La primavera hitleriana

Eugenio Montale

Folta la nuvola bianca delle falene impazzite
turbina intorno agli scialbi fanali e sulle spallette,
stende a terra una coltre su cui scricchia
come su zucchero il piede; l’estate imminente sprigiona
ora il gelo notturno che capiva
nelle cave segrete della stagione morta,
negli orti che da Maiano scavalcano a questi renai.

Da poco sul corso è passato a volo un messo infernale
tra un alalà di scherani, un golfo mistico acceso
e pavesato di croci a uncino l’ha preso e inghiottito,
si sono chiuse le vetrine, povere
e inoffensive benchè armate anch’esse
di cannoni e giocattoli di guerra,
ha sprangato il beccaio che infiorava
di bacche il muso dei capretti uccisi,
la sagra dei miti carnefici che ancora ignorano il sangue
s’è tramutata in un sozzo trescone d’ali schiantate,
di larve sulle golene, e l’acqua seguita a rodere
le sponde e più nessuno è incolpevole.
Tutto per nulla, dunque? – e le candele
romane, a san Giovanni, che sbiancavano lente
l’orizzonte, ed i pegni e i lunghi addii
forti come un battesimo nella lugubre attesa
dell’orda (ma una gemma rigò l’aria stillando
sui ghiacci e le riviere dei tuoi lidi
gli angeli di Tobia, i sette, la semina
dell’avvenire) e gli eliotropo nati
dalle tue mani – tutto arso e succhiato
da un polline che stride come il fuoco
e ha punte di sinibbio…
Oh la piagata
primavera è pur festa se raggela
in morte questa morte! Guarda ancora
in alto, Clizia, è la tua sorte, tu
che il non mutato amor mutata serbi
fino a che il cieco sole in te porti
si abbacini nell’Altro e si distrugga
in Lui, per tutti. Forse le sirene, i rintocchi
che salutano i mostri nella sera
della loro tregenda, si confondono già
col suono che slegato dal cielo, scende, vince –
col respiro di un’alba che domani per tutti
si riaffacci, bianca ma senz’ali
di raccapriccio, ai greti arsi del sud…

Hitlerian spring

Eugenio Montale

Flush the white cloud of frenzied moths
swirls round the dismal lamps and low walls,
laying on the pavement a coverlet that crackles
like sugar underfoot; the imminent summer now
the nocturnal cold it had captured
in the secret hollows of the season gone,
in the gardens which from Maiano stretch to these banks.

Not long ago on the main-street an infernal messenger flew
amid an *alalà of bandits, a mystic gulf alight
and bedecked in Celtic crosses seized and swallowed him,
shop windows were closed, poor
and inoffensive although armed
with cannons and other baubles of war,
bolted was the butcher’s where goats,
mouths stuffed with berries, hung,
the banquet of the meek assassins who even now ignore the blood
has turned into a sullied *trescone of shattered wings,
of larvae on the floodplains, and the water continues to erode
the shores and now no one is guiltless.
All for nothing, therefore? – and the *Roman
candles, for the feast of *St. John, that slowly blanched
the horizon, and the promises and the long goodbyes
as binding as a baptism in the grim anticipation
of the horde (but a gem lined the air setting
onto the ice and the coastlines of your lidos
the angels of Tobias, the seven, the seeds of the future) and the sunflowers born
from your hands – all is burnt and swept away
by a pollen that sizzles like fire
and has dendrites of *sinibbio…
Oh the stricken
spring is still feast if this death in death
it congeals! Look up high again,
Clizia, it is your fate, you who
the unchanged love changed conserve
until the blind sun you hold inside
is lost in the Other and is destroyed
in Him, for all. Perhaps the sirens, the chimes
that greet the monsters in the eve
of their stormy night, are mixed already
with the sound that set free from the heavens, cascades, triumphs –
with the breath of a dawn that tomorrow for all
will reappear, white but without wings
of horror, on the burnt shores of the south…


Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2018

The poem “La primavera hitleriana”, from the collection “La bufera ed altro”, is one of the most enchanting of Montale’s works. It is rich in historical references, but also cultural and personal ones.

The poem was born from the encounter, in Florence in the spring of 1938, between Mussolini and Hitler. The allegiance between the two men was irreparably strengthened and this, for Montale, is a clear indication of the catastrophe to come.

After the encounter, fascism took a more aggressive turn towards anti-Semitism, and racial laws were put into effect in the following September. Being Jewish, Irma Brandeis (the woman Montale loved) would migrate to the USA.

In many of the poems found in the collection, Irma Brandeis is conceived as the mediator between the earth and the heavens. She is a sort of “woman-angel” capable of rectifying with her presence the world’s evils and saving it from the barbaric nazi-facism.

Sometimes, when translating something so rich in cultural references we are tempted to paraphrase. Is translation meant to ‘explain’ a text? Is an enigmatic translation allowed? I don’t know. I listened to the text and tried to recreate the sounds. There were times when I did “clarify”: For eliotrope, in fact, I used sunflower. Because I think he meant sunflower. Other times, I stayed close to the text. Below are some explanations.

*In Italy the war-cry (modified as Eja Eja Alalà) was invented by Gabriele D’Annunzio, using the Greek war cry preceded by a Sardinian shout, in place of what he considered the barbaric ‘Hip! Hip! Hurrah!’ It was used by the aviation corps during WWI, and was then adopted by the Fascist movement. In many translations of the poem it is ‘Heil Hitler’.

*Small fireworks

*Saint John is the patron saint of Florence

*lively medieval dance of the common folk, also mentioned in Dante and Boccaccio, where the movements are similar to moths beating their wings against the ground.

*icy wind with snowflakes, like the moths falling (among the handwritten notes included in the collection Bufera, Montale commented on Hitler’s meeting in Florence with Mussolini with these words: “Hitler and Mussolini in Florence. Gala in the theatre. On the Arno a snowfall of white moths.”

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