- Umberto Saba (1883-1957)
- Winter Noon
- Our Moment
- The Leaf
- Drunken Songs
- Via del Monte
- Dino Campana (1885-1932)
- Autumn Garden (Florence)
- To A Steely-Eyed Whore
- The Night Of the Fair
- The Chimera
- Voyage to Montevideo
- I loved You
- Over The Most Illustrious Of Landscapes
- Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970)
- You Broke Yourself
- He Was Called
- Once upon a Time
- You Have Closed Your Eyes
- O Night
- The Joy of the Shipwrecked
- Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)
- Ancient Winter
- Hermaphrodite Worm
- The Eucalyptus
- Green Drift
- Motion of Stars And Stillness
- What Do You Wish, Shepherd Of Air?
- The Gentle Hill
- Ulysses’ Isle
- And Your Dress Is White
- I Fled My Companions Too
- Eugenio Montale (1896-1981)
- The Eel
- If They Have Likened You
- The Coastguards’ House
- The Storm
- Two In Twilight
- In Sleep
- Bring Me The Sunflower
- Motets I
- The Lemon Trees
This is a personal selection of forty-nine poems by five great Italian poets whose work extended the Italian poetic tradition in the early Twentieth Century, mainly through the impact of the hermetic movement, but also through their own sense of place, and mastery of style. Quasimodo, who has perhaps the most universal appeal, I have translated more extensively elsewhere, though his poems here are not duplicated there.
I find it interesting to compare the astringent, saddened, and always highly personal music of these Italian poets with the corresponding poetry of France in the same period, dominated as both countries’ poetry was by the two World Wars. Combined with the brilliance of Spanish poetry it confirms the richness of European poetry in the early Twentieth Century which war and disaster could not quench, and given the historical situation of those countries may even be said to have provoked.
Umberto Saba (1883-1957)
(Ho attraversata tutta la città)
I traversed the whole city.
Then climbed a hill
crowded at first, in the end deserted,
closed off by a little wall,
a corner where I alone
sit; and it seems to me where it ends
the city ends.
Trieste has a sullen
grace, If you like,
it’s a delinquent, bitter, voracious,
with blue eyes and hands too clumsy
to offer flowers;
possessed by jealousy.
From this hill I discover every church,
every street, follow them to the cluttered shore,
or the stony slope, on whose
summit a house, the last one, clings.
surrounding all these things
a strange air, a tormented air,
the native air.
My city, alive in every part,
has left this corner for me, for my life,
pensive, and quiet.
(In quel momento ch’ero già felice)
At that moment when I was still happy
(God forgive that vast and terrible
word) what almost changed my joy
to tears? You’ll say: ‘Some
lovely creature passing by
who smiled at you’. No, a balloon,
a turquoise balloon, drifting
through the blue sky, with the native
air never so bright in the cold
clear noon of a winter’s day.
The sky with a little white cloud,
and the windows alight in the sun,
and meagre smoke from a chimney or two,
and above those things, divine
things, the sphere that escaped a child’s
incautious hand (surely he wept,
in the midst of the crowd, out of grief,
his terrible grief) between the Stock
Exchange and the Coffee House, where
I sat, clear-eyed, admiring his prize,
beyond the glass, now rising, and now falling.
(Nella mia giovinezza ho navigato)
In the days of my youth I sailed
the Dalmatian coast. Tiny islands
emerged on the face of the sea,
weed-covered, slippery, sun-bright as emeralds,
where sometimes a bird perched intent on prey.
When high tide and night annulled them, sails
downwind dispersed more widely,
or fled from danger. Today my kingdom
is precisely that no man’s land.
The harbour scatters its light for others;
an untamed spirit drives me onward,
and a sorrowful love of life.
(Di marzo per la via)
In March, in the street
with the fountain,
the hedge has woken
all white, but it’s not snow
this, it’s hawthorn
quivering at the first
sigh of dawn.
(Sai un’ora del giorno che più bella)
Do you know a more beautiful time of day
than evening? More
beautiful and less loved? That hour
which precedes the sacred hours of idleness;
the hour when work is intense, and a host
of people are seen on the streets;.
over the squared mass of the houses,
a shadowy moon, one you can scarcely
discern in the quiet air.
