“At dawn sometimes my sense of being is so filiform, that looking away would suffice, it seems, for me to descend untorn into nothingness.”

Quest’anno le agavi  

Camillo Sbarbaro  

Quest’anno le agavi del litorale han messo il fiore: un’alberella di pannocchie bionde, alloggio alle vespe.
Sulla vertebra nuda della strada, sui monti calvi e calcinati luglio si accanisce. Scarnito all’osso, il paese s’apre secca fauce sul mare; che ne elude la sete spruzzandolo di schiume amare.

Mi specchio ancora in questo paesaggio; questa aridità mi sostenta. Nell’ulivo incassato nel muro mi riconosco, nello sterpo che vive nella rena ardente.
Ma – per dissolvermi – guardare una volta bastava: filo d’erba anch’io, lucertola su sasso. Per gli occhi mi alleggerivo di me.
A tutte l’ore adesso il mio individuo persiste. Come troppo cresciuto s’inframmette, ingombrante e caparbio.

Placarlo si potesse, comporlo in pace sino al nuovo risveglio, se giunga! Nient’altro che spoglia, che sproporzionata vita vive ancora!

Certe albe il senso di essere è così filiforme, che distogliere il capo basterebbe, pare, per calare senza strappo nel nulla.

Invece, tenacia dell’esistenza! Quante volte innanzi di morire veniamo logicamente a morte!

La mia, è ora la vita del greto. Oh una goccia che cada nella feroce secchezza! Così l’anima invoca un soffio di poesia.

Nuvola vagabonda, goccia rada e calda come sangue. Che ristrepiti la piena tra le rive inverdite, remoto pare quanto che butti e fogli uno stipo tarlato.

Alveo in tempo di magra.

Di me tra le fiamme bianche degli olivi non si muove che la marionetta sinistra..
This year the agaves  

Camillo Sbarbaro  

This year the agaves on the coast have flowered: a little tree of blond panicles, home to the wasps.
On the naked vertebra of the road, on the bald and calcined mountains July rages. Stripped to the bone, the town opens a dry mouth onto the sea; which eludes its thirst by spraying it with sour waves.

I see myself still in this landscape; this aridity sustains me. In the olive tree embedded in the wall I recognize myself, in the shrub that lives in the scorching sand.
But – to dissolve − one glance did suffice once: I too blade of grass, lizard on stone. Through my eyes I freed myself of me.
At every hour now my being persists. As if too grown it gets in the way, cumbersome and stubborn.

If it could be appeased, composed in peace until the new awakening, should that come! Nothing but bare, but disproportionate life it lives still!

At dawn sometimes my sense of being is so filiform, that looking away would suffice, it seems, for me to descend untorn into nothingness.

Instead, the tenacity of existence! So many times before dying we come logically to death!

Mine, is now the life of the shore. Oh that a drop should fall in the ferocious dryness! Thus my soul invokes a breath of poetry.

Vagabond cloud, raindrop as sparce and hot as blood. That the stream should resound between the green banks, as remote it seems as the budding and sprouting of a worm-eaten cabinet.

Riverbed in a time of dearth.

Of me among the white flames of the olive trees moves nothing but the sinister marionette.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2022

This poem is from the collection Trucioli by Camillo Sbarbaro (1888 –1967), the “poet of little things”.

4 thoughts on “Camillo Sbarbaro: Quest’anno le agavi/ This year the agaves

  1. Dear Matti, I like the selection and your translation very much. Your output is amazing. I am still working on my comments to your Pascoli selection published not so many days ago. My mobile phone labors for you.
    I like this Sbarbaro because it is so modern-feeling, and now it is hot summer on the Mediterranean shore where I am living the landscape and sensing the hydrological cycle he describes. I liked very much, your rendition “I freed myself of me.” And I wanted to ask, why you would not use “sprays of bitter foam” rather than “sour waves”? To my English-speaking sense, “waves” is too heavy for the verb. But perfect is “worm-eaten cabinet,” for the “filiform” ecology of his mindset, starting with the “little … blond panicles,” showing us how life finds a way. Your post is good and strange refreshment, to read and re-read, during this scorching season.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Joseph,
      Thank you for taking so much time to reply. You know I appreciate it.
      It’s funny how the brain works: by now, my solutions are so instinctive that I usually don’t analyse why I do something until someone asks me. Then I realize what I did and why.
      I wanted to write a translator’s note this time, to be truthful. But it’s too hot, too difficult for me to list everything (proprio perché some choices are instinctive).
      I like your solution (sprays of bitter foam) very much: it’s very beautiful, but to my ears it is not what Sbarbaro does.
      “Spruzzandolo di schiume amare” is not pretty and recalls the arid surroundings; you have alliteration (the use of the s, appunto, da la sensazione di aspro e impenetrabile, but also of speed with the Zs) consonance (m) and assonance (a, which is an open sound).
      So, for my verb choice, I opted for the very literal “spraying it”, and was able to reproduce the first s; I followed it with “sour”, and could, therefore, keep the alliteration. (Bitter didn’t even come to my mind: too many Ts, which, together with the B produce just too much sound, like thunder or something — Ungaretti always uses lots of Ts to produce the sound of shots — while spray really has no sound). Foam, the literal translation of schiuma, would have given me another O, which is also an open sound, like A, but which gives me the idea of big, heavy. So no “sour foam”, and I went with wave which, in my head, recalls the As in “amaro”.
      Just out of curiosity, what verb would you have used with “sprays of bitter foam”?
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mati. I started a long reply and lost it when a call came in.
        So, briefly: I would use spray for the verb. But not the noun spray. The scattering of the water droplets from waves crashing definitely calls for the It verb spruzzare. Not like the E verb spritz, this is used for light-weight scattering of mist to cool off or dampen the cotton shirt for ironing. My real objection is that E wave is too heavy in visual content for breakers on the shore launching or lofting a fusillade of bitter water droplets toward the thirsty mouths on shore. E foam may not be the word. Coincidentally, I am reading La Piel del Tambor in Spanish and the author Arturo Perez-Reverte uses for the spray released by the waves the Sp words ‘rociones de espuma’ [op.cit.1995:63]. I note that the key word for the fine spray is based on the Sp rocio : E dew. So my quibble with you my dear Mati, is to find a word for a mass noun in E signifying an intermediate gradation of water mass between the forms dew and wave that is hurled toward land, e.g. Sp espuma : E spume, becoming airborne. E foam or spray are the only two that I can think of right now, besides E spume. Or, we could reformulate it, and say scattering bitter wave-spray.
        I think in this case the imagery needsto be at least as forceful as the phonics.Thanks for the opportunity to comment.


        Liked by 1 person

    • Joseph, I totally understand what you contest with my use of the word wave but there are just a few points I’d like to underline. For me, phonics is used precisely to create the imagery, so I find it hard to think “either/or” when translating (and in any case the “minus one rule” coined by Magrelli, and found somewhere here on the blog, would apply: for as hard as we try, something must be sacrificed). In addition, the spray is not directed towards the mouths of actual people on the shore, but that of the town in Liguria (personified); I think this makes a difference and made the force of the wave, in my mind, fitting.
      That said, poetry is interpretation. It is absolutely fine to like or dislike a translator’s solution or even their translation of a whole poem, for that matter: I do it all the time!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.