I think Charles Wright’s translation of Campana is better than the older I. L. Salomon translation. If there is still such a thing as a great American poet, he is one of them, and his translations strike me as superior poems. I am glad I read Salomon’s book, though; first, it has more poems and second it has the Italian. I don’t know Italian. Sometimes that does not matter.
from Serenade: Bitter False Melodramatic
The comedian with serious and deep voice
With a goat’s profile and a hollow
Infernal eye flashing
Sings a song of love:
Warble warble squashed blackberry
Dawn comes soon, the dawn’s awake.
That, you say, is the song of love sung by the Goat Comic. Let’s glance at the original of the last two lines:
Trilla trilla mora pesta
Presto è l’alba, presto è desta.
Why, this is songful, with rhymes and assonance and all that poetical stuff. This may even be, dare I say, beautiful, comparable to the most beautiful poem in English (Italian verse’s sad burden is that it is too easily beautiful).
Campana is a weird writer, but Salomon maybe plays up his weirdness. If the alternative is flatness, all too common in poetic translation, the kind that makes a reader wonder what the big deal is, then Salomon made the right choice. Still, there must be something better than “Warble warble squashed blackberry.”
Part of Campana’s genuine weirdness is that he read with deep appreciation not just Walt Whitman but Edgar Allan Poe. Much of Orphic Songs is in prose; much of the prose sounds like:
I was in the shadow of an arcade which dripped drop after drop of blood-gorged light through the fog of a December night. Without warning a door was flung open in a splendor of light. In the foreground of the far end of the room in the luminescence of a red ottoman an older woman was lying up on one elbow, her head resting in her hand, her brown eyes like brown fire, her breasts enormous… (“The Night,” tr. Wright)
Campana has read “The Philosophy of Furniture.” Campana’s women are not Poe’s women, although they are similarly idealized. Poe was not so interested in prostitutes.
The Poe-effect merges with another resemblance that everyone mentions, so I will, too, since I felt it first and then went looking for it:
I remember an old city, red walls and red battlements, on the immense plain burnt out from the August heat, with the far-away spongy cold comfort of green hills in the background… I raised my eyes unconsciously to the barbarous tower which dominated the long avenue of plane trees… A Deserted little piazza, broken hovels like old bruises, dead windows: to one side in an enormous wash of light, the tower, eight-pointed arid impenetrably red and unadorned; a dried up 16th-century fountain kept silent, its stone shattered in the middle of its own Latin commentary. (“The Night,” still, italics all mine)
I read this passage, and several others, trying to remember exactly which Giorgio de Chirico painting it was copying. Several and none, presumably. The Red Tower, above, is from 1913; Campana did not know De Chirico but could have seen his work in magazines. Who knows. Silent fountains, blue mountains, a woman off in the far distance, while “[f]rom among the twilit rocks a black horned immobile shape watches me I too immobile with its golden eyes” (“La Verna”)
A lot of fine weirdness. Perhaps the next time I read Campana I will try to make some sense of it. This time, I did not.