‘Hypocrites Traducteurs:’ on some Aspects of Italian Translations of “The Waste Land”


Stefano Maria Casella (Università IULM) provides an overview of the specific issues Italian translators had to navigate since the Italian reception of Eliot first began in the 1930s. He first probes the distinctive implications of each rendering suggested by translators for the adjective “waste” in the poem’s title (desolata, deserta, guasta, devastada). Casella then shows how Italian, as a polysyllabic language, deeply affect the translating process. Translators also had to decide whether to translate Eliot’s quotations from Dante anew or go back to the original. Eventually comparing the process of translation to that of interpreting a musical score, resulting in the interpreter-translator stressing some aspects while blurring others, Casella concludes with a musing on the criticism made possible by translations.

Stefano Maria Casella (Università IULM) présente un panorama des problèmes particuliers que les traducteurs italiens ont rencontré depuis les débuts de la réception de T. S. Eliot en Italie dans les années 1930. Il examine d’abord les implications spécifiques de chaque choix proposé pour l’adjectif waste dans le titre du poème : desolata, deserta, guasta, devastada. Puis il montre comment et en quoi l’italien, langue polysyllabique, affecte profondément le processus traductif. Les traducteurs ont dû également choisir de retraduire les citations de Dante ou de les reprendre dans l’italien de l’époque de Dante. Enfin, après comparé le processus de traduction avec l’interprétation d’une partition musicale où le traducteur comme l’interprète privilégie certains traits et en estompe d’autres, Casella conclut par une évocation des lectures critiques rendues possibles par les traductions.


Hypocrite Traducteurs: On some Aspects of Italian Translations of The Waste Land
…the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings.


In Memoriam
In devout, fond, and grateful memory of Mario Melchionda and Lawrence Rainey:
the former unsurpassed “maestro” at the University of Padua,
the latter dear and generous friend at Yale,
both great and inspiring Eliot scholars.


 I) Introduction, Chronology, and General Considerations.

“A great age of literature is perhaps always a great age of translations.” [1] If this statement, formulated in 1917 by Ezra Pound, is true (and Pound as literary critic was rarely mistaken), hence the century following the publication of The Waste Land, with so many translations of Eliot’s masterpiece in so many different languages (and from so various linguistic families) must have been a great age both for literature – which is undeniably true – and for translation as well.

This survey focuses on “some aspects of Italian translations”, which stretch over a span of time of ninety years, from 1932 to 2022.

Hence, to begin with, a brief chronology (year of first edition; Author; in brackets following editions and reprints; title) is helpful to contextualize the phenomenon:

1932: Mario Praz [1963-1970-1985]  = La terra desolata
1941: Luigi Berti [1955] = La terra deserta
1961: Roberto Sanesi [1992] = La terra desolata
1972: Elio Chinol [2022] = La terra desolata
1982: Alessandro Serpieri [1985] = La terra desolata
1992: Mario Melchionda [2015] = La terra guasta
____: Angelo Tonelli [1995]  = La terra desolata
____: Angiolo Bandinelli [1995] = Il paese guasto (La terra desolata)
2012: Massimo Bacigalupo  = La terra desolata
2018: Aimara Garlaschelli  = La terra desolata
2021: Carmen Gallo = La terra devastata
2022: Sara Ventroni = La terra desolata [2]

It all began with the ‘discovery’ of Eliot’s masterpiece in the early Thirties of the XX c. and set out in the various re-readings/re-interpretations – as in Laura Caretti’s definition: “…la varietà di traduzioni, o meglio di interpretazioni…” [3] (Caretti 1968, 44, n. 58) – of the following decades up to 2022. The succession of translations is characterized by a more-or-less constant trend: almost every decade produced its translations – the only exception being the year 1992 (70th anniversary) with three translations at the same time. In a sense, this (quasi-)regularity proves the truth both of T.S. Eliot’s statement: “Each generation must translate for itself” [4] [each decade, in this case], and of Mario Melchionda’s sharp observation: “Non una nuova traduzione: ogni traduzione appartiene al suo tempo, ed è il tempo che è nuovo. Si pensi al significato asimmetrico di vecchia traduzione: una nuova traduzione fa diventare vecchia la precedente?”  (Melchionda 2015, 981 n. 3; italics of the Author). [5] Therefore, how does “each generation…translate for itself”? [6]

