|– Ne la corte – Tre stracci ad asciugare
– Ne la corte – Tre stracci ad asciugare
Un orciuolo che à sete sul pozzale
– Su le finestre – Un pettine sdentato
Una scatola di belletto. Un guanto
– Per l’aria – La docile campana
di vento. Due rosse ventarole
|In the courtyard- Three rags out to dry
—In the courtyard—Three rags out to dry
A thirsty jug on the marble well
—On the windowsills—a toothless comb
A cosmetics box. A droopy glove.
—In the air—The soft chime of a bell
of wind. Two wind vanes coloured red
This untitled poem is from Armonia in grigio, Corrado Govoni’s second collection of poems (Florence 1903).
Although the title of the poem conveys a melancholy (as do stanzas 1-4, where the broken, empty objects, the toothless comb, and the disembowelled pin cushion convey squalor and abandonment) that was typical of crepuscularism, this poem also holds within it a certain lightness: we are presented with a list of ordinary things within a space that is definitely crepuscular. It is written in conventional hendecasyllabic metre, but with strong punctuation that interrupts the melodic flow. The register is low, using “everyday” language to present a scene we understand to be familiar to the poet, even if the word “I” is never expressed: we see through his eyes, hear with his ears, feel the gentle breeze on his skin and the scents all around. His memories come alive in our minds, and they are our memories.
As always translation presents a series of choices to be made, and we can never be sure of our solutions. The author uses words like “scala seduta” (seated ladder), “vomitato” (vomited), and “sventrato” (disembowelled”). We can, of course, choose to write “folded ladder”, “spilled”, and “torn”, which would explain exactly what he means, but he doesn’t choose “scala piegata”, “versato”, and “strappato”: so I follow his lead and keep as close to his text as I can, leaving the interpretation to the reader, just like the Italian reader must interpret his words to understand the meaning. I never know if this is right or wrong, but the idea of paraphrasing a poem fills me with dismay. If Govoni wanted to use those words in the text, I can very well do it too. Other times I must change a word: un fiale is a honeycomb, but I need to say “toothless comb” later on in the text for pettine sdentato, so I opt for a word that sounds the same as fiale. I choose “vial” and it will also make the rhyme with “well”. It’s very much like a game, a game I love.
As for the poetic devices: I tried to keep the rhyme, the repetition, the consonance and assonance, the alliteration, and the register, but, as always, a lot was lost in translation.- M.C.