Jonathan Galassi on Translating Giacomo Leopardi

Jonathan GalassiAs this glimpse at the proofs of my versions of Leopardi’s Canti suggests, a translation, like an original poem, is never finished, only abandoned. And that remains true even after the book is published—I’ve already started collected “improvements” for a future printing.

There’s usually a way to say what needs to be said more concisely, more pithily, more beautifully. That’s why I’ve found translation over the years to have been an incredible education in writing.

Trying to make Leopardi sound plausible in English has been very, very laborious—and exhilarating. I experienced the magic that happens when a text is finally “translated” into type; it really does look and sound better. And suddenly, sometimes embarrassingly, you can see how it could be still further improved: If only you’d thought of that before! That’s one encouraging aspect of the fact that books are going to be less and less “solid-state” in the digital world.

—Jonathan Galassi, President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux

See Also:

“The Raptures of a Tragic Visionary,” The Wall Street Journal

“Broom” by Giacomo Leopardi, The New Yorker (subscription required)

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  • Rob Schackne

    Dear Mr Galassi,

    I’ve just spent a most enjoyable 2 hours pouring over the proofs that you generously assembled here.

    I get the impression less that your fine translations have been abandoned, than they have been set free for us to read and be delighted by.

    I work in China, where bookstores don’t stock your book, but I will order it as soon as I can.

    It must have been a tremendous undertaking. Many thanks for all that effort.

    Rob Schackne

    • jonathan galassi

      Thank you, Rob. I feel as if my work had found its reader. All good wishes, Jonathan

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  • I agree with Rob Schackne, and have a very funny picture to send you in which FSG has a particular weight, so to speak. The immediate subject is Eliza Griswold; whom I admire enormously for her work both in poetry and prose, though I cannot help my bias toward my particular muse, but I’ll say no more other than to please check your e-mail and look for one from me with “Eliza” in the subject line.

    Thank you for the bounty you continue to bring us,