Vivaldi’s Four Sonnets

The inspiration behind Vivaldi’s composition of his famous Four Seasons appears to be sonnets that he composed himself. In preparation for a Trio Recital, I undertook to make a poetic translation of these lovely sonnets. I share my efforts here.

LA PRIMAVERA – SPRING

Giunt’ è la Primavera e festosetti
La salutan gl’ augei con lieto canto,
E i fonti allo spirar de’ zeffiretti
Con dolce mormorio corrono intanto.
Vengon’ coprendo l’aer di nero amanto
E lampi, e tuoni ad annuntiarla eletti:
Indi tacendo questi, gl’augelletti
Tornan’ di nuovo al lor canoro incanto.
E quindi sul fiorito ameno prato
Al caro mormorio di fronde e piante
Dorme’l caprar col fido can’ à lato.
Di pastoral zampogna al suon festante
Danzan ninfe e pastor nel tetto amato
Di Primavera all’apparir brillante.

Springtime has now arrived, and full of cheer
The birds greet her return with festive song,
And streams caressed by breaths of western breezes
With gentle murmuration flow along.
Casting a dark mantle over heaven,
Come thunder, lightning, harbingers of spring:
They die away to silence, and the songbirds
Take up their tuneful strain once more and sing.
Now in the lovely meadow, filled with flowers,
Under the branches rustling overhead
The goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes,
The nymphs and shepherds lightly dance and sing
Beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

L’ESTATE – SUMMER

Sotto dura staggion dal sole accesa
Langue l’huom, langue’l gregge, ed arde il pino;
Scioglie il cucco la voce, e tosto intesa
Canta la tortorella e’l gardelino.
Zeffiro dolce spira, mà contesa
Muove Borea improviso al suo vicino.
E piange il pastorel, perche sospesa
Teme fiera borasca, e’l suo destino;
Toglie alle membra lasse il suo riposo
Il timore de’ lampi, e tuoni fieri
E de mosche, e mosconi il stuol furioso!
Ah, che pur troppo i suo timor son veri:
Tuona e fulmina il ciel’ e grandinoso
Tronca il capo alle spiche e a’ grani alteri.

In the hard season, sweltering in the sun
Man languishes, flocks languish, pine-trees burn;
We hear the cuckoo’s voice – hear how intensely
Sings now the turtledove and finch in turn.
The Zephyr stirs the air, but threateningly
The North Wind sweeps it suddenly aside.
The shepherd cries out quivering, and facing
The stormy onset fears for his own hide.
His limbs, exhausted, are deprived of rest,
From terror of the lightning and fierce thunder
And from the furious swarms of gnats and flies!
Alas, what’s more, his fears are justified:
The heavens thunder loud with hail-filled rain
Which cuts the heads from stalks of wheat and grain.

L’AUTUNNO – AUTUMN

Celebra il vilanel con balli e canti
Del felice raccolto il bel piacere,
E del liquor de Bacco accesi tanti
Finiscono col sonno il lor godere.
Fà ch’ ogn’ uno tralasci e balli e canti
L’aria che temperata dà piacere,
E la staggion ch’ invita tanti e tanti
D’ un dolcissimo sonno al bel godere.
I cacciator alla nov’ alba à caccia
Con corni, schioppi, e cani escono fuore;
Fugge la belva, e seguono la traccia;
Già sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De’ schioppi e cani, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.

The peasants celebrate, with songs and dances,
The pleasure of a harvest wide and deep,
And warmed up thoroughly by Bacchus’ liquor,
Full many end their revelry in sleep.
They all forget their cares, and dance to greet
The air that is with joy and pleasure filled,
The season that holds out to all and sundry
The sweetest slumber with delight instilled.
The hunter at the break of dawn goes hunting,
With horns, and guns, and dogs keen on the trail;
The animal runs off, with them in tow;
In terror and half dead from the commotion
Of guns and dogs, the beast, now wounded, tries
To flee, but harried and exhausted, dies.

L’INVERNO – WINTER

Aggiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti
Al severo spirar d’ orrido vento;
Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
E pel soverchio gel batter i denti;
Passar al foco i di quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento,
Caminar sopra il giaccio, e à passo lento
Per timor di cader girsene intenti;
Gir forte sdruzziolar, cader à terra
Di nuove ir sopra ’l giaccio e correr forte
Sin ch’ il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra.
Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte Sirocco,
Borea, e tutti i venti in guerra:
Quest’ é ’l verno, mà tal, che gioja apporte.

In icy snow we tremble from the cold,
Caught by the bristling wind with its harsh breath;
We run and stamp our feet at every moment,
With teeth a-chatter, cold as very death;
Or by the fire we sit content and happy
While outside pours down a torrential squall,
And tread across the ice with careful footsteps,
Cautious from fear that we might trip and fall;
We turn abruptly, slip, and crash down earthwards,
Then rising, hasten on across the ice
In case the surface cracks and breaks apart.
Through bolted doors we hear the winds competing,
Sirocco, North Wind, all the winds at war:
It’s winter, but it brings us joy for sure.

About Armand D'Angour

Fellow and Tutor in Classics, Jesus College Oxford.

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