Alex Hoffmann on translating Sebastiano Addamo

Alex Hoffmann

on translating Sebastiano Addamo

It is my preference when translating poetry to stray as little as possible from the original text. I prefer to use a word like “crepuscule” instead of the more common “twilight,” for example, in order to remain in closer proximity to the Italian crepusculo. This task is made more difficult by a poet like Addamo, however, who often uses word play to evoke double meanings. The poet uses the adjective oscuro to describe the dog, for example, a word that contains many meanings — unknown or dark or even humble (one synonym for oscuro being umile, as in “humble origins”). I chose “lowly” because it has the potential to evoke a plurality of meanings, while also retaining a more tragic tenor and avoiding the comic effect of the alliterative “dark dog.” A more evasive double meaning occurs when Addamo uses the phrase mestizia speranza. This could be translated as “sad hope”, or “melancholy hope”, but “forlorn hope” turns out to be a phrase (originally Dutch) that refers to a group of soldiers deployed on a dangerous mission. I chose “forlorn” in order both to retain a potential second meaning and also to mirror the earlier image of the pale soldiers, an echo that seemed to fit well in this poem, which I read as a reflection of the poet’s own lost illusions in contrast with the mindless enthusiasm of the collective.

about the author

Addamo was a twentieth-century Sicilian writer and poet. The Italian playwright and critic Massimiliano Perrota once summed it up well: “Lover of synthesis and short forms, in his verses [Addamo] sang the bad mood, the bitterness, the fury of those who yearn for some kind of clarity, and end up finding only negative truths…”

about the translator

Alexander Hoffman is a PhD candidate in comparative literature (with a specialization in Italian) at the Graduate Center in New York interested in the poetics of pessimism.

photo by Ryan Hardy