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.
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
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
Yugoslavia sent me
a crown of fool’s gold
en route it lost some teeth
Early the blackbirds
to the terrace the blackbirds come
to pick for things
poor innocent blackbirds
© The originals copyright of the Montale estate
The translations are Creative Commons.