It’s the time you abandon the countryside
to take joy in your dear city,
from the gulf to the mountains
various aspects in its beauty unite;
the hour when my life in flood flows
like a river towards the sea;
and my thoughts, the swift tread
of the crowd, the workman atop
his tall ladder, the lad racing to leap
on his rumbling cart, all seem
to freeze in the act, all this motion
acquires the look of immobility.
It is the great hour, the hour that best
attends our time of harvesting.
(Io sono come quella foglia, guarda)
I am like that leaf, look,
on the bare branch, to which wonder
Ignore me then. Don’t be saddened
by my great age that fills you with anxiety,
and lingers here in childish outbursts.
Wish me farewell, though there’s no need to say it.
Dying is nothing; it’s losing you is hard.
(Intorno a una grandezza solitaria)
Around a solitary greatness
no birds fly, nor do those wanderers
make their nests nearby, you hear
nothing but silence, see nothing but air.
(Ebbri canti si levano e bestemmie)
Drunken songs and blasphemies rise
from the suburban hostelry. This too
– I know – is the Mediterranean. And my thoughts
are drunk on the azure of that name.
Rome is impregnable maternal calm.
Greece falls in love with its shores
like an adolescent. Judea darkens
and renews the world. No other beneath
the sun so smiles on me in my old age.
Ancient lost sea….Even the Muse,
born of you, wishes me to speak
one word of you, with darkness at the door.
Via del Monte
(A Trieste ove son tristezze molte)
In Trieste, where there are many sorrows,
and beauties of sky and cityscape,
there’s a hill called the Via del Monte.
It begins with a synagogue,
and ends in a cloister; mid-way
there’s a chapel; from it a dark ardour
for life might discover a meadow,
the sea with ships, and the promontory,
the crowds and stalls of the market.
And, on the flank of the hill, a cemetery,
abandoned now, where no funeral parties
appear, no more burials, for as long
as I can remember; the old cemetery
of the Jews, so dear to my thoughts,
when I think of you, my ancestors, after all
your sufferings and dealings, buried there,
all alike, in spirit and face.
Dino Campana (1885-1932)
Autumn Garden (Florence)
(Al giardino spettrale al lauro muto)
To the spectral garden to the mute laurel
of green garlands,
to the autumnal land
a last salute.
On the arid slopes
harsh, reddened by the last rays
a confusion of hoarse
sound cries distant life:
cries to the dying sun
that stains the borders.
A fanfare is heard
rising stridently: the river vanishes
into golden sands: in silence
the white statues stand facing
the bridgehead: and already things ‘no longer are.’
And from the deep silence a chorus
rises, tender and magnificent,
yearningly towards my balcony;
and with the fragrance of laurel
piercing and languorous,
amongst the immortal sunset statues
she is present there.
To A Steely-Eyed Whore
(Coi tuoi piccoli occhi bestiali)
With your beady feral eyes
You gaze at me, are silent, wait, and draw near,
gaze again, and are silent. Your flesh
awkward and heavy sleeps torpidly
in primordial dream. Whore…
Who called you to life…and from where?
From some acrid Tyrrhenian port,
from a song-drenched fair in Tuscany?
Or did your mother wallow in burning
sands beneath the sirocco?
Immensity engraves wonder
on your savage face of a sphinx
the teeming breath of life
stirs your sombre mane
tragically like a lioness’s,
and you gaze at the sacrilegious blond angel
you don’t love, who doesn’t love you, and who suffers
from you, and who kisses you wearily.
The Night Of the Fair
(Il cuore stasera mi disse: non sai?)
My heart tonight said: do you not know?
The enchanting rose-brown girl,
adorned with that golden head of hair:
and those shining brown eyes whose imperious grace
enchanted the roseate
freshness of morning:
she whom you followed in the air
the fresh incarnation of morning dream:
who used to wander when dreams
and perfumes veiled the stars
(those you loved to gaze at beyond the gates,
the stars the pallid night):
who used to pass by silently
and white as a flight of doves
is surely dead: did you not know?
