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This review is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

UNLIKE WE Jeremy Reed, The Coastguard's House, English versions from the Italian of Eugenio Montale (Bloodaxe Books)

In this attractively designed volume, which has received The Poetry Book Society's Translation Award, Jeremy Reed offers versions of over one hundred poems from the first four of Eugenio Montale's six major collections. There are poems one misses, of course - 'Non chiederci la parola …', a key text from his first book, Ossi di sepia (1925), for instance, and 'Ballata scritta in una clinica', from La bufera e altro (1956), this last a sad omission considering how readily it translates into English.

Reed's aim is ambitious. In his introduction, he describes his renderings not as translations, but, in an ugly phrase, as ' split-offs from Montale'. Taking his cue from Lowell's Imitations, he attempted, he says, a series of poems 'in which the poet's intentions are placed within a context of late twentieth century values (sic). I have tried everywhere to keep the poem alive for English readers at the expense of altering it to fit my needs… His poems have generated independent satellites fuelled by the imagery and something of the dynamic of the original, while still maintaining a tense orbit around his centre' (my italics).

This bold programme conceals, however, a doubleness of vision, for, unlike Lowell, whose 'imitations' stand unchaperoned by their originals, Reed prints his with their Italian counterparts alongside and so tacitly invites us to examine in detail the relationship between them. Far from validating his procedures, the presence of Montale's texts casts a sharp light on Reed's versions, ...


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