Before beginning the analysis, it does not seem inappropriate to open a briefest parenthesis — to offer a further (and perhaps a challenging one) cause for reflection — suggested by the initiatory motto of the fourteenth plate of Mutus Liber – Le Livre Muet: “Ora lege lege lege relege labora et invenies”, which might – or should – be changed, as regards the “lege … relege” verb sequence, in “…verte verte verte reverte labora et invenies”. Even though one cannot expect that a translator pray (“[o]ra”) before accomplishing his/her task (the times of St. Jerome are all over), it is inescapable that he/she must read and re-read, and above all translate and re-translate, in order to achieve the (quasi-) final, more or less ne varietur text – as long as a ne varietur text is really possible, as again Melchionda much finely considers:

Alcune – la prima e classica di Praz su tutte, un “archetipo di traduzione” del poema –, hanno sedimentato, talora con la cogenza (talora con l’illusione, o la pretesa) del ne varietur, consuetudini, convenzioni, modulazioni ritmiche, parafrastiche e glossali, che hanno generato un “rumore di fondo”, o “palinsesto” di voci e di scrittura, cumulativo e costante. (Melchionda 2015, 981). [7]

And indeed some of the terms, and concepts of this reflection (“habits, conventions, rhythmic, paraphrastic, glossal modulations…‘background noise,’…accumulative and constant ‘palimpsest’ of voices and of writing”) cannot be overlooked – since they perfectly describe, summarise, and at the same time disclose (i.e. reveal in advance) the real phenomena, problems, touchstones, and ‘state of the art’ of the Italian translations of The Waste Land throughout the course of the decades (these concepts — out-and-out “guidelines” — will be discussed in synthesis at the end of this survey).

And also another unavoidable observation must be prefaced, that is the fundamental difference between English words, usually shorter, and Italian ones, usually longer; Eugenio Montale, the Italian 1975 Nobel Prize for literature, suitably defined Italian as “pesante linguaggio polisillabico” (Montale 1976: 567) (= heavy polysyllabic language): such difference (syllabic, rhythmic, and “musical”) cannot but deeply affect the art, theory, and practice of translation.

In approaching the some fifteen [8] most important official (and complete) Italian translations of The Waste Land, it is even superfluous to point out that the survey must necessarily deal with only a most limited number of aspects &/or examples and case studies. Once again Ezra Pound comes through for us, with his method of the “Luminous Details”. [9] And also T.S. Eliot’s not less famous and inescapable imperative “Analysis and Comparison” [10] is of help – even though it cannot be extensively employed/adopted (for obvious limits of space and time, being it impossible to accomplish a complete analytical comparison/comparative analysis of the Italian texts).

II) “Some aspects [of Italian translations]”

This exploration will therefore focus on a few selected aspects of the Italian translations:

1) The title

“Not only the title…” as Eliot wrote in the introductory note to the poem (Eliot 2015, 73).

The first title, chosen by Mario Praz, the earliest Italian translator of The Waste Land, was “La terra desolata” (Eng. “desolate”: “A. as pa. pple. Brought to desolation, laid waste […] B. adj. Left alone, without companion, solitary, lonely.”, OED IV: 526) and that choice has almost become the standard one: the majority of the subsequent translations (ten out of fifteen), in fact, have opted for this very same adjective. Praz’s translation has become, throughout the decades, the “archetypal” one, as stressed by Melchionda: “la prima e classica di Praz su tutte, un ‘archetipo di traduzione’ del poema.” (Melchionda 2015, 981). [12] This is mainly due to the undisputable authority of Praz, among other things the most important among the very few Italian collaborators of Criterion, as well as an intellectual, and most erudite scholar and essayist: he was lecturer and then professor of Italian Literature at the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool (Twenties and Thirties of the XX c.) and later of English literature at Università La Sapienza in Rome. Beyond being in contact with Eliot himself, Praz shared with him a deep scholarly and critical interest in the Metaphysical poets. [13]

A decade later (1942) Luigi Berti changes the title in “La terra deserta”. And in 1955 Renato Poggioli veers to “guasta” (mainly from Dante’s “paese guasto”, Inf. XIV: 94[-96]); Poggioli (who however did not translate The Waste Land) submitted his suggestion to Eliot himself, who was surprised: “So my title was mistranslated” he replied, referring to Praz’s earliest choice/option (Peron 2014, 262-264 and Melchionda 2015, 987 n. 12). Be it as it may, it is however worth stressing that in his three essays on Dante (1920, 1929, 1950) [14] Eliot never mentions the locus of the Dantescan poem where the adjective “guasto” appears: he was interested in, and attracted to, other episodes, characters, and themes of the Commedia.

The Dantescan adjective “guasto” is “officially” resumed and adopted (independently from its proposer Poggioli) at the beginning of the Nineties (1992) by Mario Melchionda [15] and by Angiolo Bandinelli, in their respective translations, both entitled “La terra guasta.”

