Contents


Wind at Tindari

(Tindari, mite ti so)

Tindari, I know you

mild between broad hills, overhanging the waters

of the god’s sweet islands.

Today, you confront me

and penetrate my heart.

I climb airy peaks, precipices,

following the wind in the pines,

and the crowd of them, lightly accompanying me,

fly off into the air,

wave of love and sound,

and you take me to you,

you from whom I wrongly gathered

evil, and fear of shadow, silence

– refuge of sweetness, once certain –

and death of spirit.

It is unknown to you, that country

where each day I go deep

to nourish secret syllables:

a different light bares you, behind the windows

clothed in night,

and another joy than mine

rests on your breast.

Exile is harsh

and the search, for harmony, ending in you,

changes today

to a precocious anxiousness for death,

and every love is a shield against sadness,

a silent stair in the gloom,

where you station me

to break my bitter bread.

Return, serene Tindari,

stir me, sweet friend,

to raise myself to the sky from the rock,

so that I might shape fear, for those who do not know

what deep wind has searched me.

Note: Tindari, ancient Tyndaris, lies on a coastal headland in the province of Messina, Italy.

Street in Agrigentum

(Là dura un vento che ricordo acceso)

There is still the wind that I remember

firing the manes of horses, racing,

slanting, across the plains,

the wind that stains and scours the sandstone,

and the heart of gloomy columns, telamons,

overthrown in the grass. Spirit of the ancients, grey

with rancour, return on the wind,

breathe in that feather-light moss

that covers those giants, hurled down by heaven.

How alone in the space that’s still yours!

And greater, your pain, if you hear, once more,

the sound that moves, far off, towards the sea,

where Hesperus streaks the sky with morning:

the jew’s-harp vibrates

in the waggoner’s mouth

as he climbs the hill of moonlight, slow,

in the murmur of Saracen olive trees.

Note: On the southern coast of Sicily, Agrigento is the ancient Agrigentum, or Akragas, one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia.

Nostalgia and Regret

(Ora che sale il giorno)

Now the day breaks

night is done and the moon

slowly dissolved in serene air

sets in the canals.

September is so alive in this country

of plains, the meadows are green

as in the southern valleys in spring.

I have left my companions,

I have hidden my heart behind ancient walls,

to be alone, to remember.

Since you are further off than the moon,

now the day breaks

and the horses’ hooves beat on the stones.

Lament for the South

(La luna rossa, il vento, il tuo colore)

The red moon, the wind, your complexion

of a woman of the North, the expanse of snow…

My heart lies among these grasslands now,

in these waters clouded by fog.

I forget the sea, the sombre

conch blown by Sicilian shepherds,

the rumble of carts along the streets

where the carob tree trembles in stubble-smoke.

I forget the passage of herons and cranes,

through the air of green highlands

to the fields and rivers of Lombardy.

But people everywhere cry the fate of my country.

Nothing any more will take me South.

Oh, the South is weary of dragging its dead

along the edges of malarial marshes,

weary of solitude, weary of chains,

its mouth wearied

with the curses of all the races

who screamed death, to the echo of its wells,

who drank the blood from its heart.

That’s why its children take to their mountains,

drive their horses under a blanket of stars,

eat the acacia flowers along the trails

the freshest red, still red, still red.

Nothing any more will take me South.

And this evening filled with winter

is still ours, and here I repeat to you

my absurd counterpoint

of sweetness and fury

a lament of love without love.

Mirror

(Ed ecco sul tronco)

And see, buds break

out of the tree:

a newer green in the grass

eases the heart:

the tree seemed already dead,

bowed on the slope

And all I know of miracle;

and I am this watery cloud

that reflected today in the ditches,

the more blue, its fragment of heaven,

this green that splits the bark

that only last night was not there.

On the Island

(Un colle, i simboli)

A hill, the symbols

of time, the mirror of mind

continuous, motionless,

listening to themselves, await

the future answer. This hour of ours

appears without warning, a narrow beam

in the harmonic labyrinth.

It’s March with bursts of blue,

the man leaves his bed of branches

and goes to search out stone and mortar.

Over his head is the morning star

that lights the water, in his pocket

a yellow wood ruler, feet bare,

he can close curves, incline slopes,

set squares, forge corners, trusses.

