y Marcos, 2002), pp. 15-23.

——————- ‘La traduzione letteraria’, in Traduttologia. La teoria della traduzione letteraria, ed. by Franco Buffoni, vol. 1 (Roma: Istit. Poligrafico e Zecca dello stato, 2005a), pp. 187-198.

——————- ‘Poetica ed ermeneutica del tradurre’, in Traduttologia. La teoria della traduzione letteraria, ed. by Franco Buffoni, vol. 1 (Roma: Istit. Poligrafico e Zecca dello stato, 2005b), pp. 199-204.

Meoli Toulmin, Rachel, ‘Shakespeare ed Eliot nelle versioni di Eugenio Montale’, Belfagor, 21: 4 (1971), pp.453-471.

Montale, Eugenio, Quaderni di traduzioni, 2nd edn (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1975)
——————- Poesia travestita, ed. by Maria Corti and Maria Antonietta Terzoli, (Novara: Interlinea Edizioni, 1999).

Musatti, Maria Pia, ‘Montale traduttore: la mediazione della poesia’, Strumenti critici, 14: 41 (1980), pp. 122- 148.

Pellizzi, Carlo, ‘Ungaretti traduttore. I sonetti di Shakespeare’, La Fiera Letteraria, 1: 26 (3rd Oct. 1946), pp. 1-2.

Raffel, Burton, The Art of Translating Poetry (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988).

Shakespeare, William, I sonetti, transl. Angelo Olivieri (Palermo: Carlo Clausen Edit., 1890).
———————I 154 sonetti, transl. Ettore Sanfelice (Velletri: Lizzini, 1898).
———————I sonetti, transl. Lucifero Darchini (Milano: Biblioteca Universale Sonzogno, 1909).
———————I sonetti, transl. Piero Rebora (Firenze: Sansoni, 1941).
———————I sonetti, transl. Alessandro Muccioli ( Roma: Fratelli Palombi Editori, 1942).
———————Sonetti, transl. and ed. by Alessandro Serpieri, 2nd edn (Milano: Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, 1995).
———————Quaranta sonetti, French transl. Yves Bonnefoy, Italian transl. Giuseppe Ungaretti, ed. by Carlo Ossola (Torino: Einaudi, 1999).

Talbot, George, Montale’s Mestiere Vile – The Elective Translations from English of then1930s and 1940s (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1995).

Ungaretti, Giuseppe, ‘Difesa dell’endecasillabo’ (1927), in Vita d’un uomo. Saggi e interventi, ed. by Mario Diacono and Luciano Rebay (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1974), pp. 158-159.
———————‘Introduzione alla metrica’ (1937), in Vita d’un uomo. Viaggi e lezioni, ed. by P. Montefoschi (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 2000).
———————22 sonetti di Shakespeare (Roma: Ed.Documento, dec. 1943 - sept.1944).
——————- 40 sonetti di Shakespeare, 1st edn Gli Oscar (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1967).
——————- 40 sonetti di Shakespeare, critical edition, ed. by R.Terreni (Bologna: Archetipo Libri, 2010).
——————- ‘Della metrica e del tradurre’ (1946), in Vita d’un uomo. Saggi e interventi, ed. by Mario Diacono and Luciano Rebay (Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1974).

Venuti, Lawrence, ‘Translation, Interpretation, Canon Formation’, in Theorizing Translation and the Classic, ed. by Alexandra Lianeri and Vanda Zajko (New York: Oxford University Press USA, 2008), pp. 27-51.

Violante Picon, Isabel, Una œuvre originale de poésie – Giuseppe Ungaretti traducteur (Paris: Presses de l’Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1998.


[1]To establish beforehand what a translation should be like is as absurd as to define beforehand what a work of art should be like [my translation]. 

[2]To clarify his view, Holmes mentions two poems he himself has translated from Dutch. In his opinion, these two poems epitomize two distinctive situations on the formal level: if the first poem is highly individual and contained in an organic form developed for this poem and it alone, the other one is formally quite traditional. Thus Holmes takes two different translation strategies, deciding, in the second case, that there is little reason for the translator to concentrate on reproducing the formal level (Holmes 1988: 15-17).

[3]Ungaretti’s and Montale’s versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets have received much critical attention. In particular, on Montale, see: Meoli Toulmin,  Lonardi,  Musatti, Luperini, Talbot; and on Ungaretti, see: Pellizzi, Fochi,  Lombardo, Baroncini, Violante Picon.