The fourth solution for “waste” is Carmen Gallo’s 2021 “devastata” (Eng. “devastate”: “to lay waste, ravage, waste, render desolate”, OED IV: 561-562, the past participle “devastated” used as adjective is not recorded).

Therefore, the four Italian solutions for “waste” are “desolata”, “deserta”, “guasta”, and “devastata”.

* “Desolata” mainly focuses on the Biblical source, imagery and meanings, from the book of Ezekiel: “So will I stretch out my hand upon them, and make the land desolate, yea, more desolate than the wilderness toward Diblath…” (Ezek. VI: 14, emphasis added) and Isaiah: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken: neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate…” (Isa. LXII: 4). [16]

* “Deserta” is Luigi Berti’s solution, arguably to distinguish his translation from Mario Praz’s cumbersome “archetype” (in a sense, a form of Bloomian “Anxiety of Influence”). “Deserta” both stresses the geo-topo-morphological character of the “land” – as in the fifth part “What the Thunder Said” with its theme and imagery (literal, literary/intertextual, and symbolic) of the “desert” even “among the mountains”, its Biblical echoes (see the prophetic texts quoted above), and – no less prophetic – Dante, Inf. XIV: 99 (where, after the tercet about “il paese guasto” one also reads the not less important/remarkable conclusion: “or è diserta come cosa vieta” (emphasis added); [17] clearly the archaic Italian adjective “diserta” recalls the modern “deserta” both with the grammatical function of the adjective “deserto/a” (past participle “deserted” used as adjective) and of the noun “deserto” (Eng. “desert”: a. 1. deserted, forsaken, abandoned. […] 2. Uninhabited, unpeopled, desolate, lonely.”, OED IV: 515).

* “Guasta”: etymologically from “waste” (“Of land: … uncultivated and uninhabited or sparsely inhabited […] fig. desolate, barren.” OED XIX: 959); mythologically and anthropologically from the Grail cycle and romances (Perceval, Perlesvaus, Parzival) also “via” Weston. [18] “Guasta” also slightly shifts the focus from the Biblical to the Dantescan interpretation, blending a highest degree of literariness with a precise etymologic and lexical source. As already recalled, both Melchionda and Bandinelli (1992) converge towards “[paese] guasto”; however, Bandinelli cautiously repeats in brackets also the standard title “La terra desolata”: “[T.S. Eliot] Il paese guasto (La terra desolata)”. [19]

* “Devastata”. After this Dantescan parenthesis (which is all but a parenthesis, being essential to the literary and semantic context of Italian translations in their relationship to “il Sommo Poeta”) the land returns “desolata” for Tonelli (1992), Bacigalupo (2012), Garlaschelli (2018) [and Ventroni (2022)] until Carmen Gallo’s 2021 original proposal “de-vastata” which, in a sense, echoes both “de-solata” (past participle) and “guasta” (from Latin “vastare” = Italian “guastare”). Carmen Gallo harks back to all the previous literary sources, but also particularly emphasizes the historical, social and psychological condition of the early Twenties of the XX c. after first world war. [20]

2) Dante’s quotations.

The way Italian translators confront/measure with Eliot’s ‘quotations’ from, or close ‘imitations’ of, Dante’s verses from the Divine Comedy.

To return to Dante, the Florentine deserves a particular attention in connection to Italian translators inasmuch as they have to come to vie with him via Eliot: for all of them the challenge is double: whether and how to translate Eliot’s English, and whether and how to quote, more or less literally/verbatim, their common master Dante and his “lingua volgare”.

Almost superfluous – but not useless – to repeat here the two most memorable passages from The Waste Land echoing the Divina Commedia:

    1. i)

Dante: “… sì lunga tratta / di gente, ch’i’ non averei creduto / che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”
(Inf. III: 55-57; “…so long a train | Of people, that I ne’er would have believed | That ever Death so many had undone.” Trans. H.W. Longfellow); the Florentine poet obviously rhymes “tratta / disfatta” in his tercet.

Eliot: “… so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many.” (The Waste Land I: 62-63). The still American (in 1922) poet recurs to the epiphora of “many”, thus “inventing” (more than re-creating) a new rhyme of his own.

