- Emily Dickinson and the “Blue Peninsula”: Dickinson’s Reception in Italy
Last year the Italian translation of the complete poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by the distinguished scholar-critic Marisa Bulgheroni, appeared in the Mondadori “Meridiani” series (Dickinson: Tutte le poesie, Milan, 1997). It must be said from the outset that the volume represents the culmination of the growing interest that Italy, more than any other European country, has shown in the Amherst poet. Because of the impact that it will no doubt have for the next few decades of Dickinson studies in this country, the handsome Mondadori volume edited by Italy’s foremost Dickinson scholar deserves to be both praised and closely scrutinized.
As a preliminary note informs us, there are 1174 translations by Silvio Raffo, 392 by Margherita Guidacci, 185 by Massimo Bacigalupo and 27 by Nadia Campana. Not knowing what may have led the editor to this clearly lop-sided distribution of labor, one can only infer that problems in obtaining copy-rights might have prevented the inclusion of contributions by other highly regarded Dickinson scholars / translators. This lop-sidedness is all the more noticeable in the light of the editorial comment (lx), that present critical consensus “places the accent on the powerful lyric subjectivity behind the various “masks”’ or “‘personae,” modulated in a plurality of different and contrasting voices” (emphasis mine). A “plurality” that is actually better suited to justify the inclusion of the following section called “Versioni d’autore” — a small body of some thirty-five “double” translations by as many as six poets, which will be looked at later in this review. The text used by the translators in both the main version of the 1775 poems and in the “Versioni d’autore” is the standard one of T.H. Johnson, with the use of variants, capitalization and dashes varying from translator to translator. [End Page 97]
Bulgheroni chose to limit the presentation of the poet to a two-part introduction of some sixty pages, containing a brief essay suggestively entitled “Accendere una lampada e sparire” (“The Poets light but Lamps,” P883), and obviously intended to rivet the reader’s attention through a quintessential synthesis of Dickinson’s statement about the very craft of the poet. This is followed by an annotated “Chronology” that singles out the most important moments of what we know of the poet’s life as well as an up-to-date survey of the most recent contributions to the poet’s biography.
Thus “La mia lettera al mondo” (“This is my letter to the World,” P441) which expands on the Dickinson poem, heightened as it is by the recent awareness and sensitivity to the active role played by the reader’s response to the work, is followed by “Il giardino della mente” (“. . . the Garden in the Brain,” P500), where Bulgheroni returns to the emblematic use of images drawn from her intimate observation of nature in order to conduct “an on-site investigation of what the mind’s eye has absorbed from sacred books, mystics, scientists and poets.” In Bulgheroni’s own words, Dickinson’s bestiary is
just as imaginary and bizarre as those of the Middle Ages and the Seventeenth Century . . . Together with the archaic animals — the bee, the spider, the serpent, the deer - and those of an exotic and visionary lineage — tigers, panthers, leopards — it includes beings of myth and fairytales — elves, gnomes, fairies, giants, sirens and angels of varying hierarchies.(xvii)
The critic emphasizes how in Dickinson’s lexicon the very term “difference,” though rarely literally rendered by Italian translators, “is technically meant by the poet to suggest either a discontinuity in the subject’s own thought or in the order of things — an unbridgeable gap between the polarities so present in her work: concrete / abstract, finite / infinite, mortal / immortal, ephemeral / eternal” (xvii).
The next two sections, “Il vulcano reticente” (“The reticent volcano,” P1748) and “La storia non narrata”(“The Story, unrevealed -,” P1088), a story that precisely because it has not been narrated by the poet herself is likely to remain sealed within the mystery that still surrounds it, concentrate on what are perhaps the most crucial and enigmatic moments in the inner...