The Classiques Garnier have reprinted the bilingual edition and translation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, by Pierre Blanc, first published in 1989. At the time, this pioneering edition offered French readers both an easy access to Gianfranco Contini's scholarly edition, at the forefront of philological criticism, and a refined yet modern translation with a literary introduction. Its main feature was contextualization in the light of other works by Petrarch, especially the Latin works, which were attracting new scholarly attention. It made it possible to read a Petrarch quite different from that of the Gallimard editions, which were based on the mid-nineteenth-century prose translation of Ferdinand de Grammont.
It must be said that this work has aged well. The introduction (1-34) recontextualizes the Canzoniere in the light of Petrarch’s own opinion of the work, which he considered "minor" (leading one to suspect vast affectation). Pierre Blanc’s reading, based on the philological and linguistic study of poetry, then intersects with a psychoanalytic and psycho-critical approach to the vernacular as the language of the repressed and the mother tongue. Using the text edited by Contini, with its many philological notes that are always authoritative, Pierre Blanc adds a socio-linguistic analysis of the language of Petrarch: at the crossroads of the vernacular Tuscan, imbued with Latinisms and Provençalisms, Petrarch's idiom is the result of many influences and reflects the cultural hybridization in which he lived, exiled almost all his life from his idealized Italy. Latin, the language of Rome, the language of the rediscovery of Antiquity but also the language of learned love (Laure compared to Daphne, rereadings of Ovid and Virgil) is then for Petrarch the language of poetry par excellence, and also that of sacred love.
This introduction is accompanied by a biographical note (35-37); a bibliography (39-43) albeit a little dated now; a poetic glossary (45-46); and a note to the text (47-48). In addition, the appendices such as the list of incipits (568-589) are still very useful tools for an audience of students or informed amateurs such as the first edition sought.
The translation itself (52-567) is remarkable. It has deserved to be reprinted for a wide audience, in this paperback edition that places Petrarch among the European classics. Translation is a matter of negotiation, and sometimes subjective choices precede the act of translating. Here, for example, Pierre Blanc chooses to translate the hendecasyllable, the great eleven-syllable verse of the Italian language, with the alexandrine, its prestigious equivalent in French poetry; but he sometimes uses the decasyllable, the form of lyric verse before the sixteenth century. Rhythm is always a priority, as internal rhymes and respect for the order of words in the vernacular language are the obligatory routes into French, a language without a tonic accent, which makes prosody more complicated. This is why the verse often used here is free, without rhyme.
Pierre Blanc always chooses the most literal meaning, as he explains in his introduction, since his reading is not necessarily that of a poet, while Petrarch, who would always be in a metapoetic discourse, would speak only of the act of writing. Blanc draws Petrarch closer to the lyrical poet or to the poet of sacred love, leaving it to the reader to explore the connotations. For example, in the sonnet Benedetto sia, Blanc's translation of the last terzina does not reveal the implicit ambiguity about who is going to win fama: the beloved woman for her beauty, or the poet himself for his poetic talent. The notes are quite relevant, as they explain references or allusions to ancient poetry or troubadour poetry (for instance, the quotations of major poetic predecessors in the canzone Lasso me). Petrarch is thus translated according to the criterion of fidelity, with a bit of translational erasure: we do not read a poet's translation of poet, as is the case with Yves Bonnefoy's rendition or the sixteenth-century French imitations. But neither do we read the translation of a grammarian or a philologist, like that of Gerard Genot, which offers a mine of notes but but somehow restricts the perception of the text's pulse.
Pierre Blanc thus provides the reader with a soundly established Italian text along with a modern, humble, and admiring translation of Petrarch, without giving in to the temptation to add his own voice to that of the poet.