Italian translators

Praz: “[La gente] … tanta / Ch’io non avrei mai creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” keeps quite close to the original of Dante;

Berti: “[La folla] … così tanta, / — Ch’io non credevo che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” changes the first verb (“credevo”) into the imperfect tense;

Sanesi: “[Una gran folla] … così tanta / Ch’i’ non avrei mai creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” – Sanesi too keeps close to Dante and translates almost like Praz, but more precisely repeats Dante’s contraction “ch’i’;

Chinol: “[Una folla] …ed erano tanti / Ch’io non credevo morte n’avesse disfatto tanti.” –Chinol distinguishes himself from Dante: he adds a new verb “erano” (which does not appear in Dante), and uses the imperfect form for the second one “credevo”;

Serpieri: “[Una folla] … tanti, / Ch’io non avrei creduto che morte tanti n’avesse disfatti.” He too keeps close to <dante, but changes the verb into plural (“disfatti”);

Melchionda: “[una folla] si lunga tratta / ch’io non averei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”, repeats Dante verbatim;

Tonelli: “[una folla]…tanta / che io non avrei creduto che morte / tanta ne avesse disfatta.”, close to Dante too;

Bandinelli: “[una turba] …tanti / ch’io non credevo Morte tanti n’avesse disfatti.”, conjugates the verb in the imperfect tense, and capitalizes “Death” = figure of speech of personification;

Bacigalupo: “[Una folla]…tanta, / Non pensavo che la morte ne avesse disfatta tanta.”, “invents” a new rhyme through the final repetition (epiphora) of “tanta at the end of two following lines;

Garlaschelli: “[una folla]… sì lunga / Ch’i’ non averei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.” Keeps the archaic verb “averei” for modern Italia conditional “avrei”;

Gallo: “[una folla] … così tanta / Ch’io non avrei creduto che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.”, close to Dante too (but eliminates the adverb “mai”);

Ventroni: “[una folla] … così tanti / ch’io non avrei creduto che morte tanti n’avesse disfatti.”; also close to Dante, but with plural subject (and then object) = “tanti…disfatti” (also imperfect rhyme).

All these solutions are a matter of slight “variations on the theme”, but it must be recognized that the theme itself is almost “obbligato”.

  1. ii)

The second quotation is much shorter, but not less complex:

Dante: “Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma:” (Purg. V: 134-135: “Siena made me, unmade me Maremma;” Trans. H.W. Longfellow).

The most remarkable feature is the perfect chiasmus subject (toponym: “Siena”) and verb + verb and subject (toponym again: “Maremma”); furthermore both verbs are in the affirmative, but the second means the direct opposite of the first: “fece / disfecemi” (“did / undid”).

Eliot: “…Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew / Undid me.” (The Waste Land III: 293-294). He cannot re-create Dante’s chiasmus: “[Siena] mi fè, X disfecemi [Maremma]”, indeed he also has to  resort to two different (as regards form and etymology) English verbs: “bore” for Dante’s “mi fé”, and “undid” (more “faithful” to the original) for “disfecemi”. He “translates” the first verb charging it with a more precise semantic meaning: i.e. bore = “generated, gave birth to”, whereas keeps almost literal – and more faithful to the Dantescan model (“disfecemi”) the second verb “undid”.

Italian translations:

Praz: “Highbury mi fe’. Richmond e Kew / Disfecemi.”

Berti: “Highbury mi fe’. Richmond e Kew / Mi disfecero.”

Sanesi: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi / Richmond e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Chinol: “Highbury mi fe’. Richmond e Kew / Disfecemi.”

Serpieri: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi Richmond / E Kew.”

Melchionda: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi / Richmond e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Tonelli: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi / Richmond e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Bandinelli: “Highbury mi fe’, Kew e Richmond disfecemi.”

Bacigalupo: “Highbury mi ha fatta. Richmond e Kew / disfatta.”

Garlaschelli: “Highbury mi fé. Disfécemi Richmond / E Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Gallo: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi Richmond / e Kew.” [chiasmus like Dante]

Ventroni: “Highbury mi fe’. Disfecemi Richmond / e Kew.”

Also in this case Italian translators fundamentally follow the original verses (and lexicon) by Dante, and of Eliot after him, sometimes slightly changing the syntactical order, either retaining or changing the original chiasmus, or changing the verb tense (such as Bacigalupo in “fatta…disfatta”)

3) The “mock/hidden sonnet”.

The way they succeed in interpreting the “hidden/mock sonnet” [11] in the central section (“The Fire Sermon”) of The Waste Land: “The time is now propitious, as he guesses […] And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit…” (Eliot 2015, 64, ll. 235-248).

Tertium datur: the “mock/hidden sonnet” in “The Fire Sermon”; the empty (“oed”) heart of the poem, the “all-but-love-scene”, the anti-lyric parody, grotesque celebration of the missing emotion, feeling, passion, physical, psychological and spiritual communication, spiritual ecstasy and “illumination”. In Eliot’s own words “the contemplation of the horrid or sordid or disgusting” as already stressed above.