He alone is worker and architect,

the donkey carries stones, a boy

breaks them and scatters sparks. He labours

three months, four, before the mistletoe

sultriness and rain, dawn and dusk.

Of all the hands that raised walls

on this island, Greek hands or Swabian

Saracen hands or hands of Spain,

walls of the dog days or autumn,

the anonymous hands or the hands adorned

with signet rings, now I see

those that laid down houses

on Trabia’s shore. Vertical lines,

wrappings of air leaning

to the leaves of acacia and almond.

Beyond the houses, there among the mastic trees

of the hares, lies dead Sòlunto.

I climbed that hill one morning

with other lads, through

inner silences. I had

yet to discover life.

Note: Sòlunto was the Phoenician settlement of Soluntum, or Solus in northern Sicily. Trabia is nearby.

Metamorphoses in the Urn of the Saint

(I morti maturano)

The dead mature;

my heart with them.

Mercy on the self

is earth’s final humour.

A light of lacustrine trees

stirs in the glass of the urn.

a dark mutation ravages me,

unknown saint; in the scattered seed

green maggots moan:

my visage forms their springtime.

A memory of darkness is born

in the depths of walled wells,

an echo in buried eardrums:

I am your pale relic.

‘Already the rain is with us’

(Già la pioggia è con noi)

Already the rain is with us,

shaking the silent air.

Swallows skim the dull waters,

by the lakes of Lombardy,

swoop like seagulls after tiny fish;

there’s a scent of hay beyond the garden fences.

The Submerged Oboe

(Avara pena, tarda il tuo dono)

Miserly pain, late your gift

in this my hour

of abandoned sighs.

A cold oboe re-syllabizes

joy of eternal foliage,

not mine, and forgets;

in me it is evening

the rain flows

over my hands of grass.

Wings flutter in a dull sky,

passing. The heart migrates,

and I am barren,

and my days rubble.

Now Autumn

(Ora l’autunno guasta il verde ai colli)

Now autumn despoils the green of hills,

O my sweet creatures. Again we shall hear,

before night, the last lament

of the birds, the call of the grey

plain that flows towards the deep

murmur of the sea. And the smell of wood

in the rain, the odour of lairs,

how do I live here among houses

among humans, o my sweet creatures…

Enemy of Death

For Rossana Sironi

(Tu non dovevi, o cara,)

Dear one, you should not have

ripped out your image,

taken from us, from the world,

a portion of beauty.

What can we do

we enemies of death,

bent to your feet of rose,

your breast of violet?

Not a word, not a scrap

of your last day, a No

to earth’s things, a No

to our dull human record.

The sad moon in summer,

the dragging anchor, took

your dreams, hills, trees,

light, waters, darkness,

not dim thoughts but truths,

severed from the mind

that suddenly decided,

time and all future evil.

Now you are shut

behind heavy doors

enemy of death.

Who cries?

You have blown out beauty

with a breath, torn her,

dealt her the death-wound,

without a tear

for her insensate shadow’s

spreading over us.

Destroyed solitude,

and beauty, failed.

You have signalled

into the dark,

inscribed your name in air,

your No

to everything that crowds here

and beyond the wind.

I know what you were

looking for in your new dress.

I understand the unanswered question.

Neither for you nor us, a reply.

Oh, flowers and moss,

Oh, enemy of death.

Refuge of Nocturnal Birds

(In alto c’è un pino distorto)

On the heights a twisted pine;

intent, listening to the void

with trunk arched in a bow?

Refuge of nocturnal birds,

it resounds at the ultimate hour,

with a beating of swift wings.

It even has its nest my heart

suspended in the darkness, a voice;

also listening, the night.

The Sea Still Sounds

(Già da più notti s’ode ancora il mare)

Even more so at night the sea still sounds,

Lightly, up and down, along the smooth sands.

Echo of an enclosed voice in the mind,

that returns in time; and also that

assiduous lament of the gulls; birds

perhaps of the summits that April

drives towards the plain; already

you are near to me in that voice;

and I wish there might yet come to you

from me, an echo of memory,

like this dark murmur of the sea.

Imitation Of Joy

(Dove gli alberi ancora)

Where the trees render

the evening yet more abandoned,

how indolently

your last footstep vanishes

that appears with the flower

of the lime, and insists on its fate.

You search for reason in affection,

you experience silence in life.

