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Review of Allegria in the Journal of Italian Translation

We are delighted to share that Marco Sonzogni’s review of Giuseppe Ungaretti’s Allegria, translated by Geoffrey Brock, was published in the Journal of Italian Translation.

From the review, as translated by Geoffrey Brock:
The skill of Geoffrey Brock, without a shadow of a doubt one of the most important literary translators from Italian into English, has long been known to me: years ago I had the honor and delight of reviewing his Pavese for The Irish Times… Brock’s hand…has grown even surer and more effective, and I continue to follow his career (which include works by Umberto Eco: Herculean labors for any translator) with attention and admiration. I therefore read with great interest and care his translation of one of our poetic canon’s landmark collections: Allegria by Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888–1970), in its 1931 version, published on the fiftieth anniversary of Ungà’s” death by Archipelago Books, a New York publishing house with the highest of reputations for editorial vision and catalog quality. I would venture to say, giving two “nocturnal” examples, that in many cases the translations by Brock—who is also a fine poet—are not only successful translations but also successful new poems. The first example is “Noia”:
Anche questa notte passerà
Questa solitudine in giro
titubante ombra dei fili tramviari
sullumido asfalto
Guardo i testoni dei brunisti
nel mezzo sonno
tentennare
translated thusly by Brock:

This night too will pass

This roving solitude
tentative shadows of tram wires
on damp asphalt

I watch the big heads of the coachmen
half sleeping
totter

Were I to read this text without knowing it was a translation I would consider it in every way a successful original work in English and would immediately want to try translating it into Italian.

The second example is “Sempre Notte”:

La mia squallida
vita
si estende
più spaventata
di sè

in un
infinito
che mi calca e mi spreme
col suo

fievole
tatto
fluente

which becomes “Night Again” in Brock’s English:

My wretched
life
stretches on
ever more fearful
of itself

into an
endlessness
that tramples and crushes me
with its
faint
flowing
touch

Though it’s true that word-for-word translations rarely yield satisfying results, and true that word-level equivalence may be sacrificed on the altar of a more “comprehensive” equivalence, it is nonetheless worth noting how these two small ‘mirrors’—“ever more fearful / of itself” for “più spaventata / di sè” and “into an / endlessness” for in un / infinito”—reflect the translator’s great sensitivity. Again, should I fail to recognize in the English text the translation of a poem by one of our most important poets, I would consider “Night Again” an absolutely successful poem in English and would like to try to reproduce it in Italian.
“Noia” and “Sempre notte,” though not among Ungaretti’s most “classic” poems, are nevertheless, for their emotional intensity and expressive precision, equally definitive standard-bearers of his voice and his poetics. Likewise, “Boredom” and “Night Again” attest to Brock’s talent: a quality and integrity of reading, interpretation, and rendering that are rooted in a natural flair for the forms and functions of poetry and thus at this point go beyond the mastery of language and culture.

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Jose Saramago said something as beautiful as it is true: writers create national literatures while translators create universal literature. Thanks to these translations, exemplary in their empathy and effectiveness, by Geoffrey Brock and Alberto Bertoni, and thanks to the dedication and investment of Archipelago Books and corsiero editore, the universality of Italian and Irish poetry and have been revealed and renewed.

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