‘A sort of Roman saint’

250px-giuseppe_gioachino_belli‘The greatest poet of the 19th century’ (1976) …. ‘one of the three major revelations of my later life’ (1990) … ‘to read the entire corpus is to be overwhelmed. One dares to speak about greatness’ (1992). Who can this poet be? Aha .. ‘aromatic Roman speech haloed by a sonnet’ (1977). That’s a clue – except that the poet himself corrected anyone who described his language as ‘Roman’ – ‘no, it’s romanesco’. This isn’t a competition so the cast can be revealed. The poet is Giuseppe Gioachino Belli (1791-1863) and the writer praising him is Anthony Burgess (1917-1993). The novelist is quoted by Paul Howard in this week’s TLS  (22 Feb, p.15) in a long introduction to an apparently unpublished essay by Burgess entitled ‘Belli into English’ (ibid., p.16). Overcoming his initial shock at Belli’s obscenity and blasphemy, Burgess had made translations of a selection from GGB’s s 2279 sonnets for his novel Abba Abba. But, acknowledging that the poet was ‘a sort of Roman saint’, Burgess found the work of translating him very hard: ‘Belli remains as one of the proofs that poetry is fundamentally untranslatable’.

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One thought on “‘A sort of Roman saint’

  1. DM says:

    A letter in the TLS (March 3, 2017, p.6) on the publication of Burgess’ essay on translating G.G.Belli quotes another of Belli’s translators, Peter Dale: ‘Stifled by what he felt to be the etiolated airs of an exhausted and exhaustively recyled literary Italian whose atmosphere of refined conceit and tireless allusiveness had turned the vigorous workmanly brawl of the trecento’s rime into a cadaveric danse macabre of effete gamesmanship, Belli threw himself into the slangy underworld of Roman street-talk … a babbling Bakhtinian carnival of marginal types hacking out a life of sorts in the cramped slums of pre-Risorgimento Rome”. Dale’s introduction to his translations from which this extract is taken is reprinted in Altervista (http://www.ggbellimosetti.altervista.org/giuseppe_gioachino_belli_dale.htm)

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