Cesare Pavese

C’è un giardino chiaro, fra mura basse,
di erba secca e di luce, che cuoce adagio
la sua terra. È una luce che sa di mare.
Tu respiri quell’erba. Tocchi i capelli
e ne scuoti il ricordo.

Ho veduto cadere
molti frutti, dolci, su un’erba che so,
con un tonfo. Così trasalisci tu pure
al sussulto del sangue. Tu muovi il capo
come intorno accadesse un prodigio d’aria
e il prodigio sei tu. C’è un sapore uguale
nei tuoi occhi e nel caldo ricordo.

Le parole che ascolti ti toccano appena.
Hai nel viso calmo un pensiero chiaro
che ti finge alle spalle la luce del mare.
Hai nel viso un silenzio che preme il cuore
con un tonfo, e ne stilla una pena antica
come il succo dei frutti caduti allora.

Cesare Pavese

There is a fair garden, between low walls,
of dry grass and light, which slowly
bakes the land. It is light that tastes of sea.
You breathe that grass. Touch your hair
and shake free the memory.

I watched fruits fall,
many, sweet, on grass I know,
with a thud. The way you too start
at the skip of your blood. You move your head
as if all around befell a prodigy of air
and the prodigy is you. There’s a similar taste
in your eyes and the warm memory.

The words you hear barely touch you.
On your calm face you’ve a fair thought
that fashions behind you the light of the sea.
On your face you’ve a silence that presses the heart
with a thud, and extracts an ancient pain
like the juice from the fruits that fell then.

Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2022

Estate, the second poem in the collection Lavorare stanca, was written for Fernanda Pivano, whom he met while teaching in high school. She was his student then and would later become a poet and translator.

After Pavese’s death, Italo Calvino and Lorenzo Mondo asked for Fernanda Pivano’s permission to publish his letters to her, his muse, his “signorina Fernanda”, but she refused saying: “Words of love should not be published lightly.” And added: “They are a part of the soul that does not deserve the insult of fame.”

But it is not necessary to read their love letters to understand what Pavese felt for his young student: they live on in his poetry.

Translator’s note: if people only knew how many times a translator can change one word or one verse only to come full circle, back to the very first solution (because nothing else really works), maybe translators would be seen differently. This time, I spent hours on the word “prodigy”, which I tried to change to miracle, incredible occurrence, wonder… but to no avail, and “befell”, which I did change but which threw off the sound and I decided to keep. I’ve said this before: Poetry is what we see and hear. I so love “prodigio d’aria e il prodigio sei tu”, but a part of me feels I’ve failed Pavese, and Pivano too, but what can be done? Enjoy. – M.C.

Image: Tree of life, Gustav Klimt

2 thoughts on “Cesare Pavese: Estate/ Summer

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