[4]Ungaretti had published a more limited selection (twenty-two sonnets) in 1944.

[5] In both the mimetic and the analogical form the poet/translator first chooses a form into which he then “pours what he has to say” (Holmes 1988: 25).

[6]In the ‘content-derivative form’, content and form are viewed as one thing. “It is impossible to find any predetermined extrinsic form into which a poem can be poured in translation, and the only solution is to allow a new intrinsic form to develop from the inward workings of the text itself” (Holmes 1988: 28).

[7]Traditional run-on-lines create tension between the syntactical structure of the sentence and the verse form (‘syntactical enjambments’); therefore the rhetorical device has a peculiar relevance when the running on of the line involves a tighter syntagmatic structure, like adjective and noun, as it occurs in Montale’s translation of the final couplet of sonnet 33.

[8]For example, see Pellizzi 1946: 1-2; and more recently Meoli Toulmin1971: 458 and Talbot 1995: 79.

In Italian verse, meter is based on syllabic quantity rather than stress, although stress retains an important function. Thus, in Italian poetry, the defining feature of a hendecasyllable is a constant stress on the tenth syllable which usually means that the number of syllables in the verse is eleven. Similarly, a quinario is a verse with the main stress on the fourth syllable; a settenario on the sixth syllable; a novenario on the eighth syllable.

[10] If Ungaretti’s first important collection Allegria di naufragi (1919) is based on the revolutionary destruction of canonical metrics, the following experience of Sentimento del tempo shows important developments in his poetics and the gradual rediscovery and recreation of meter from ‘within the poetic word’. His keen interest in meter and rhythm is proved also by several essays and academic lectures: in particular, see ‘Difesa dell’endecasillabo’, ‘Introduzione alla metrica’ and ‘Della metrica e del tradurre’.

[11]All quotations of Ungaretti’s translation are from the 1967 edition, while Montale’s are from the 1975 edition of Quaderno di traduzioni.

[12]Sinaléfe (in Greek syn aleiphe) is a recurring metrical figure in Italian verse poetry: the concluding vowel of a word and the initial vowel of the following word are considered as one syllable from a metrical point of view. A famous example from Dante: “mi ritrovai per una selva oscura” (Inferno, 1°, 2). The sentence would consist of 12 syllables, but metrically, thanks to the sinaléfe between ‘selva’ and ‘oscura’ the verse is made up of eleven syllables.

[13]Incidentally, it is interesting to remember Lonardi’s comments on Meoli Toulmin’s approach: “Di fronte a tutto questo mi sembra ingenuo ogni tentativo (così un poco anche nel lavoro della Toulmin) di far quadrare i conti su una ‘fedeltà’ di Montale all’originale” (Lonardi 1980: 154 – Taking all this into consideration, I find ingenuous any attempt (in part even by Toulmin) to try to balance the books regarding Montale’s ‘fidelity’ to the original text [my translation]).

[14]For interpretant see Venuti 2008: 32.

[15]Instead Meschonnic’s work is still waiting to be translated into English.

[16]On the notion of poetics in translation, see Buffoni 2005a: 16 and Mattioli 2005b: 199-204.

[17]The Sonnets were first fully translated into Italian only in 1890 by Angelo Olivieri, followed by Ettore Sanfelice (1898); Lucifero Darchini (1909); Piero Rebora (1941), Alessandro Muccioli (1942).

[18]“To attain such a status [canonicity], a translation needs to meet at least two conditions: its application of dominant formal and thematic interpretants must be (or eventually become) so transparent as to seem true or adequate to the foreign text, and its literary value must be supported and increased by cultural and social factors such as copyright and market forces” (Venuti 2008: 47).

About the author(s)

Anna Fochi has got her M.A. at Pisa University, Italy, and a Ph. D. in Translation Studies at Glasgow University, UK. After a three-year co-operation with Glasgow University, she is teaching Italian and translation at the School of European Studies of Cardiff University, UK. Main fields of interest: translation studies and literary studies (English and Italian). Publications: chapters in edited books on translation studies and articles in Translation Studies (Routledge), Westerly, Studi di filologia e letteratura, Italianistica, Critica letteraria, Contesti, Lingua e letteratura. Editor and translator of an anthology of John Keats’s letters (Milano: Oscar Mondadori 2001).

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©inTRAlinea & Anna Fochi (2011).
"The Issue of Rhythm, Metre, Rhyme in Poet-Translators", inTRAlinea Vol. 13.
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