Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reading. Montale.

When I began reading Eugenio Montale (beginning, as is my habit, with the later works) I found that I could not fall in love with his words with the same heartbreaking, shattering swiftness as I had with his compatriot Giuseppe Ungaretti (some eight years older than Montale) a short time before. They had in common a language but their way of using it was altogether different, which is as it should be in all things. It would take a little while for Montale to draw me in, for his words to grip something deep and hidden in my consciousness, which is sometimes how literature works for me. I made my way slowly through the volume of works published after his death, some other things from the early 1970's, and then, at last, arrived at La Bufera e Altro (The Storm & Other Poems). And fell headlong into some darkness.

Montale himself, we are told, regarded La Bufera e Altro as his finest work; I have not read everything of his so I cannot judge that for myself. Everything I have read about Montale (in truth, not much) sees that this volume, published in 1956, marked the end of his first era of writing poetry, the years between 1925 (when his first work, Ossi de Seppia, or Cuttlefish Bones, was published), and 1956, when he was about sixty years old. There is a sense - and I refer to the last sentence of the title poem - of entering the dark. There is something beautiful and haunting of the images he evokes, the language referencing the words of Dante Alighieri (some six centuries before). (The word bufera was first introduced "into the literary idiom" by Dante in his Inferno; it "signifies a high wind with precipitation...suggests upheaval and is frequently used to suggest the effects of passion...much like 'tempest' in English...in Canto V:31 of the Inferno, Dante uses 'la bufera infernal' to describe the winds that perpetually drive flocks of lovers."

Here, then, is the first poem of this volume, The Storm.

Les princes n'ont point d'yeux pour voir ces grand's merveilles,
Leurs mains ne servent plus qu'à nous persécuter...
(Agrippa D'Aubigné: `A Dieu)

The storm that trickles its long March
thunderclaps, its hail, onto the stiff
leaves of the magnolia tree;

(sounds of shaking crystal which startle you
in your nest of sleep; and the gold
snuffed on the mahogany, on the backs
of the bound books, flares again
like a grain of sugar in the shell
of your eyelids)

the lightning that blanches
the trees and walls, freezing them
like images on a negative (a benediction
and destruction you carry carved
within you, a condemnation that binds you
stronger to me than any love, my strange sister);
and then the tearing crash, the jangling sistrums, the
of tambourines in the dark ditch of the night,
the tramp, scrape, jump of the fandango...and
some gesture that blinding is groping...

as when

turning around, and, sweeping clear your forehead
of its cloud of hair,

you waved to me - and entered the dark.

Montale, Eugenio. trans. Wright, Charles. The Storm & Other Poems. Oberlin College, 1978. pp 18-19, 23-24.

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