Thursday, June 26, 2008


One from Montale

Year in, year out, I never tire of Montale. He can be cryptic, yes, and you sense the ongoing effort as he digs himself out from under the avalanche of Italian literary culture. (Supposedly the first thing you do as the tsunami of snow overtakes you is make an air pocket in front of your face, so you can breathe until the rescuers show up. As a metaphor for writing poetry, that will do.) Anyway, here's one I happened across the other day. It's in Satura, one the poet's final collections, and by this time he had abandoned the clenched and crepuscular style that won him his early fame. This is Montale in a mellow mood, although he still felt that civilization was in the dumpster, and had been so for some time. The translation is William Arrowsmith's, and the (cheerful) title is "Götterdämmerung." God, how I love an umlaut:
We read that the twilight of the gods
is about to begin. A mistake.
Beginnings are always unrecognizable;
when an event is verified, it's been spotted before.
Twilight began when man thought
himself of greater dignity than moles or crickets.
A self-repeating hell is hardly the tryout
of a "grand première" long postponed
because the director's busy, sick, holed up
who knows where, and no one can sub for him.

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