Café at Rapallo
translated from the Italian by Mary Jane White
Season of The Nativity in this tepidarium,
Polished, fixed in the vapors
Unwinding from these cups, veiled
Trembling of lights beyond these locked
Crystals, female profiles
Against the grey, among the flashing of jewels
And friction of silks . . .
Even to these, your native beaches,
The new Sirens! And you are missed,
Camillo, my friend, you, our raconteur
Of cupidity and sweet delay.
With a great noise in the street,
At a glance outside,
The indescribable music
And children’s sharp cymbals:
That innocent music is gone by.
And a gnomish world is gone with it,
With the rattling of little mules and wheelbarrows,
Between the long-drawn mountains
Of paper-mache and fascist glitter
Of sabers bound up in tinfoil.
Gone, too, are the Generals
With their cocked hats of cardboard,
Brandishing their spears of nougat;
Gone are their furious supporters
With their dripping candle-ends and pikes,
And their trail of empty cans
That, for a year or more, minced along so nicely,
That feeble stream that can charm
A doubting soul:
(Astounding the very sense of hearing).
That horde is gone, with its clamor
And its stampede of crudities,
Brought on by the most recent thunderings.
And there will be pastures to receive them,
That are, for us, no longer green.
Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) was an Italian poet, prose writer, editor, and translator, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975. “Café at Rapallo” reflects Montale's experience as an infantry office during World War I.
Mary Jane White lives with her son, Ruffin, in Waukon, Iowa, where she has practiced law for twenty-seven years. She is a recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, one for poetry and one for translation. Her MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her book Starry Sky to Starry Sky (Holy Cow! Press, 1988) includes translations of M. Tsvetaeva. Her translation of Tsvetaeva’s elegy for Rilke, “New Year’s” is forthcoming from Adastra Press. Other new poems and translations appear in The New England Review, Epicenter, and The Iowa Review. (12/2007)