Eugenio Montale

                                    Xenia I


Dear little Mosca,
so they called you, I don't know why,
this evening almost in the dark,
while I was reading Deutero-Isaiah
you reappeared beside me,
but without your glasses,
so that you could not see me,
nor could I recognize you in the haze
without that glitter.


Poor Mosca without glasses or antennae,
who had wings only in imagination,
a worn-out and dismantled Bible,
and not very dependable either,
night's black, a flash, a peal of thunder
and then not even the storm.
Could you have left so soon
even without talking?
But it's ridiculous to think
you still had lips.


At the Saint James in Paris
I shall have to ask for a "single" room
(and they don't like single guests).
And so also in the fake Byzantium
of you hotel in Venice; then immediately
to look for the girls at the switchboard,
always your friends, and leave again
the moment the automatic charge
is spent–
the desire to have you with me again,
if only through a gesture or habit.


We had studied for the hereafter
a token of recognition, a whistle;
I'm now trying to modulate it in the hope
that we're all already dead without knowing it.


I've never understood if it was I
who was your faithful and distempered dog,
or if you were that for me.
For them you were only a myopic
insect lost in the babble
of high society. How ingenuous
of those clever people not to know
it was they who were your laughingstock,
that you could see them even in the dark,
and unmask them with your infallible flair
and your bat's radar.


It never occurred to you
to leave any trace of yourself
in prose or verse, which was
your charm–and then my self-disgust.
It was also what terrified me:
that you might cast me back
into the croaking mire of the neoteroi.


Self-pity, infinite pain and anguish
his who worships what's here below
and hopes and despairs of something else . . .
(and who dares say another world?)
. . .
"Strange pity . . ." (Azucena, Act II).


Your speech so halting and unguarded
is the only thing left
with which to content myself.
But the accent is changed, the colour is different.
I'm getting used to listening to you
in the tick-tack of the teletype,
or in the voluble smoke rings of
my cigars from Brissago.


Listening was your only way of seeing.
The telephone bill now amounts to very little.


"Did she pray?" "Yes, she prayed to St. Anthony
who helps one find lost umbrellas
and other things of St. Hermes' wardrobe."
"Only for this?" "Also for her dead
and for me."
"It's enough," said the priest.


To recall your tears (and mine were double)
is not enough to suppress your bursts of laughter.
These were like the foretaste of your private Last Judgment
which unfortunately never took place.


Spring comes out at the pace of a mole.
I shall hear you talk no more
of the poisonous antibiotics,
the rivet in your thighbone, or
the patrimony that shrewd unnamed rat
nibbled away.

Spring advances with its thick mists,
its long light days and unbearable hours.
No longer shall I hear you struggle
with the regurgitation of time
or of phantoms
or of the logistic problems of summer.


Your brother died young; you were
the dishevelled child who now watches me,
formally posed, from the oval of a portrait.
He wrote music but it was unpublished,
unheard, and today lies buried
in a trunk or is gone to dust.
Perhaps someone's reinventing it without knowing,
if what is written is written.
I loved him without having known him
and no one remembered him except you.
I asked no questions; and now it's useless.
I'm the only one after you
for whom he ever existed.
But it's possible, you know, to love a shadow,
we ourselves being shadows.


They say that mine
is a poetry of non-belonging.
But if it was yours, it was someone's:
not your form any more but your essence.
They say that poetry at its highest
glorifies the Whole in its flight,
and deny
that the tortoise is swifter than lightning.
You alone knew
that motion is not different from stillness,
that the void is the same as fullness,
that the clearest sky but
the most diffused of clouds.
Thus I understand better your long journey
imprisoned among bandages and plasters.
Yet it gives me no rest to know
that alone or together
we are one.

                             Italian; trans. G. Singh

Eugenio Montale, Italian, trans. G. Singh, New Poems, Eugenio Montale
& G. Singh., New Directions Publishing Corp., 1976.