Giuseppe Ungaretti

Si sta come


sugli alberi

le foglie

Bosco di Courton luglio 1918



Giuseppe Ungaretti

We are as

in autumn

on branches

the leaves

Courton Forest, July 1918

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi

The poem was originally written in July 1918, in the trenches near a forest in Courton, Reims, and was published in the magazine «La Raccolta». Here we find the essence of Ungaretti’s poetry: the tragedy of existence but especially that of war. Soldati (Soldiers), in its brevity, reflects the author’s sudden understanding of the absurd condition of his fellow soldiers but also of his fellow men. It underlines the irrationality of the human condition and the inevitable end we must all face. It renders all men no different than leaves that in autumn fall from the branches, following the natural course of nature.

It is, here, interesting to note that the comparison between the death of man and the falling of leaves is not uncommon to classical literature. In the Aeneid, Books I-VII,  for example, we find “And youths, entombed before their father’s eyes/With hollow groans, and shrieks, and feeble cries./Thick as the leaves in autumn strow the woods…”; while in The Divine Comedy: Volume 1: Inferno, we can read “As in autumn the leaves drop off one after the other till the branch sees all its spoils on the ground, so the wicked seed of Adam fling themselves from that shore one by one …”.

There are so many different translations of this brief poem, all of them beautiful. I, however, tried to move away from their more straightforward, self-explanatory, solutions, imitating, as best I could, what the author chose to do. In this poem, in fact, we find two heptasyllables (si sta come le foglie [we are like leaves]; and d’autunno sugli alberi [in autumn on branches*], which the author divided into four verses. He introduces the simile in the first line but only sets the comparison in the last one, while isolating the essential spatial-temporal elements (in autumn/ on branches*) in the second and third verse. I found it impossible to reproduce two heptasyllables (divided into tetrasyllable/trisyllable; trisyllable/tetrasyllable) without adding unnecessary words, and propose one pentasyllable (trisyllable/disyllable) and one hexasyllable (trisyllable/trisyllable).

*I opted for the word ‘branches’ instead of the literal ‘trees’ for the musicality: there is no end rhyme in the poem in Italian.

As always, so much is lost in translation.

To enjoy Ungaretti’s complete works:

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11 thoughts on “Soldati/Soldiers by Giuseppe Ungaretti

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