See the editorial commentary for the 1861 edition as a whole.
Editorial glosses and textual notes are available in a pop-up window. Line numbering reflects the structure of the The Early Italian Poets text..
This Preface lays down a theory and method of translation that would exert a massive
influence on the subsequent practise of translation—and not least of all translation in
the twentieth-century. Of DGR's key Modernist inheritors, only Pound acknowledged his debt; and in this case the
avowal was scarcely registered by Pound's commentators, who regularly praise his ideas about translation, and
depreciate DGR's, when the truth is that Pound's work is an execution of DGR's ideas
in a later, and of course rather different, poetic style.
DGR's informing ideas about translating poetry are interesting. First of all is the rule
that “a good poem shall not be turned into a bad one” by the
The Early Italian Poets, viii
). This thought follows from the more general cultural/aesthetic prescription
that “the only true motive for putting poetry into a fresh language must
be to endow a fresh nation, as far as possible, with one more possession of
beauty” (viii). From that premise DGR draws his distinction between “literal”
and “faithful” translation (viii), and his erasure of another (more common)
distinction between “original” poetry and verse
“translation”. In one remarkable act of aesthetic thought (and practice),
DGR leaps back across his Romantic inheritance to recover certain key ideas all but
abandoned after the death of Pope. DGR's translations will be verse forms aspiring to
match the aesthetic resources that were their initial source and inspiration.
DGR added a further interesting requirement to the pursuit of that aspiration. Though the
verse translations were freed from an obligation to strict semantic “literality”,
they were bound to an obligation of close metrical equivalence. This obligation was in
many ways a far more demanding one. In the particular case of the poetry DGR was
choosing to translate, it meant (a) finding accentual equivalences for syllabic Italian
measures, and (b) adhering closely to rhyme schemes that would be difficult in English.
For further commentary see the editor's general critical Introduction
to the 1861 volume in which this Preface first appeared.
Probably written sometime in early 1861.
First published in 1861 in
Early Italian Poets; it was reprinted with some changes in 1874 in
and his Circle.