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  • Shelley's Translation from an Italian Canzonetta
  • Valentina Varinelli

Shelley scholars have debated extensively about the lines of verse drafted on page 3 of Bodleian MS. Shelley adds. e. 12.1 These lines, which begin with the words "Thy gentle face," address a woman with an almost undecipherable name. The lyric was first published in Verse and Prose from the Manuscripts of Shelley, with the title "To Emilia Viviani" and the date 1821 supplied without manuscript authority.2 The added title identified the addressee with Teresa Viviani, the young Florentine girl who inspired Epipsychidion. Editors G. M. Matthews and Kelvin Everest subsequently challenged both title and date.3 Matthews read the name in the first line as Priscilla, which he ingeniously interpreted as referring to Cornelia Turner. He therefore dated the lyric composition in 1814.4 His dating, however, is not supported by the notebook's physical features.5 The lyric's latest editions favor an 1821 date of composition, but do not clarify the addressee's name.6

All recent editors agree that the lyric bears some relationship to the lines in Italian written by Shelley on page 1 of the same notebook. These have been thought to be a self-translation of the poem, notwithstanding the fact that they precede it in the present forwards direction of the notebook, and in spite of the different stages of revision of the two texts. While the poem on page 3 is a rough draft with many corrections, the lines in Italian are written in a clear hand and have no cancellations. Moreover, accents and apostrophes are indicated with a correctness unusual with Shelley in any language. The very neatness of these lines is an indication of what no editor so far has realized: they are not by Shelley. [End Page 29]

The lines of verse on page 1 correspond to the first stanza of a "Canzonetta" by Antonio Scoppa (1762–1817), a Sicilian emigré to France. The song, an impromptu translation of a French romance, appears in Scoppa's 1803 Traité de la Poésie Italienne, Rapportée à la Poésie Française, an answer to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Lettre sur la Musique Françoise (1753). I give here the text of Shelley's transcription, which I have established by comparing the manuscript with Scoppa's text. The page's deterioration has rendered Shelley's transcription nearly illegible, but as soon as one knows what to look for, the words become clear. Conversely, no punctuation is discernible in the manuscript except for the comma in line 7. Assuming that Shelley followed Scoppa's text in this respect too, I have supplied punctuation in my text below. Indentation follows the manuscript, which slightly differs from the original.

Il tuo viso, o vaga Eurilla    Nella notte s'offre a me.Il tuo amico gode, e brilla,    Quando pensa, sogna a me.Perchè viene o Dio l'Aurora    A turbar la gioia del cor!Grato è il sogno, Io godo ancora    In un estasi d'amor.7

Shelley's transcription is largely faithful.8 However, he takes some orthographical liberties: in line 5 he drops the h of oh, he writes gioia instead of the canzonet's archaic form gioja, and he capitalizes the words Dio, Aurora (line 5), and Io (line 7). There are only two mistakes, both in line 4: Shelley first switches the verbs, also dropping the conjunction; he then writes me instead of te (the original reads: "Quando sogna, e pensa a te"). The latter error is probably due to an eye-skip, for the pronoun me occurs in line 2.

Since Shelley's transcription ends with the first eight lines of the "Canzonetta" (which continues for three more stanzas), it is likely that, after writing them down, he immediately set about translating them in the first blank space he could find in his notebook.9 While Shelley's translations of Italian literature are usually quite faithful,10 he freely renders Scoppa's opening stanza. The following [End Page 30] transcription of Shelley's version, based on a fresh study of the manuscript, differs from previous editions in several particulars. As Goslee explains, many lines are visible only as...


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