Versions of a Feminine Voice: The Compiuta Donzella di Firenze

I have just had an article on the Compiuta Donzella di Firenze, the first woman to whom any poetry is ascribed in the Italian tradition, published with Italian Studies, the journal of the Society for Italian studies. Apart from the obvious researcher-joy of getting a piece through peer-review and out into the world (though I feel duty-bound to note that I have no horror stories of reviewer 2, all three of my readers were constructive and helpful in their comments), I’m particularly excited about this article for a few reasons.

Related image

A ‘Donzella Compiuta’ (4th from left) in Francesco da Barberino’s Documenti d’Amore

First, this project marks the start of a new direction of travel in my research, in which I focus on representations of feminine voices and female characters (I get into the particularities of that terminology a bit in the article, though it’s something I’ll gladly admit that I’m still grappling with, from a theoretical standpoint). These two categories include texts written by women and men, though the distinction between these authors is not straightforwardly one of authenticity versus inauthenticity. If anything, part of this work is allow the possibility of ‘inauthentic’ feminine voices into the works of early female writers in Italy, which have (especially in the case of the Compiuta Donzella, the first named-albeit pseudonymously-female poet of the Italian tradition) been reduced to simplistic, anachronistically post-romantic expressions of biography or true feeling by much past scholarship (though not in recent work by Justin Steinberg and Katherine Travers and some others). Those reductive readings of the Compiuta Donzella’s poetry were fuelled by a veiled misogyny, which could not allow a female author the same freedom of rhetorical flourish and artifice as a male writer. Something I counter in this article.

My second cause for excitement is that the Compiuta Donzella’s work is truly intriguing, rhetorically deft, and incisively ironic, poking fun at masculine literary tropes of suffering a the whims of an unresponsive beloved, by contrasting them with the social depredations suffered by women at the time. The wry critiques of her poetic and social context are part of what made me so keen to write about the Compiuta Donzella, and I really enjoy her poetry, a pleasure I hope comes across in the article. (I’ll be putting up some translations of the sonnets on thie blog soon so that any non-Italian speakers can get more of a sense of how the Compiuta Donzella’s poetry plays out, even if I can’t hope to muster her rhetorical fluency in translation). To see the Compiuta Donzella’s poems in their original manuscript, go to the Vatican’s digitized manuscript collection and view them on folios 129v and 170r of the Vatican Canzoniere (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. Lat. 3793).

Last, but by no means least, Italian Studies has published a number of articles that have been really important to my research, so it’s really satisfying to see my work alongside that scholarship. And Here I want to repeat how positive the experience of publishing with them has been. The anonymous reviewers were constructive and helpful in their comments, even where critical, and the article is much stronger of their reviews, for which I’m really thankful (this has largely, if not entirely, been true of my experience of peer-reviewers over all, which speaks volumes of the kindness of (voluntary) academic strangers).

Here’s the abstract, so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

This article offers a detailed reading of the surviving sonnets of the poet known as the Compiuta Donzella di Firenze, paying particular attention to her performance of a feminine subject and critical engagement with common lyric tropes. A lack of biographical information about the Compiuta Donzella, the first woman to whom literary texts in the Italian vernacular are attributed, has led to speculation over her identity and ‘authenticity’, or to biographical readings of her texts. Acknowledging the same sorts of playful, ironic, and performative lyric subject and content in the Compiuta Donzella’s work that are commonly ascribed to other lyric voices allows us to appreciate the technical and thematic artifice in her sonnets. Comparative close readings of her surviving texts and some responses to them (by Guittone d’Arezzo, Maestro Rinuccino or Guido Guinizzelli, and an anonymous poet) provides a broader perspective on her work as engaged in active dialogue with the lyric context of thirteenth-century Italy.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00751634.2018.1402542

 

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Women on the Verge, University of Manchester

Fascinating call for papers on “the concept of femininity and gender representations, which are socially, geographically and culturally embedded. Furthermore, it focuses on the re-appreciation of women as creative and professional figures within the literary environment and the cultural marketplace (artists, authors, publishers, editors, translators and so forth).”

 

The University of Manchester, 16th June 2017 We are proud to announce Women on the Verge: Transformations in Literature, Gender and Society, the first of a planned series of one-day conferences aim…

Source: Call for Papers

Dante, Eünoè, and The Future of Higher Education

Dante’s imagery crops up in the unlikeliest of places. Here, in Marina Warner’s impassioned defence of the Humanities, the freedom of learning and enquiry, and the importance of ‘good, active knowledge’, the river Eünoè in Dante’s Purgatorio appears as an image for the best kinds of engaged learning, research, and teaching.

I’ve noticed a lot of tricolons in this introductory spiel, perhaps I’ve been ensnared by thoughts of Dante’s terza rima… Here are his lines describing his experience of the waters of Eünoè in the Earthly Paradise:

“Ma vedi Eünoè che là diriva:

menalo ad esso, e come tu se’ usa,

la tramortita sua virtù ravviva.”

