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This review is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

TRANSFORMATIONS Robert M. Durling. Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime sparse and Other Lyrics, translated and edited (Harvard University Press).

This invaluable edition includes the Italian and facing-page prose translations of the entire Rime sparse, fourteen poems omitted from the final arrangement of the sequence, eight poems addressed to Petrarch (e.g. Ser Dietisalvi Petri di Siena's lovely sonnet "El bell' occhio d' Apollo") to which Petrarch responds in the Rime, and Dante's Rime petrose and Canzone montanina which provided thematic models. Professor Durling appends useful bibliographies of Petrarch's works, English translations, and criticism. The most striking insights of his introduction link Petrarch to Ovid. The transformations of the lover involve parallels in which Apollo, Actaeon, Cygnus, Byblis, Battus and Echo inter alia figure, making Ovid "omnipresent". As Durling notes, "a perception that hovers over the Rime sparse, that endlessly polished mirror of the poet's soul", may well be the vision of the Medusa: "vultuque immotus eodem/haeret, ut a Pario formatum marmore signum" (Metamorphoses 3. 418-19); "he stares unmoving on that one face, like a statue formed of Parian marble."

Petrarch is thus made the more accessible in these clear, graceful, idiomatic prose translations and Durling does for Petrarch what Sinclair did for Dante (we are reminded of Eliot's having to read Dante in these bilingual editions and "for some years I was able to recite a large part of one canto or another to myself, lying in bed or on a railway journey"). It goes without saying that where it is easiest to draw plain prose-sense from the Italian the poetic losses are greatest. To take two ...


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