The main obstacles for the translators of this passage are Eliot’s original verse length (blank verse) and perfect mastery of the rhyming couplets – also when he infringes them in the final couplet. [21]

The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
(And I Tiresias have foresuffered all
Enacted on this same divan or bed;
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the lowest of the dead.)
Bestows one final patronising kiss,
And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit . . .
(Eliot 2015, 64)

Italian translators must come to terms both with “il nostro pesante linguaggio polisillabico” (as in Montale’s definition quoted at the beginning) and with Eliot’s “sonnet” rhyme scheme (Shakespearian): a really “intolerable wrestle / With words”. Each of them does his/her best to re-create the inimitable rhythm and “music” of the original: impossible to mirror its rhyming couplets and to keep to its line length.

rhymes: “apprezza/carezza”; “annoiata/bramata”; “difesa/intesa”; “indifferenza/accoglienza” [internal] […]; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length = few hendecasyllables + longer lines (12-17).

rhymes: “indesiderate/Eccitato” [internal-imperfect]; “indifferenza/accoglienza” [internal-final]; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
Line length: four hendecasyllables + longer lines (12-17).

rhymes: “difesa/intesa”; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: much longer (11-21).

rhymes: “resistenza/indifferenza…condiscendenza”
line length: 12-16.

rhymes: “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: quite long (11-15).

rhymes: “desiderato/infocato [internal]; “accosta/risposta”; “resistenza/indifferenza”; tutto/letto [imperfect]; “padrone/tentoni” [imperfect].
line length: ten hendecasyllables, the remaining four lines slightly longer (12-14) ***

rhymes: “resistenza/accoglienza…accondiscendenza”; “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: few hendecasyllables, then longer lines (13-18).

Rhymes: “calore/fare” [imperfect – internal]; “prescioloso/difesa” [imperfecct – internal].
Line length: 7 hendecasyllables; then slightly longer lines (12-15).

rhymes: “respinte/esploranti” [imperfect-internal]; “tutto/divanoletto” [imperfect];  “condiscendente/spente”.
line length: 12-17.

rhymes: “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: few hendecasyllables, then loner lines (12-16).

rhymes: “tutto/letto” [imperfect].
line length: various (10-18).

rhymes: “finite/annoiata” [internal imperfect]; “carezze/Paonazzo” [imperfect internal]; “deciso/difesa” [internal imperfect]; “tutto/letto”.
line length: various; longer lines (12-16), one hendecasyllable and one decasyllable.

III) “After such knowledge…”

It is not easy to synthetically give a precise and above all definitive definition of each translation; with a musical metaphor it might be said that each of them represents, in a sense, a different, personal and original “interpretation” of a musical score. As different directors and orchestras stress particular moments, phrases, notes, length, duration, cadences, passages of a score, so each translator stresses some aspects and blends – or blurs – others. Still in Eliot’s words, stressing the diligence and passion of all translators, they may be defined as “All touched by a common genius,” (Little Gidding III). And, still in Pound’s words, what all translators accomplish may rightfully be defined as “criticism by translation”. [22]

But let us return to — and conclude with — Melchionda’s suggestions previously mentioned/quoted:

habits” and “conventions”: from the very beginning (1932) to the present day (2022, and certainly after) they have determined and established, through their dynamics, inter-relationships and intersections, the general picture and context of both “theory” and “praxis” of the (Italian, in our case) translations; a phenomenon which has evolved and developed through “rhythmic, paraphrastic, glossal modulations” (as each individual translation unquestionably proves); and however the so-called “background noise” (ubiquitous, and not immutable) has determined an “accumulative and constant ‘palimpsest’ of voices and of writing[23]– a “palimpsest” which begins long before Eliot’s text (Vedic sacred writings in Sanskrit; Hebrew, Greek and Latin sources; English and French poetry; German operas etc.), is concentrated and condensed in Eliot’s masterpiece; and projects itself beyond it, to be continually re-newed, re-written and re-interpreted in its unequalled complexity, through its multiple sources, its (long ago) ground-breaking modernist poetics/aesthetics (now object of historical canonization, critical interpretations, and continuous going beyond and renewal.

IV) Eliot’s “…inviolable voice…”

“E però sappia ciascuno che nulla cosa per legame musaico armonizzata si può della sua loquela in altra transmutare sanza rompere tutta sua dolcezza ed armonia.” (Dante, Convivio I, vii, 14)

[Therefore everyone should know that nothing harmonized according to the rules of poetry can be translated from its native tongue into another without destroying all its sweetness and harmony (my translation)]


Italian Translations of The Waste Land (in alphabetical order).

