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The Italianate Wordsworth

Seary, Nicole Ariana

The Italianate Wordsworth is a study of William Wordsworth's enduring interest in Italian literature and culture -- an important aspect of his intellectual life and creativity to which no previous book has been devoted. Of all the first-generation Romantics, Wordsworth was the most influenced by Italian poetry and aesthetics. The roots of his passion for the Italian language stretch back to the earliest stages of his imaginative development and extend throughout his life. His voluminous reading of and recurrent engagement with Italian texts -- as translator and imitator -- began in the late 1780s, when he was under the tutelage of Agostino Isola at Cambridge University. Wordsworth translated works by Petrarch, the paradigmatic Italian sonneteer, in 1789-90; by Ludovico Ariosto, the master of epic romance, between 1789 and 1795, in 1802, and in 1815; by Pietro Metastasio, author of popular songs and melodramas, in 1802-1803; by Michelangelo Buonarroti, the artist, poet, and polymath, in 1804 and again in 1839-1840; and by Gabriello Chiabrera, the epitaphist, in 1809-10 and 1837. Wordsworth's immersion in Italian culture became complete in 1837 when, at the age of sixty-seven, he made an extended visit to Italy. During the four months of this sojourn he was able, after years of dedicated reading and translation of major Italian texts from the foundational Trecento to the pre-Romantic Enlightenment, to realize fully his connection with Italy. In the period that followed, he composed poems that addressed various aspects of Italian history, politics, and culture; and in the last collection of poetry he published in his lifetime, Poems, Chiefly of Early and Late Years (1842), he included a series of twenty-eight poetic reflections entitled "Memorials of a Tour in Italy." This dissertation sheds light not only on Wordsworth's debt to Italian culture but also on our inherited ideas about the English Romantic relationship to Italy. Given the emphasis traditionally placed on the Italianate leanings of the second-generation Romantics, the impact of Italian literature on the mind and writings of a first-generation poet like Wordsworth has been largely forgotten. Thus the "Italianate Wordsworth" comes as something of a surprise. Time and again, he expresses his veneration for the style and sensibility of Italian poets from Dante to Tasso, often going so far as to emulate their techniques and adopt their cadences in his original English verse. As a poet, scholar, translator, and traveler, he is receptive to all that Italian civilization provides.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Basker, James G.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 11, 2011