Over the last few years I have included a number of poems written by Salvatore Quasimodo for two main reasons: (1) Quasimodo is one of the greatest poets of the 20th century – indeed he won the 1959 Nobel Prize for Literature; (2) many of his poems have been translated by local poet Geoff Page and so they are beautiful in both languages.
Quasimodo was born in Sicily in 1901 but lived most of his life in Milan. He experienced a lot of suffering during World War II, and died in Naples in 1968. Like Ungaretti and Montale, Quasimodo embraced the ‘hermetic poetry’ movement – a form of “obscure and difficult poetry. Major features of this movement were reduction to essentials, abolishment of punctuation and brief, synthetic compositions, at times resulting in short works of only two or three verses” as reported in Wikipedia.
Here is a very sombre poem – Giorno dopo giorno. The translation is by Geoff Page.
Giorno dopo giorno
Giorno dopo giorno: parole maledette e il sangue
e l’oro. Vi riconosco, miei simili, mostri
della terra. Al vostro morso è caduta la pietà
e la croce gentile ci ha lasciati.
E più non posso tornare nel mio eliso.
Alzeremo tombe in riva al mare, sui campi dilaniati,
ma non uno dei sarcofaghi che segnano gli eroi.
Con noi la morte ha più volte giocato:
s’udiva nell’aria un battere monotono di foglie
come nella brughiera se al vento di scirocco
la folaga palustre sale sulla nube.
Day after day
Day after day: the evil words and the blood
and gold. I see in you, my fellow creatures, monsters
of the earth. Pity has fallen at your sting
and the gentle cross has left us.
I can’t go back to my Elysium.
At the sea’s edge and in the savaged fields we’ll build our tombs
but not the sarcophagi, the sign of heroes.
Death has played games with us over and over: you could hear in the air a monotonous beating of leaves
as it is on the heath in the sirocco when the marsh birds take off for the clouds.