Friday, April 25, 2008

Pretentious poetry chatter

As a member of Etsybloggers, I am supposed to take part in the weekly Blog Carnival. I’ve decided finally to fulfill my obligation. The first topic is poetry, thus my essay. I hope you enjoy.

I’ve had a longtime love affair with poetry, and that has only grown since I started studying Italian. I love the way words flow together and create a picture in your mind, and there is no language with more beautiful words than Italian. My favorite Italian poet is Eugenio Montale, who wrote during the rise of fascism and continued creating until his death in 1981. His works were undeniably beautiful, modern, and quietly subversive. My favorite poem of his is called “Riviere,” or “Seacoasts,” from Ossi di seppia, his first collection published in 1925. Though the title is much less romantic when translated, it is a beautiful poem in any language. It’s a long piece, so here’s an excerpt in Italian.

Dolce cattività, oggi, riviere
di chi s'arrende per poco
come a rivivere un antico giuoco
non mai dimenticato.
Rammento l'acre filtro che porgeste
allo smarrito adolescente, o rive:
nelle chiare mattine si fondevanodorsi
di colli e cielo; sulla rena
dei lidi era un risucchio ampio, un eguale
fremer di vite,
una febbre del mondo; ed ogni cosa
in se stessa pareva consumarsi.

I can’t find a translation online, so I’m venturing one myself. It’s nearly literal, so some of the flow is lost here.

Sweet captivity, today, seacoasts
From whom one surrenders almost
Like reliving an ancient game
Never forgotten.
I recall the acrid potion that they offered
To the lost adolescent, or the shores:
In the clear mornings they would melt
The back of their necks and the sky; on the sand
Of the beaches was a vast sucking, an equal
Shaking of lives,
A fever of the world; and everything
In itself seemed to wear out.

My translation isn’t the best, but you get the gist. The whole poem is about childhood and memory, as is much of the collection. This one relies on the imagery of the violently beautiful shoreline as a metaphor for the author being pulled back into nostalgia. Montale grew up in Liguria, a beautiful region of Italy on the coast of the Mediterranean, so these “riviere” are part of his childhood. Just as the coasts called to him as a boy, so does his past continue to draw him in. Though the overall tone of the poem is somber, it ends on a high note:

sentire noi pur
domani tra i profumi e i venti
un riaffluir di sogni, un urger folle
di voci verso un esito; e nel sole
che v'investe, riviere,

Though for us to feel
Tomorrow between the fragrances and the winds
A new flooding of dreams, a crazy urgency
Of faltering cries; and in the sun
That attacks there, seacoasts,
A refluorishing!

Montale spends the majority of the poem likening nostalgia to “due camelie pallide nei giardini deserti”, or two pale camellias in desert gardens. At the end, however, he gives in to the beauty of memory, the innocent joy of childhood. I agree with his reluctance to give in too much to living in the past, but I appreciate his ability to recognize that memories can be both beautiful and brutal, like the coastlines of his childhood.


Anonymous said...

See Please Here


I love poetry in another language!

Anonymous said...

You can almost smell the seascape.

Cozy said...

I spent about 30 years living close to the Pacific either in Northern or Southern California or on Guam. He has captured how I feel next to the vastness of it all in the second verse. Thank you for making this your part of our carnival.

Brigid said...

Thanks for the nice comments! There are some good Montale translations out there -- much better than mine. If you're interested, check out "Cuttlefish Bones" ("Ossi di seppia" in English). His poems are all beautiful.

storybeader said...

I guess that's why Italian opera always sounds the best!

Waterrose said...

Great poetry and wonderful translation!

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