Ascoltami, i poeti laureati
Meglio se le gazzarre degli uccelli
Vedi, in questi silenzi in cui le cose
Ma l’illusione manca e ci riporta il tempo
The lemon trees
Listen to me, laurel-wreathed poets
Better if the chirruping of the birds
You see, in this silence in which all things
But the illusion is incomplete and time restores us
Translation ©Matilda Colarossi
Limoni is the opening poem in Eugenio Montale’s collection Cuttlebones, in the section called In limine. It is one of Montale’s most famous poems because it a sort of manifesto for the poet’s future works. He starts by asking us to listen, then immediately distances himself from the poetry of the past (D’Annunzio in particular, identified in the “poeti laureati”) and the prestigious language that identified it ( not normal plants but “bossi ligustri o acanti”). His own poetry will deal more with the life of every man: the puddles, the lanes, and the lemon trees that describe the Ligurian landscape.
Montale, therefore, distances himself from poetry that meant to reveal a “superior” truth, and presents poetry that is nothing but fragments of fleeting happiness. These moments are so rare that those who have been touched by them are seen as “Divinità”, deities. The poetry is secular and philosophical, there are no super-humans, no religion. The “male di vivere”, the pain of living, which the poet perceives is always lurking in the shadows. And yet, a glimpse of that happiness is possible through that half open gate that looks onto an orchard and the yellow lemons, as radiant as the sun.
If Montale, as he himself stated in 1946, wanted to “turn his head” from past literary models, and “the eloquence of our ancient refined tongue” , I limoni is, however, on a technical and rhetorical level, anything but unrefined. Hidden in the poem are hendecasyllables and septenaries (often double) linked by rhyme (“laureati | usati”; “indaga | dilaga”) and a careful phonic form. There are numerous dry, harsh sounds like “mezzo seccate”; “le viuzze”; and “gazzarre” etc. as well as an attentive imagery, which closes the poem with the famous words “trombe d’oro della solarità”, golden trumpets of radiance. I have tried to reproduce the sounds, the music: as always, much is lost in translation. -M.C.
Painting: The lemon tree, Henry Scott Tuke (1858- 1929)
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