POETRY: Poems Of Eugenio Montale

Translated from the Italian by William Arrowsmith


When I go away for a day or two
the pigeons pecking
at my windowsill
stage a protest
as their union contract requires.
On my return an extra ration
of crumbs restores order,
which disappoints the blackbird
shuttling back and froth between me
and the venerable old man in the apartment
opposite. My family is reduced
to next to nothing. And some men have one or more
wasted on them, alas!

We’re into group solitude now
a new event in history, and obviously
not the best
according to some solitary Zebedee.
But matters could be worse. Here on the table
I have a collective individual, a marble
or corals harder than flint.
It seems to have a definite
hammer-resistant form. And it has
an advantage over the human reef—
it doesn’t talk.

The Death of God

All religions of the one God
are only one, cooks and cooking vary.
I was turning this thought over
when you interrupted me
by tumbling head-over-heels
down the spiral staircase of the Périgourdine
and at the bottom split your sides laughing.
A delightful evening, marred only by a moment’s
fright. Even the pope
in Israel said the same thing
but repented when informed
that the supreme Deposed, if he ever existed,
had expired.

The Lord of the Revels

I don’t know where he is, the Lord of the Revels,
Ruler of the world and the other spheres.
I don’t know if what I see from my window
is feast or butchery. If it’s true that the flea
(like every other animal) actually lives
in his own dimensions, and if those aren’t ours;
if to the horse’s eye men look twice as large
as they really are, then human eyes are inadequate.
Maybe eternal darkness got weary and showered out
a couple of sparks. Or an ethereal light,
bored with purity, spotted itself.
Or else the Lord is ignorant of his own creations
or can boast of them only in homeopathic doses.
But one thing’s certain: someday other buttocks
will oppress his throne. The time is ripe.

The Language of God

If god is language, the One who created so many
in order to mingle them later,
how can we put our questions to him, how
believe that he’s spoken, that he’ll always
speak undecodably, and that this
is better than nothing? Clearly
it’s better than nothing that we’re stuck
with stammering. And woe to us if someday
the voices were all let loose. Language,
whether it’s nothing or not,
has its wiles.

Like Zaccheus

The problem’s climbing the sycamore
to see if maybe the Lord is going by.
Alas, I’m no treecreeper, and even on tiptoes
I’ve never seen Him.

The Terror of Existence

The families of the great buffoons
of operetta have become extinct,
and with them the comic genre, replaced
by the tribal tomtoms of technology.

Being born small is a great misfortune,
but the worst is becoming a child again,
aping the silliness that flinches
from some unlikely identity.

The terror of existence is not to be taken
lightly; in fact, our Methuselahs have stashed
away so much that their storerooms can hardly
hide them and their shame.

And shame, old boy, is only a first
glimmering of life.  If it dies before it’s born,
nothing afterwards can equal its power or telling us
the almost unbelievable fact—that we’re we.

In the seventy-fifth year plus of my life
I went down to my basement and found my store
of shame intact. I’d like to squander it,
all of it, in these bloody days of Carnival.



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