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This is the Oxford World's Classics translation, by Mark Musa, and I don't like it at all. It's not bad, I suppose-- it has rhythm where there's meant to be rhythm, all the rhymes are in correctly, even a sestina where it's meant to be a sestina-- it's just. No spark. Literal and accurate and kindly meant and no damn spark.

Petrarch is one of the poets who can come closest to the reader, who can really be talking to you and get inside your head. That's why his Canzoniere, his Italian songs, those little things that didn't make his name nor win his laurels, those works that he accounted least of his writings have basically built the subsequent Western poetic tradition. You can't have Shakespeare without Petrarch, or Chaucer or Wyatt or even Ronsard. He's the bridge between Dante and Catullus and from the merge of those two comes centuries of the way people conceive lyric poetry. You look at, say, Baudelaire, six hundred years later and the form has not changed one iota, because it was still alive-- and is today. If I can't tell why this happened to all that later poetry from a translation, that translation, it is not good enough. I realize I am saying that only great poets should translate Petrarch. Fine. Only great poets should translate Petrarch. I suppose I ought not to expect great poetry out of a translator I haven't heard of, but I've been lucky in that before, and I had hopes. Ah well.

They gave Petrarch his laurels for his Latin epic poem about Scipio Africanus, which I'm sure is very nice. I don't know anyone who's read it, but I'm sure it's very nice. The Petrarch I have read is faking my way poorly through the Canzoniere, and also umpteen translations (and if I had one I could recommend I'd tell you), and also chunks of De remediis utriusque fortunae (On How to Defend Yourself Against Both Types of Fortune), which is a lovely book that everyone should read as it tells you exactly what to do to cheer yourself up if horrible things happen and exactly what to do to deflate yourself if everything is going far too well. I'm sure I've mentioned it here before, but it has the bit we're going to copy out to put on the wall of the library, where Joy says 'The number of my books is great', and Reason says 'but you cannot possibly have time to read all of them', and Joy says 'the number of my books is prodigious', and Reason says 'and most of them are full of errors', and Joy says 'the number of my books is incalculable', and Reason keeps going on at multi-paragraph great rhetorical length about how for this reason and that reason your house is a frickin' fire hazard and everyone is going to think you're an expert in everything you haven't read yet and don't you think it would be more practical to take up checkers or lawsuits or something, and Joy just keeps saying, in one sentence: I have so very many books, and I haven't yet read most of them. It's in the section on how to defend yourself against happiness, but it's pretty clear who wins, I think. This is what I mean about Petrarch's immediacy. At three decades short of seven hundred years distance, he is writing in that essay very, very specifically about my household and my life and the way that we all actually think, and a way I suspect a lot of you live and think, and it has not changed in any detail.

So, read Petrarch, very much read Petrarch. Just not this edition, though it's quite good on a couple of included letters, including the one in which he climbs a mountain and the one in which he talks about his early life. I am glad to have read those.

I wonder whether there's a good translation of his Latin epic. Somehow I have serious doubts about it.


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