It was the night
of the fair of perfidious Babel
soaring in piles to a sky heaped high a paradise of flame
with loud and grotesque hoots
and tinkling angelic bells
and shrieks and whores’ voices,
and Ophelian pantomime
distilled from the humble tears of electric lamps.
A common little song has died
and left me here with a heart in pain
and sent me wandering lovelessly
to deposit my heart at every door:
with her who was never born yet died
and left to me a loveless heart:
and yet carries off my heart in pain:
to deposit my heart at every door.
(Non so se tra roccie il tuo pallido)
I know not if your pallid face appeared
to me among the rocks, or you were the smile
from unknown distance, the sloping
ivory brow’s gleam, or the young
Sister of La Gioconda.
O out of vanished
Spring are those mythical pallors,
O Queen, O adolescent Queen,
yet in your unknown poem
of pleasure and pain,
bloodless girl of music,
you are scored with a line of blood,
in an arc of sinuous lips,
Queen of melodies;
but for that inclined virginal
head, I, the nocturnal poet
watch the vivid stars in the ocean of heaven,
for your sweet mystery,
for your deepening silence.
I do not know if the pale flame
of your hair was the living
sign of your pallor,
I do not know if it was sweet vapour,
sweet across my sorrow,
smile of a nocturnal face;
I gaze at the white rocks the mute source of the breeze,
and the immobility of the firmament,
and the swollen streams that flow weeping,
and the shadow of human labour curved beyond icy hills,
and still through tender distant skies clear flowing shadows
and still I call you I call you Chimera.
Voyage to Montevideo
(Io vidi dal ponte della nave)
From the ship’s deck I saw
the hills of Spain
vanish, in the green
within the gold of evening hiding the brown earth
like a melody;
lonely child of an unknown landscape
like a melody
blue, on the slope of hills still trembling in violet…
celestial evening languished on the sea.
yet the golden silence from time to time of wings
passed slowly over the deepest of blues…
far off, tinted with many colours,
from the most distant silence
the birds of gold crossed the evening wastes; the ship
already blind, went beating through the darkness
with our shipwrecked hearts
beating the darkness the celestial wings of the sea.
But one morning
there climbed above the ship the sombre matrons of Spain
with turbid angelic eyes
their wombs heavy with vertigo. When
in the deep bay of an equatorial island
in a bay calm and deeper than the nocturnal sky
we saw a city rise in enchanted light
a white slumbering city
at the foot of the highest peak of a range of extinct volcanoes
in the equator’s turbid air: until
after many shouts and shadows from the unknown land
after much clanking of chains and burning fervour
we left the equatorial city heading
over the unquiet sea in the night.
We sailed and sailed for days and days; the sombre
ships with slack sails on a warm breeze passed slowly by;
quite near to us on the deck appeared
a bronzed girl of the new breed,
bright-eyed, her clothes in the breeze! And behold: one evening
a wild shore appeared,
a savage shore, there over the boundless sea;
and I saw the dunes, like
vertiginous horses, that melted
towards the endless prairies
deserts without human habitation
and we turned fleeing the dunes to find
on a sea yellow with the river’s prodigious riches
the seaboard capital of a new continent.
Clear cool and electric the light
of evening and there the tall buildings seemed deserted
over there on the piratical sea
of an abandoned city
between the yellow sea and the dunes…
I loved You
(Vi amai nella città dove per sole)
I loved you in that city where on sunlit
streets languid footsteps tread
where a tender peace that rains
at evening on the unsated unrepentant heart
turns to an ambiguous violet springtime
far above the pallid sky.
Over The Most Illustrious Of Landscapes
(Sul più illustre paesaggio)
Over the most illustrious of landscapes
with your panther’s step
over the most illustrious of landscapes
your velvet step
and your gaze of a violated virgin
your step as silent as memory
facing the balustrade
above the flowing water
your eyes with their harsh light.
Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970)
You Broke Yourself
(I molti, immani, sparsi, grigi sassi)
That host of vast, sparse, grey stones,
still quivering from the hidden slings
of original stifling fires,
or the terrors of virgin streams
ruined in implacable embraces,
– above the glare of harsh sand,
on an empty skyline, do you not remember?
And the incline, which revealed the only
gathering of shadow in that valley,
auracaria, exaggeratedly yearning,
turned to the harsh flint of desert fibre,
more refractory than the rest of the damned,
the fresh gullet of butterflies and grass
where the roots were severed,
– do you not remember it? Delirious, dumb,
on three foot of rounded pebbles,
in perfect balance,
Light firecrest, you climbed
from branch to branch,
greedy eyes drunk with wonder,
up to its speckled crown,
bold, musical child,
just to find again in the shining gulf
of a deep calm crater of sea
stirring from the weeds.
The tension of nature in extremis
You lifted arms like wings
and gave birth again to the breeze
coursing that weight of motionless air.
No one ever saw
your light foot rest from the dance.
How could you not break yourself
against so stony a blindness
you, simple and crystalline breath,
too human a candle for the pitiless,
rough, bitter, roaring hum
of the naked sun.
He Was Called
He was called
from emirs from nomads
because he no longer had
He loved France
and changed his name
He was Marcel
but not French
and no longer knew
how to live
far from that tent of his
where you heard the chant
of the Koran
as you drank coffee
And did not know how
of his exile
I accompanied him
with the woman who owned the hotel
where we lived
from number 5 Rue des Carmes
down the shrunken alley.
in the cemetery of Ivry
a suburb that always
frozen on some day
where a fair
has been disassembled.
And perhaps I alone
that he lived
(Quando la notte è a svanire)
a little before the springtime
and of a rarity
a dark colour
thickens over Paris
on a poem
of a bridge
the boundless silence
of a slender
and how, borne away,
Once upon a Time
has a slope
of green velvet
like a soft
I dozed there,
in a far-off coffee house
in a faint light
of this moon.
You Have Closed Your Eyes
(Nasce una notte)
A night is born
full of false holes
like the corks
of nets trailed in the water.
Your hands bring a breath
of inviolable distances
as elusive as ideas.
And the ambiguous sway
of the moon, of the gentlest,
if you rest your eyes on me,
touches the spirit.
You’re the woman who passes by
like a leaf.
And bequeaths an autumn flame to the trees.
(Dall’ampia ansia dell’alba)
From the deep anxiety of dawn
the grove of trees unveils.
Leaves, sister leaves,
I hear your lament.
the hour of growth is barely past.
High skies of youth
And I am already desert.
Caught on this melancholy arc.
But night scatters distances.
astral nests of illusion,
(Conosco una città)
I know a city
that each day fills with sun
and all is enraptured at that instant
I left one evening
The sawing of the cicadas
stayed in my heart
From a vessel
my city disappear
for a moment
a clasp of light suspended
in turbid air.
The Joy of the Shipwrecked
(E subito riprende)
And at once I resume
Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)
(Desiderio delle tue mani chiare)
Desire of your hands bright
in the penumbra of fire:
they knew of oak-trees, roses,
death. Ancient winter.
The birds searched for seed,
and were suddenly snow;
so, the word.
A little sun, an angelic halo,
and then the mist; and trees,
and we making dawn from the air.
(Mite letargo d’acque)
Mild lethargy of water:
the snow yields clear blue.
I am the memory
of all my earthly hours,
To you I offer myself threshed
without seed; and within aches
the mercy of meagre leaf
with which death aids me.
From the mud emerges
(Nel pigro moto dei cieli)
In the lazy motion of the heavens
the season reveals itself; the fresh breeze,
the almond tree that lightens
planes of shadow aerial clouds
of shadow and harvest;
and recomposes the buried voices
of river-banks, ditches,
the days of fabulous grace.
Every stem branches,
and an anxiety grips the distant waters
of ice-cold laurel naked pagan gods,
here too, rising from the bed between gravel
and an inverted celestial sleep.
(Non una dolcezza mi matura)
No sweetness it was that matured me,
it derived from sadness
in a breath of pungent resin.