Another outcome reveals to me

mirrored time. It grieves

like death, beauty now

flashes like lightning in other faces.

I have lost every innocence,

even in this voice that survives

to imitate joy.

Horses of Volcanoes And The Moon

(Isole che ho abitato)

I inhabited islands

green on a motionless sea.

Shores of scorched seaweed, marine fossils,

where the horses of volcanoes and the moon

amorously race.

In the hours of landslides

leaves, cranes, assault the air:

in the light of the flood clouded

skies shine, open to stars;

doves fly

with the naked shoulders of children.

Here the earth ends;

with blood and sweat

I fashion a prison.

For you I will hurl myself

at the feet of the powerful,

sweeten my brigand’s heart.

But hunted by men

I still lie beneath the lightning flash

a child with open hands,

on the banks of woods and rivers:

there is the quarry of Greek orange-trees

fertilized by the nuptials of gods.

Note: After their defeat at Syracuse in 414BC during the Peloponnesian War the Athenians were imprisoned in the quarries.

Alleyway

(Mi chiama talvolta la tua voce)

Sometimes your voice calls to me,

and I do not know what skies

or waters you wake me to:

a net of sunlight that glazes

your walls that at evening were

a swaying of late lanterns

in the workshops filled

with the breeze and sadness.

At other times: a loom clattered in the yard

and at night were the cries

of children and puppies.

Alleyway: a crossing of houses,

that calls thus softly,

and knows not the fear

of being alone in the dark.

Without Memory Of Death

(Primavera solleva alberi e fiumi)

Spring heightens the trees and rivers;

I cannot hear the deep voice

lost in you, beloved.

Without memory of death

in the conjoined flesh,

the roar of the final day

rouses us adolescents.

The grown branch

my hand

flowers in your side….

Grown DarkAnd Tall

(Tu vieni nella mia voce)

You arrive in my voice

and I see the quiet light

descend in shadowy rays

and make you a cloud of stars about my head.

And I suspended there, to stupefy myself with angels,

the dead, the bright arc of air.

Not mine; but within the space

re-emerged, trembling in me,

grown dark and tall.

The Birth Of Song

(Sorgiva: luce riemersa)

Arise: re-emergent light:

bright burning leaves.

I lie down in brimming rivers

where there are islands

mirrors of shadows and stars.

And your celestial heights overwhelm me,

that always nurture

my other life with joy.

I long to reclaim you,

though disillusioned,

adolescence with infirm

limbs.

Autumn

(Autunno mansueto, io mi posseggo)

Mild autumn, I master myself

and bend to your waters to drink the sky,

sweet fugue of trees and depths.

Harsh punishment for being born,

I find myself one with you;

and in you I shatter myself and heal:

poor fallen thing

the earth gathers.

Freshness Of Rivers In Sleep

(Ti trovo nei felici approdi,)

I find you in fortunate harbours,

consort of night,

disinterred hour,

almost the warmth of a new joy,

bitter grace of living without voice.

Virgin paths oscillate

freshness of rivers in sleep:

And I am still the prodigal who hears

his name in the silence

when they summon the dead.

And death is

a space in the heart.

Grant Me My Day

(Dammi il mio giorno)

Grant me my day;

so I might yet search myself

for some dormant face of the years

that a hollow of water

returns in its transparency

and weep for love of myself.

You are a path in the heart

and a finding of stars

in sleepless archipelagos,

night, kindly to me

a fossil thrown from a weary wave;

a curve of secret orbit,

where we are close

to rocks and grasses.

Epitaph for Bice Donetti

(Con gli occhi alla pioggia e agli elfi della)

With her eyes to the rain and the imps of

night, she is there, in plot fifteen at Musocco,

the woman from Emilia I loved in

the sad days of youth.

She was recently toyed with by death

while she quietly watched the autumn wind

shake the branches and leaves of the plane trees

of her grey suburban home.

Her face was still alive with surprise,

as it was surely in childhood; struck

by the fire-eater high on his cart.

O you who pass by, brought by other dead,

there before grave eleven sixty

stop for a moment to salute her

who never complained of the man who

remains behind, despised, with his verses,

one like so many, a worker with dreams.

Note: Bice Donetti was Quasimodo’s first wife. Musocco is a district of Milan containing its largest cemetery.

