Eugenio Montale

 

 

 

Perhaps One Morning Walking

 

Perhaps one morning walking in dry glassy air,

I will turn, I will see the miracle complete:

nothingness at my shoulder, the void behind

me, with a drunkard’s terror.

 

Then, as on a screen, trees houses hills

will advance swiftly in familiar illusion,

But it will be too late; and I will return, silently,

to men who do not look back, with my secret.

 

 

 

The Dead

 

The sea that breaks on the opposite shore

throws up a cloud that spumes

until the sand flats reabsorb it. There,

one day, we jettisoned, on the iron coast,

our hope, more gasping than

the open sea—and the fertile abyss turns green

as in the days that saw us among the living.

 

Now that the north wind has flattened out the cloudy tangle

of gravy-colored currents and headed them back

to where they started, all around someone has hung

on the limbs of the tree thicket fish nets that string

along the path that goes down

out of sight;

faded nets that. dry in the late

and cold touch of the light; and over them

the thick blue crystal of the sky winks

and slides toward a wave-lashed arc

of horizon.

 

                More than seawrack dragged

from the seething that uncovers us, our life

moves against such stasis: and still it seethes

in us, that one thing which one day stopped, resigned

to its limits; among the strands that bind

one branch to another, the heart struggles

like a young marsh hen

caught in the net's meshes;

and motionless and migratory it holds us,

an icy steadfastness.

                               Thus

maybe the dead too have an rest taken away from them

in the ground; a force more pitiless

than life itself pulls them away from there, and all around

(shadows gnawed and swallowed by human memories)

drives them to these shores, breaths

without body or voice

betrayed by the darkness;

and their thwarted flights brush by us even now,

so recently separated from us, so close still,

and back in the sea's sieve go down...

 

 

 

The Storm

 

Les princes n'ont point d'yeux pour voir ces grand's merveilles,

Leurs mains ne servent plus qu' à nous persécuter . . .

                                                    (Agrippa D' Aubigné: À Dieu)

 

The storm that trickles its long March

thunderclaps, its hail, onto the stiff

leaves of the magnolia tree;

 

(sounds of shaking crystal which startle you

in your nest of sleep; and the gold

snuffed on the mahogany, on the backs

of the bound books, flares again

like a grain of sugar in the shell

of your eyelids)

 

the lightning that blanches

the trees and walls, freezing them

like images on a negative (a benediction

and destruction you carry carved

within you, a condemnation that binds you

stronger to me than any love, my strange sister);

and then the tearing crash, the jangling sistrums, the rustle

of tambourines in the dark ditch of the night,

the tramp, scrape, jump of the fandango. . .and overhead

some gesture that blindly is groping. . .

                                                           as when

turning around, and, sweeping clear your forehead

of its cloud of hair,

 

you waved to me—and entered the dark.

 

 

 

 

Xenia I

translated by William Arrowsmith

 

 

1

 

Dear little insect

nicknamed Mosca, who knows why,

this evening, when it was nearly dark,

while I was reading Deutero-Isaiah,

you reappeared at my side,

but without your glasses

you couldn’t see me,

and in the blur, without their glitter,

I didn’t know who you were.

 

2

 

Minus glasses and antennae,

poor insect, wingèd

only in imagination,

a beaten-up Bible and none

too plausible either, black night,

a flash of lightning, thunder, and then

not even the storm. Could it be

you left so soon, and without

a word? But it’s crazy, my thinking

you still had lips.

 

3

 

At the St. James in Paris I’ll have to ask for

a room for one. (They don’t like

single guests.) Ditto

in the fake Byzantium of your Venetian

hotel; and then, right off, hunting down

the girls at the switchboard,

your old pals; and then leaving again

the minute my three minutes are up,

and the wanting you back,

if only in one gesture,

one habit of yours.

 

4

 

We’d worked out a whistle for the world

beyond, a token of recognition.

Now I’m giving it a try, hoping

we’re all dead already and don’t know it.

 

5

 

I ’ve never figured out whether I

was your faithful dog with runny eyes

or you were mine.

To others you were a myopic little bug

bewildered by the twaddle

of high society. They were naïve,

those clever folk, never guessing

they were the butt of your humor:

that you could see them even in the dark,

unmasked by your infallible sixth sense,

your bat’s radar.

 

6

 

You never thought of leaving your mark

by writing prose or verse. This

was your charm—and later my self-revulsion.

It was what I dreaded too: that someday

you’d shove me back into the croaking

bog of “modern poets.”

 

7

 

Self-pity, infinite pain and anguish

of the man who worships this world here and now,

who hopes and despairs of another . . .

(who dares speak of another world?)

 

                • • •                      

 

 

“Strana pietà . . . ” (Azucena, Act II)

 

8

 

Your speech so halting and tactless

is the only consolation left me.

But the accent has changed, the color too.

I’ll get used to hearing you, decoding you

in the click-clack of the teletype,

in the spirals of smoke coiling

from my Brissago cigars.

 

9

 

Listening was your only way of seeing.

The phone bill comes to almost nothing now.

 

10

 

“Did she pray?” “Yes, to St. Anthony.

He’s in charge of finding lost

umbrellas and suchlike things

in St. Hermes’ cloakroom.”

“And that’s it?” “She prayed for her dead too,

and for me.”

            “Quite enough,” the priest replied.

 

11

 

The memory of your tears (I cried twice as hard)

can’t obliterate your wild peals of laughter.

They were a kind of foretaste

of a private Last Judgment of your own,

which, alas, never came to pass.

 

12

 

Spring pokes out at a snail’s pace.

Never again will I hear you talking of antibiotic

poisoning, or the pin in your femur;

or the patrimony plucked from you

by that thousand-eyed

[deleted].

 

Spring comes on with its heavy fogs,

long daylights and unbearable hours.

Never again will I hear you struggling with the backwash

of time, or ghosts, or the logistical problems

of summer.

 

13

 

Your brother died young; that little girl

with tousled curls in the oval portrait,

looking at me, was you.

He wrote music, unpublished, unheard,

now buried away in some trunk

or trashed. If what’s written is written,

maybe someone, unawares, is rewriting it now.

I loved him without ever knowing him.

Except for you no one remembered him.

I made no inquiries; it’s futile now.

After you I was the only one left

for whom he ever existed.

But we can love a shade, you know,

being shades ourselves.

 

14

 

They say my poetry is one of non-belonging.

But if it was yours, it was someone’s:

it was yours who are no longer form, but essence.

They say that poetry at its peak

glorifies the All in flight,

they say the tortoise

is no swifter than lightning.

You alone knew

that motion and stasis are one,

that the void is fullness and the clear sky

cloud at its airiest. So your long journey

imprisoned by bandages and casts,

makes better sense to me.

Still, knowing we’re a single thing,

whether one or two, gives me no peace.


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