Come anima gentil, che non fa scusa,

ma fa sua voglia de la voglia altrui

tosto che è per segno fuor dischiusa;

così, poi che da essa preso fui,

la bella donna* mossesi, e a Stazio**

donnescamente disse: “Vien con lui.”

S’io avessi, lettor, più lungo spazio

da scrivere, i’ pur cantere’ in parte

lo dolce ber che mai non m’avria sazio;

ma perché piene son tutte le carte

ordite a questa cantica seconda,

non mi lascia più ir lo fren de l’arte.

Io ritornai da la santissima onda

rifatto sì come piante novelle

rinovellate di novella fronda,

puro e disposto a salire a le stelle.

   ‘But see Eunoe streaming forth there.

Bring him to it and, as you are accustomed,

revive the powers that are dead in him.’

   As a gentle spirit that makes no excuses

but makes another’s will its own

as soon as any signal makes that clear,

   so, once she held me by the hand, the lady* moved

and, as though she were mistress of that place,

said to Statius**: ‘Now come with him.’

   If, reader, I had more ample space to write,

I should sing at least in part the sweetness

of the drink that never would have sated me,

   but, since all the sheets

readied for this second canticle are full,

the curb of art lets me proceed no farther.

   From those most holy waters

I came away remade, as are new plants

renewed with new-sprung leaves,

pure and prepared to rise up to the stars.

Purgatorio XXXIII, 127-145 (text and translation, as ever, from the Princeton Dante Project)

* The lady here is Matelda, an enigmatic figure who plays I vital role in helping Dante navigate the Earthly Paradise at the top of the mountain of Purgatory.

** Statius is a Roman poet of the Silver Age whose works include The Thebaid and The Achilleid

Marina Warner · Learning My Lesson · LRB 19 March 2015.

Text, artefact, and the creative process: The ‘Sad, bewildered quills’ of Guido Cavalcanti

This is a link to an article I wrote about one of my favourite Cavalcanti poems, ‘Noi sìan le triste penne isbigottite’ [We are the sad, bewildered quills] (Yes, penne the pasta means quill pens).
I find this poem so fascinating because the poet’s voice disappears almost entirely, to be replaced by his writing tools – the quill pens, the clippers, and knife (used by scribes to sharpen their quills during).
These writing implements talk directly to the reader, creating an intriguing and rather modern atmosphere. In fact, Italo Calvino, writing in the 1980s, thought Cavalcanti had written, with ‘Noi sìan le triste penne…’, the first truly modern poem.
The article contains my original translations of some of Cavalcanti’s poetry, as well as my thoughts on the poem and its context. I hope you’ll have a read, and do let me know what you think in the comments!

St. Francis Manuscripts Headed to U.S., in First Trip Out of Italy in 700 Years – NYTimes.com

This exhibition is definitely filed under ‘times I wish I lived in New York’…

Not only does it engage my general manuscript nerdery, but it also ticks the ‘birth of the Italian language’ and ‘roots of Italian poetry’ boxes to make a trifecta of medievalist joy.

St. Francis Manuscripts Headed to U.S., in First Trip Out of Italy in 700 Years – NYTimes.com.

In Dante’s Paradiso (XI, 55-57), Francis gets this glowing write-up:

‘Non era ancor molto lontan da l’orto, / ch’el cominciò a far sentir la terra / de la sua gran virtute alcun conforto.’

‘Not much time as yet had passed / when he first lent his comfort to the earth / by the greatness of his virtuous power.’

For Dante, Francis may have been a model of exile and of the humility of which Dante himself keenly felt the lack. In this episode in the Divine Comedy, Dante gives us a biography of Francis that hinges on the image of Francis in love with an oft-scorned lady, who is a symbol for poverty. The importance of the poverty of priests to Dante’s view of the ideal church is paramount and the cause of much ranting in both the Divine Comedy and in the Monarchia in particular.

To see the early manuscripts of such a significant figure as Francis would be truly exciting.

Oh well, here’s hoping they bring it on tour, or indeed, that I get the chance to visit the archives at some point! (If the Vatican Library let me in, I may have a shot!).

 

 

Text and translation, as ever, from the Princeton Dante Project.

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.

Radio, what’s new?

So, I know I promised to say things about my trip to Leeds, and I certainly will, soon, I promise.
But in the interim… whattaya know? An adaptation of the Divine Comedy is the Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4 at the moment!

It’s got even got John Hurt for Who fans (playing the ‘older Dante’ by which I guess they mean the narratorial voice?)
Either way, it should be interesting and there’s also a short documentary on the making of the recording. They take a delightfully old school, radiophonic workshop approach to sound effects, which is interesting. Look out for the rice pudding!
Now, this isn’t entirely irrelevant to my Leeds Centre for Dante Studies visit, as I tried my hand at a bit of podcasting on a few poets, of which more later.
I will leave you now to have a bit of a listen!