A Burial Sings in Me

(M’esilio; si colma)

I exile myself; so shadow

fills with myrtle,

and subdued space lays me down lightly.

Nor does love achieve

happy sylvan harmonies

with me in a lonely hour:

paradise and marshland

sleep in the hearts of the dead.

And a burial sings in me,

that forces into the stony ground

like a root, and attempts to mark

the opposing path.

Almost A Madrigal

(Il girasole piega a occidente)

The sunflower bends to the west,

and the daylight already fades in its

ruined eye, and the air of summer

thickens and already the leaves and the smoke

in the wood-yards curl. The last play of light fades

in a dry belt of cloud and a clap of thunder. Again,

and for years, dear, the transformation of trees

holds us within the narrow circle

of the Navigli. But it is always our day

and always that sun that leaves

with threads of affectionate rays.

I no longer recall; nor wish to recall;

the memory risen from the dead,

life is endless. Each day

is ours. One will end thus forever,

and you and I, when it seems late to us.

Here on the bank of the canal, swinging

our feet, like children,

we gaze at the water, the branches

clothed in their tint of green that darkens.

And the man who approaches in silence,

hides no knife in his hand

but a geranium flower.

Note: The Navigli was a system of canals around Milan, its Inner Ring being paved over in the 1930’s.

Poetry Of Love

(Il vento vacilla esaltato e porta)

The wind sways exultant, and bears

leaves on the trees in the Park,

there is grass already around

the walls of the Castle, barges

of sand thread the Naviglio Grande.

Irritating, unhinged, it’s a day

that turns to ice like any other,

it goes on, it will. But you’re here and have no limits:

it does violence thus to motionless death;

and prepares our bed of life.

Note: The Park is the Parco Sempione, adjacent to the grounds of the Sforza Castle.

Dialogue

(Siamo sporchi di guerra e Orfeo brulica)

‘At cantu commotae Erebi de sedibus imis umbrae ibant tenues simulacraque luce carentum’

‘The insubstantial shadows, and the phantoms of those without light, came from the lowest depths of Erebus, startled by his song’

Virgil, Georgics IV:471-2

We are besmirched by war, and Orpheus swarms

with insects, pierced by lice,

and you are dead. In winter what a weight

of ice, water, stormy air,

surrounded you, and the thunder peal on peal

in your life on earth. And now I know

that I owed you greater Assent,

but our time was one of fury and blood;

others sinking already into the mud,

their hand and eyes melted,

they cried for mercy and love.

But how late it is always for love;

forgive me, then. Now I still cry

your name in this idle meridian

of wings, of strings of cicadas

stretched in the cypress bark.

We no longer know where your shore is;

there was a path marked out by the poets,

by springs that smoked with landslides

on the plateau. But in that place I saw

from boyhood bushes with purple berries

herd-dogs and birds of the gloomy air

and horses mysterious animals

that follow behind a man head held high.

The living have lost the paths

of the dead forever and stand apart.

This silence is now more fearful

than that which divides your shores.

‘Insubstantial shadows came.’ And here

the Olona runs calmly, no tree

stirs from its well of roots.

O, were you not Eurydice? Were you not Eurydice!

Eurydice is living! Eurydice, the Eurydice!

And I still besmirch you with war, Orpheus,

as your horse, without the whip,

lifts his head, the earth no longer trembles;

howl of love, conquer, if you would, the world.

Note: The Olona river flows from the mountains down to Milan.

The Magpie Mocks

(Forse è un segno vero della vita)

Perhaps it’s a true sign of life;

around me the children with brisk

motions of their heads dance in a play

of cadences and voices down the meadow

by the church. Evening’s mercy, shadows

reigniting the oh so green grass,

with the moon’s loveliest flame.

Memory grants you brief rest,

an hour, you wake. Behold the well echoes,

or, for a first time, the sea. This is the hour;

no longer mine, dry, remote simulacra.

And you wind of the south, redolent with orange blossom,

urge the moon to where the naked children

sleep, force a stallion’s hoof-prints on the colt

in the damp meadow, reveal

the sea, raise the mist from the trees:

now the heron enters the water,

and slowly prods the mud among the thorns,

the magpie mocks, black in the orange tree.

