Italy

Giuseppe Ungaretti
Allegria di naufragi, 1919

Mattina

Santa Maria La Longa il 26 gennaio 1917.

M’illumino
d’immenso.

Natale
Non ho voglia
di tuffarmi
in un gomitolo
di strade
Ho tanta
stanchezza
sulle spalle

Lasciatemi così
come una  cosa
Posata
in un
angolo
e dimenticata

Qui
non si sente
altro
che il caldo buono
Sto
con le quattro
capriole
di fumo
del focolare


“Santa Maria La Longa il 26 gennaio 1917” was the tragic scenario where the poet was writing these lines: at the front, during the First World War. Santa Maria La Longa is a small town in northeastern Italy, in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. This land has an ancient history; it’s inhabitants predate the Romans. The landscape is flat and there are many canals for the irrigation of the fields. It is a rural place, where for centuries the land has been transformed and shaped by manual work. At the time when the poet was composing, this ancient relationship between human beings and territory was troubled by the war: trenches instead of canals, corpses in place of seeds. In this dramatic situation, when daylight shines and the soldiers see it, it suddenly occurs to them what it feels to be alive. This poem is an image of light, it depicts a moment of illumination, in which the poet expresses the infinite happiness of feeling alive. Ungaretti’s language is skimmed of adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and reduced to its fundamental components: names and verbs. Ungaretti defines this language “the naked word”, which according to him is the only language able to describe the human tragedy of the war.

Morning

Santa Maria La Longa January 26 1917.

I am bright
with infinitude.

the Nativity
I do not wish
to plunge
into a tangle
of streets
Such
weariness
weighs down my back

Leave me like this:
a thing
posed
in a
corner
and forgotten

Here
nothing is felt
but
kind heat
I remain
with the four
pirouettes
of smoke
from the hearth


I want to thank Professor Ronald Martínez for his precious suggestions in translating these poems into English.

The war is a catastrophe that deprives all human beings of time: it denies the pleasure of memories of the past, it impedes the development of a satisfying present, and inhibits the dreaming of a better future. However, not everything is lost: few places remain safe. Among them is the one described in the second poem by Ungaretti, that intimate place close to the fireplace, where one can stay alone in the quietness. There, self-defenses fall, and the pirouettes of the burning fire create a sort of spell that overtakes the chaotic reality. Close to the fire, the poet feels an extemporal dimension in which he wishes to stay without feeling time passing, like an inanimate object.

I believe that the intimate and interior-temporal dimension expressed in these two poems is essential to approach Ungaretti’s imagery, and both my translations and comment develop this idea.

 

Prepared by Leonora Masini

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Beatrice
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Beatrice

Curiosly, complete and suggestive!!

Leonora
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Leonora

Grazie mille, sono contenta che ti piaccia il progetto! Continua a seguirci, il prossimo numero esce a Giugno. A presto!

Nastya
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Nastya

Speaking of Time, in the second poem the image of time (or history), “a tangle of streets”, where you “plunge” into it, actually reminds of the Borges/Heraclitus image of a river/Letha. And there is different Time next to the “hearth”, where you are “forgotten”, where “four pirouettes of smoke” gives a cyclical image of time.
So, History (wars, the end) is opposed to Life (circle, timeless)

Leonora
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Leonora

Thank you so much Nastya. It is essential to focus on the temporal-images that this poem presents. To the linear and the circular ones, I would add a third one: the “tangle of streets” can be linked to the image of inter twisted laces, maybe those of the ball of wool in Bergson’s conceptualization of time (at the Sorbonne, Ungaretti attended Bergson’s lessons, we have evidence of that). Ultimately, the “streets” are entangled strings of memories, in which the poet does not want to “plunge in”, because, in this very moment, he refuses to feel time.
The idea that the “tangle of streets” in the poem Natale can be linked to Bergson’s theory of time is mine. What do you think?