Samuel Waddington, comp. The Sonnets of Europe. 1888.
THE SONNETS of Dante and Michael Angelo, of Petrarch, Camoens, and Ronsard, could hardly fail to attract even those who are not especially interested in this form of versewhile to those who are, it were difficult to imagine what would furnish greater delight than the perusal of the works of these old masters of the sonnet. But the large majority of readers may not be able to study these compositions in the various languages in which they were originally written, and they must consequently have recourse to such translations as may be found scattered through the pages of our own poets. These, moreover, are contained in numberless volumes, many of which may not always be readily accessible, and it is therefore hoped that a fairly representative selection of these translations may prove of service, and a source of pleasure, to those who wish to become acquainted with the gems, modern or antique, of foreign poesy.
Many of the sonnets, translations of which are included in this volume, were composed more than three hundred years before Milton wrote his Paradise Lostsome of them more than two hundred years before the birth of Shakespeareyet they are, for the most part, as fresh as flowers newly gathered, and possessed of a grace and delicate fragrance that have outlived the passing of so many centuries. But while a large number of the original sonnets are of this ancient date, the greater portion of the translations, as, for instance, those by Mr. Aubertin, Mr. John Addington Symonds, and Mr. Andrew Lang, have been written during recent years, and many of them are here published for the first time. Of those previously unpublished, mention may be made of Mr. Gosses rendering of the Swedish and Dutch sonnets; Mr. William Michael Rossettis translations of sonnets by Salvator Rosa and his father, Gabriele Rossetti; Mr. Thomas Ashes translations from the French; Mr. Arthur Platts from Louise Labé, Calderon, and Lope de Vega; Mrs. Edmonds from the modern Greek poets; those by Dr. Richard Garnett from the Portuguese; by Mr. Cosmo Monkhouse from Ronsard and Baudelaire; by the Baroness von Gilsa from Tasso and Marini; and the very able rendering of Boccages fine sonnet On Nelson, by Mr. J. J. Aubertin, to which we would call special attention.
The translation of a sonnet from one language into another in the legitimate, or Italian, sonnet-form is attended with some difficulty; and it is to this difficulty of translation that we are probably indebted for what is now known as the English, or Shakespearian, form of the sonnet. It was first used by the Earl of Surrey, who translated several of Petrarchs sonnets, and also composed a few original poems, in this form, which is much easier for the purposes of translation than that in which the Italian poets wrote. The following is an example of the latter, and is, moreover, the oldest sonnet extant in any language, it having been written by Piero delle Vigne about the year 1220 A.D.
NATURA D AMORE.
Però ch Amore non si può vedere,
E non si tratta corporalemente,
Manti ne son di si folle sapére
Che credono ch Amore sia niente!
Ma poi ch Amore si face sentère
Dentro del cor signoreggiar la gente,
Molto maggiore pregio de avere
Che se l vedesse visibilemente.
Per la virtute della calamita
Como lo ferro attrae non si vede,
Ma si lo tira signorevolmente.
E questa cosa à credere m invita
Che Amore sia, e dammi grande fede
Che tuttor sia creduto fra la Gente.
It will be seen that the rhymes in the octave of the above are alternate, and a large number of the early Italian or Petrarchan sonnets follow this arrangement of the rhymes. At page 26 of this selection will be found a translation of one of Petrarchs sonnets by Surrey in which the rhymes are alternate, but the translator has apparently been compelled to adopt fresh rhymes in the second quatrain in order to be able to more closely follow the sense of the original poem. Now this use of additional rhymes in the second quatrain constitutes the main difference between the Italian and the Shakespearian form of the sonnet, for if the rhymes were the same as those used in the first quatrain, the sonnet would then be a legitimate Italian sonnet. As regards the use of the final couplet, it should be mentioned that although rare, it is to be found in the early Italian sonnets, and a few of those by Petrarch have this termination. The majority of modern critics agree that the final couplet detracts from the beauty of the composition, but they also agree that the following (all of which close with a final couplet) are amongst the best of our English sonnets:Blanco Whites Night and Death, Keatss Last Sonnet, Michael Draytons Last Chance, Sir Philip Sidneys With how sad steps, O moon, Wordsworths Sonnet on the Sonnet, Mrs. Fanny Kembles Art thou already weary of the way, Leigh Hunts Nile, Tennyson-Turners Time and Twilight, Hartley Coleridges Long time a child, and still a child, when years, Cowpers To Mary Unwin, Donnes To Death, Rossettis Match with the Moon, Matthew Arnolds Sonnet on Shakespeare, etc.
But to return to the subject of this volume, the domain of translation, it may be observed, extends from the most bald and literal substitution of word for word, and line for line, on the one hand, to mere paraphrase, interpretation, or imitation, on the other,and Lord Woodhouselee, in his interesting Essay on the Principles of Translation, published at the close of the last century, points out that neither of these extremes can be deemed satisfactory. It is, however, to D. G. Rossetti that we are indebted for the most intelligent and comprehensive criticism on this subject. The life-blood, he writes, of rhythmical translation is this commandment,that a good poem shall not be turned into a bad one. 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. Poetry not being an exact science, literality of rendering is altogether secondary to this chief law. I say literality,not fidelity, which is by no means the same thing. When literality can be combined with what is thus the primary condition of success, the translator is fortunate, and must strive his utmost to unite them; when such object can only be attained by paraphrase, that is the only path.
A good poem shall not be turned into a bad one. How far the compositions in the present volume comply with this great commandment of rhythmical translation must be left to the reader to determine, but the editor has endeavoured, however unsuccessfully, to adopt it as his [Greek] in making this selection. Bramston, the worthy and witty Vicar of Starting, wrote more than a century ago
True taste to me is by this touchstone known,
Thats always best thats nearest to my own,
yet an editor may indeed esteem himself fortunate who finds that the consensus of public opinion confirms his own judgment.
It only remains for me to thank Mr. J. A. Symonds, Mr. Edmund Gosse, Dr. Garnett, and others, for much valuable assistance generously accorded,as well as those of holders of copyright who have given me permission to include various sonnets in this volume.