In me a tree sways
by a drowsy shore,
bitter foliage exhales.
Grant me, sad renewal,
the odour of childhood,
that welcomed meagre joy,
already sick with a secret love
of telling stories to the waters.
in the half light re-emerges
that fox of gold
slain one spring.
(Sera: luce addolorata)
Evening: saddened light,
slow bells ebbing away.
Don’t speak words to me; love of sound
is silent in me, and the hour is mine
as in the time of communion
with air and trees.
Flavours descending from the heavens
in lunar water,
houses sleeping a mountain sleep,
or angels the snow has halted on the alders,
with stars on the glass,
veiled like paper kites.
Green drift of islands,
harbours for sailing ships,
the crew that chased seas and clouds,
in a chant of oars and ropes,
left me the spoils:
naked and white, that at a touch
were sounded in secret
the voices of rivers and rocks.
Then the land reposed
in aquarium depths
and anxious ills and a life of other movements
descended from the absorbed firmament.
To own to you is a consternation
that sates itself with every tear,
sweetness that recalls the islands.
Motion of Stars And Stillness
(E se di me gioia ti vince)
And if through me joy conquers you
it will be a knot of stars.
No other hour consoles us
but that of silence; and the mutable
face of air and hills fails to satisfy,
the light rotates its hollow skies
at the edge of darkness.
Motion and stillness of the stars
hurls night at us in swift deceit:
stones that the water bared at every mouth.
Children are still asleep in your sleep.
I even hear a cry now and then
break off and become flesh;
and a clapping of hands and a voice
opening me to unknown sweeteness.
(E già sulla muraglia dello stadio)
Already on the stadium wall,
between the cracks and the tufts of hanging grass,
lizards flicker like lightning
and the frogs return to the irrigation ditches.
(Piazza Navona, a notte, sui sedili)
Piazza Navona, at night, on a bench,
I lay on my back in search of peace,
eyes linked to the stars by straight lines
and convoluted spirals,
those I traced as a child
lying on the pebbles of the Platani,
spelling out prayers in the dark.
I crossed my hands under my head,
and remembered my return:
the odour of fruit drying on racks,
of wallflowers, ginger, lavender;
when I thought of reading to you, slowly,
(I to you, mother, in a corner in shadow)
the parable of the prodigal son,
who always followed me in silence,
like a rhythm that began at every step
without my volition.
But the dead are not given to returning,
and there is no time for one’s mother even
when the road calls,
and I would set out once more, enclosed in night
as I feared at the dawn of my stay.
And the road gave me its songs,
that know the grain that swells in the ear,
the flower that whitens the olive groves,
between the blue of flax and the narcissi,
sounds in the flurries of dust,
the chants of men and the creaking of waggons,
with lanterns that feebly sway,
and have scarcely a firefly’s brightness.
Note: Piazza Navona is a square in Rome. The Platani is a river in southern Sicily.
What Do You Wish, Shepherd Of Air?
(Ed è ancora il richiamo dell’antico)
And there is still the call of the ancient
shepherd’s horn, harsh above ditches,
white with the skins of snakes. Perhaps
it brings a breath of the plains of Acquaviva,
where the Platani rolls its shells underwater
beneath the feet of the olive-skinned
children. O from what land does the sigh
of imprisoned breeze break forth and echo,
in a light that already fails; what do you wish,
shepherd of air? Perhaps you summon the dead.
You and I cannot hear, merged
in a sea of echoes, the low cry
of the fishermen raising their nets.
Note: Quasimodo spent part of his childhood at Acquaviva Platani a hill-town in Sicily.
The Gentle Hill
(Lontani uccelli aperti nella sera)
Distant birds open to the evening
tremble over the river. And the rain insists
and the hiss of poplars illumined
by the wind. Like all things remote
you return to mind. The green light
of your dress is here among the plants
scorched by lightning where the gentle
hill of Ardenno rises and the kite
is heard above the sprays of sorghum.
Perhaps to that tight spiral flight
is entrusted my disillusioned return,
the harshness, the vanquished Christian piety,
and this naked pain of sadness.
