Wednesday 2 December 2009

Shakespeare's Sonnets

Having recently received the finished copy of my Italian translation of The Rape of the Lock, published by Adelphi, I have found renewed inspiration and set myself a very ambitious task: translating Shakespeare Sonnets into Italian. I have been writing sonnets for years, so I am quite familiar with the form, but Shakespeare's Sonnets (if they are really his) verge on the untranslatable and offer any daring translator the highest challenge. My aim is to translate in modern Italian, without inversions and archaism, so it's even more difficult, as the English language can pack a lot of short monosyllables into a iambic pentameter, whereas Italian can fill one endecasillable with two or three words.

So far I have translated the first ten sonnets of Shakespeare's collection (there's 154 of them). The most difficult so far are the first two, perhaps because they are so well known. I have been working on the first stanza of the first and second sonnet for days and days on end. I think I'll have to give up. This is what I have done with the first sonnet:

Chi è più bello vogliamo sia fecondo,
perché non muoia di bellezza il fiore,
ma se maturo poi lascerà il mondo
ne conservi il ricordo un successore.
Invece tu, legato ai tuoi occhi ardenti,
nutri il tuo fuoco con la tua sostanza,
nemico di te stesso, ti tormenti,
crei carestia là dove c’è abbondanza.
Tu, ornamento del mondo – tu, il solo
splendente araldo della primavera,
resti sepolto dentro il tuo bocciolo,
sprechi in te l’oro della tua miniera.
Abbi pietà, o sii ingordo fino in fondo,
dando alla tomba ciò che spetta al mondo.

The second part of the sonnet is really good and flows naturally. Line 2, however, still bothers me: "di bellezza il fiore" is closer to the original, and it'd be a shame to lose "beauty's rose". But it is a bit of an unnatural inversion, so it may be replaced by something like "così che non perisca mai il suo fiore".

Anyway, thinking about Shakespeare and that world of idealized love, is certainly a nice diversion from the publishing grind!


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