Bacigalupo, Massimo. La terra desolata. In Il Sermone del Fuoco. T.S. Eliot. Milano: Edizioni Corriere della Sera, 2012: 32-69.

Bandinelli, Angiolo. Il Paese guasto (La Terra desolata). [1992] Bagni di Tivoli (Roma)-Trezzano sul Naviglio (Milano): Millelire, 1995.

Berti, Luigi. “La terra deserta”. Poesie di Thomas Stearns Eliot. Modena: Guanda, 1942: 59-93.

Chinol, Elio. T.S. Eliot. La terra desolata (1972) A c. di Rossella Pretto, trad. Elio Chinol. Latiano (Brindisi): Interno Poesia, 2022.

Gallo, Carmen. T.S. Eliot. La terra devastata. Milano: Il Saggiatore, 2021.

Garlaschelli, Aimara, T.S. Eliot. La terra desolata. Pisa: ETS, 2018.

Massara, Giuseppe. La terra desolata. Brescia: L’Obliquo, 2002.

Melchionda, Mario. “La terra guasta. Una Traduzione”. In Lingue e contesti: studi in onore di Alberto M. Mioni. A c. di M. Grazia Busà e Sara Gesuato. Padova: CLEUP, 2015: 963-989.

Praz, Mario (prefaz. e trad.) T. S. Eliot. La terra desolata; Frammento di un agone; Marcia trionfale. [1932]. Torino: Einaudi, 1963: 14-49.

Sanesi, Roberto (a c. di) La terra desolata. In T.S. Eliot. Poesie. Milano: Bompiani-Mondadori: 208-241.

Serpieri, Alessandro. T.S. Eliot. La terra desolata. Con il testo della prima redazione. Milano: Rizzoli (BUR), 1982.

Tonelli, Angelo. Thomas Stearns Eliot. La terra desolata. Milano: Crocetti, 1992 (then Milano: Feltrinelli, 1995).

Ventroni, Sara (ed. and transl.) Thomas Stearns Eliot. La Terra Desolata. Milano: Ponte alle grazie, 2022.



[1] Ezra Pound, “Notes on Elizabethan classicists” (1917). LE: 232.

[2] Only the complete and most reliable and authoritative translations (from the scientific, philologic, and academic or poetic point of view) of The Waste Land have been considered in this analysis. To this list there should be added at least Giuseppe Massara, La terra desolata (Brescia: L’Obliquo, 2002), a limited edition for collectors (300 copies) with a lithography by Pirro Cuniberti. Erminia Passannanti’s 2011 La terra desolata was published for the first time by The Mask Press (Oxford, 2011) and then reprinted by independent presses in 2012, 2015, and 2017. But the first publisher and publication prove unobtainable. This translation does not look particularly convincing (critically and scientifically), it skips the translation of a line from Eliot’s original text, and is imprecise/incorrect in various details of its “critical introduction” to Eliot’s life and works. Another recent translation is Martina Belelli, La terra desolata (2019).

[3] “…the variety of translations, rather interpretations…” (my translation).

[4] T.S. Eliot, “Introduction” to Selected Poems of Ezra Pound. London: Faber, l948 (1928): 15.

[5] “Not a new translation: any translation belongs to its time/days, and it is the time that is new. One should think of the ‘asymmetrical’ meaning of ‘old translation’: does a new translation turn the previous one into an old one?” (my translation). As regards Melchionda’s approach to Eliot’s masterpiece and the principles of its translation, it should here be stressed that, pace all the other “historical” as well as the most recent translators of the poem, both his first commentary (1976) and above all his final one (1992, then 2015) are the most precise, erudite (without being dreary), and most consistent with Eliot’s ideal of “impersonality” (in this case applied to translation). In other words, the Italian academic, scholar, and translator does not encumber his analysis with a self-commentary, but appropriately highlights the real, theoretical and practical, problems of translation – and of this translation in particular.

[6] Worth noticing also the fact that of the most recent Italian translations (2011-2022), five have been accomplished by women, who are also (for the majority) poetesses and scholars ([Passannanti], Garlaschelli, [Belelli], Gallo, and Ventroni).

[7] “Some [translations] – the first and classic one by Praz above all, an ‘archetype of translation’ of the poem – have settled, sometimes with the urgency (sometimes with the illusion, or the pretence/presumption) of the ne varietur, habits, conventions, rhythmic, paraphrastic, glossal modulations which have generated a ‘background noise,’ or accumulative and constant ‘palimpsest’ of voices and of writing.” (my translation).