You’ve a flower of coral in your hair.
But your face is a shadow that does not change;
(such is death). From the dark houses
of your town I hear the Adda and the rain,
or perhaps a quiver of human footsteps
among the tender reeds of its banks.
Note: Ardenno is in Lombardy. The Adda is a tributary of the River Po, joining it near Cremona.
(Ferma è l'antica voce)
The ancient voice has ceased.
I hear ephemeral echoes.
Oblivion of midnight
in starry waters.
From celestial fire
Ulysses’ island was born.
Sluggish rivers bear trees and skies,
to the thunder of lunar shores.
The bee, beloved, brings us gold:
a time of transmutations, secret.
And Your Dress Is White
(Piegato hai il capo e mi guardi)
Your head is bowed and you gaze at me;
and your dress is white.
And a breast emerges from the lace
freed below your left shoulder.
Light overcomes me; I tremble
and touch your naked arms.
I see you once more. Words
you possessed inclusive rapid,
that infused with courage
a burdensome life
that tasted of the arena.
Deep is the road
the wind blew down
certain March nights,
and we woke unknown
like the first time.
I Fled My Companions Too
(Anche mi fugge la mia compagnia)
I fled my companions too;
women of the ghetto, minstrels of the taverns,
among whom I spent so many hours,
and the girl is dead
whose eternal face glowed
anointed with oil of unleavened bread
and the dark Jewish flesh.
Perhaps even the sadness changed,
as if no longer mine,
of my own discord.
Eugenio Montale (1896-1981)
(I turbini sollevano la polvere)
Whirlwinds raise dust
over the roofs, in flurries, and on the empty
squares, where a few straw-hatted horses
sniff the earth, tethered in front
of the gleaming windows of hotels.
On the main street, facing the sea, you descend
in the open season for rain, where you raise
to disturb this very hour
so tightly woven, a clatter of castanets.
It’s the sign of another orbit: you follow.
Descend to the horizon overhung
by a leaden gusher, high whirlpools,
almost all errant: a nimbus of salt
whirling, blown from the rebellious
element to the clouds, makes your step
on the gravel creak, a tangle of seaweed
makes you stumble: that instant, perhaps,
long awaited, is the one that prevents you
completing your journey, an iron link
in a chain, a motionless passing, oh too
familiar delirium, Arsenio, of immobility…
Hear among palm-trees the endless tremolo
from the violins, dying when the thunder
rings out with a tremor of beaten sheet
metal: the tempest is sweet when Sirius
the Dog-Star pours its whiteness
into the azure sky and approaching
night seems long; thus the lightning sears it
branching like a delicate tree
with the light that reddens it; and the gipsy
eardrum is a silent roaring.
Descend to a precipitate darkness
that changes noon to a night
of bright globes, swaying onshore
and beyond, where one shadow grips
sea and sky; from scattered fishing boats
acetylene pulses until the anxious sky
pours rain, the thirsty soil steams,
all round you is sopping wet, a slapping
of damp awnings, a vast rustling
skims the ground, douses the hissing
paper lanterns in the streets.
So, lost among dripping wicker chairs
and matting, a reed, dragging its roots
along, you, muddied, no longer
swift, tremble with life, and reach out
to a void resonant with suffocating
cries, the brim of the ancient wave
that turns you roars; and even
what steadies you, street portico
wall mirror flees you like a single
icy multitude of the dead,
and if a gesture touches you, a word’s
let fall near you, it is perhaps, Arsenio,
in the hour that annihilates, the sign of a
strangled life risen in you, that the wind
bears with the ashes of the stars.
(L’anguilla, la sirena)
of icy seas that quits the Baltic
to reach these seas of ours,
our estuaries, rivers,
that returns in the depths, under the back-flow,
from branch to branch, and then
from thread to thread, thinning down
penetrating always deeper, further into the heart
of granite, infiltrating
among rills of mud till one day
light exploding from the chestnut-trees
kindles a flicker in dead-water pools,
in ditches that slope
from the Apennine cliffs to Romagna;
eel, torch, whiplash,
arrow of Love on earth,
that only our gorges or the desiccated
stream-beds of the Pyrenees lead back
to paradises of fecundity;
green spirit that searches
for life where only
drought and desolation bite,
spark that says
everything starts where everything seems
burned dry; buried branch;
brief rainbow, twin
to that which marks your limits
and lets you shine intact among the sons
of men, immersed in your mud, do you
not recognize your sister?
