A Gift: The Life of Da Ponte: A Poem

David R. Slavitt, Author
David R. Slavitt, Author Louisiana State University Press $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-8071-2047-7
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
Paperback - 64 pages - 978-0-8071-2048-4
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A literary biography in the form of verse, Slavitt's long poem chronicles the life of Lorenzo da Ponte, an obscure writer of vast ambition and frequent failure whose only enduring works are the several librettos he wrote for Mozart. Featuring a cast of characters including Casanova, Emperor Joseph II, Clement Moore (the author of ""The Night Before Christmas"") and, of course, Amadeus himself, Slavitt's poem succeeds both as literary history and as verse. Da Ponte's story, while largely a series of disappointments, is as crammed with incident as a picaresque novel. From the twists and turns of da Ponte's unhappy life, Slavitt takes off on meditations of the curious routes of fate: ""Like a mother,/ a run of good luck will sicken, die,/ and leave you/ orphaned,/ renamed,/ unselfed,/ undone."" As da Ponte struggles with his own mediocrity and the malign jockeying for position intrinsic to the patronage system, Slavitt presents a highly sympathetic portrait of a man grappling with his own limitations: ""There are only disimprovements now/ in body and spirit, a settling/ for what is,/ a recognition that this ill-fitting garment/ is what the wardrobe holds."" (Mar.)
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