Dora Markus

Eugenio Montale

I

Fu dove il ponte di legno
mette a Porto Corsini sul mare alto
e rari uomini, quasi immoti, affondano
o salpano le reti. Con un segno
della mano additavi all’altra sponda
invisibile la tua patria vera.
Poi seguimmo il canale fino alla darsena
della città, lucida di fuliggine,
nella bassura dove s’affondava
una primavera inerte, senza memoria.

E qui dove un’antica vita
si screzia in una dolce
ansietà d’Oriente,
le tue parole iridavano come le scaglie
della triglia moribonda.

La tua irrequietudine mi fa pensare
agli uccelli di passo che urtano ai fari
nelle sere tempestose:
è una tempesta anche la tua dolcezza,
turbina e non appare.
E i suoi riposi sono anche più rari.
Non so come stremata tu resisti
in quel lago
d’indifferenza ch’è il tuo cuore; forse
ti salva un amuleto che tu tieni
vicino alla matita delle labbra,
al piumino, alla lima: un topo bianco
d’avorio; e così esisti!

II

Ormai nella tua Carinzia
di mirti fioriti e di stagni,
china sul bordo sorvegli
la carpa che timida abbocca
o segui sui tigli, tra gl’irti
pinnacoli le accensioni
del vespro e nell’acque un avvampo
di tende da scali e pensioni.

La sera che si protende
sull’umida conca non porta
col palpito dei motori
che gemiti d’oche e un interno
di nivee maioliche dice
allo specchio annerito che ti vide
diversa una storia di errori
imperturbati e la incide
dove la spugna non giunge.

La tua leggenda, Dora!
Ma è scritta già in quegli sguardi
di uomini che hanno fedine
altere e deboli in grandi
ritratti d’oro e ritorna
ad ogni accordo che esprime
l’armonica guasta nell’ora
che abbuia, sempre più tardi.

È scritta là. Il sempreverde
alloro per la cucina
resiste, la voce non muta,
Ravenna è lontana, distilla
veleno una fede feroce.
Che vuole da te? Non si cede
voce, leggenda o destino.
Ma è tardi, sempre più tardi.

Dora Markus

Eugenio Montale

I

It was where the wooden bridge
juts at Porto Corsini onto the high sea
and rare men, almost motionless, cast
or haul in their nets. With a gesture
of the hand you pointed to the opposite shore
your invisible true homeland.
Then we followed the channel to the dock
of the city, shiny with soot,
in the lowland where sinking
plunged a sluggish spring, without memory.

And here where an ancient life
is lined in a gentle
anxiety of Orient,
your words were as iridescent as the scales
of the dying mullet.

Your restlessness makes me think
of migrating birds against lighthouses
on tempestuous nights:
like a tempest too is your gentleness,
turbulent and not apparent.
And the interludes are even rarer.
I don’t know how, exhausted, you resist
in the lake
of indifference that is your heart; perhaps
you are saved by an amulet which you keep
next to the liner for your lips,
the powderpuff, the emery board: a white mouse
of ivory, and thus you exist!

II

By now in your Carinthia
of flowered myrtle and of ponds
leaning over the edge you observe
the carp timidly biting
or view in the lindens, among the spiky
pinnacles the kindling
of eventide and in the waters a burst
of canopies of berths and inns.

The night that stretches
over the humid basin brings nothing
with the throb of motors
but the sound of geese and an interior
of snow-white majolica tells
the blackened mirror that knew you
once a history of errant
serenity and scars it deeply
where the sponge fails to reach.

Your legend, Dora!
But it is already written in the eyes
of men whose countenances
are stately and weak in great
gilt portraits and it returns
with every note expressed
by the broken harmonica in the hour
that grows dark, later and later.

It is written there. The evergreen
laurel for the kitchen
resists, the voice is unaltered,
Ravenna is distant, it distills
venom a barbarous belief.
What does it want from you? A voice
a legend, a destiny cannot be traded.
But it’s late, later and later.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi

This poem is part of the collection Le Occasioni, and is made up of two sections: a first part written in 1928 (inspired by the words of Bobi Bazlen about the beauty of a young woman from Moldavia called Dora Markus), and a second part written in 1939 with the explosion of WWII and the persecution of the Jews. To understand the complex origins of the poem, we need to remember that Montale did not know Dora Markus: he’d seen a picture sent to him by Bobi Bazlen accompanied by these words: «Gerti and Carlo are well. In Trieste, a guest, a friend of Gerti’s, with fantastic legs. Write her a poem. Her name is Dora Markus». The Gerti, whom Bazlen mentions, is Gerti Fránkel Tolazzi (Il carnevale di Gert). The two women merge in the poem. In fact, in 1939, when Montale goes back to writing it, the female protagonist is no longer Dora, but Gerti and possibly also Clizia. Homeland, therefore, may refer to Moldavia, where Dora was born, or Carinthia, home of Gerti Frankl (or possibly even Israel).This complicated intertwining of psychic and fantastic projections underlines the dark vision of the reality of 1939, and the horrors of what was to come, the diaspora, which forced so many to migrate (like the birds in the tempest in the poem): Dora, Gerti, but also Irma Brandeis, aka Clizia (Portami il girasole), who was forced to escape to the USA because of the racial laws of the time.

Licenza Creative Commons
Quest’opera è distribuita con Licenza Creative Commons Attribuzione – Non commerciale – Non opere derivate 2.0 Italia.

4 thoughts on “Dora Markus by Eugenio Montale

  1. Dear Matilda Colarossi,
    I enjoyed reading again the English in your translation of Montale’s “Dora Markus”. As a native speaker in English, I years ago struggled with his use of iridavano. Not just the derivation of the form from iride, but what he was inviting us to see there on the embankment, in the market or on the sand, as her words formed and flashed and merged like so many eddies on the Adriatic. I lived in Vrsar, Istria across the sea for some time and the death of mullet was never a tragedy for me until I read this poem.

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    • Thank you for writing to me. I’m never quite sure I am reproducing exactly what I see when I read a poem (what is actually there and what I see are not always the same thing). Sometimes I am able to capture the essence (my understanding of it), sometimes I am not. Poetry is always more like recreating than translating, and solutions are always more subjective than they should be, I suppose.Thank you again for writing. I hope you weren’t too disappointed when you read it. – Mati

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      • Dear Mati,
        Not at all was I disappointed. I work in parallel texts sometimes and realize with you the difficulty that comes with translation in aligning images, emotions and poetic forms arriving cross-culturally.
        Robert Lowell I think was correct to call them “imitations” including his rendition of Leopardi (please excuse, I do not have these at hand).
        No, the only thing perhaps in your rendering I would differ with is to change the word “Orient,” by substituting for it “the Levant,” as others I believe have done. However, some play could likely be given possibly to reflections by Montale on Moldova, farther to the East, now that you have furnished that additional context for the poem, and the tragic figure of Dora or other fitting persona.
        Thank you for writing back to me. Congratulations on your successful and interesting blog/website.
        Ciao for now,
        Joseph

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  2. Hello and greetings, Mati,
    Joseph here again with a burning desire to ask you to consider a wild hypothesis, namely, whether, given the Bobi Bazlen remark to Montale about Dora’s fantastic legs, together with Montale’s lines about the dying mullet on the shore in the 1928 version of ‘Dora Markus,’ the painter Rene Magritte may have received some inspiration from reading the poem prior to creating his 1934 painting of the chimera in his work, “The Collective Invention.” [please refer to the link below for the image, as I cannot reproduce it here: https://www.renemagritte.org/the-collective-invention.jsp%5D
    Thank you again for your valuable work and comnents, Mati.
    Joseph

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