OK, so I’m watching the rather brilliant BBC4 Eliot doc, and I’m diverted from my usual “Eliot was an anti-semite so does that mean I can’t love his poetry” internal dialogue by the assertion that
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table”
is modern poetry ground zero.
The camera glimpses the printed page, and above the above is written
“S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.”
And I think, You know, I never found out what that meant. Was it important to know? If it wasn’t, why had he written that? And if it was, why did he write it in Italian? Was I supposed to know Italian? Is that fair?
So I thought I’d better find out. I popped it into Google Translator. This is what I found:
“S’io believed that my reply was a person who never returned to the world, This flame without more stara shock. Perciocche but never to this fund do not live around any, s’i'odo the truth, without fear of infamy I answer you.”
Well, I’m sorry but I can’t work out what the fuck he is on about. “This flame without more stara shock” is where it really starts to get unravelled. “My reply was a person who never returned to the world” does make some sense; the personification of his response was an apparition, possibly Syd Barrett. But then until he gets to the “without fear of infamy I answer you” bit, well, it’s cobblers innit.