[8] Or more, including the partial ones, which I am compelled to keep out from this recensio.

[9] Ezra Pound, “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris.” ID. Selected Prose 1909-1965. Ed. and intro by William Cookson. London: Faber and Faber, 1973: 23-24,

[10] T.S. Eliot, “The Function of Criticism” (1923), in ID. SE: 32-33. See also Ezra Pound: “Wealth comes from exchange, but judgement comes from comparison.” ID. “A Visiting Card”, SP 289, emphasis added), and Stefano Maria Casella, “Consider / Carefully the Reviewer…”. Leggere per scegliere. La pratica della recensione nell’editoria moderna e contemporanea. A c. di A. Chiurato. Milano: Mimesis, 2020: 65-100, about Eliot’s rigid practice and application of this method/formula in his activity as a literary reviewer.

[11] “Hidden” &/or “mock” sonnet is a definition of my own (for which I take the entire critical responsibility), trying to suggest/stress the fact that Eliot composed an almost perfect Shakespearian sonnet, but cunningly ‘hid’ it within the whole stylistic and thematic (and, if possible, “narrative”) context of the ‘violet hour/typist’” episode and, at the same time, used it to ‘mock’ the whole tradition of love sonnets (from Petrarch onwards) through a lyric where the most celebrated human feeling – love – is completely reversed through “[t]he contemplation of the horrid or sordid or disgusting…” (“sordid and disgusting” in particular) as in his own definition in his first essay on Dante (1920), in The Sacred Wood (SW 143).

[12] “the first classic [translation] by Praz above all the others [has become] an ‘archetype of translation’ for the poem.” (my translation).

[13] Cf. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry by T.S. Eliot. The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926 and The Turnbull Lectures at The John Hopkins University, 1933. Edited and introduced by Ronald Schuchard. London: Faber and Faber, 1993, passim, in part. p. 58 n. 35, and p. 178 n. 48.

[14] T.S. Eliot, “Dante” (1920) in The Sacred Wood (1920); “Dante” (1929) in Selected Essays (1932 and ff.); “What Dante means to me” (1950) in To criticize the critic and other writings (1965 and ff.).

[15] Melchionda had already chosen “guasta” in his thoroughly in-depth commentary (without translation) to Eliot’s poem in 1976 (see Bibliography).

[16] See also Peron 2014, 260.

[17] Ibid., 260-261, and Melchionda 2015, 986-988. Dante’s whole passage reads: «In mezzo mar siede un paese guasto», / diss’ elli allora, «che s’appella Creta, / sotto ’l cui rege fu già ’l mondo casto. / Una montagna v’è che già fu lieta / d’acqua e di fronde, che si chiamò Ida; / or è diserta come cosa vieta. (Inf. XIV: 94-99, emphasis added). << “In the mid-sea there sits a wasted land,” | Said he thereafterward, “whose name is Crete, | Under whose king the world of old was chaste. || There is a mountain there, that once was glad | With waters and with leaves, which was called Ida; | Now ’tis deserted, as a thing worn out.>> (Trans. H.W. Longfellow, emphasis added).

[18] See J.L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance (1920). Gloucester/MA: Peter Smith, 1983: 12-13-14, 16, 21, 23, 63.

[19] See Melchionda 2015, 986; Gallo 2021, 86-88.

[20] Worth mentioning that, unlike Gallo, the immediately previous translator of Eliot’s poem, Aimara Garlaschelli (2018) insists not so much on the historical contextualization, but on the mythic-anthropological one (SOURCE)

[21] Another and more complete (and complex) example of Eliot’s knowledge and mastery of Dante’s versification is the episode of the meeting with the “familiar compound ghost” in the second section of Little Gidding (ll. 123-456) which the poet himself explains in What Dante Means To Me (1950) when he declares: “Twenty years after writing The Waste Land, I wrote, in “Little Gidding”, a passage which is intended to be the nearest equivalent to a canto of the Inferno or the Purgatorio, in style as well as content, that I could achieve […] I borrowed and adapted freely only a few phrases – because I was imitating. My first problem was to find an approximation to the terza rima without rhyming. English is less copiously provided with rhyming words than Italian…” (Eliot 1965: 128).

