Honouring our poetic ancestors
Nostalgia and Regret
(Ora che sale il giorno)
By Salvatore Quasimodo (1901-1968)
Now the day breaks
night is done and the moon
slowly dissolved in serene air
sets in the canals.
September is so alive in this country
of plains, the meadows are green
as in the southern valleys in spring.
I have left my companions,
I have hidden my heart behind ancient walls,
to be alone, to remember.
Since you are further off than the moon,
now the day breaks
and the horses’ hooves beat on the stones.
Excerpt From: Salvatore Quasimodo: Selected Poems. iBooks. Translated by A. S. Kline © 2012
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Sicilian-born Quasimodo was the 1959 Nobel laureate in Literature, and one of the most renowned Italian poets of the 20th Century. He was also a professor of literature and a translator — though he began as an engineering student, and worked a a technical draftsman in his youth. Fortunately for us, from 1938 he was able to focus on writing.
I've loved his poetry a long time, and used to own the Penguin edition, but it was stolen from me decades ago. I was delighted to find this Kline translation available for free download, however it seems to be a slimmer volume than the one I had. The Penguin volume also had a different translator, and is now expensive, as are his other books at Amazon. And unfortunately there are only a few of his poems at PoemHunter.
He was known as a 'Hermetic' poet, which Wikipedia describes as 'a form of obscure and difficult poetry ... wherein the language and imagery are subjective, and where the suggestive power of the sound of words is as important as their meaning.'
The reasoning behind this is also explained:
'Hermetic poetry opposes verbal manipulation and the ease of mass communication, which began taking place during Europe's dictatorial years, with the increasing brain-washing propaganda of the nazi-fascist regimes. Poetry therefore retreats into itself and assumes the task of returning sense to words, giving them back their semantic meaning, using them only when strictly necessary.'
It's a different way of thinking from that most common today, where we like our poetry to be engaged with life and all the issues of the day, but it is an understandable reaction from poets who lived through two World Wars.
Quasimodo was concerned to express a melancholy view of life, and the poem I've chosen is an example. But the sad can be beautiful. In any case, in this poem hope and the promise of Spring shine through.
In later life, we are told, he departed from the Hermetic, but was still always seeking a unique poetic language.