If They Have Likened You
(Se t’hanno assomigliato)
If they have likened you
to a fox it will be for your prodigious
hurtle, for the flight of your passage
that unites and divides, that disturbs
and renews the stones (your terrace,
the streets near the children’s home, the lawn,
the tree where my name quivers.
happy, moist, overcome) – or perhaps only
for the luminous wake that flows
from the tenderness of your almond eyes
for the shrewdness of your swift wonder,
for the torment
of torn feathers your child’s hand
can offer in its grip;
if they have likened you
to a blonde carnivore, a treacherous demon
of the bush (and why not to the filthy
fish that delivers a shock, the torpedo fish?)
perhaps it is because the blind have not seen
the wings on your slender shoulder-blades,
perhaps the blind have not seen the omen
of your incandescent brow, the groove
I scored there in blood, cross chrism
incantation evil-eye votive offering worth
perdition and salvation; if they cannot believe
you are more than weasel or woman
with whom can I share my discovery
where bury the gold I bear,
where the embers that rage in me
when leaving, you turn downstairs?
The Coastguards’ House
(Tu non ricordi la casa dei doganieri)
You don’t recall the coastguards’ house
on the rise of overhanging rock above the cliffs;
desolate awaiting you in the night
when the swarm of your thoughts entered
and stayed, restlessly.
South-westerlies lashed the ancient walls for years;
and the sound of your laughter is no softer;
the compass spins crazily at random,
the odds of the dice no longer make sense.
You don’t recall it; other times daze
your memory; a thread unravels.
I still hold an end; but the house grows
distant, and the weathervane on the roof
blackened with smoke turns without pity.
I hold an end; but you rest alone
not breathing here in the darkness.
O the vanishing horizon, where the light
of an oil tanker sometimes flares!
Its journey is here? (The breakers still
spring up to the cliff that peaks here…)
You fail to recall the house of this evening
of mine. And I don’t know who comes or goes.
(La bufera che sgronda sulle foglie)
The storm that sweats the tough
leaves of the magnolia with long
March thunder, with hail,
(the crystal sounds in your nocturnal
nest surprise you; of the gold
quenched on the mahogany, the tooling
of bound books, there still burns
a grain of sugar in the shell
of your eyelids).
the lightning flash that candies
trees and walls and startles them in this
eternal instant – marble manna
and destruction – which you bear
carved inside you as sentence and binds you
to me more than love does, strange sister –
and then the raw crash, castanets, the tremor
of tambourines over the fleeting ditch,
the stamping of the fandango, and above it
some groping gesture…
you turned and with a hand, cleared
your brow of a cloud of hair,
and waved to me – before entering the dark.
Two In Twilight
(Fluisce tra te e me sul belvedere)
There flows between us on the terrace
an underwater light that distorts
the profile of the hills and even your face.
Every gesture of yours, cut from you,
looms on an elusive background; enters without wake,
and vanishes, in the midst of what drowns
every furrow, and closes over your passage:
you here, with me, in this air that descends
the torpor of boulders.
And I flow
into the power that weighs around me,
into the spell of no longer recognising
anything of myself beyond myself; if I only
raise my arm, I perform the action
otherwise, a crystal is shattered there,
its memory pallid forgotten, and already
the gesture no longer belongs to me;
if I speak, I hear this voice astonished,
descend to its remotest scale,
or die in the unsupportive air.
In such moments that resist to the last
dissolution of day
bewilderment endures: then a gust
rouses the valleys in frenetic
motion, draws from the leaves a ringing
sound that disperses
through fleeting smoke, and first light
outlines the dockyards.
fall weightless between us. I look at you
in the soft reverberation. I do not know
if I know you; I know I was never as divided
from you as now in this late
return. A few moments have consumed
us whole: except two faces, two
strained masks, etched
in a smile.
