London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1919. First edition. Octavo (8 1/2 inches tall), original blue cloth, gilt spine and front board, dark top edge. Faint tanning to prelimiaries, very short tear to inside rear hinge. A near-fine copy. Item #1266
"APART FROM HIS LITERARY SIGNIFICANCE AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF FRANCISCAN FEELING, JACOPONE HAS AN IMPORTANT PLACE IN THE EVOLUTION OF ITALIAN POETRY"
Uncommon first edition of Evelyn Underhill's Life of Blessed Jacopone da Todi—introducing the Spiritual Songs of "the First Great Italian Religious Poet." An excellent copy.
Evelyn Underhill, the Anglo-Catholic spiritual writer and mystic scholar, was responsible for rediscovering and promoting the work of the medieval poet Jacopone da Todi, long thought to be the author of the Stabat Mater. Distraught after the tragic and untimely death of his wife early in their marriage, Jacopone had a breakdown of sorts and only entered the Franciscan Order relatively late in life. "What is remarkable is that in joining the Franciscans he also found his voice as a poet, indeed one of the great lyric poets of the Middle Ages. In the passionate language of love, his mystical poems describe the soul's yearning for Christ" (Robert Ellsberg).
With Underhill's short Preface ("E.U. August, 1919") lamenting that "very little has been written upon Jacopone in English" and making the case for a broad acceptance of his work. "Three types of mind should find pleasure in Jacopone's work and personality. First, those interested in Christian mysticism; for he is among the most profound and individual of the thirteenth-century mystics. Next, lovers of poetry; who, even though they may not sympathise with his religious attitude, cannot fail to admire the magnificent poems in which it is expressed...Last, those who care for the Italy of St. Francis and his descendants."
The first section is composed of Underhill's "spiritual biography" in six parts: I. Introductory, II. Ser Jacomo, III. Jacopone the Penitent, IV. Jacopone the Franciscan Friar, V. Jacopone and the Spiritual Party, VI. Jacopone as Poet and Mystic. The selection of Jacopone's poetry is extensive, comprising about half of the book. Part II. Laude: Text and Translation (Italian and English), with a selection from the spiritual songs translated by Mrs. Theodore Beck. Illustrated with a frontispiece portrait of the Franciscan poet and an additional plate: The Virgin appearing to Jacopone da Todi. The text is supplemented with two Appendices (I. Manuscripts of the Laude, and II. Chronology of the Laude), a Bibliography, and an Index. Printed at the Temple Press in Letchworth. .