Eugenio Montale

Thursday 18 October 2012 09:33

Eugenio Montale (1896-181) was born in Genoa.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1975. He trained as an accountant but preferred literature – as he says in his Nobel Lecture: ‘I have also been a librarian, translator, literary and musical critic and even unemployed because of recognized insufficiency of loyalty to a regime which I could not love.’ He was an anti-fascist and anti-conformist. He fell in love with the American Dante scholar Irma Brandeis who was Jewish, and who is the object of much of his love poetry.

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I had the pleasure of working on some of these translations with poet, translator and scholar Grigoriy Kruzhkov during our fellowship at The Liguria Study Center for the Arts and Humanities/Fondazione Bogliasco near Genoa.




The Old Custom-House


you do not recall the old custom-house

on the cliff tilted above the rocks

desolate it waits for you since

the evening you went in & your

restless thoughts hived there


a southwesterly beats the old walls

& your smile has lost its lightness

the compass swings wildly

& the dice fall against us

you do not remember   old times

turn your thought aside   a tangled thread


I still hold the beginning of it but the house

recedes & the smoky weathervane

on the roof’s ridge turns ruthlessly

I hold the beginning but you are still alone

not even breathing in the darkness


oh the fugue of the horizon where

occasionally a tanker lights the night

is there safe passage here (yet the reef-foot

teems with broken water…) you do not

remember the house of this particular evening

& I no longer know who goes or stays



La casa dei doganieri


Tu non ricordi la casa dei doganieri
sul rialzo a strapiombo sulla scogliera:
desolata t''attende dalla sera
in cui v''entrò lo sciame dei tuoi pensieri
e vi sostò irrequieto.

Libeccio sferza da anni le vecchie mura
e il suono del tuo riso non è più lieto:
la bussola va impazzita all''avventura
e il calcolo dei dadi più non torna.

Tu non ricordi; altro tempo frastorna
la tua memoria; un filo s''addipana.

Ne tengo ancora un capo; ma s''allontana
la casa e in cima al tetto la banderuola
affumicata gira senza pietà.
Ne tengo un capo; ma tu resti sola
né qui respiri nell''oscurità.
Oh l''orizzonte in fuga, dove s''accende
rara la luce della petroliera!




Often the worst of life I met


often the worst of life I met

the brook gagging

the rucked leaf

the horse’s brutal fall


the good of life I never knew

except the miracle that reveals

divine indifference


it was the statue

in the somnolence of noon the cloud

& the falcon’s sudden stoop from it



Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato


Spesso il male di vivere ho incontrato:

era il rivo strozzato che gorgoglia,

era l’incartocciarsi della foglia

riarsa, era il cavallo stramazzato.


Bene non seppi, fuori del prodigio

che schiude la divina Indifferenza:

era la statua nella sonnolenza

del meriggio, e la nuvola, e il falco alto levato





Culture advances in giant steps


culture advances in giant steps

& in the macroscopic scale reproduces

the barbarian invasions


who has children has much to fear

the children of these children will have

nothing new to learn

nothing to forget




The Crown


Yugoslavia sent me

a crown of fool’s gold

en route it lost some teeth




Early the blackbirds


early

to the terrace the blackbirds come

to pick for things


poor innocent blackbirds

like us





© The originals copyright of the Montale estate

The translations are Creative Commons.