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This review is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

RHETORIC OF ANOTHER KIND Umberto Saba, Thirty-One Poems translated from the Italian by Felix Stefanile (Carcanet) £2.95

From the covers of the two-volume Mondadori pocket edition of Umberto Saba's Selected Poetry and Prose gazes the poet's portrait by Vittorio Bolaffio; the painter himself figures inside, a friend to whom a poem is dedicated, and the subject of one of the prose 'Ricordi-Racconti'. This person on the cover is formally, perhaps quaintly, dressed and though middle-aged retains a childlike expression, a melancholy, part-smiling but fixed look directed openly out of the painting. Behind him is a very empty, very primary, sea, at the edge of which a tiny fisherman tends a boat, bright orange and rigged with white.

The writer of the books has a productive life of over fifty years, and entangled in it is his love for his native city, Trieste; the physical reality he creates of his wife and daughter; people around him, places he visits; two world wars; and the woman he was fostered by as a child, and whose name he took. It becomes, as he puts it, 'la storia . . . di una vita', and it is no wonder that all of it is collected in one book of poems, Il Canzoniere, The Complete Umberto Saba, as it were; or that he writes about his own life and work in the third person in 'Storia e Cronistoria del Canzoniere'. That all this seems to be an anachronism, a survival, or an imitation, somehow not 'modern', would scarcely be a criticism to the person in the portrait, who has ...


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