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This review is taken from PN Review 103, Volume 21 Number 5, May - June 1995.

A KIND OF DOUBLE DISCOURSE GIACOMO LEOPARDI, The Canti with a selection of his prose translated by J.G. Nichols (Carcanet) £19.95
PABLO NERUDA, The Captain's Verses translated by Brian Cole (Anvil) £8.95

Leopardi, Neruda: the poet of solitude and the poet of multitudes. It is difficult to think of destinies more different, and even with the Zibaldone to improve the balance, the less than fifty Canti are bound to look puny up against the massive oeuvre of the Chilean. In Leopardi's assessment of poets as either powerful or prolific but rarely both, we can find a stick, should we need one, to beat Neruda, who seems to have written virtually at will and irrespective of inspiration. Yet Neruda, larger-than-life as he became, often sought refuge from the public gaze in the secrecies and privades of a domain where only two could play; and it remained a matter of conviction for Leopardi that 'knowledge of the truth as truth' should be within the reach of anyone. Without prejudice to the received idea of either, it seems important to register that both are multi-faceted in the way that very large figures have the disconcerting habit of being.

Translations of Leopardi and Neruda (and espedally the latter) are not far to seek, and will doubtless continue to proliferate ad infinitum. Each poet poses the kind of challenge that can never be fully or finally met, or that makes continuous attempts to meet it a kind of ethical imperative. Where translations abound, it is natural for readers to shop around, composing as it were composite versions, hybrids more or less resistant to assimilation. Leopardi's 'A Se Stesso' ('To Himself) is an excellent case ...

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