Five 20th Century Italian Poets

 

(Forty-nine poems of Saba, Campana, Ungaretti, Quasimodo, and Montale)

 

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Translated by A. S. Kline © 2012 All Rights Reserved

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Contents

 

         

Introduction. 5

Umberto Saba (1883-1957) 6

Trieste. 6

Winter Noon. 8

Ulysses. 9

Whitethorn. 10

Our Moment 11

The Leaf 12

Nietzsche. 13

Drunken Songs. 14

Via del Monte. 15

Dino Campana (1885-1932) 16

Autumn Garden (Florence) 16

To A Steely-Eyed Whore. 18

The Night Of the Fair 19

The Chimera. 21

Voyage to Montevideo. 23

I loved You. 25

Over The Most Illustrious Of Landscapes. 26

Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970) 27

You Broke Yourself 27

He Was Called. 29

Nostalgia. 31

Once upon a Time. 32

You Have Closed Your Eyes. 33

O Night 34

Silence. 35

The Joy of the Shipwrecked. 36

Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968) 37

Ancient Winter 37

Hermaphrodite Worm.. 38

Aries. 39

The Eucalyptus. 40

Green Drift 41

Motion of Stars And Stillness. 43

April 44

Returning. 45

What Do You Wish, Shepherd Of Air?. 47

The Gentle Hill 48

Ulysses’ Isle. 49

And Your Dress Is White. 50

I Fled My Companions Too. 51

Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) 52

Arsenio. 52

The Eel 55

If They Have Likened You. 56

The Coastguards’ House. 57

The Storm.. 58

Two In Twilight 59

Waterfront 61

In Sleep. 62

Bring Me The Sunflower 63

Motets I 64

Mediterranean. 65

The Lemon Trees. 66

 


Introduction

 

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)

 

Trieste

 

(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;

like love

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.


Circling,

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.

 


Winter Noon

 

(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.

 


Ulysses

 

(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.

 


Whitethorn

 

(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.

 


Our Moment

 

(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.

 


The Leaf

 

(Io sono come quella foglia, guarda)

 

I am like that leaf, look,

on the bare branch, to which wonder

still attaches.

 

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.

 


 Nietzsche

 

(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.

 


Drunken Songs

 

(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.

 


The Chimera

 

(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

memory passed

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)

 

I

 

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,

magically conjured?


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

fabulous turtles

stirring from the weeds.

The tension of nature in extremis

sub-aqueous splendour

funereal warning.

 

II

 

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.

 

 

III

 

Happy grace,

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

 

(Si chiamava)

 

He was called

Moammed Sceab

 

descended

from emirs from nomads

suicidal

because he no longer had

a country

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

to utter

the song

of his exile


I accompanied him

with the woman who owned the hotel

where we lived

in Paris

from number 5 Rue des Carmes

down the shrunken alley.

 

He rests

in the cemetery of Ivry

a suburb that always

seems

frozen on some day

where a fair

has been disassembled.

 

And perhaps I alone

still know

that he lived

 


Nostalgia

 

(Quando la notte è a svanire)

 

When

night fades

a little before the springtime

and of a rarity

someone passes

 

a dark colour

of weeping

thickens over Paris

 

on a poem

of a bridge

I contemplate

the boundless silence

of a slender

girl

 

our

ills

flow together

 

and how, borne away,

she remains

 


Once upon a Time

 

(Bosco Cappuccio)

 

Bosco Cappuccio

has a slope

of green velvet

like a soft

comfortable chair.

 

I dozed there,

alone

in a far-off coffee house

in a faint light

like that

of this moon.

 


You Have Closed Your Eyes

 

(Nasce una notte)

 

A night is born

full of false holes

dead sounds

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.

 


O Night

 

(Dall’ampia ansia dell’alba)

 

From the deep anxiety of dawn

the grove of trees unveils.

Sad awakenings.

Leaves, sister leaves,

I hear your lament.

Autumns,

moribund sweetness.

O youth,

the hour of growth is barely past.

High skies of youth

impetuous freedom.

And I am already desert.

Caught on this melancholy arc.

But night scatters distances.

Oceanic silences,

astral nests of illusion,

O night.

 


Silence

 

(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

painted white

I saw

my city disappear

leaving

for a moment

a clasp of light suspended

in turbid air.

 


The Joy of the Shipwrecked

 

(E subito riprende)

 

And at once I resume

the voyage

as

after

a shipwreck

a sea-dog

a survivor.

 


Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)

 

Ancient Winter

 

(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.

 


Hermaphrodite Worm

 

(Mite letargo d’acque)

 

Mild lethargy of water:

the snow yields clear blue.

 

I am the memory

of all my earthly hours,

angelic whitethorn.

 

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

the reddened

hermaphrodite worm.

 


Aries

 

(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.

 


The Eucalyptus

 

(Non una dolcezza mi matura)

 

No sweetness it was that matured me,

it derived from sadness

each day

time renewed

in a breath of pungent resin.

 

In me a tree sways

by a drowsy shore,

winged air

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.

 

Island dawn:

in the half light re-emerges

that fox of gold

slain one spring.

 


Green Drift

 

(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.

 


April

 

(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.

 


Returning

 

(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.

 


Ulysses’ Isle

 

(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)

 

Arsenio

 

(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

today

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.

 


The Eel

 

(L’anguilla, la sirena)

 

Eel, siren

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.

 


The Storm

 

(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…

as when

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

to seal

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.


…words

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.

 


Waterfront

 

(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.

 


In Sleep

 

(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.

 


Motets I

 

(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

of Sottoripa.

 

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

me with.

          And hell is certain.

 

Note: Sottoripa is an ancient colonnaded market area of the port of Genoa.

 


Mediterranean

 

(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

breath.
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
but cohere:
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

their songs

the golden trumpets of sunlight.