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The Collected Letters of Robert Southey Part 3

1099. Robert Southey to Richard Duppa, [August 1805] ⁠* 

For 124 it it is quite impracticable to put it into English. I could as soon jump down my own throat as get it into verse. [1]  What follows is very bad

91.

When the heart is sulphur, & the bones dry wood,
The body flax prepared to catch the flame,
The will to pleasure prone & slow to good.
The reason weak the while & blind & lame.
Without a guide, without a rein, the soul,
Should it a wonder in this world be thought
If the first flash should set on fire the whole?
And yet not thus it was it with me, for nought
But perfect beauty kindled me, who take
The [MS cut] the splendour that shall make

[MS missing]

Dear Duppa

Three whole evenings from six till half past nine has it cost me to versify this madrigal & sonnet – & pretty things they are at last. But the truth [MS obscured] that no person can form any idea of the difficulty of translating Michel Angelo’s poetry [2]  unless they were to try at it; – if I had said impossibility it would not be far from the truth – I believe you must throw both behind the fire – but if I were to be thrown there myself I could not mend them. Each has cost me more labour than the best two hundred lines I ever wrote – but what is done with labour in this way is sure to be bad, the difficulty is symptomatic of the badness – as costiveness shows that the bowel {intestines} are out of order

[MS missing]


Notes

* Endorsement: R: Southey
MS: Bodleian Library, MS Montagu. d. 18
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, p. 397 [in part].
Dating note: The dating is Curry’s. BACK

[1] After Duppa’s visit to the Lakes in the summer of 1804, both Wordsworth and Southey translated poems for Duppa’s Life and Works of Michel Angelo Buonarroti, with his Poetry and Letters, which was published in 1806. Wordsworth translated one sonnet; Southey three sonnets and a madrigal. A further poem, ‘And sweet it is to see in summer time’, was a joint effort, the first four stanzas by Wordsworth, the following five by Southey. See Kenneth Curry, ‘Uncollected Translations of Michelangelo by Wordsworth and Southey’, Review of English Studies, 14 (1938), 193–199. BACK

[2] Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni [Michelangelo] (1475–1564), Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer. BACK

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August 2013