Alle fronde dei salici

 Salvatore Quasimodo

 

E come potevamo noi cantare

con il piede straniero sopra il cuore,

fra i morti abbandonati nelle piazze

sull’erba dura di ghiaccio, al lamento

d’agnello dei fanciulli, all’urlo nero

dalla madre che andava incontro al figlio

crocifisso sul palo del telegrafo?

Alle fronde dei salici, per voto,

anche le nostre cetre erano appese,

oscillavano lievi al triste vento.

 

 

Upon the willows 

Salvatore Quasimodo

 

And how could we sing

with a foreign heel on our hearts,

among the dead abandoned in the squares

on the hard and frozen grass, to the lament

of innocent children, to the dark cry

of the mother hastening to her son

crucified on a telegraph pole?

Upon the willows, we too,

as an offering, hung our harps

which swayed quietly in the sad wind.

 

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi

 

 

WWII and the Resistance had an enormous effect on Quasimodo, and, therefore, on his poetry. His last collection of poems is characterized by a strong sense of civic consciousness, and by the desire to relay the sentiments of many others like him. Even the language is less obscure, more direct. Alle fronde dei salici [Upon the willows] is from the collection Giorno dopo giorno (1947), and is inspired by the dramatic events which occurred during the Nazi occupation of Italy, and the Resistance.

The author took inspiration from psalm 137 of the Old Testament, in which Hebrew Israelites are exiled to Babylon. Being slaves, they could not sing their hymns, and thus the phrase: “We hung our harps upon the willows… How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (from the NKJV). And like the slaves, how could poets write poetry while the horrors of the war raged on? – M.C.

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