Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Dennis Daly’s new book The Devil’s Artisan: Sonnets from the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, A Settler of Scores

Dennis Daly’s new book The Devil’s Artisan: Sonnets from the Autobiography of
 Benvenuto Cellini, A Settler of Scores

article by Michael Steffen

History and art are the orders of the day in the new collection of sonnets by Dennis Daly in the persona of Benvenuto Cellini, 16th-century master goldsmith and sculptor who won the praise of Michelangelo. It is à propos for the Boston area with its great traditions in the arts. Also because one of Cellini’s extremely rare coins, and not many coins survive, is housed in a glass case in gallery 209 in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Page in and page out a voice emerges and takes hold, urgent in its trochaic cadences. Yet Daly, a poet noted for his ability with forms, knowing what goes where in a line, surprises also with a seeming lack of footing, which had me wondering as I read through the book if I were reading trochees (DA-da) or anapests (da-da-DA), or whether we were in a standard pentameter, as with the fourth line of the opening sonnet:

            Some gold, some silver things that men applaud…

The same sonnet’s first line, however, skips off on an eye-opening anapest, unless we’re going to call it a trochee, which would be truer to a 5-beat line scheme:

            I confess my faults to Almighty God…

The point is these are not translations, the poems are entirely in Daly’s hands, and throughout the license taken with the measure of the lines had me both grinning, for the ingenuity of it all, and at a loss, as a reader of Renaissance poetry, wanting a regular iambic pentameter. Here is an example of an early translation John Milton did from an Italian Canzone:

In love, young men and ladies crowd and share

a laugh at me "Why write this? Why
write in a strange tongue we know not, and strain
yourself in verse of love? How do you dare? 
Speak plain, if you'd have your hopes not prove vain,
and your ambitions fall a shattered lie."
They mock me so "you've other shores to try
other streams, other waters in your reach
upon whose greening beach
now, even now, sprout leaves that never die
to wreathe your locks as laureate.
Why load your shoulders so with foreign freight?" 
I tell you, Canzon. Give them my reply: 
My lady says, and her words are my heart:
     This is the tongue love boasts of as his art. 

The Original:


Ridonsi donne e giovani amorosi
M'accostandosi attorno, e perche scrivi,
Perche tu scrivi in lingua ignota e strana
Verseggiando d'amor, e come t'osi?
Dinne, se la tua speme si mai vana,
E de pensieri lo miglior t'arrivi;
Cosi mi van burlando, altri rivi
Altri lidi t'aspettan, e altre onde
Nelle cui verdi sponde
Spuntati ad hor, ad hora la tua chioma
L'immortal guiderdon d'eterne frondi
Perche alle spalle tue soverchia soma?
Canzon dirotti, e tu per me rispondi
Dice mia Donna, e'l suo dir, è il mio cuore
Questa è lingua di cui si vanta Amore. 

We certainly can’t be asked to stand up to Milton. But here’s a  point about how Italian poetry has been translated into regular English verse. Nor does Daly omit the occasion to use archaic language for feel:

            Out in the open air at the ruins
            Of old Rome I escaped the dreadful plague.
            In ways circuitous and oddly vague
            I entered the jewel trade, eating pigeons… (page 26)

The Preface and the Biographical Sketch opening the book are worth the cover of this most handsome book issued by Dos Madres Press. Cellini’s was a highly dramatic life entailing murders, prisons, the rich patronage, society and opprobrium of popes, as well as significant time in France under the patronage of the French High Renaissance monarch Francis I, who was also a generous benefactor of Galileo.

Daly’s a master of sequence and thematic strategies as we saw in his previous books Night Walking with Nathaniel and Alisher Navoiy Twenty-One Ghazals. As Rick Mullin points out, “Daly gives us the story as he receives it personally from Cellini.” And we sense this as we read through the poems to a chilling degree. It is absolutely visionary, if difficult to score. Speaking of which, you would not wish for Benvenuto Cellini to have a score to settle with you.

It’s a paperback that could easily sit on your living room table.
Dos Madres Press, Inc
P.O. Box 294  Loveland, Ohio 45140
ISBN 978-1-948017-46-6

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