Translated by Cristina Viti
Survivors’ Press London, 2007
'One of the greatest poets of the 20th century in any language' - Martin Seymour- Smith, The Macmilan Guide to World Literature
The first ever volume publication of Dino Campana in the UK is a major event. Cristina Viti's translation of the great italian modernist was acclaimed in the Times Literary Supplement, January 19th, 2007.
As the reviewer says, these bring Campana closer to us, and more vividly, than any previous attempt.
Her versions of the Orphic Songs of 1914 fully capture as never before in English, the radiant, hallucinatory qualities informing his brief maturity.
Her renderings of many of the notebooks are wholly new; indeed, most of the volume's contents have not been previously translated.
I The Night
II The Journey and the Return
III The End
Autumnal Garden (Florence)
Hope (on the nocturnal stream)
The Glass Pane
La petite promenade du poète
I La Verna (Diary)
Images of the Journey and the Mountain Journey to Montevideo
Fantasia on a Painting by Ardengo Soffici Florence (Uffizii)
Under My Boots
Dualism (open letter to Manuelita Etchegarray)
A Neurasthenic’s Day
Varia and Fragments
Moored Boats Fragment (Florence)
Round Trip to America on a Tram
Meeting with Regolo
(italics indicate first lines of untitled poems and proses)
Arabesque – Olympia
Let pitiful time fully consume
Weird Little Gypsy
Three Florentine Girls Do the Stroll
Oscar Wilde in S. Miniato
To an Angel by Costa
A Perfidious Racy Sonnet
Wilhelmina and Manfreda at the Balcony
To a Steely-eyed Whore
A Sort of Melodramatic Sharp and Off-key Serenade Rabid
Setting for a Drama
Une femme qui passe
The Hanged Man’s Daughters
O poetry poetry poetry
O the living soul of all things
O poetry you won’t ever return
My verse is wonderful: though some
The burning train ran its ever-victorious race
Set out O boat over the sea emblazoned
Humanity fizzing on the spur
The faraway ships sail away
The harbour slides into sleep, the harbour the harbour Piazza S. Giorgio
I wrote. Having shut himself inside a cave
Through the deep alleys in the streetlights’ red shiver Landfall, landfall
Sonnet of Vittoria Colonna
When did life merrily fly away
From the summit of the steep rugged slope
On the mountains from La Falterona to Corniolo (deserted valleys) Mass in Our Lady of Fortune
Sweet Lombardy with her gardens
May the larva of the ancient dream
Four Lyrics for Sibilla Aleramo:
The piers make the river more beautiful Lady, over the hallowed landscape
In a flash
Lady I loved you in the city where our step
Work to do work to do work to do The scene unknown
Behind the angelic evening Poetic Prose
I wrote the humility of the evening
Franco-Italian Proletarian Song
Stony fetish of a blood sacrifice
Stretched out in your little cart wheeling by Envoy
The Rembrandt-style Hat
Vigilant from the slums .../In the bearing ... It is the musical box ...
Saint Francis, ...
In the raucous howls ...
And then I walked ...
Decrepit sky ...
The second stage of the spirit ...
New Italian Journal
Childhood is born ...
JOURNEY TO MONTEVIDEO
From the deck of the ship I could see
The hills of Spain
Fading away in the golden twilight
As the dark brown earth seemed to hide under the green
Something like a melody:
Lonely virgin of an unknown scene,
Something like a melody
In blue, and a viola still quavering on the shore at the foot of the hills ...
The azure evening was fading away on the sea
And from time to time slow wings would glide across
The golden stillness in a glimmer of azure ...
Faraway and dyed several colours
By the farthest silences
Golden birds crossed over in the azure evening: the ship
Blind already crossing over beating against darkness
In tune with our shipwrecked hearts
As azure wings beat against darkness at sea.
But one day
They boarded, the stately matronas of Spain
Their eyes turbid and angelic
Their breasts gravid with vertigo. When
In the deep bay of an equatorial island
In a bay far deeper and quieter than the nocturnal sky
There rose before our eyes in spellbound light
A sleeping city shimmering white
At the foot of the lofty peaks of idle volcanoes
In the turbid breath of the equator: until
Afrer much shouting and many shadows of unknown lands,
After much creaking of chains and much fervid activity
We left the equatorial city
For the troubled nocturnal sea.
