Sordello – Book the First

April 22, 2012

Browning’s early long poem Sordello has got a bit of a reputation for being difficult. I started it yesterday and suspect that reputation must be built largely on its notorious reception – I won’t rehearse the usual anecdotes, but Opta stats show of an edition of 500 copies only 157 were sold, while 86 were given away to reviewers and friends since the publication of the poem. Poor Browning! We’re not talking ziggurats at the front of Tesco here. And he really thought he was writing something accessible:

in 1850 John Westland Martson told Rossetti [DG] that ‘Browning, before publishing Sordello, sent it him to read, saying that this time the public should not accuse him at any rate of being unintelligible (!!)’.

I started reading it yesterday and I’m not really sure it’s as unintelligible as all that, tho there are admittedly difficulties. Here are some appropriately disordered thoughts having read Book 1:

Read the rest of this entry »


Oh, a day in the city square, there is no such pleasure in life!

April 25, 2011

I

Had I but plenty of money, money enough and to spare,

The house for me, no doubt, were a house in the city square;

Ah, such a life, such a life, as one leads at the window there!

II

Something to see, by Bacchus, something to hear, at least!

There, the whole day long, one’s life is a perfect feast;

While up at the villa one lives, I maintain it, no more than a beast.

Up at the Villa – Down in the City (As distinguished by an Italian person of quality) – Browning

Of course instead of admiring Browning’s deft and accurate way with a persona all I really wanted to know is how this dual text ed. I’ve got translates the line ‘Bang-whang-whang goes the drum, tootle-te-tootle the fife’.

Here goes…

‘Tan-tan tan-tan tan-tan fa il tamburo, perepé perepé perepé la trombetta’

So the translator used ‘trumpet’ because they needed something to rhyme with the next line, which ends ‘è questo il piacere piú grande della vita!’ And I guess as in the original the tan-tan, tan-tan, and perepé perepé nicely match the contrast between the Italian’s excitability about the city square, and pompous gloom about the country villa. But when the Italian word for fife is ‘il piffero’ surely another way could’ve been found. Il piffero!

Rome btw, funny place. Nice asparagus.

Il piffero, il piffero. Can’t stop saying it.

Il piffero. Tootle-te-tootle.

Poetry, eh. Rum business.