- Tutte le poesie, a cura e con un saggio introduttivo di Massimo Bacigalupo by Wallace Stevens
By Wallace Stevens. Milano: Mondadori, 2015.
The first thing to say is that this is a very fine volume. It is nearly 1500 pages in length but light enough to hold easily in one hand. It is printed with great clarity, and is generally a pleasure to both the eyes and the fingers. And so it should be, for more than one reason. It belongs to Mondadori’s Meridiani series, the equivalent in terms of prestige and dignity (and price) to the French Pléiade and the American Library of America. And since it is Wallace Stevens who is being thus honored, attention to such details is only appropriate. Massimo Bacigalupo, in his six-page “Note on the Edition,” points to Stevens’ own love of luxurious editions of his own poetry and reminds us of the sleek splendor of The Collected Poems of 1954, which contained a “Note on the Type,” explaining the choice of “Electra, a Linotype face designed by W. A. Dwiggins,” which “cannot be classified as either modern or old-style.” In his forty-page introduction, Bacigalupo suggests that the sheer handsomeness of The Collected Poems, which was to be found in all the libraries set up by the USA around the world, proclaimed it as the product of a more affluent and “freer” society; of course, as Bacigalupo acknowledges, the propaganda value, in terms of the transmission of American values, of a work like “The Comedian as the Letter C” is doubtful, but readers who came across the poems in India, Berlin, or Istanbul would have found in it an invitation to look beyond their daily lives, and “to breathe another air that was not an escape but something produced in the depths of our own mental faculties” (xx; all translations from the Italian are my own).
Bacigalupo points out that this is the first-ever complete translation of Stevens’ poetry. One can justifiably talk of a special relationship between Stevens and Italy, rivaling even the one that existed between the poet and France. 1954 was marked not only by the publication of The Collected Poems but also by that of the first book-length translation of his poetry, Mattino domenicale, by Renato Poggioli. Some of Stevens’ most fascinating explicatory letters were addressed to Poggioli, answering some of his queries and doubts as he worked on his edition. Poggioli was only the first of a number of distinguished Italian translators; Bacigalupo mentions several others, many of whom are poets. Bacigalupo does not claim to be a poet but he is a highly experienced translator of poetry, with important translations of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Dickinson, Eliot, and Heaney to his name. All the translations in this book are by him, with the exception of “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,” which is by the scholar Glauco Cambon (a fine version that also originally came out in 1954).
This, in fact, is not Bacigalupo’s first go at Stevens. In 1994, he published with Einaudi Harmonium: Poesie, 1915–1955, which contained 150 poems, together [End Page 136] with detailed explanatory notes. These have all been thoroughly revised for this volume. Bacigalupo points to another distinguishing feature of his new book: it is the only edition to supply such notes for every single poem. These provide publication details, metrical observations, and helpful explanatory material; in his introduction, Bacigalupo acknowledges the usefulness of Ronald Sukenick’s pioneering reader’s guide in drawing up these notes, defending him from scholars who have dismissed his approach as too close to reductive paraphrase. Bacigalupo declares that his own notes have no pretense of being definitive but offer “short interpretative indications,” with the intention of fostering discussion. In general, they are extremely helpful.
Apart from the complete poems, the introduction, and the notes, the volume contains a selection of the Adagia, a seventy-five-page chronology, which draws amply on Stevens’ correspondence and other prose, a useful bibliography (with a specific section on criticism in Italian), an index of titles in both...