Salvatore Quasimodo was born in Sicily in 1901 and died of a cerebral haemorrhage in Naples in 1968. For the latter half of his life he chose to live and work in Milan. Despite pursuing engineering as a vocation, he devoted himself to full-time writing from the age of 37, translated Greek and Latin authors, and contributed to literary reviews and reputable publications. Together with Eugenio Montale (a Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1975) and Giuseppe Ungaretti, Quasimodo is one of Italy’s major poets of the 20th century. He was part of the Hermetic Movement which was characterised by obscure poetry, subjective imagery, and a focus on the suggestive power of the sound of the words. In 1959 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his lyrical poetry, which with classical fire expresses the tragic experience of life in our own times”.
In the last edition of the review I included the poem S’ode ancora il mare. This time I present Lamento per il sud in which Quasimodo contrasts the North where he now lives with the South where he was born and which carries the scars of foreign occupation and neglect. The translation is by Canberra poet Geoff Page and Loredana Nardi-Ford.
Lamento per il Sud
La luna rossa, il vento, il tuo colore
di donna del Nord, la distesa di neve…
Il mio cuore è ormai su queste praterie
in queste acque annuvolate dalle nebbie.
Ho dimenticato il mare, la grave
conchiglia soffiata dai pastori siciliani,
le cantilene dei carri lungo le strade
dove il carrubo trema nel fumo delle stoppie,
ho dimenticato il passo degli aironi e delle gru
nell’aria dei verdi altipiani
per le terre e i fiumi della Lombardia.
Ma l’uomo grida dovunque la sorte d’una patria.
Più nessuno mi porterà nel Sud.
Oh il Sud è stanco di trascinare morti
in riva alle paludi di malaria,
è stanco di solitudine, stanco di catene,
è stanco nella sua bocca
delle bestemmie di tutte le razze
che hanno urlato morte con l’eco dei suoi pozzi
che hanno bevuto il sangue del suo cuore.
Per questo i suoi fanciulli tornano sui monti,
costringono i cavalli sotto coltri di stelle,
mangiano fiori d’acacia lungo le piste
nuovamente rosse, ancora rosse, ancora rosse.
Più nessuno mi porterà nel Sud.
E questa sera carica d’inverno
è ancora nostra, e qui ripeto a te
il mio assurdo contrappunto
di dolcezze e di furori,
un lamento d’amore senza amore.
A cry for the South
The red moon, the wind, your colour of / a northern woman, the stretch of snow… / My heart by now is on these grasslands / and in these waters wrapped with fog. I have forgotten the sea, the deep / shell played by Sicilian shepherds, / the sing-song of carts along a road / where the carob tree quivers in smoke from the stubble. / I have forgotten the strutting of herons / and cranes in the air of green plateaux / in the lands and the rivers of Lombardy. / But everywhere man shouts the fate of his country. / No one will ever take me back to the South.
Oh, the South is tired of dragging the dead / along the banks of malarial swamps. / It is sick of its solitude, sick of its chains, / and tired of having in its mouth / the blasphemies of all the races / that have cried out death with the echo of its wells / and sucked on the blood of its heart. / This is the reason its children return to their mountains / forcing the horses under blankets of stars, / eating the flowers of acacia next to the tracks / red yet again, still red, still red. / No one will ever take me back to the South.
Loaded with winter this night is still ours / and here I am saying it once more for you / my absurd counterpointing / of sweetness and anger, a long cry of love without love.