Born in Marradi, in the northern part of the Province of Firenze, in 1885, Dino Campana led the life of the wandering poète maudit, although it must be said that he did not choose his misery. He was committed on several occasions to mental institutions because he chose to live an extra-communal existence, often living on the edge of society and shunning his own family. He wandered much of northern Italy, spending time in particular in the port cities of Genoa and Livorno and also Florence which he regarded as the pinnacle of literary society in Italy of the time, and there is considerable internal evidence in his work that he travelled to Argentina. The slang of sailors and ports forms a sort of sub-language in his work. He formed a relationship with the feminist author Sibilla Aleramo (their relationship is the subject of the film Un Viaggio Chiamato Amore (dir. Michele Placido, 2002). He died in a mental institution. Whether he was, in fact, mentally ill is a matter of considerable dispute; and even among those who accept the diagnoses (there were several, including dementia praecox) the severity is itself disputed in a country much influenced by the Anti-Psychiatric theories of Franco Basaglia.
I was introduced to the work of Campana (in essence one controversial book - Canti Orfici) by my friend Enrico Gurioli who describes himself as a Recovering Campanista, and whom I would like to thank for his enthusiasm and good advice - not to mention several excellent glasses of his Ronco del Suffragio!
I also wish to express my gratitude to the staff of Centro Studi Campaniani “Enrico Consolini” in Marradi and to its President Mirna Gentillini whose hospitality and willingness to educate will not be forgotten.
The wrecked ships
Le vele le vele le vele*
that shock and lash at wind
useless backing and filling
le vele le vele le vele
tack & tack: lamentation
loud of the wave’s brilliance
of the growling wave that kills
of the last brutal flail
le vele le vele le vele
* The sails the sails the sails. See note after the Italian text.
Le vele le vele le vele
Che schioccano e frustano al vento
Che gonfia di vane sequele
Le vele le vele le vele!
Che tesson e tesson: lamento
Volubil che l''onda che ammorza
Ne l''onda volubile smorza
Ne l''ultimo schianto crudele
Le vele le vele le vele
Note: Enrico Gurioli, who has edited an edition of Campana’s maritime poems (Dino Campana: I Canti Marini, Pendragon, 2013), suggests that the title of this poem is widely misunderstood. Previous editions have ‘corrected’ it, believing it to be a misprint, but he suggests that the word ‘amorrate’ comes from sailor’s lingua franca or port slang, and means ‘wrecked’. I follow his interpretation here. He also suggests that the line ‘le vele le vele le vele’ appeals to Campana because it is partly a palindrome and sailors slang is often constructed by reversing words. He has suggested that I leave it untranslated for effect and I have followed his advice.
‘Distant ships on passage’ appears to have been written in 1915 at the entry of Italy into the First World War - in Italy it is often referred to as ‘the war of 1915-1918’.
Distant ships on passage
distant the faithless
black & silent ships pass
but your insatiable mouth
calls to them in one savage shout
in the channels hidden cannons
smoky glittering channels
powerful cannons in ambush
on the smiling dazzling sea
the fury of the land
you call over the endless seas
on the ancient powers to gather
a smoky lightning like a dream
alive & terrible in the ruins
the unconscious voice of liberty
a titanic heroic love
or the rumbling heart of the world
how the sea smiles at you
young again, like the earth, & fresh
sharp & bitter dancing & gasping in the smoke
that corrodes & debrides your youth
pungent bitter urgent unsatisfied
Lontane passan le navi
Lontane passan le navi
Nere perfide silenziose
Ma la tua bocca insaziabile
Le chiama in ruggito violento
Cannone roggia appiattata
Fumida roggia che abbaglia
Cannone potenza in aguato
Sul mare che ride e abbarbaglia
Furore della terra
Che chiami sui mari infiniti
Le antiche potenze a raccolta
Lampo fumido come un sogno
Vivo e terribile sulla rovina
Voce inconscia di libertà
Amore titanico eroico
O voce rombo del cuore del mondo
Come il mar ti sorride
Ringiovanito, come la terra, e fresca
Aspra e acerba e balza ed anela tra il fumo
Che rode e scoglie la sua giovinezza
Acre aspera urgente insaziata.
This lyric has given me particular difficulty. Although Campana is not a hermetic poet, there are certainly times when he feels like that. The problem is compounded by erratic punctuation - sometimes completely absent where the sense seems to require it - throughout the collection. Canti Orfici was first published by a local printer in the small town of Marradi and the text is acknowledged to be seriously flawed. The history of Campana’s attempts to have his collection published is intricate, to say the least. He made the fatal mistake, for a writer, of consigning the only fair and accurate copy to a ‘friend’ and fellow-writer who carelessly ‘lost it’. After much anguished pleading, Campana then set about reconstructing the entire text from memory. The original (lost) text was called Il Più Lungo Giorno (The Longest Day). The new text was published as Orphic Songs. hence, this lyric is The Song of The Night, or as I prefer, since it begins at twilight, The Song Of the Gloaming.