Summer

(Cicale, sorelle, nel sole)

Cicadas, sisters, in the sun

amongst you I hide,

in the heights of poplars

and gaze at the stars…

Man of My Time

(Sei ancora quello della pietra e della fionda)

You are the creature still of stone and sling,

man of my time. Yours was the cockpit

of malignant wings, the gnomons of death,

– I saw you – in the fiery chariot, at the gallows,

at the torturer’s wheel. I saw you: it was you,

your exact science devoted to extermination,

without love, or saviour. Again you kill,

as ever, as your fathers did, as the creatures

that saw you for the first time, killed.

And the blood still smells of that day

when one brother said to the other:

‘Let us go to the field.’ And that echo, chill,

tenacious, reaches down to you, in your day.

Forget, o sons, the clouds born of blood

risen from the earth, forget the fathers:

their tombs sink down deep in the ashes,

dark birds, the wind, cover their hearts.

Auschwitz

(Laggiù, ad Auschwitz, lontano dalla Vistola)

There, at Auschwitz, far from the Vistula,

love, on the northern plain

in a field of death: funereal, cold,

rain on the rusted poles,

and a tangle of steel fences:

and no trees or birds in the grey air,

or above our thought, but inertia

and pain that memory leaves

to a silence without irony or anger.

You sought neither elegy nor idyll: only

a reason for our fate, here,

you, sensitive to the contrasts of mind,

unsure of the clear presence

of life. And life is here,

in every ‘no’ that seems sure:

Here we can hear the angel weep, the monster,

our future hours,

beating at the beyond, which is here, in eternity

and in motion, not in a vision

in dreams, of possible mercy.

And here are the metamorphoses, here are the myths.

Without names of symbols or gods,

they are chronicles, places on earth.

they are Auschwitz, love. How suddenly

it turned to the smoke of shades,

that dear flesh of Alpheus, and Arethusa!

From that hell revealed by a white

inscription: ‘Arbeit macht frei’

the smoke issued endlessly

of thousands of women thrust

from kennels at dawn to the wall

for target-practice, or stifled howling

for merciful water with skeletal

mouths under showers of gas.

You’ll discover them, soldier, in your

record, in the form of rivers, creatures,

or are you too but ashes of Auschwitz,

the medal of silence?

Long tresses rest enclosed in urns

of glass still crowded with amulets,

and infinite shadows of little shoes,

and Jewish shawls: they are the relics

of a time of wisdom, of the wisdom

of men who make weapons the measure,

they are the myths, our metamorphoses.

On the stretches of land where love and tears

and pity rotted, in the rain,

there a ‘no’ beat within us,

a ‘no’ to death, dead at Auschwitz,

never again, from that pit

of ashes, death.

Suddenly It’s Evening

(Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra)

Everyone is alone at the heart of the earth,

pierced by a ray of sunshine;

and suddenly it’s evening.

To My Father

(Dove sull’acque viola)

Where Messina stands above

violet waters, you walk the tracks

amongst mangled rails and debris,

in your station-master’s cap, like

a Sicilian cockerel. The three day

earthquake rumbles on, it’s December of hurricanes,

and poisonous seas. Night descending

on goods-wagons and our childish cattle,

we count dusty dreams with the dead

crushed by iron, munching almonds,

and desiccated garlands of apple. The science

of pain adds iron truth to the lowland hazards

of yellow malaria and muddy bloated tertian fever.

Your patience

sad, delicate, robbed us of fear,

was the lesson of days spent with traitorous

death, with contempt for the thieves

caught in the wreckage, tried in the dark

in a fusillade of gunfire a tally

of low numbers proving exact,

concentric, a final balance of future life.

Your hat, for the sun, bobbed up and down

in the little space always granted you.

Within me too, everything was weighed,

and I have borne your name,

a little further from hatred and envy.

That red cap of yours was a mitre.

a crown with aquiline wings.

And now in your eagle-like ninetieth year,

I wanted to speak to you, the signal-lamps

of your departure tinged by the night light

that casts the imperfect

orbit of this earth

on a stretch of narrow wall,

far from the Arabian jasmine,

where you are now, to say to you

what I once could not – difficult affinity

of thought – to say to you, so not merely

the cicadas of Biviere, the agaves and mastics, hear,

speak as the steward speaks to the master,

‘I kiss your hand.’ That, nothing more.

Life is darkly strong.

Note: Lake Biviere lies among the beech woods of the Nebrodi Regional Park in Sicily.


Index of First Lines

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

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.