[22] Ezra Pound, “Date Line” (1934) in ID. “Make It New”, LE: 74. See also Melchionda 2015: “traduzione e critica formano e abitano uno spazio epistemico unico, dove ogni presa di parola disdice l’ancillarità dell’una e la parassitarietà dell’altra rispetto all’originale, di cui sono anzi alleate e complici per via della comune “mossa ermeneutica” (982): “translation and criticism give form to, and inhabit, a unique epistemic space, wherein any taking the floor breaks the ancillary position of the one and the parasitical position of the other in relation to the original, of which both are allied and complicit because of their common/shared ‘hermeneutical move’” (my translation).

[23] As regards Eliot’s “voice” one cannot omit mentioning Michael Edwards unique and thought-provoking essay “Hearing Eliot Now” in Études anglaises, Vol. 65, n. 4 (2012): 400-416.



Alighieri, Dante. Tutte le Opere. A c. di Luigi Blasucci. Firenze: Sansoni, 1992 (for La Divina Commedia and Convivio). English translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=1004

Caretti, Laura. T.S. Eliot in Italia, Saggio e Bibliografia (1923-1965). Bari: Adriatica, 1968.

Casella, Stefano Maria. “Consider / Carefully the Reviewer…”. In Leggere per scegliere. La pratica della recensione nell’editoria moderna e contemporanea. A c. di A. Chiurato. Milano: Mimesis, 2020: 65-100.

Edwards, Michael. “Hearing Eliot Now”. Études anglaises, Vol. 65, n. 4 (2012): 400-416.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “Dante” [1920], In ID. The Sacred Wood. Essays on Poetry and Criticism. London: Faber and Faber 1997: 135-145.

__________________. “The Function of Criticism” [1923]. In ID. Selected Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1999 pbk. [1932]: 23-34 (Abbreviated in LE).

__________________. “Introduction” to Selected Poems of Ezra Pound [1928] London: Faber and Faber: l948: 7-21.

__________________. “Dante” [1929] in ID Selected Essays [1932]. London: Faber and  Faber 1999 pbk.: 237-277.

__________________. “What Dante Means To Me” [1950] in ID To criticize the critic and other writings. London: Faber and Faber 1965: 125-135.

__________________. The Complete Poems and Plays. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.

__________________. The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry. The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926 and The Turnbull Lectures at The John Hopkins University, 1933. Edited and introduced by Ronald Schuchard. London: Faber and Faber, 1993.

__________________. The Poems of T.S. Eliot. The annotated text. Eds. Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue. Baltimore/MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2015 (vol. I Collected and Uncollected Poems).

Holy Bible. Containing the Old and New Testaments. Translated out of the original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty’s special commands. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. S.D. [Books of Isaiah and Ezekiel].

Melchionda, Mario. T.S. Eliot The Waste Land. Milano: Mursia, 1976.

Montale, Eugenio. “Intenzioni (Intervista Immaginaria)”. In ID, Sulla Poesia. A c. di : Giorgio Zampa. Milano: Mondadori, 1976: 561-569.

Oxford English Dictionary, prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989 (2nd. ed.) (Abbreviated OED + Volume number and page number).

Peron, Gianfelice. «Not only the title». Interpretazioni del titolo nelle traduzioni europee di The Waste Land. In “Abeunt studia in mores”. Saggi in onore di Mario Melchionda. A c. di Giuseppe  Brunetti e Alessandra Petrina. Padova: Padova University Press, 2014: 257-275.

Pound, Ezra. “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris” [1911-1912] and “A Visiting Card.” [1942 Ital., 1953 Engl.] In ID. Selected Prose 1909-1965. Ed. and intro. by William Cookson. London: Faber and Faber, 1973: 21-43, 276-305 (Abbreviated in SP).

_________ . “Notes on Elizabethan classicists” [1917] and “Date Line” [1934]. In ID. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. and intro. by T.S. Eliot. London: Faber and Faber, 1985 [1954]: 227-248, 74-87 (Abbreviated in LE).

Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance (1920). Gloucester/MA: Peter Smith, 1983.


Stefano Maria Casella teaches English and Anglo-American Literature at Università IULM, Milan, Italy. Research field: Modernism, T. S. Eliot and E. Pound ; Comparative literature: English, Anglo-American, Italian, classical Latin and Greek. Environmental literature and eco-criticism. Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall College (Cambridge), Heythrop College (London), The Bogliasco Foundation-Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities (Genoa/New York). Life Member of Clare Hall College (Cambridge), member of “Cambridge Alumni”; the “Ezra Pound International Conference”; the “International T.S. Eliot Society”; AISNA (Italian Association of North American Studies); IAWIS-AIERTI. Invited peer reviewer: Oxford University Press, Peter Lang, and other literary journals.

Une réflexion sur « ‘Hypocrites Traducteurs:’ on some Aspects of Italian Translations of “The Waste Land” »

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