among headstones, under spires where the sky nests.
Dawns and lights in air; I've loved the sun,
colors of honey, now I crave the dark,
I want the smoldering fire, this tomb
that doesn't soar, your stare that dares it to. --Eugenio Montale
Opera's loss was poetry's gain. Eugenio Montale, the 1975 Nobel Prize winner in literature and one of Italy's greatest poets, originally aspired to be an opera singer. Born in Genoa in 1896, Montale was a delicate child, his health precluding him from getting a formal education; instead, he spent his youth reading philosophy, literature, and Italian classics, and training as a baritone. World War I found him serving as an infantry officer on the Austrian front. Upon his return to civilian life, Montale took up singing again, but after the death of his voice teacher in 1923, he abandoned his operatic hopes. Just two years later, he published his first collection of poetry, Cuttlefish Bones. Over the next 50 years, Montale would produce many poems in between his work as a journalist; Jonathan Galassi's Collected Poems 1920-1954, however, concentrates on three collections that are, arguably, his masterpieces: Cuttlefish Bones (1925); The Occasions (1948); and The Storm, Etc. (1956).
In addition to Galassi's excellent translations, two other things stand out about this book: one is that both Italian and English versions can be read side by side; the other is that Galassi has thoroughly annotated these poems, placing Montale's challenging work in its historical, cultural, and personal context. We are told, for example, that "Leaving a Dove" is, in part, about the poet's abandonment of an old lover for a new one. Such information adds piquancy to the imagery and depth to the reader's appreciation. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Library Journal
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“[A] superb translation . . . If one of the functions of a poem is to offer an alternative to dominant ways of thinking and feeling within a society, and even on occasion to offer an alternative to its own alternatives, then Montale’s Collected Poems: 1920-1954 is poetry of an unignorable kind.” —Nicholas Jenkins, The New York Times Book Review
“Galassi has lived with these poems, studied Montale’s prose, his letters and notebooks, studied the Italian critics who have commented on the poems lovingly (and learnedly), and he’s given his readers the benefit of his own long absorption.” —Robert Hass, The Washington Post Book World
“Galassi is that rarity, a translator of verse who almost totally effaces himself as an intermediary between poet and reader . . . His versions succeed so consistently because Galassi treats the originals as coherent wholes; he is alert to their shifts of cadence and he strives to recreate what might be called their prosodic argument, that syllabic counterpoint or accompaniment to the sense of the words . . . With this plump but amiable tome in hand . . . it is finally possible for English readers to immerse themselves wholly in Montale’s private universe.” —Eric Ormsby, Parnassus: Poetry in Review
“Galassi’s extending grasp of the figure he has translated anew with such effective tenacity includes a wide range of the intricate Italian scholarship and criticism of Montale (already an academic cottage industry: neither a communist nor a Catholic nor a fascist, the poet affords his ambitious exegetes a riot of good clean fun).” —Richard Howard, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review
“[A] superb translation . . . If one of the functions of a poem is to offer an alternative to dominant ways of thinking and feeling within a society, and even on occasion to offer an alternative to its own alternatives, then Montale’s Collected Poems 1920-1954 is poetry of an unignorable kind.” —Nicholas Jenkins, The New York Times Book Review
“The most impressive book that has come my way this year.” —Frank Kermode, The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A model of its kind.” —Edward Hirsch, The New Yorker
“Indispensable.” —Bernard Knox, The New Republic
“A brilliant afterword . . . offers the best short account I have yet come across of the nature, import, and elusive content of Montale’s work. Above all [Galassi] has a firm grasp of its extraordinary inter-connectedness both inside itself and within Italian and European culture as a whole . . . Excellent.” —Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books
“Splendid . . . [A] generous, illuminating selection of the poet’s total product has been wisely chosen, sensitively translated, and brilliantly annotated. How many young (and old) American readers will this handsome new publication introduce to the great poet? A large number, I should guess . . . Galassi does not just translate the poems; he gives them a shape, a context, a history. His copious, informed notes are as irresistably readable as his afterword and leave no textual stone unturned.” —William Weaver, The Yale Review
“Galassi’s volume is unlikely to be superseded for a long time.” —Jamie McKendrick, London Review of Books