Giorgio Caproni

Quanti se ne sono andati…
Che cosa resta.
il soffio.
il graffio di rancore o il morso
della presenza.
se ne sono andati senza
lasciare traccia.
non lascia traccia il vento
sul marmo dove passa.
non lascia orma l’ombra
sul marciapiede.
scomparsi in un polverio
confuso d’occhi.
Un brusio
di voci afone, quasi
di foglie controfiato
dietro i vetri.
che solo il cuore vede
e cui la mente non crede.


Giorgio Caproni

How many have gone…
How many.
What is left.
Not even
the whisper.
Not even
the scar of bitterness or the bite
of the presence.
has gone without
leaving a trace.
the winds leave no trace
on marble as they pass.
the shadows leave no sign
on the pavement.
dissolved in a cloud of dust
of eyes confused.
A rustle
of quiet voices, almost
of leaves countercurrent
against the panes.
that only the heart perceives
and that the mind does not believe.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi

Leaves – as the traditional parallel between the leaf and man, are not uncommon to literature.

We find it in Homer:  “Like the generations of leaves are those of men. The wind blows and one year’s leaves are scattered on the ground, but the trees bud and fresh leaves open when spring comes again. So a generation of men is born as another passes away.”; in Mimnermus: “We are like the leaves which the flowery season of spring brings forth, when they quickly grow beneath the rays of the sun; like them we delight in the flowers of youth for an arm’s length of time, knowing neither the bad nor the good that comes from the gods. But the dark spirits of doom stand beside us, one holding grievous old age as the outcome, the other death.”; in Virgil,  Aeneid Book 6: “Hither rushed all the throng, streaming to the banks; mothers and men and bodies of high-souled heroes, their life now done, boys and unwedded girls, and sons placed on the pyre before their fathers’ eyes; thick as the leaves of the forest that at autumn’s first frost drop and fall…”; in Dante, Inferno Canto 3:  “Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede,/ Beckoning to them, collects them all together,/ Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.// As in the autumn-time the leaves fall off,/ First one and then another, till the branch/ Unto the earth surrenders all its spoils..”; And, of course, in Ungaretti: “We are as/ in autumn/ on branches/ the leaves”, found here

It is presented again here in Foglie, a poem in the typical style of Caproni, who was known for the immediacy and clarity of his verses. He believed that poetry had to be easily understood, accessible to all, because it was a language common to all. Poetry, according to Caproni, could only become active knowledge if it was comprehensible. Thus he is known to use, like in the poem Foglie, brief verses, and numerous enjambments that recreate a dialogue made of images and sounds that are quick, easy and comprehensible. The poetic devices create an atmosphere of loss: anaphora; enjambment; alliteration; assonance; consonance; rhyme; and of course the metaphor. In English some changes had to be made, because to leave in the third person is leaves, as foglie in the plural are also leaves; so I had to choose between leaf (singular) or winds and shadows (plural) to avoid the repetition, and possible confusion, of leaves: I opted for winds and shadows, because leaves are, in the poem, the many people we have lost, and I believe Caproni (a translator himself) would agree. As always so much is lost in translation. I tried long and hard to find a solution for “orma l’ombra”, and I ended up using “shadows […] sign”; and I worked around the “di […] di […] and dietro” by using “of […] of […] against”.  I could in no way reproduce the beauty of controfiato, which recalled, in me, the term controcanto, a second breath of sorts, against the glass, a counter melody with no sound. I settled with countercurrent to create the consonance of foglie controfiato.  In translation I often am forced to “settle” for lack of a better solution. M.C.

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