(Il soffio cresce, il buio è rotto a squarci,)
The murmur rises, the dark is torn to shreds,
and the shadow you cast on the fragile
trellis wrinkles. Too late
if you wish to be yourself! From the palm-tree
the mouse thuds, the spark of lightning’s in the fuse,
in the long eyelashes of your glance.
(Il canto delle strigi, quando un’iride)
The cry of the owls, when a rainbow
fades with intermittent pulses,
the moans and sighs
of youth, the error that encircles
the brow and the vague horror of the cedars roused
by the impact of night – all these
may return to me, overflowing the ditches,
breaking from gutters, and waken me
to your voice. The sound of a cruel
jig bites, the opponent closes
the visor over its face. Within the moon
of amaranth in the closed eyes, is a cloud
that swells; and when sleep bears
it deeper, it is blood again beyond death.
Bring Me The Sunflower
(Portami il girasole ch’io lo trapianti)
Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it
to my earth scorched with salt,
so it can display all day to the azure mirrors
of sky the anxiety of its yellow face.
Dark things stretch towards brightness,
bodies exhaust themselves in a flow
of colours: this in music. To vanish
is thus the hazard of venturing.
Bring me the plant that leads
where blond transparencies rise
where life dissolves like essence;
bring me the sunflower crazy with light.
(Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso)
I know it; I must lose you again and cannot.
Like a targeted shot every action
shakes me, every cry, and even the breath
of salt that wells
from the docks and creates the dark spring
Land of iron and forested
plantations in the dust of evening.
A prolonged buzzing in the open air,
the torment of fingernails on glass. I seek
the lost sign, the sole token you graced
And hell is certain.
Note: Sottoripa is an ancient colonnaded market area of the port of Genoa.
(Antico, sono ubriacato dalla voce ch’esce dalle tue bocche)
Ancient one, I am drunk with the voice that issues
from your mouths when they open like green bells
and retreat and dissolve.
The house of my distant summers,
as you know, belonged to you,
there in that land where the sun scorches
and clouds the air with mosquitoes.
Stunned in your presence now, sea, as I once was,
but no longer worthy, I think, of the solemn admonishment of your
You first taught me
that my heart’s insignificant ferment
was only an instance of yours –
that deep down your hazardous law was mine:
to be vast and diverse
and so purge myself of every ordure
as you do, hurling on shore
among corks seaweed starfish
the useless rubbish of your abyss.
The Lemon Trees
(Ascoltami, i poeti laureati)
Listen, the poets laureate
only walk among plants
with unfamiliar names: privet, boxwood or acanthus;
for my part, I love the roads that lead to grassy
ditches where lads find a few skinny eels
in the half-dried puddles;
the lanes that hug the slopes
plunge down among clumps of reeds
and run to the groves, among lemon trees.
Better if the chatter of the birds
is stilled, swallowed by the blue:
clearer the murmur that’s heard
of friendly branches in almost motionless air,
and the sense of that odour
that barely rises from earth,
and showers an unquiet sweetness into the breast.
Here by a miracle the war
of diverting passions ceases,
here even to us, the poor, falls our share of riches,
and the odour of lemon trees.
See how, in these silences in which things
give themselves away, and seem about
to betray their ultimate secret,
sometimes we half expect
to discover an error of nature,
the dead centre of earth, the link that fails,
the thread of disentanglement that might set us at last
in the midst of truth.
The eyes gaze around,
the mind searches harmonizes disunites
in the perfume intensifying
when day most languishes.
They are silences in which we see
in every departing human shadow
some divinity dislodged.
But illusion fades and time returns us
to noisy cities where the azure shows
only in patches, high up, among cornices.
Rain wearies the earth then; winter
tedium weighs on the houses,
light turns miserly – bitter the spirit.
When one day through a half-closed door,
among the trees in a courtyard
the yellows of lemons appear;
and the ice in the heart melts,
as into our breast they pour
the golden trumpets of sunlight.
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
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