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This review is taken from PN Review 190, Volume 36 Number 2, November - December 2009.

YOUTHFUL ARDOURS, MATURE DEVOTIONS SALVATORE QUASIMODO, The Night Fountain: Selected Early Poems, translated by Marco Sonzogni and Gerald Dawe (Arc) £8.99
ALDO VIANELLI, Selected Poems, translations by Richard Burns, Peter Jay and Linda Lappin (Anvil Press) £9.95

Salvatore Quasimodo, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature before his contemporary, Eugenio Montale, was one of the four twentieth-century Italian poets brought to an English readership in the 1960s by the Penguin Modern Poets series. Quasimodo’s translator in that series, Jack Bevan, later published a complete poems with Anvil Press in 1983. The Night Fountain selects twenty-five of Quasimodo’s early poems recovered in 1970 from a manuscript which had been preserved by a family friend for over forty years, as his son Alessandro Quasimodo recounts in the Foreword. These poems in a bilingual format give us an essential insight into Quasimodo’s creative prehistory. As well as the Foreword by his son, there is a facsimile of three pages of the manuscript in Quasimodo’s precise handwriting, a small photograph of the brooding eighteen- year-old poet and an Introduction in two parts by the translators.

All this makes for a potentially attractive book if the poems can stand alone in their own right. Certainly they reveal an extraordinarily talented teenager. Quasimodo may have read senior contemporaries such as D’Annunzio, Campana, Pascoli, who had died a decade earlier, and the ‘crepuscolari’ poets who, like the English decadents, seemed prone to tuberculosis and a despairing melancholy. In some of the poems there are images redolent of the expressionism of Georg Trakl:

Blood clots hanging over torn green velvet:
The wounds of the fields!
                                                                      ‘Wild Flowers’

Possibly, though, Umberto Saba’s work may be ...

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