And we sailed and sailed, for days and days, as ships
Heavy with sails softened by the warm breezes slowly crossed our route: So close on a quarterdeck like a bronze apparition we saw
A young girl from the New World
Shining eyes and wind-whipped dress! And suddenly, wild,
Appearing at the end of a day
The wild shore over there above the boundless main:
And I saw the dunes
Like vertiginous mares wildly loosened
Onto the boundless prairie
Bereft of human houses
And as we veered and fled the dunes we sighted
On a sea yellow with the river’s miraculous bounty
The seaport capital of the new continent.
Limpid cool and electric the evening light
Shone on the tall houses that seemed deserted
On the pirate’s sea far down
In the forsaken town
Betweentheyellowseaandthedunes. . . . . . . .
Streets and more streets climb towards the ancient tournament square and in the pure air the sea is perceived under the sky. The pure air is barely scored with light clouds. The air is pink. An ancient twilight has dyed the square and its walls. And it endures under the enduring sky, rosy summer of a rosier summer.
Serene laughter echoes in the twilight air, and a little pink spire juts out of the ivy- wrapped walls concealing a bell: while nearby under a little vault, a fountain is gushing unrushed, with the bust of a wise emperor on top: water, water and water gushing unrushed, the eyeless bust of a wise Roman emperor on top.
On the other side of the square a colourful vertex is in leaf with square tiles, a square spire rising out of four cusps is in leaf with square tiles of varied enamels, a sharp laugh in the sky, beyond the tortuous twisting and the red of the corroded brick shrouding the alleys: and I hear that laughter answered by oblivion. Oblivion so dear to the statue of the pagan emperor over the little vault where water is gushing unrushed under the blind gaze of the wise Roman emperor.
From the bridge above the city I can hear the rhythmical strains of the Mediterranean accent. The hills look barren to me with their towers seen through the green bars but over there numberless butterflies of light fill the landscape with the stillness of inexhaustible joy. In the green meanders the great rosy houses are still luring the twilight. The cobbled square rebounds the echo of a rhythmical screech: a boy bounds away, melodiously. Deep down in the desert of the square a gleaming twists out of the sea where mouldering green alleys plunge through decoys of shadow: centrestage in the square, the severed head’s eyeless stare above the little vault. A woman shines white at an open window. The Mediterranean night.
On the other side of the square the quadrangular tower blazes out of the corroded brick at the top of the tortuous dark swollen alleys shivering with flames. The spire with its four cusps and square tiles smiles in its varied enamels while low down, murky white underneath the green streetlights, lechery sits in state. Nearby, the bust with its corroded empty white eyes, and high up the green clock like a button hooking time to the square’s eternity. The street twists and plunges. Like clouds over the hills, houses are still sailing through the shapeshifting green and far down the V. M.’s trophy shines white vibrating with wings in the air.
As the cloud came to rest in the skies Faraway above the endless taciturn Main shrouded in faraway veils,
As the departed soul on its return
Was surrounded by the arcane
Splendour of the garden’s green dream Through the statues’ supramundane
As I heard songs I heard voices of poets
In the fountains while frontispiece sphynxes Still seemed to benignly bestow
Pristine oblivion on prostrated humans:
I emerged from hidden mazes: a riot of spires Rose whitely in the air: and from the sea Numberless white morning dreams
Seemed to enchain as they faded far away An unknown vortex of sound
I heard the sound amid sails of white spray
– full sunshine of May.
Beneath the oriental tower, in the green terraces cut into ashen slate The square bursts its banks onto the sea relentlessly clotted with ships The red palazzo laughs with its grand arcade
Like the Niagara falls
The fertile urgent symphony sings, laughs, tumbles in steely variations
Genova sing your song!
Inside a porcelain cave
I looked through the window at the crowd as it rapidly climbed Among market women like statues who offered for sale Seafood falling like their hoarse raucous cries
Onto the motionless scales:
It is so I recall you and see you imperial
Up the steep bustling slope
Rising to the city gate
Unlocked to the evening blue,
Outlandish with mythical trophies
Amid towers bared to clear skies
And clutching at you from all sides
Life’s pristine fever:
And through your alleys lubed with streetlight
The prostitutes’ song strung with rhymes
And down below the relentless wind from the sea.
down to the sea:
Through the marine alleys in the ambiguous Evening the wind chased in preludes Between streetlights from the tangle of ships: The marine palazzos showed white Arabesques in the languishing shadow
And we roamed, me and the ambiguous evening: And I was lifting my eyes to the thousand
And thousand and thousand benevolent eyes
Of Chimerae high in the skies: . . . . . .
