La rondine vi porta
The swallow brings there
Translation ©Matilda Colarossi
In the very first line of the poem, “vi porta…”may easily cause confusion in the Italian reader, and, therefore, the translator. It can, in fact, be translated as “The swallows bring you”; luckily the line is explained by Montale himself in a letter to Contini, dated August 15, 1945, in reference to a French translation of the poem. In the letter he, in fact, states: “ La rondine vi porta: brings there, evidente [mente] in rapport al titolo.” So, we know for a fact that what the poet wanted to say was “Le rondini vi (a Lindau) portano, fili d’erba/ the swallows bring there (to Lindau) blades of grass…”
The swallow is, as always, a symbol of spring and, therefore, life renewed, but here the nest is but blades of grass, a fragile refuge from the passing of time, as are the banks, in line three (a juxtaposition of the two states, and the only one present in the text) and the stones that are worn away by the “dead water”.
For “between the banks” we have Montale’s explanatory note: “Lindau: on Lake Costance”, an island which is connected to the mainland by a road bridge.
The “torcia fumicosa/ smoky glow” in line 5, takes us back to another poem by Montale: Costa San Giorgio, in which “Un fuoco fatua impolvera la strada”. The ignis fatuus, or will-o’-the-wisp, is an atmospheric ghost light seen at night over bogs, or marshes, and which resembles a flickering lamp. This light, as in the poem, Lindau, draws travellers from the safe path.
In line 5, the word “sbanda/ slips”, which is linked to the idea of the ignis fatuus, also calls to mind another poem, by another poet, Pascoli: Il giorno dei morti, in which: “Sibila tra la festa lagrimosa/ una folata, e tutto agita e sbanda…”
The rhyme is ABAB, CDCD. Something was, as usual, lost in translation.- M.C.
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