First Night of Spring
Something dies, something is born
the moment a rumble of thunder splits open
the upper reaches of night, sudden
announcement of spring, rupturing sleep…
Generations on generations
of men, some defeated, some lifted
by their savage miseries,
ages thick with pain, one into the next,
onto one suffering, one single point,
bearing down, massing together, moaning
and creaking from pier to pier, the bridge
darkening toward the last span,
the tree at its limit, from root to fruit.
My hand is on the stitch of pain, I’m listening.
First night of spring, swelling
and lacerating, between becoming and being.
[from “Dal fondo delle campagne” (1956-1961), in Tutte le poesie, Milano: Garzanti, 1988. p. 278]
Between Night and Day
“What place is this?” my companion murmurs sleepily,
stirring himself, roused by the shuddering stop
of the train out on open rails.
“Somewhere on the way to Pisa” I answer,
watching the depths of gray where ash-violet mountains
sink into iris.
A stage in the to-and-fro
between house and country, between burrow and field,
I think, and of him who often speaks of our life
as the struggle of a strange animal between ant and mole.
There must be a thought
not unlike this one
that brings a guilty smile
to his lips, on his back, head against the seat, this early morning.
To die or give in, under the yoke
of our species’ meanness, I read
in that face, humble and eager,
trusting, of the good sort,
and yes, of the endless revolution at the gates.
“You too are in the game,
you also carry stones
stolen from the ravines
to the edifice,” I’m thinking;
and I think of a love larger than my own
that overcomes repugnance
and with a more perfect wisdom, takes the good
with the good, closing an eye on the rotten and corrupt.
The flame of swallows escapes,
shot down by the rain;
the railman’s shout
that dies above sends off this procession
grown lazy in thick grass.
“You have to mature; mature in love
and wisdom” confides the face,
perspiring, defeated, in the light of uncertain day.
[from “Nel magma” (1961-1963), in Tutte le poesie, Milano: Garzanti, 1988. pp. 328-329]
[E adesso sul finire del round…]
And now at the end of the round,
he leans on the ropes,
he goes down hard,
he, the giant, first
precisely assailed on each flank,
his face mashed, pummeled in all his flesh:
and now here it is, leaping to action,
shuddering from its own
the arena resounds: fixes
a single, terrible
pupil upon him, holds him there,
the evil eye,
to the matt,
down for the count,
without mercy counted down.
And the other,
still caged, guard position relaxed,
yet chained in the mail
of battle, curtailed — while the forcefield
of undiminished energy vibrates
all around him — and there
suspended over the black abyss,
on the verge of plunging
into the dark trench
of sweat and spit, into the churning fire
of violence unexpressed…
he’s done. Each of them are.
Born of struggle,
struck down at its end: cruelly, at once.
[from “Per il battesimo dei nostri frammenti” (1978-1984), in Tutte le poesie, Milano: Garzanti, 1988. pp. 516-517]
* * *
Mario Luzi (1914-2005) was one of the greatest twentieth-century Italian poets. In an appraisal of Luzi, the critic Carlo Bo once wrote of his fellow Florentine’s work that “Over an arc of nearly fifty years, what may have seemed an entirely private space has taken on unexpected proportions, and emerges today as one of the few nonpartisan instruments by which one might orient oneself, in the forest of frequently contradictory and often tragic symbols of our time” (Poesia italiana del Novecento. Piero Gelli e Gina Lagorio, eds. Volume 2. Milano: Garzanti, 1980. 679). Click here to read more about Luzi.
Translations from the Italian by Nicholas Benson, co-editor of frankmatter. Thanks to the Italian Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., for including part of the poem and translation “First Night of Spring” in 2013 The Year of Italian Culture / Poetry on the Bus (ITALYinUS2013.org), published in Next Stop: Italy (Milan/New York: Charta, 2013).