Poems of Italy: selections from the Odes of Giosue Carducci/Notes
Printed among the "Odi Barbare" of 1889. The castle, before the frowning walls of which the poet is meditating, stands by the river Adige—which here flows through Verona—and was long the home of the great Veronese family of the Scaligers. The Church of St. Zeno, to which reference is made in the last stanza, is noted as one of the finest examples of the Romanesque in northern Italy.
A superb symphonic presentation of the whole Napoleonic tragedy, beginning with the parallel drawn in the first four stanzas between the Prince Imperial, son of Napoleon III., and the King of Rome, son of the first Napoleon; and closing with the tremendous portrayal of Letitia, mother of the race—the "Corsican Niobe"—as she stands with her "proud arms" stretched toward the "savage sea," beyond which her children have fallen. In the seventh stanza the references are to the coup d'état of Napoleon III., which occurred in December, 1852, and to the birth of the Prince Imperial in January (the "Brumaire" of the revolutionary calendar), 1856. Very characteristic is the reproach which Carducci, in the tenth stanza, addresses to the Great Napoleon; the poet would have had the Consul put all aside when his true work—the humbling of the thrones, the giving of "concordant laws"—was done, and retire, a second Cincinnatus, to the "lonely house on the Aiaccian shore."
One of Carducci's most delicate bits of impressionism. The glamour which the sun's "dying salutation" sheds on the grim towers and solemn church of dark-turreted Bologna, hangs like a golden haze over the whole poem; and in the last stanza one may feel the intensity of the poet's yearning for that antique beauty which has vanished with a vanished time.
The Château of Miramar, from which the Archduke Maximilian of Austria set out on his ill-fated expedition to Mexico, is situated on the Adriatic, not far from Trieste. The "double gulf" (third stanza) consists of the Gulf of Venice and the Gulf of Trieste, which form practically one sheet of water; and the "turreted cities of the Istrian shore" (whose names I omitted in the translation as unnecessary) are Muggia, Pirano, Egida, and Parenzo. Huitzilopotli (stanza sixteen) is the Mexican god of war. In his own note to the original poem, Carducci explains the rather obscure allusions which occur in the ninth and tenth stanzas. "Certain recollections of the Château of Miramar that find place in these verses perhaps need elucidation," he writes. "In Maximilian's study, built to resemble the cabin of the flagship 'Novara,' which later carried him to Mexico, portraits of Dante and Goethe are to be seen near where the Archduke was accustomed to sit studying; and there still lies open upon the table an old edition of Castillian romances—rare, if I remember rightly, and printed in the Low Countries. In the main hall are engraved a number of Latin maxims. Memorable among them, because of the spot and the man, are these: "Si Fortuna juvat cavete tolli," "Sæpe sub dulci melle venena latent," "Non ad astra mollis et terris via," "Vivitur ingenio, cætera mortis erunt."
Written probably on an anniversary of the battle of Mentana, which occurred on November 3d, 1867. "Peter and Cæsar," of course, represent church and empire leagued together against Italy, who is struggling to throw off the yoke of both.
The asterisks after the second stanza mark four verses which I have omitted from my translation, because they consist of political allusions that to an American reader could mean nothing. For the rest, the poem requires no annotation. The original is one of the most harmoniously beautiful compositions in the whole range of modern Italian literature. Only one who, like the poet, has looked down from the Janiculum on the "pictured form" of the Eternal City, who has felt the wonder of her grandeur and the immortal loveliness of her decay, can fully realize how exquisitely, how subtly her charm pervades each word of the poet's Ave. The essential spirit of Rome is there—of that Rome who is as truly Mistress of the World to-day, in her empire over men's hearts, as when of old she ruled their lives.