A Few Remarks on Translating Pound’s Contributions to Broletto

by Claudio Sansone 


With the publication of Un poeta Americano sul lago di Como: Ezra Poud, Carlo Peroni e il “Broletto” (reviewed in this issue of MIN), Maurizio Pasquero has collected Ezra Pound’s contributions to the magazine, and placed them in a useful interpretive context. I have translated Pound’s contributions so that they may be of use to scholars who cannot read Italian, even though a lot of the content was either recycled from previous publications in English, or incorporated into later articles. The translations may be of most use to those interested in seeing the development of Pound’s ideas, and to readers who want a detailed (though filtered) perspective into the way Pound expressed himself in Italian.

This topic deserves its own study, but a few observations may help make the translations more readable. First and foremost, Pound’s Italian is not one easily given to objective reportage of the kind we associate with journalism (at least today). It is a more laconic, abstract, and paratactic language—expressive also in its lack of full fluency. Pound sometimes resorts to phrasings that are jarring, but this feature of his Italian writing gives it a peculiar and effective emphatic force, achieved (for example) through an English-like transposition of tense usage and exclamatory formulae. In a number of places, the meaning of the sentence is ambiguous (and where this is a cardinal issue I have tried to supplement the translation through footnotes)—but ultimately this is a small concern. His register is also of great interest, as he often places simple terms in strange contexts, and makes near-fluent use of many idiomatic terms, or indeed of words that are surprising for non-Italians to adopt. This gives me the sense that while Pound’s Italian was not impeccable, it was most certainly carefully cultivated in its own way.

Given the self-admittedly “jumpy” nature of his Italian (and English) prose, Pound is paradoxically at his clearest in his ruminative article “Orientamenti.” The sense that logical connections are to be implied and that the reader is to be given free reign in intuiting them makes a lot of aesthetic sense for those who know and appreciate Pound, but it is not a choice that translates into Italian with unambiguously positive results. The article on Leo Frobenius, whose impetus seems rather more expository, is in fact much harder to comprehend—and it is hard to imagine that many Italian readers would have been moved to explore Frobenius further as a result of Pound’s report. The intermediary article (chronologically speaking), on Binyon’s translation of Dante’s Purgatorio, strikes an interesting middle ground. Pound is able to come across clearly and convincingly because he moves between general statements regarding the condition of art in the twentieth century and an impassioned review of Binyon’s work. 

Overall, I have tried to be as conservative a translator as possible—sticking to word-order and rhetorical structure as closely as possible. However, some concessions to readability have been made where the emphatic sense was not quite at risk of being lost. In terms of choosing word-by-word cognates between the languages, I have only done so when it seemed a reasonable reconstruction of Pound’s intention—but I do not claim to have developed a Poundian prose in English, nor to have adopted his method for translation. As a result, these English versions should be taken as service translations—and the more ‘notional’ transferral of Pound’s ideas into English should be sought out in his own works, such as the Guide to Kulchur, and in his reviews of Binyon for the Criterion.

I have supplied words in square brackets to smooth out the reading, where the parataxis of both Pound and his Italian was difficult to translate clearly. I have not reproduced textual issues because they do not affect the sense of the passages.

I’d like to thank Roxana Preda for going over a number of drafts and suggesting many valuable corrections and additions. These I have unashamedly taken on board as often as I have resisted them, but it would have been impossible to bring these translations to completion without her help. Of course, any remaining errors and traces of negligence are entirely of my own doing.