Four Versions of “Motets” by Eugenio Montale

Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso

I have to lose you again, you know that—
and that I can't. Like well-aimed blows
whatever's done, whatever's said or shouted,
even this salt fog flooding up from the quays
putting spring in the shade—
they shake me.

Sottoripa, region of iron,
of spar-forests in a dusty twilight—
a long groan comes in from nowhere,
an eternal fingernail on glass.
I look for the lost sign,
for the one pledge freely given—
your gift to me.
            And hell is assured.


La speranza di pure rivederti

It was when I saw
under the arcades at Modena
a liveried servant leading
two jackals on a leash I knew
the hope of ever seeing you again
was leaving me 
and asked myself
was this screen of dreams
that kept you from me
my death drawing near
or, faint and distant,
your true light
shining still.


Il saliscendi bianco e nero dei

The swallows' trajectory
white and black between
telegraph pole and sea
won't soothe your distress at the quayside
nor turn back time.

Scent of elder already
hangs heavy over the work-site. Rain eases.
Light seems to sue for a peace
which your loved darkness annuls.


La canna che dispiuma

The reed that in spring
without clamour sheds
its red fan of feathers;
the deep track along the black creek
buzzed by dragonflies;
and the dog panting home,
his catch in his mouth—

today, in this place, I need recall
none of these. But there,
where the flame burns brightest
as cloud comes down, where her cool glance
puts me in the shade, two beams of light 
alone make the sign of the cross.
         And the clock ticks on.

…Very well then. A cornet plays in tune
with bees swarming among the oaks;
on a seashell in evening light, a painted
volcano celebrates itself;
the lava that trapped a coin's brightness
plays paperweight to these skimpy
sheets. Life, that seemed so vast
is smaller than your handkerchief.

C K Stead’s most recent novel, RISK, was published in London by MacLehose Press in October 2012, and a new collection of poems, The Yellow Buoy, was published by Auckland University Press in February 2013, followed later in the year by a UK edition from Arc. He will appear at the King’s Lynn festival in late September 2013.

Stead comments: ‘I did these translations while holding a Bogliasco Fellowship in Literature at the Liguria Study Centre just outside Genoa. I was helped with the Italian by my old friend and colleague Massimo Bacigalipo, Professor of English at Genoa and an expert on Ezra Pound.’

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