Thursday, May 17, 2012


Nation of Issimi

Dear Mike,

 Superlatives obviously didn't suit Emerson, but surely this is essentially a matter of pitch, which may be set anywhere? (Admittedly, if you are always screaming, it is hard to yell). Italian wines, in my experience, are best drunk in Italy. They do not export well, nor is it easy to accommodate the superlatives of a Nation of Issimi in English translation. Leigh Hunt, I think, succeeded best, albeit with some slight padding. He is at his best in his version of Bacchus in Tuscany (1825). Like much humorous Italian verse, Francesco Redi's vivacious headlong dithyramb Bacco in Toscana (1685) revels in the absurdities and exaggerations of the language. It includes such lines as:

Ariana mia bellissima
Crescerà sì tua vaghezza,
Che nel fior di giovinezza
Parrai Venere stessissima      (edition of 1748, p.10)

Hunt translates:

Drink it, Ariadne mine,
And sweet as you are,
'Twill make you so sweet, so perfect and fair,
You'll be Venus at her best,
Venus Venusissimest.            (Milford's edition of The Poetical Works of Leigh Hunt, 1923, p.469)

Later on:

Ma se vivo costantissimo
Nel volerlo arcifreddissimo    (1748 edition, p.19)

is rendered by Hunt as:

But if still, as I ought to do,
I love any wine iced through and through,
If I will have it (and none beside)
Superultrafrostified.              (Milford, p.472)

Naturally, the Mississippi is the favorite American river of a Nation of Issimi. Rossini's La Pietra del Paragone includes a famous comic aria allusiva eroico-bernesca on a 'scornful little ghost of the Mississippi,' Ombretta sdegnosa del Mississippi, in which the reduplicated syllables are fully savored.

As ever,
Ian Jackson

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