The song of the gloaming
The gloaming softened by its own light:
Unquiet spirits sweeten darkness
For the heart that loves no more!
Springs springs we are required to hear,
Springs springs that know
Springs that know what spirits they are
What spirits they are, what spirits they are
What spirits are listening….
Listen: Twilight is softened by its own light
And for unquiet spirits dark is sweet:
Listen: Fate has beaten you:
But to light hearts another life stands at the door:
There is no sweetness equal to Death.
More more more
You mean the one who still cradles you:
You mean the sweetheart
Who whispers in your ear: More, more
And here stands the wind
And here dies: here the tide turns
And we can hear beating
The heart that loved us best!
Let us look: already the landscape
The trees, the water are of the night
The river goes its way silently
Boom! Mammy, that guy up there!
Il canto della tenebre
La luce del crepuscolo si attenua:
Inquieti spiriti sia dolce la tenebra
Al cuore che non ama più!
Sorgenti sorgenti abbiam da ascoltare,
Sorgenti sorgenti che sanno
Sorgenti che sanno che spiriti stanno
Che spiriti stanno che spiriti stanno
Che spiriti stanno a ascoltare….
Ascolta: la luce del crepuscolo attenua
Ed agli inquieti spiriti è dolce la tenebra:
Ascolta: ti ha vinto la Sorte:
Ma per i cuori leggeri un’ altra vita è alle porte:
Non c’è di dolcezza che posso uguagliare la Morte
Più più più
Intendi chi ancora ti culla:
Intendi la dolce fanciulla
Che dice all’orecchio: Più più
Ed ecco si leva e scompare
Il vento: ecco torna dal mare
Ed ecco sentiamo ansimare
Il cuore che ci amó di più!
Guardiamo: di già il paesaggio
Degli alberi e l’acque è notturno
Il fiume va via taciturno….
Púm! Mamma quell’ omo lassù!
And the little feet go musically
Carrying the battlemented hair
That arms like a wing the fierce eyes
In their languor on a good day
And Easter hits the road
Ed I piedini andavano armoniosi
Portando I cappelloni battaglieri
Che armavano di un’ ala gli occhi fieri
Del lor languore solo nel bel giorno
Scampanava la Pasqua per la via…
This fragment, published in Canti Orfici alongside ‘Barche Amorrate’ seems to be part of a longer poem that was contained in the collection Il Più Lungo Giorno. Since this manuscript was eventually discovered in the effects of the fellow-writer and friend who had ‘lost’ it, we now know what the full poem was like. However I prefer the mysterious fragment. The full text of Campana’s unpublished work can be found here. The following is the text of the full poem.
Scampanava la Pasqua per la via
Calzaioli, le donne erano liete
Quel giorno ed innocenti le fanciulle
Di sotto ai cappelloni ultima moda,
E ingiovanito mi sembrava il duomo...
Ed i piedini andavano armoniosi
Portando i cappelloni battaglieri
Che armavano di un''ala gli occhi fieri
Del lor languore solo, nel bel giorno.
Il cannone tuonò ma non riscosse
Le signorine che andavano a messa
E continuava il calmo cicaleggio.
Una colomba si librava molle.
A Genovese woman
Long ago you brought me a little seaweed
In your hair, and the scent of the sea wind,
That has come from far away and is seriously
Hot, it was on your bronze body:
Oh the divine simplicity
Of your slender form –
Not love, not pain, a phantom,
A shadow of necessity so pale
Serene and irresistible to the soul
And there dissolves in joy, in serene enchantment
Because for an infinity
If she can wear the sirocco,
How little the world is and light in your hands.
Una donna Genovese
Tu mi portasti un po'' d''alga marina
Nei tuoi capelli, ed un odor di vento,
Che è corso di lontano e giunge grave
D''ardore, era nel tuo corpo bronzino:
– Oh la divina
Semplicità delle tue forme snelle –
Non amore non spasimo, un fantasma,
Un''ombra della necessità che vaga
Serena e ineluttabile per l''anima
E la discioglie in gioia, in incanto serena
Perché per l''infinito lo scirocco
Se la possa portare.
Come è piccolo il mondo e leggero nelle tue mani!
More to follow....
The translations are Creative Commons