Giovanni Pascoli was born in Romagna on 31 December 1855 and died on 6 April 1912. He is a much-loved Italian poet with an “ear for words that lull” and a melancholy that inspired all of his poetry. His state of mind was due to a tragic childhood: at the age of 12 his father was murdered and in subsequent years he lost his mother, a sister and two brothers.
He studied at the University of Bologna, where his teacher and mentor was the poet Giosuè Carducci (who in 1889 founded the Dante Alighieri Society and in 1906 won the Nobel prize for literature). He worked as a high school teacher, a public servant and an academic at the universities of Messina and Pisa, and published several poetry collections. When Carducci retired, Pa- scoli replaced him as professor of Italian literature at the university of Bologna (the oldest university in Italy). His sad life drove him to alcohol and he died of liver cancer.
Here is a delightful poem inspired by autumn which also makes reference to the ‘All souls day’ (la giornata dei defunti – 2 November).
Gemmea l’aria, il sole così chiaro
Che tu ricerchi gli albicocchi in fiore,
e del prunalbo l’odorino amaro
senti nel cuore….
Ma secco è il pruno, e le stecchite piante
Di nere trame segnano il sereno,
e vuoto il cielo, e cavo al piè sonante
sembra il terreno.
Silenzio, intorno; solo, alle ventate,
odi lontano, da giardini ed orti,
di foglie un cader fragile. È l’estate,
fredda, dei morti.
Here is the translation found in The Penguin Book of Italian Verse from which I also took the quotation above.
Gem-like the air, the sun so clear that you look for the apricots’ blossoming, and smell in your heart the bitterish scent of the whitehorn…
But the thornbush is dry, and the stick-like plants mark the heavens with black designs, and empty is the sky, and the earth seems hollow, echoing to the step.
Silence, around: only, in the wind’s quickening, you hear in the distance, from orchard and garden, a brittle falling of leaves. It is the summer, cold, of the dead.