Thursday, 16 July 2009

Giusepper Parini's The Day - the jury is in

Giuseppe Parini (1729–99) is one of the great Italian poets – arguably the greatest eighteenth-century Italian poet. His masterpiece, Il giorno (The Day), is a sort of heroicomical poem in three cantos, or perhaps more accurately a satire of high society (it describes the emptiness of a day in the life of a lazy young nobleman). It's just under three thousand lines long, and more or less unfinished, although the author worked on it for over thirty years. I remember studying it and loving it at school. I also remember finding it very funny. Now I went back to it with fresh eyes after many years, and this is my verdict.

Did I like the book?
I must admit I frowned a lot and smiled very little. I found the language so archaic and the style so convoluted that I needed a few sittings to go through it.

What did I like most?
The almost perfect flow of the verse.

What didn’t work for me?
I thought it was pretty dated, like the worst poems by Dryden and Pope. The only problem is that Parini hasn't got better works than this to his name.

Would I publish it?
I had pencilled it in for publication in 2008, but then the Calder takeover forced me to postpone this indefinitely. I still think it's a very important work. I am just not sure any more about how excellent the poetry is.

What if it came as an unsolicited manuscript?
This is an impossibility, so I am going to answer that if I received an unsolicited beautiful English translation, I would probably publish it.

Did it sustain my interest throughout?
The first canto did, but I didn't think the other two were on a par with the brilliant beginning, which is what you usually study at school.

The best bit in the book?

Tu tra le veglie, e le canore scene,
e il patetico gioco oltre più assai
producesti la notte; e stanco alfine
in aureo cocchio, col fragor di calde
precipitose rote, e il calpestio
di volanti corsier, lunge agitasti
il queto aere notturno, e le tenèbre
con fiaccole superbe intorno apristi,
siccome allor che il siculo terreno
dall'uno all'altro mar rimbombar feo
Pluto col carro a cui splendeano innanzi
le tede de le Furie anguicrinite.

Apart from being a perfectly constructed long sentence, it contains one of my favourite lines of Italian poetry: "le tede de le Furie anguicrinite". Difficult to beat that one.

The best scene in the book?

The first canto, called "Il mattino" (The Morning).

Comments on the package, editing, typesetting?
I read the poem in this beautiful royal hardback published by Ricciardi in 1951. You cannot not love – or at least take seriously or admire – the poetry you read inside a book like that. It's nicely set, well edited, printed on high-quality paper, and it's got head and tail bands, ribbon – the works. Elisabetta didn't treat it as kindly as I would have, and I regret to report that it's full of her pencil annotations, which spoil the reading at time (some of them are hilarious though). I only forgive her because she didn't know me at the time she defaced the book. It would be a cause for divorce now.

My final verdict?
Not the best, not the worst of Italian poetry. Interesting, but dated. Connoisseurs' fodder, probably. Not something for the Twitter generation.


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