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This review is taken from PN Review 255, Volume 47 Number 1, September - October 2020.

Cover of Last Dream, Ed. and trans. by Geoffrey Brock
Edmund Prestwich
Last Dream, Giovanni Pascoli. Ed. and trans. by Geoffrey Brock (World Poetry Books) $16

Giovanni Pascoli is said to be much loved in Italy, though I’d hardly read him before this book. Tibor Wlassics describes him as ‘the first Italian poet to “wring the neck” of eloquence’ – in other words of inflated nineteenth century rhetoric. Different as they are, Pascoli and Gabriele D’Annunzio are sometimes described as the twin founders of modern Italian poetry. Pascoli’s emotional tone is muted, his range limited, his style generally that of an exquisite miniaturist, but Geoffrey Brock’s selection and translations have made me feel the power and beauty of his work, and that he’s well worth further exploration.

These poems are essentially lyrical and contemplative. At the heart of most is a scene, a rural landscape, a garden, a seascape, whose life and movement are held within the stillness of the poet’s wondering gaze and imbued with a sense of restrained but intense emotion. Sometimes there are elements of narrative. These may be no more than cryptic allusions to the tragic circumstances of the poet’s early life, about which Brock’s short concluding essay ‘My Pascoli’ tells us a little, or they may involve more explicit reminiscences, as in ‘The Kite’, where reminiscences of kite-flying at boarding school are interwoven with descriptions of landscape and the memory a schoolfellow who died as a child. Or in ‘The Sleep of Odysseus’ the whole narrative of the Odyssey becomes the unspoken background to a series of vignettes describing what Odysseus might ...


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