To loll around at midday, pale and pensive
by a scorching garden wall and listen
in the thorn brake to the blackbird’s
noisy hustle and the snake’s rustle.
To gaze upon the cracked ground,
watching the red ants entwining and lining
up amongst the vetch, and twisting back
and crowding the summits of their minute stacks.
To look through the leaves at the sea’s
scaly surface distantly pulsing
while the cicada’s shrill quavering cry spills
and rebounds off the stripped and naked hills
Emerging then into the dazzling flash
to feel with dismal wonderment there
how all of life and its enduring care
is found within this trudging ambit of a wall
rimmed with the shards of broken bottle glass.
Translation Dia Tsung
Meriggiare pallido e assorto
presso un rovente muro d’orto,
ascoltare tra i pruni e gli sterpi
schiocchi di merli, frusci di serpi.
Nelle crepe del suolo o su la veccia
spiar le file di rosse formiche
ch’ora si rompono ed ora s’intrecciano
a sommo di minuscole biche.
Osservare tra frondi il palpitare
lontano di scaglie di mare
mentre si levano tremuli scricchi
di cicale dai calvi picchi.
E andando nel sole che abbaglia
sentire con triste meraviglia
com’è tutta la vita e il suo travaglio
in questo seguitare una muraglia
che ha in cima cocci aguzzi di bottiglia.
There are certain works that are indelibly Italian and can only and ever have been written in Italian – Giacomo Leopardi’s “To Silvia”, Tomasso Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo and Eugeniio Montale’s “Meriggiare Pallido e Assorto”.
“The story begins in an enclosed garden, an orchard to be precise. The wind enters bringing the sound of the sea, which arouses dead memories. Suddenly the garden is not a garden but a graveyard, a mortuary, and the solitary strip of coastline where it lies has become a crucible, where history itself is forged…..”
These words with which Jonathan Galassi, introduces his translation of Montale’s Collected Poems 1920 – 1954 may as well be spoken about the opening pages of Tomasso Lampedusa’s perennial classic set in his native Sicily at the beginning of Italian reunification.
The indelible image of the walled garden with its denizens and their leaving of it in order to enter the larger world is a motif that seems to keep repeating itself in the human imagination, in literature, art, and in poetry….