“Between your bridges of many colours

The Arno I presage quietly banks

And in cool reflections it lightly laps

Stark arches amid the fading flowers…”  Dino Campana

This is the second time I have translated Firenze from the collection Canti Orfici by Dino Campana. I chose it now because, living in the country outside Florence in these covid times, when movement is limited, I sometimes miss the bustle of the city; I had  actually forgotten I had translated the piece. It was only after a few  lines that I realized it was extremely familiar to me. So I came to the blog, and there it was.

The first time I tackled the text was almost exactly two years ago: some of my solutions were different then; I could simply have changed the past translation, I suppose; I decided to keep both and make it a sort of “experiment in translation” piece  (mostly for myself).

I am someone else today, older surely, perhaps more experienced, definitely with more time on my hands. Since 2019, and my first translation of Firenze, I have translated numerous things, among them is the novel L’esclusa by Luigi Pirandello. I believe a translator is constantly learning, constantly honing their craft, maybe one’s sensitivity is even heightened with age and experience; or maybe not, maybe the opposite is true and one becomes smug, convinced they know more than they actually do. Or maybe, just maybe, translation is a question of seasons, of mood, and of understanding that is linked to the moment more than anyone would like to admit.

I read an interview once (I can’t remember whose) where the translator said they never reread their translations once they were published because they never liked them and always imagined other, better solutions. This is exactly how I feel, but I like translating, and I like knowing that many solutions are possible for one piece and that they are an expression of the translator’s interpretation (whether we like it or not).


Dino Campana
1) Fiorenza giglio di potenza virgulto primaverile. Le mattine di primavera sull’Arno. La grazia degli adolescenti (che non è grazia al mondo che vinca tua grazia d’Aprile), vivo vergine continuo alito, fresco che vivifica i marmi e fa nascere Venere Botticelliana: I pollini del desiderio gravi da tutte le forme scultoree della bellezza, l’alto Cielo spirituale, le linee delle colline che vagano, insieme a la nostalgia acuta di dissolvimento alitata dalle bianche forme della bellezza: mentre pure nostra è la divinità del sentirsi oltre la musica, nel sogno abitato di immagini plastiche!  

2) L’Arno qui ancora ha tremiti freschi: poi lo occupa un silenzio dei più profondi: nel canale delle colline basse e monotone toccando le piccole città etrusche, uguale oramai sino alle foci, lasciando i bianchi trofei di Pisa, il duomo prezioso traversato dalla trave colossale, che chiude nella sua nudità un così vasto soffio marino. A Signa nel ronzìo musicale e assonnante ricordo quel profondo silenzio: il silenzio di un’epoca sepolta, di una civiltà sepolta: e come una fanciulla etrusca possa rattristare il paesaggio…  

3) Nel vico centrale osterie malfamate, botteghe di rigattieri, bislacchi ottoni disparati. Un’osteria sempre deserta di giorno mostra la sera dietro la vetrata un affaccendarsi di figure losche. Grida e richiami beffardi e brutali si spandono pel vico quando qualche avventore entra. In faccia nel vico breve e stretto c’è una finestra, unica, ad inferriata, nella parete rossa corrosa di un vecchio palazzo, dove dietro le sbarre si vedono affacciati dei visi ebeti di prostitute disfatte a cui il belletto dà un aspetto tragico di pagliacci. Quel passaggio deserto, fetido di un orinatoio, della muffa dei muri corrosi, ha per sola prospettiva in fondo l’osteria. I pagliacci ritinti sembrano seguire curiosamente la vita che si svolge dietro l’invetriata, tra il fumo delle pastasciutte acide, le risa dei mantenuti dalle femmine e i silenzii improvvisi che provoca la squadra mobile: Tre minorenni dondolano monotonamente le loro grazie precoci. Tre tedeschi irsuti sparuti e scalcagnati seggono compostamente attorno ad un litro. Uno di loro dalla faccia di Cristo è rivestito da una tunica da prete (!) che tiene raccolta sulle ginocchia. Fumo acre delle pastasciutte: tinnire di piatti e di bicchieri: risa dei maschi dalle dita piene di anelli che si lasciano accarezzare dalle femmine, ora che hanno mangiato. Passano le serve nell’aria acre di fumo gettando un richiamo musicale: Pastee. In un quadro a bianco e nero una ragazza bruna con una chitarra mostra i denti e il bianco degli occhi appesa in alto. – Serenata sui Lungarni. M’investe un soffio stanco dalle colline fiorentine: porta un profumo di corolle smorte, misto a un odor di lacche e di vernici di pitture antiche, percettibile appena (Mereskoswki).

Dino  Campana  

1) Lily iris florentia of youthful spring vigour. The spring mornings on the Arno. The grace of the adolescents (which is not grace to the world over which your April grace triumphs), vivid virgin continuous breath, fresh that vivifies the marble and gives rise to the Botticellian Venuses: The pollens of desire gravid from all the sculptural forms of beauty, the lofty spiritual Sky, the outlines of the hills that ramble, together with the acute nostalgia of dissolution  breathed by the white forms of beauty: while ours too is the divinity of feeling beyond the music, in the dream inhabited by plastic images!  

2) The Arno here still has tremors of freshness― and is occupied by the profoundest of silences―in the canal of the low, monotonous hills, touching the small Etruscan towns, alike now all the way to the river mouths, leaving the white trophies of Pisa, the precious duomo crossed by the colossal beam, which encloses in its nudity so vast a maritime breeze. In Signa, in the musical and assonant hum, I remember that profound silence―the silence of an era buried, of a civilization buried―and how, like an Etruscan maiden, it can sadden the landscape…  

3) Along the central alley lowly inns, second-hand shops, disparate brass bric-a-brac. A deserted inn by day, behind the glass at night presents the busy bustle of lowlifes. Sneering and brutal cries and calls sweep through the alley when the casual customer enters. Opposite the short and narrow alley there is a window, only one, with grates, in the corroded red façade of an old building where, behind the bars, we see the inane faces of weathered prostitutes to whom blushers lend the tragic appearance of clowns. That passage, deserted, reeking of a urinal, of the mould of the corroded walls, has but one view, that of the inn. The re-tinted clowns seem curious to monitor the life that unfolds behind the glass, among the fumes of the tart pasta, the laughter of the gigolos, and the sudden silences that are brought on by the police squad: Three minors monotonously rock their precocious graces. Three shaggy, grungy, gaunt Germans sit composedly around a pint. One of them, wearing the face of Christ, dons a priest’s robes (!), which he holds over his knees. The acrid fumes of the pasta: the rattle of dishes and glasses, the laughter of men with ring-covered fingers who let themselves be caressed by the women now that they have eaten. Waitresses pass in the acrid fume-filled air calling out melodiously: Pastee. Hanging on the wall, in a black and white picture, a dark girl with a guitar reveals her teeth and the whites of her eyes: Serenade on the Lungarno. A weary breeze from the Florentine hills overcomes me: it brings a smell of withered corollas, mixed with a smell of lacquers and the paints of ancient canvases, barely perceptible. (Merežkovskij).  

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2021

First version of the same poem: https://paralleltexts.blog/2019/07/20/dino-campana-firenze-florence-from-cantiorfici/

Firenze by Dino Campana is from the collection of poems Canti Orfici.

Photo: Florence, the Arno River, and Ponte Santa Trinita’ taken early one morning on my way to school.

Other works in translation by Dino Campana can be found here: https://paralleltexts.blog/tag/dino-campana/page/2/

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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