“It’s no longer here,” insinuates a voice startling me/ “the heart of your town”

Ma dove

Mario Luzi

“Non è più qui” insinua una voce di sorpresa
“il cuore della tua città” e si perde
nel dedalo già buio
se non fosse una luce
piovosa di primavera in erba
visibile al di sopra dei tetti alti.

Io non so che rispondere e osservo
le api di questo viridario antico,
i doratori d’angeli, di stipi,
i lavoranti di metalli e d’ebani
chiudere ad uno ad uno i vecchi antri
e spandersi un po’ lieti e un po’ spauriti nei vicoli attorno.

“Non è più qui, ma dove?” mi domando
mentre l’accidentale e il necessario
imbrogliano l’occhio della mente
e penso a me e ai miei compagni, al rotto
conversare con quelle anime in pena
di una vita che quaglia poco, al perdersi
del loro brulicame di pensieri in cerca di un polo.
Qualcuno cede, qualcuno resiste nella sua fede tenuta stretta.

But where

Mario Luzi

“It’s no longer here,” insinuates a voice startling me
“the heart of your town” and would be lost
in the already dark labyrinth
if it were not for the rain-filled
light of the coming spring
visible above the tall roofs.

I don’t know what to reply and observe
the bees in this ancient viridarium,
the gilders of angels, of cabinets,
the workers of metals and ebony
as in turn they close their old cubbyholes
and disperse a bit happy and a bit anxious into the surrounding alleyways.

“It’s no longer here, but where?” I ask myself
as the accidental and the necessary
trick my mind’s eye
and I think of me and my companions, of the halting
conversation with those tormented souls
of a life that isn’t worth beans, of the lost train
of their swarming thoughts in search of a pole.
Some give in, some resist in their tightly held faith.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2019

This poem is from the collection Nel magma, published in 1963. In this work Luzi reflects on the consequences of the so-called “affluent society”, and on its illusoriness, on what was gained and what was lost.

In the poem, as in life, progress upsets the traditional layout of the town; and in his voice we hear the dismay of those who are banned from the new productive fabric. He questions the collective euphoria brought on by the changes, where people are both happy and anxious (un po’ felice un po’ spauriti).

The poetic elements include: anaphora (“it’s no longer here”, first line of the first and third stanzas), which underlines the poet’s uncertainties with regards to the changes in the city; metaphor api (workers/ bees), which is reinforced in v. 19 with the word brulicame (literally swarm, of thoughts). The language is flowing and direct, and strongly contrasting: the poet mixes words that are refined with the language of the streets (for example viridario v.8, and quaglia poco v. 18).

The contrast between past and present echoes in the choice of words like antico v. 8, vecchi, v. 11, and archaic words like viridario v. 8, and the antri v.11 (literally cubbyholes), used to represent the workshops of the artisans, places that seem to be from a distant past.

The uncertainty of this new city, and, therefore, this new life, is expressed through the use of enjambments vv. 2-3, vv. 18-19. The victims of progress are the artisans who, in “halting/ conversations” and “lost train/ of swarming thoughts” are in search of their place in society, a pole. His use of the word heart, cuore, is both in reference to the physical centre of the ancient city where the artisans once had their workshops, and the soul of that city, an identity.
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