It’s been a while, so here’s some (translated) Petrarch!

A few friends, colleagues and students are getting together to sing musical settings of Petrarch’s poetry in St. John’s College, Oxford, on Thursday. For the occasion we’ve produced our own new translations of the poems we’ll be singing to go in the programme. I drew the not un-daunting lot of translating RVF 1, the first poem of Petrarch’s Canzoniere – his mission statement, if you will.

Here’s my attempt:

You, listening in scattered poems to the sound
of those sighs with which I nourished my heart
in my first flush of straying youth
when I was, in part, a different man than I am now,

for varied styles in which I weep and work out words
between vain hopes and pointless pain,
I hope I may find pity, forgiveness even,
in those who know love by ordeal.

But I can see clearly now how I’ve become
a long-told tale with folk at large
for which I am ashamed of me, myself;
and shame is the fruit of my meandering,
and regret, and clear bright understanding
that things which please the world are fleeting dreams.

And Petrarch’s original text:

Ritratto_di_francesco_petrarca,_altichiero,_1376_circa,_padova

A portrait of Petrarch from Padova

Voi ch’ascoltate in rime sparse il suono
di quei sospiri ond’io nudriva ‘l core
in sul mio primo giovenile errore
quand’era in parte altr’uom da quel ch’i’ sono,

del vario stile in ch’io piango et ragiono
fra le vane speranze e ‘l van dolore,
ove sia chi per prova intenda amore,
spero trovar pietà, nonché perdono.

Ma ben veggio or sí come al popol tutto
favola fui gran tempo, onde sovente
di me mesdesmo meco mi vergogno;

et del mio vaneggiar vergogna è ‘l frutto,
e ‘l pentersi, e ‘l conoscer chiaramente
che quanto piace al mondo è breve sogno.

I’ve tried to maintain, as much as the sense, the “mouthfeel” of the poem. The borrowing of this term from the language of coffee reviews perhaps reveals my other major vice apart from medieval Italian poetry…

What I mean is this: when I read a poem I get a certain subjective sensation of what it feels like to pronounce the words and I wanted to recreate that in my English version. I’m sure this is a common phenomenon. This sensation ties in with the sonic qualities of the text, the alliterations and assonances, the placement of plosives and nasals to put it in phonetic terms. So at heart, what I’ve aimed for in this version of RVF 1 is a phonic recreation, a sound translation as well as a sense translation. I hope you like it, and please to leave any thoughts, comments of responses below, I’d love to read them.

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