Folgore Da San Geminiano (c. 1250-1317)



Translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

These translations are taken from Rossetti's book Dante and His Circle (Roberts Brothers, Boston, 1893). The original Italian for some of the sonnets is taken from L. R. Lind's Lyric Poetry of the Italian Renaissance (Yale University Press, 1954). At the bottom of this page, I include some notes on translation excerpted from Rossetti's Preface to the First Edition (1861).

To illustrate the months, I have used pages from the book of hours, Le trés riches heures du Duc de Berry, painted in France between 1412 and 1416 (i.e. about a hundred years later). Much better and larger images are available at the Web Museum.

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Rossetti on Translation

. . . Much has been said, and in many respects justly, against the value of metrical translation. But I think it would be admitted that the tributary art might find a not illegitimate use in the case of poems which come down to us in such a form as do these early Italian ones. Struggling originally with corrupt dialect and imperfect expression, and hardly kept alive through centuries of neglect, they have reached that last and worst state in which the coup de grace has almost been dealt them by clumsy transcription and pedantic superstructure. At this stage the task of talking much more about them in any language is hardly to be entered upon; and a translation (involving as it does the necessity of settling many points without discussion) remains perhaps the most direct form of commentary.

The life-blood of rhythmical translation is this commandment,--that a good poem shall not be turned into a bad one. The only true motive for putting poetry into a fresh language must be to endow a fresh nation, as far as possible, with one more possession of beauty. Poetry not being an exact science, literality of rendering is altogether secondary to this chief law. I say literality,--not fidelity, which is by no means the same thing. When literality can be combined with what is thus the primary condition of success, the translator is fortunate, and must strive his utmost to unite them; when such object can only be attained by paraphrase, that is his only path. . .

. . . Of the difficulties I have had to encounter,--the causes of imperfections for which I have no other excuse,--it is the reader's best privilege to remain ignorant; but I may perhaps be pardoned for briefly referring to such among these as concern the exigencies of translation. The task of the translator (and with all humility be it spoken) is one of some self-denial. Often would he avail himself of any special grace of his own idiom and epoch, if only his will belonged to him: often would some cadence serve him but for his author's structure--some structure but for his author's cadence: often the beautiful turn of a stanza must be weakened to adopt some rhyme which will tally, and he sees the poet revelling in abundance of language where himself is scantily supplied. Now he would slight the matter for the music, and now the music for the matter; but no,--he must deal to each alike. Sometimes too a flaw in the work galls him, and he would fain remove it, doing for the poet that which his age denied him; but no,--it is not in the bond. His path is like that of Aladdin through the enchanted vaults: many are the precious fruits and flowers which he must pass by unheeded in search for the lamp alone; happy if at last, when brought to light, it does not prove that his old lamp has been exchanged for a new one,--glittering indeed to the eye, but scarcely of the same virtue nor with the same genius at its summons.