The salt wind-rose fashioned a vision of Grace White as if born from the tireless chase
of clouds and stars across the evening sky
Through the marine alley in the salt wind-rose, . Through the alley, redly, in the marine salt wind-rose The streetlights’ red wings
Arabesqued the languishing shadow, . . . . .
Who through the marine alley, in the salt wind-rose Rose weightless and querulous and white!
‘Who red and white in the shadow of a streetlight
As if winged by the red glow of the streetlights
Rose weightless and tremulous and white: ...’
And already in the red glow of a streetlight
The shadow was straining towards
White, when in the red glow of a streetlight
The strains of an astonished faraway white echo Laughed an unreal laugh: and the echo straining
Rose weightless and astonished and white . Already all around
The ambiguous evening was gleaming: The streetlights were beating
To a quivering note in the shade. Faraway noises were ruining Down into solemn silences Asking: was laughter Notrisingfromthesea. . . . Tirelessly
Asking was it heard
By the evening: asking the chase Of clouds way up above
Inside the stellar sky.
. . .
The boat alights at the harbour
In the twilight that shines
Between masts like trees quiet with fruits of light, In the mythical landscape
. . .
Of ships coved in infinity
In the evening
Glowing with happiness, gleaming In a great in a great velarium
Of diamonds spread out over the twilight,
In thousands and thousands of diamonds in a great living velarium The boat is unloading
And the flag is lowered and the sea and sky is golden and on the pier Children are running and shouting
Shouting their happiness.
Already travellers in flocks
Venture into the thundering city
That spreads out her squares and her streets:
The great Mediterranean light
Is fused into ashen stone:
Through the deep ancient alleys
Life’s din, a flash of wild joy:
The sky where the bountiful sun
Has left its precious exuvia
Is a golden velarium of happiness
And the City is wise
And blazes alive
And the flame titillates and absorbs
The sun’s magnificent relics,
And weaves for weary mankind
A divine shroud of oblivion.
Lost in the thundering twilight
Shadows of travellers
Roam La Superba
Awful and grotesque as the blind.
Vast, in a faint faded smell
Of tar, watched over by the electric Moons, on the barely rippling sea
The vast harbour slides into sleep.
The smokestacks’ cloud rises
While in a gentle creaking of cordage
The harbour slides into sleep: and strength Sleeps, it sleeps cradled in the unconscious Sorrow of things that will be
And the vast harbour rocks rhytmically
In its fatigue as you smell
The cloud being vomited up in the silence.
O Sicilian prepossessing opulent matrona
At the windswept sills of the marine alley
That’s coved in the city beaten by the din of ships and carts
Classical Mediterranean female of harbours:
The rosy greys of the city of slate
Were ringing with vespertine clamours
And then with quieter sounds in the calm clear night:
And at the windows shining like stars I could see
The shadows of marine families coming and going: and songs,
I heard songs flowing slow and ambiguous through the veins of the
It was the dead of night.
While you O Sicilian, the hollow
Shadow and the wavering light
Shrouding you to the nipples
In a twisted game
From the hollow windows, you were
The Medusa of Mediterranean nights.
Creaking creaking creaking with chains
The crane loomed over the harbour in the hollow of the calm clear night: And in the hollow of the calm clear night
And in the steely arms
The faint heart beat on a higher note: you
Had darkened your window:
Naked mystical hollow and high
The Tyrrhenian night was a wasteland of numberless eyes.
They were all torn and cover’d with
the boy’s blood
‘Melodiously’: not just a qualifier for the wind conjuring a vision of grace, but a musical notation: the passage that follows, used for years as evidence of Campana’s ‘aphasia’, is best understood as a musical arabesque, especially as in the original manuscript the italicized section was marked pianissimo.
Much has been written about the use of the syntagm ‘alto sale’ in this poem. The expression is used by Dante (Par., Canto II) to mean the perilous open sea, but its literal meaning is dual (‘high salt’ or ‘rises high’), and carries additional possibilities in the play with ‘ali’ (‘wings’) and ‘salì’ (‘she rose’); Campana characteristically uses this cluster of elements for heightened musicality.
‘La Superba’: an appellation given to Genova.
Campana paraphrases Whitman to explicitly compare the philistines of his time to the Thracians tearing Orpheus apart. And in a letter to critic Emilio Cecchi he stresses: ‘If you should ever concern yourself with me dead or alive I beg you not to forget the last words They were all torn and covered with the boy’s blood which are the only important words in the book. It is a quote from Walt Whitman whom I adore, from his Song of Myself ...’