A Poetry Precise and Free

Selected Madrigals of Guarini
Nicholas R. Jones
New translations and insightful commentary on art and courtly love in Renaissance Italy breathe fresh life into Guarini’s finest madrigals


A Poetry Precise and Free collects 150 lyric poems by the Renaissance Italian poet Giovanni Battista Guarini in new translations, accompanied by the Italian originals and commentary that will enlighten and engage both scholars and general readers.  Guarini’s madrigals provide insight into northern Italian court culture of the late Renaissance, when poetry and music were enjoyed as companion arts. Hundreds of composers of Guarini’s day set his lyric poems to music. Primarily known today in their vocal settings, most famously those of Claudio Monteverdi, the poems merit appreciation in their own right.

This volume is organized into ten sections, grouping the madrigals around themes such as the anguish of passion, the asymmetry of desire, the incursions of jealousy, and the possibility of mutual bliss. Nicholas R. Jones renders Guarini’s poetry into accessible contemporary English verse that nevertheless stays true to the substance and form of the original texts, reflecting their roots in the Petrarchan poetic tradition and displaying the emotion and musicality that made these lyrics so popular from the start. A substantive introduction provides cultural context for the madrigals and their musical settings; brief commentaries follow each translation to illuminate aspects of poetic and rhetorical craft. An extensive appendix lists the madrigal compositions that set these lyrics for vocal performance.

The book fills a major gap in the scholarship on Guarini’s literary legacy. It will appeal to scholars of literature, Renaissance studies, and musicology, early-music performers, and general readers interested in poetry and classical music.
Nicholas R. Jones is Professor Emeritus of English, Oberlin College. Also an amateur musician, Jones engages in historically informed performance practice with early music ensembles in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Praise / Awards

  • "Jones’s attention to the musical dimension of Guarini’s verse, and to the centrality of music at the Este court in Ferrara (where Guarini served), is a distinctive and crucial asset of this book... Jones’s treatments of the verse read naturally in English, rather than as stilted emulations of sixteenth-century Italian, and perhaps most importantly, they convey the spirit of the poems to present-day readers." —Renaissance Quarterly
  • "Jones certainly succeeds in his aim of producing ‘a set of readable, understandable poems in contemporary English.’"
    Early Modern Literary Studies
  • "Thorough as well as sensitive, Jones concludes his book with sixty-five pages of notes including a list of published vocal settings extending from Guarini’s contemporaries to the mid-seventeenth century. For readers intrigued by Renaissance poetry in performance, his study is both helpful and enjoyable." —Sixteenth Century Journal

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Product Details

  • 262 pages.
  • 7 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2018
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12361-2

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  • vocal madrigal; translation; Petrarchan poetry; Ferrara; Guarini; Monteverdi; love poetry; courtly poetry; madrigal poetry; music and poetry