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This review is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

MUD AND BONES GIACOMO LEOPARDI, Canti, translated by Jonathan Galassi (Penguin) £14.99

At the end of Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love (1998) we find the following memorable passage:

                                Take Leopardi's
words or - to be accurate - BV'S English
cast of them: when he found Tasso's poor
scratch of a memorial barely showing
among the cold slabs of defunct pomp. It
seemed a sad and angry consolation.
(CXLVIII, lines 9-14)

'BV' is the nineteenth-century Scottish poet James Thomson, one of Leopardi's earliest translators into English, but what's clear is how this phrase of Leopardi's impresses Hill as a fitting encapsulation of poetry's role: in the remainder of the section he repeats the five-word motif three more times, as though rolling it around his tongue and savouring its bittersweet resonance: 'That's / beautiful. Once more? A sad and angry/consolation'.

Hill is only the most recent major poet to have found a consoling voice in Leopardi, albeit a voice shot through with sadness, anger and disillusion. The greatest Italian writer of the nineteenth century, Leopardi's key position within European literary history makes him a kind of hub of influences and comparisons, and any attempt to place him is a complicated one. His lifespan (1798-1837) overlaps with those of the English Romantics, and he reminds us both of Keats - as much for the thwarted brevity of his life as for his acute aesthetic receptivity - and of Coleridge, in his poetry's ambitious conjoining of lyrical and metaphysical modes. ...


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