Runner Up for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation Giacomo Leopardi is Italy’s greatest modern poet, the first European writer to portray and examine the self in a way that feels familiar to us today. A great classical scholar and patriot, he explored metaphysical loneliness in entirely original ways. Though he died young, his influence was enormous, and it is no exaggeration to say that all modern poetry, not only in Italian, derives in some way from his work.
Leopardi’s poetry is notoriously difficult to translate, and he has been less well known to English-language readers than his central significance for his own culture might suggest. Now Jonathan Galassi, whose translations of Eugenio Montale have been widely acclaimed, has produced a strong, fresh, direct version of this great poet that offers English-language readers a new approach to Leopardi. Galassi has contributed an informative introduction and notes that provide a sense of Leopardi’s sources and ideas. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the roots of modern lyric poetry.
“Like no other poet, Leopardi captures the subtlest sensations, just before they vanish. His language itself works as a vanishing act: it serves up all the richness of antiquity—gained from years spent steeping in Horace and Virgil—even as tones of skepticism and bitterness begin to eat away at that richness. What makes Jonathan Galassi’s translation of Leopardi’s poetry so superb is that he understands, and renders, that delicate movement of thought and feeling. Galassi, the author of a magnificent translation of Eugenio Montale’s poetry as well as two collections of his own poems, brings Leopardi’s Canti alive by virtue of a flexible and unpretentious English idiom. Galassi, who is also the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, strives for accuracy throughout, but above all he works to make his translations living poems. The diction in these versions rightly conjures the 19th century, but never smells of a wax museum . . . The publication, at last, of a definitive English version of the Canti should constitute an event in itself. But this book does something even greater . . . Now, [Leopardi] may become as important to our own literature as, say, Baudelaire or Rilke, poets of comparable genius, whose work has long been available in fine translations . . . When the otherwise authoritarian Count Monaldo Leopardi opened his library to his preadolescent son, and allowed the boy to spend whole days there, that small permission changed world literature for good. Who knows? The next great American poet may be a high school girl in Wyoming lucky enough to come across Jonathan Galassi’s translation in her own school library.”—Peter Campion, The New York Times Book Review
“Over the past half-century American readers have embraced the translated poetry of Rilke, Cavafy, Neruda and Akhmatova. Thanks to Jonathan Galassi’s edition of the Canti, it’s Leopardi’s turn now.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
Count Giacomo Leopardi was born in Recanati, a small town in the Italian Marches, in 1798. Renowned in his youth as a classical scholar, he suffered from poor health all his life and never experienced happiness in love. He visited Rome, Bologna, and Florence, but never fully broke away from his family, until in his last years he finally moved with a friend to Naples, where he died in 1837. The poems collected in Canti are Leopardi’s best-known and best-loved work, and in the eyes of many make him the greatest Italian poet after Dante. He also published the Operette morali, a collection of philosophical dialogues and essays that is considered one of the fundamental books in Italian literature, as well as numerous translations, critical editions, and other texts. His prodigious, immense Zibaldone, or notebook of literary and philosophical speculations, remained unpublished until the beginning of the twentieth century. (A complete translation is forthcoming from FSG.)
Jonathan Galassi has also translated the poetry and prose of Eugenio Montale and is the author of two volumes of poems, Morning Run and North Street.